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The Old Testament Law and the New Testament Grace

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, unless otherwise stated.

Summary: Many questions are in these days asked on the relationship between law and grace. Some Christians are strongly convinced that aspects of the Old Testament law, e.g. Sabbath observance on Saturdays, still apply in the New Testament. It is not only the Seventh-day Adventists who hold this view, but also various other groups of Christians who wrongly pursue their “spiritual roots” in Israel and then become entangled with Israel’s Old Testament laws and feasts. It is important to realise the full implications of efforts by Christians who, contrary to the Bible, try to live under grace and under law.

 

Contents

1.    Introduction

2.    The Law of God

3.    The Grace of Christ

4.    The Dangers of Judaising

5.    The Jewish Sabbath or the Christian Sunday?

6.    The Seventh-day Adventists

7.    Christian Fundamentalism

8.    The New Life in Christ

 

1. Introduction

In the New Testament (NT) it is clearly stated that Christians should not trust the law for their salvation, neither for the continuation of their spiritual lives after salvation. The reason for this statement is that an important dispensational change occurred during the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These events constituted a transition from the dispensation of the law to the dispensation of grace.

However, this dispensational change does not represent a rigid abolition of the principles and demands of the law but rather their fulfilment in the acts of salvation associated with the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil” (Matt. 5:17). During His earthly life as the Son of Man, Jesus Christ complied with all the demands of the law – something which no other human being could ever do. This does not only include compliance with the moral demands of the Law, but also the fulfilment of all the shadowy feasts and sacrifices that were prescribed by the law in the Old Testament (OT). In the OT, people had to bring sacrifices for their sins, which all pointed to the once for all sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross.

Through the Messiah’s life, as well as the great significance of His death and resurrection, He concluded the preparatory phase of the law, therefore “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). The righteousness of God is imputed to us through acceptance, in faith, of the sacrifice of Christ’s perfect life as the spotless Lamb of God. We are saved by grace, not by observing the law. After salvation the Lord expects of us a life which is in accordance with the basic principles of His love that has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). In this way we will grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ while we are increasingly conformed to His image. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin – not the law. He also enables us to live Holy.

People who were saved by grace cannot be under law and under grace at the same time, since those under the law are slaves of sin: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). The Amplified Bible translates this scripture as follows: “For sin shall not [any longer] exert dominion over you, since now you are not under Law [as slaves], but under grace – as subjects of God’s favour and mercy.”

It is a clearly stated fact that we cannot simultaneously be under law and under grace. Should we endeavour to do so our actions would be an indication that the grace of Christ is not sufficient for us. That means that the gospel of the cross is insufficient and needs to be supplemented by law observance. For this reason we cannot impose any OT law on believers, regardless of whether it is Sabbath observance on Saturdays, tithing or circumcision. Paul says, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

We should realise that the grace of Christ after the dispensation of the law represents a progressive unfolding of God’s plan of salvation for humanity. Grace working through love is far greater than the letter of the law which could never be fulfilled by people. Spiritually, we live on a higher level than the people of the OT, when only a few individuals could truly be regarded as anointed ones of the Lord. Even they still had to wait for the Messiah and did not comprehend the riches of His grace. When our disposition and acts are characterised by the agape love of God, we have also fulfilled the law (Rom. 13:10) and no longer need to be guided by the law. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth.

In this book we wish to give you understanding of the nature and objectives of the law and grace to enable you to clearly distinguish between them. Christians who think we are still under law restrict their spiritual growth and increase in grace. The modern trend towards Judaising the Christian faith (so-called Christian Zionism or Messianic Judaism) is a very dangerous form of compromise between law and grace, and actually causes many Christians to diminish in grace. They do not stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and again subject themselves to the yoke of a legalistic form of worship.

One of the very common practices in this movement is to revert to an OT form of Sabbath observance. This matter is thoroughly investigated and compared to the NT practice of celebrating the resurrection day of Christ on Sundays. We also review the theology of the Seventh-day Adventists, who are known for mixing law and grace.

Subsequently, we describe the principles of Christian fundamentalism, as well as the way in which they should be observed. Christians who wish to closely walk in accordance with the Bible should learn to identify and honour these principles, including OT principles which harmonise with them. A Fundamental believer is not to be confused with a legalistic believer.

In a final chapter, the new life in Christ is described with reference to Romans 5 and 6. From this discussion it is evident what the upward call of God in Christ Jesus is, and how sanctification can be experienced as a virtue which is exceedingly higher than anything that can be achieved through outward law observance.

 

2. The Law of God

The law of the Lord is described in the first five books of the Bible and referred to in Hebrew as the Torah. Torah means to teach and it comprises God’s directives to which his people Israel were to live accordingly. There are 613 instructions in the Torah, which is also described as the Pentateuch. There are basically eight categories of laws that can be distinguished:

Laws on Israel’s relationship with God, with particular reference to the worship, honouring, and following of Yahweh, sacrifices, forgivingness, as well as a prohibition of idol-worship. No other gods were to be brought before God.

Laws on a theocratic government. God has supreme authority over His people, and for this reason they were obliged to acknowledge the Lord and inquire of Him before taking decisions. The leaders of Israel were to observe all God’s laws and teach their people to do the same. They were also to collaborate with the priests and prophets of God and ensure that the young generation be raised in the fear of the Lord. Wars were to be waged against the enemies of God.

Laws on human relations, and moral and ethical matters. This category includes a large number of regulations on marriage, relationships between men and women, parents and children, employers and employees, and also the relationship with foreigners such as slaves and proselytes. Furthermore, personal conduct, the commitment to compassion, morality, different kinds of impurity, clean and unclean types of food, purification rituals, etc. are also determined by the law.

Laws on economic matters. This includes laws on labour, wages, tithing, agricultural activities, harvest and slaughtering procedures, as well as nature and soil conservation.

Ceremonial laws pertaining to feasts and Sabbaths were all shadowy indicators of the coming of Messiah. They served the purpose of preparing Israel on the coming of the Messiah.

Sacrifices and other rituals pointed to the once for all sacrifice of the Messiah, when He offered Himself in the fullness of time. In this way Israel was prepared to grasp the significance of the Messiah’s once for all sacrifice on the cross when He sacrificed Himself as the perfect Lamb of God to atone for the sins of all people.

Laws on the priesthood under the leadership of a high priest. The mediatory role of the priests which would be fulfilled with the coming of Messiah, who would be High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, and therefore occupy an unchangeable priesthood that would continue forever. Through His death on the cross all believers would have free access to the throne of grace.

Laws on prophets. In the Old Testament it is stated that the prophecies of a prophet should be 100% correct, being strictly in accordance with what the Lord revealed to him. False prophets who uttered their own, deceptive words were to be stoned to death. The office of prophet would, according to Moses, only continue until God raised another Prophet like Moses – the Messiah (Deut. 18:15,18).

From the nature of the different categories of laws it is evident that they were strict, basic rules aimed at ensuring an orderly society that would only later be fully realised. That is the reason why many of the laws only served a preparatory function with a view to the coming of the Messiah. In Him they were finally fulfilled, and their subsequent observance would not be possible without denying the Messiah. Even the moral rules were also fulfilled in the Messiah as only He could fully observe the law. Through His work of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit He enables believers to honour and practise the spiritual and moral principles of God’s law (a pure heart, a pure life and true service to the Lord). He enables us to fulfil the high and noble objectives of the law (Micah 6:8).

The New Testament law of love

How can we know in which way the principles of God’s law should be honoured in the NT? The Lord Jesus summarised everything in the law of love when He was asked: “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).

In this summary Christ quoted scriptures which divide the Ten Commandments into two parts, i.e. love towards God (Deut. 6:5) and love towards our neighbour (Lev. 19:18,34). By honouring the law of love we will fulfil all the laws which govern the relationship towards God and our neighbour. If we truly love God we will live holy in His sight and never bring any other gods before Him (2 Cor. 6:14-18). The same principle of love applies to our relationship with other people: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).

Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, summed up in the law of love and applied to all believers. The first three commandments demand love towards God (Ex. 20:2-7) while the last six determine the nature of our human relations (Ex. 20:12-17). The fourth commandment relates to observing the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Ex. 20:8-11). That is the only one of the Ten Commandments which is not included in the summary of Christ, as He purposely omitted it. Why? Because it was only given to Israel as a sign between them and God (Ex. 31:17). Keeping of the Sabbath served the purpose of reminding Israel of the exodus from Egypt (Deut. 5:15), through which God saved them and sanctified them for His service (Ezek. 20:12). After the Babylonian captivity exile Sabbath observance among the Jews became distorted through the addition of many new rules by the Pharisees on what was permitted on this day and what was not. On this doctrine of theirs Jesus often came in conflict with them (cf. Matt. 12:1-8).

The Sabbath was one of the ceremonial laws which only had a shadowy meaning in the Old Testament, pending the coming of the Messiah. Paul said, “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). We are not subjected to laws on food (except that which has been defiled by idols), feasts or sabbaths, as the new life in Christ is not dependent on observing these things. In Christ Jesus we have entered into the rest of the Lord, in which every day should be a day of dedication unto Him.

Whether we have special days of dedication to the Lord or not, is a matter of personal conviction in the light of our circumstances: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). We do not have rigid commandments in this regard, only a long Christian tradition of Sunday worship. It started with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on a Sunday and preaching to His disciples on the same day (John 20:1,19-22), their meeting a week later, again on a Sunday, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the seventh Sunday after the resurrection of Jesus. After that, the disciples of Jesus spontaneously assembled on Sundays to celebrate His resurrection day, while at the same time dissociating themselves from the legalistic meetings by orthodox Jews on the seventh day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).

New Testament believers from the Gentiles should be mindful of the fact that they never formed part of Israel, their covenants and laws, and that they do not become part of these things after their salvation. An important aspect of God’s covenant with the Jews is their right of occupation in the land of Israel. This right, as well as other aspects of their covenants with the Lord, has not been transferred to the church and therefore not applicable to them.

The question in the first century was: which of the laws should be made applicable to the Gentiles, seeing that there are general principles of God’s laws that are applicable to all people? As already indicated, the law of love applies to all believers, and is embodied in various New Testament commandments. Apart from this, a decision was taken by the early church in Acts 15, in which it was ruled that only three of Israel’s moral laws would be applied to congregations in the Gentile world:

Firstly, Acts 15:20 refers to food that was contaminated by idols. This injunction should be understood in the light of Revelation 2:14 and 20, where the Lord Jesus clearly warns two of the early churches against eating things sacrificed to idols. It was a common practice among Gentiles to attend receptions and feasts in pagan temples where they ate food sacrificed to idols. Paul denounced this practice in 1 Corinthians 10:14-20 and said, among others: “What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? But I say the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.”

Secondly, sexual immorality was so common among the Gentiles that many believers also participated in this practice. Paul strongly warns the church against this sin (1 Cor. 6:12-20). He emphasizes that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and says, “Flee sexual immorality… he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body… you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:18,20).

The third commandment dates from Genesis 9 where God concluded a covenant with Noah which is still relevant today. He gave people the right to eat meat after all the blood has been drained from it. That also means that blood sausage is not to be eaten.

All three of these prohibitions should be seen as moral and ethical rules. By honouring them, Christians would maintain high moral standards, thereby refraining from giving offence to Jews who knew these prohibitions well. It is to be clearly noted that these commandments which were given to Gentile Christians to uphold did not include any ceremonial laws such as feasts or Sabbaths, neither any animal sacrifices or rites such as circumcision. By this ruling the demands of the Judaisers who tried to subject the church to the law were rejected.

Characteristics of the law

The fact that the great majority of Israel’s 613 laws were not transferred to the New Testament church among the Jews and the Gentiles, and that the few that were transferred were redefined within the framework of the completely new covenant of grace, is indicative of the fact that the dispensation of the law has expired. However, in the light of the progressive unfolding of God’s counsel with humanity the law served a very important dispensational purpose in Israel. What was this purpose?

The law is not related to salvation. Israel only received the law after they had been saved from their Egyptian bondage by a sovereign act of God. The killing of the sacrificial lamb in Egypt, the sprinkling of the doorposts, as well as their miraculous exodus, was the outward sign of God’s saving grace upon Israel. The paschal lamb prophetically referred to the Lamb of God who sacrificed His life on the cross in the fullness of time to take away the sins of Israel and the world (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).

The law contains extensive guidelines according to which God’s saved people should walk. Israel was already the delivered people of God when the law was given: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex. 20:2). Israel now had to be taught how to lead a separated, holy life to please God. They had no knowledge of the righteousness of God, and had to be practically taught through a great number of laws as to ‘what to do and what not to do’. By faithfully following these instructions they would serve the Lord and have no fellowship with the moral depravity and idolatry of the heathen nations around them.

The law inculcates the principle of love in Israel. They were called upon to love the Lord with all their heart (Deut. 6:5). They also had to love other Israelites like themselves, and further extend this love to include strangers who dwell among them (Lev. 19:18,34). However, the inner spiritual motivation to give expression to love was absent during the dispensation of the law, since the law did not enable people to prevail over their sinful nature.

The law brings knowledge of sin. Without the laws of God Israel would never have known what sin is, because sin is a conscious transgression of a known law of God. Paul says, “…by the law is the knowledge of sin… I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law has said, You shall not covet… where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom. 3:20; 7:7; 4:15). “The strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56) as the law is the mirror in which we can see the sin and rebellion of humanity. The law actually caused sin to abound because the law defined the great extent of sin – the more legal stipulations there are the more sins there are (Rom. 5:20).

The law makes people slaves of sin. Since the law cannot change the fallen, sinful nature of humanity, it makes them slaves of sin by setting an unattainably high standard to them. Because of their sinful nature all persons under the law are by nature violators of the law and by definition hell-bound sinners. The law does not only render people sinners but also subjects them to the wrath of God because of their failure to observe the law continuously and in all respects: “…because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression… For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 4:15; 5:13).

The law demands forgiveness of sins by virtue of God’s mercy and grace. Because the law sets a standard which could never be met by a single person except for God’s perfect Son, Jesus Christ, it demanded daily institutions through which the people could obtain forgiveness for their manifold sins. This gave rise to the extensive sacrificial service of the Old Testament, as well as an order of priests who acted as mediators between sinful people and a holy God. The law branded all people as sinners, including the priests, and because of that even the High Priest could only enter the Holy of holies in the temple once a year to bring a blood sacrifice for the nation’s sins. God is full of mercy and grace and always forgives people’s sins of transgressing the law when they sincerely confess their sins and repent from them.

The law was an essential preparation for the coming of Messiah and His work of grace. The animal sacrifices that were brought according to the demands of the law for the atonement of sins were imperfect and insufficient – they had to be fulfilled by the ‘once for all’ sacrifice for the sins of the whole world: “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come… can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect… For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He came into the world, He said, Sacrifice and offering did You not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me… Then I said, Behold, I have come… to do Your will o God… By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:1-10). The sacrifices during the dispensation of the law could, therefore, not ensure continuous change, and for that reason the promise of a new covenant under the Messiah was made to Israel. They eagerly looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, but they were spiritually so blind that the leaders of Israel could not even recognise Him when He came.

The sacrifices under the law only had a typological meaning as they pointed to the crucifixion of the Messiah. Jews in the Old Testament were provisionally saved by virtue of the Messiahs future world of grace on the cross, thereby emphasising the typological meaning of animal sacrifices. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise” (Heb. 11:39). But the Messiah in whose coming they had hoped, did come and became the second Adam to all people who inherited a depraved nature because of the first Adam’s fall. Only the Messiah could comply with the demands of the law and bring about salvation to all who were under the wrath of God because the law condemned them as sinners. The Messiah is the hope of Israel and the whole world – the only Saviour who can offer salvation to sinners (Rom. 5:19).

The law has many restrictions due to human infirmities and imperfect sacrifices. The dispensation of the law was impeded by the service of imperfect high priests, and had to be replaced by the world of grace of a perfect High Priest. The animal sacrifices were also insufficient and had to be replaced by the sacrifice of the perfect sacrificial Lamb. “For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness” (Heb. 7:28). They first had to sacrifice for their own sins and then for the sins of the people (Heb. 7:27). Neither could the sacrifices that they brought make any real difference: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins (Heb. 10:11). Israel were kept under guard by the law until the coming of the Messiah to do for them what the law could not do: “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterwards be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:23-24).

The law paved the way to a new covenant. The law imposed clearly defined but humanly unattainable demands regarding God’s righteousness upon people. The absence of a true basis for atonement, as well as the imperfect ministry by priests who were beset by weakness, explains the fact that the law was only a preparatory phase for a better covenant. “Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant… Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him… For such a high priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfect for ever… He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant [under the law] had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (Heb. 7:22,25-28; 8:6-7).

Entry to the new covenant

The old covenant was concluded with the people of Israel, which are the biological descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Membership of the covenant people was obtained through birth, and for that reason the covenant sign of circumcision was administered to baby boys a few days after birth. In spite of Israel’s calling as God’s people, as well as the covenant sign in their flesh, all of them were born in sin and needed to be spiritually revived. They had to become believing Israelites whose hearts are also circumcised.

Their hearts were changed through this spiritual experience and God’s law of love was written on the tablets of their hearts: “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). This call to repentance was often made to circumcised Israelites: “If you will return, O Israel, says the Lord, return to Me… Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Jer. 4:1,4).

Circumcision of the heart was a spiritual experience which the Lord Jesus explained to an ignorant Jewish leader as being “born again” (John 3:3). Biological birth alone, accompanied by a covenant sign in their flesh, did not produce true, spiritual Israelites with changed hearts. Faith was still absent in their hearts, and God was not well pleased with such Israelites (1 Cor. 10:5). Their problem was a lack of faith, as indicated by Paul: “…the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Heb. 4:2).

No Israelite could be saved by outward efforts to observe the law – he or she had to have a relationship of faith with the Lord. That meant that they had to repent wholeheartedly and to ask for forgiveness of their sins within the framework of the Old Testament’s sacrificial service. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7). “The pride of Israel testified to his face, but they do not return to the Lord their God” (Hos. 7:10). A true repentance (turning around) and the forgiveness of sins by virtue of the Messiah’s future atoning sacrifice (that which all the animal sacrifices alluded to) was the basis of the Old Testament’s doctrine of salvation. No overt efforts towards law-abiding alone, without repentance and the confession of their sins, could save any Jew. His sins that were revealed by the law were meant to drive him to the Lord to ask for forgiveness.

Termination of the dispensation of the law

With the coming of the Messiah, and specifically His crucifixion, resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after His ascension, the dispensation of the law as an integrated system finally expired. Not only did the sacrificial service and mediation by imperfect priests expire, but the slavery to sins that were identified by the law and placed a heavy yoke on people to bear, came to an end through the salvation that was wrought by Christ. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).

Christ was the final purpose of the law as only He could perfectly fulfil it. Through His death He also paid the price for the salvation of all people who were condemned by the law because of their sins. By accepting His atonement in faith, the grace of the Lord’s salvation is imputed to lost sinners. All people have need of this salvation as all have sinned and fallen short of the righteousness of God. But many of the Jews preferred the impossible way of establishing their own righteousness through imperfect efforts to observe the law, thereby rejecting the righteousness of God which was offered to them through the Lord Jesus Christ.

What happened to the Jews who lived and died under the law? Many of them did not only try to live according to the letter of the law outwardly, but their hearts were also circumcised by the Lord (cf. Rom. 2:28-29). They had a clear conviction of their sins and prayed to the Lord for the forgiveness of these sins within the framework of the sacrificial service. Forgiveness was granted to them as the sacrifices pointed ahead to the ultimate sacrifice of the Messiah. Although they did not receive the promise of the Messiah’s coming during their lives, they saw it afar off and accepted in faith (Heb. 11:13). They did not boast in their impeccable law observance, but sincerely confessed their sins and asked for forgiveness.

David prayed: “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight… Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow... Blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me… I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (Ps. 51:4-13). Old Testament believers like this one all expected the salvation of the Lord. According to Isaiah 53:5 they knew that He would be wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities. The judgement for their transgressions of breaking the law would be upon Him, and by His stripes there would be healing for their afflicted souls.

For this reason an angel said to Joseph before the birth of Jesus: “You shall call His name Jesus [that means Yahweh is salvation] for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). God-fearing Israelites were strongly inclined towards the coming of the Messiah and utterly rejoiced when it happened. Zacharias said: “Blessed is the Lord of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people” (Luke 1:68). Simeon was a just and devout man, waiting for the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. When the parents of Jesus brought Him to the temple, Simeon took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting your servant depart in peace… for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

People like this have sought their righteousness by faith in the Messiah and thus became partakers of God’s saving grace. They did not boast in their own achievements of law-abiding, but on the grace and forgivingness of a merciful God. That was the disposition of believing Jews before the coming of the Messiah. After His coming, Messianic Jews only gloried in His work of grace – not in the law or the works of the law. To them, the Messiah was the end of a legalistic religion and a door to the true righteousness of God.

Paul also made this clear transition from the dispensation of the law to the dispensation of grace, based upon faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Before his salvation he was a legalistic Pharisee who sought his righteousness in keeping the law, and not in God’s mercy and forgiveness of sins. He describes his life before salvation as follows: “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).

Paul’s keeping of the law was only blameless in his own eyes and in the eyes of other Pharisees. In spite of this he was so far out of touch with God that he persecuted the Messiah and the assembly of the Messiah. The law could not save him, therefore his prayer to be found in Christ, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:9-10).

The personification of love

Love is the most important characteristic of God (1 John 4:8). That was the basic motivation why He showed mercy to fallen humanity by sending His Son to the earth as a sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16). God’s love is foundational to all righteousness as it is the divine principle from which the plan of salvation was born. Jesus Christ is the personification of God’s agape love. He left His heavenly glory and came to earth in the form of a servant to demonstrate the Father’s love by dying on a cross to pay the death penalty for all sinners who have transgressed the law. The law became a curse to Israel because it imposed the death penalty upon all transgressors. Christ became a curse for them and for all sinners outside Israel – that is a person who was condemned to death and, according to Galatians 3:13, had to die on a cross – in order to save those who were subjected to a curse because of breaking the law (Ezek. 18:20; Gal. 3:10).

The Lord Jesus expects from all those who wish to received Him as their Saviour, to become new people through spiritual regeneration, and to follow in His footsteps: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:21). Because Jesus is the personification of God’s love, He should dwell in our hearts through faith so we can be rooted and grounded in His love (Eph. 3:17). This love which was revealed to us by Jesus Christ and poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5) is our principle of life and the New Testament law according to which we live. This principle gives rise to various directives and commands which the Lord Jesus gives to us.

We should always distinguish Christ’s law of love which is observed through faith in Him, from the Old Testament law. We are not engaged in outward, human efforts to keep the law, but give expression to divine love which we have already received from the Lord. We can only love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We have been instructed to live in terms of the command of love:

•        “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

•        “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

•        “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

•        “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love… This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you” (John 15:10,12).

•        “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).

•        “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

The Lord gives us the power and grace to keep His commandments, which means to truly love Him and to love all people – including our enemies. We have an upward call in this life of love, which is to honour God’s Word in such a way that His love will be perfected in us (1 John 2:5). This love keeps us from sin and gives us boldness not to fear the judgements of God upon the wicked (1 John 4:17), “and to wait for His Son from heaven… even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).

We must remember that it is the same loving God who wishes to save our souls through Jesus Christ and impart His love to us, who will also pour out his just wrath upon the sinners who despised His love. We should not make the mistake of turning God’s love into licentiousness, for then we will deny the Lord Jesus (Judas v.4). The New Testament law of love towards God and our neighbour demands that we put off all carnal, sinful works which are contrary to the nature of God’s love, and to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:13-25).

With a view to this challenge Paul could confidently say that he is under the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21). Do you practise this law in your relationships with fellow believers and all other people? “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

The foundation of Israel’s legalistic religion

Most Jews have, like their leaders – the Pharisees, Sadducees and other scribes – rejected the Messiah and continued with their legalistic religion which only yielded a form of godliness. They gloried in their own efforts to live according to the law; consequently, they were not under the conviction of their sins and did not truly serve the Lord. They turned the law itself into an instrument of salvation, which it was never intended to be. The laws were given as guidelines to God’s redeemed people, and could not be honoured without the Lord’s help and the regular forgiving of sins. But many of the Jews, like Paul before his conversion, gloried in their blameless, legalistic lives. The Pharisee in the temple thanked the Lord because he was such a good person: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). The tax collector only said, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). The judgement of the Lord Jesus on these two people was as follows: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).

From this parable it is evident that many Israelites were not serious in serving God and were therefore not convicted of their sins. They only honoured the Lord with their lips but their hearts were far from Him (Matt. 15:8). The Lord Jesus warned the Jews that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees, they would by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). These people’s lives only outwardly looked good, like whitewashed tombs, but their hearts were evil.

Jesus said to them: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13). In their form of godliness the letter of the law was the only norm, and for that reason they only judged Jesus from a narrow, legal point of view and wrongfully branded Him a violator of the law and a sinner (Matt. 11:19; John 19:7). They regarded His power to cast out demons and to heal people as coming from the devil (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; John 8:48), thereby slandering the Holy Spirit and committing an unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:28,32).

Only the God-fearing Jews who did not rely on a legalistic religion, who confessed their sins, trusted God and put their hope in the coming of the Messiah, have recognised and accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah. They believed John when he said about Jesus: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He was the perfect and sinless Lamb of God (Heb. 4:15; 7:26). “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).

With the coming of the Messiah the dispensation of the law with all its shadowy institutions and human limitations has been concluded. In Jesus Christ all God’s promises of the good things to come became a glorious reality. The time when weak, sinful priests conducted the temple service, “offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:11), was concluded with the coming of the Messiah. He was perfect and sinless, and by His willingness to humble Himself to the point of dying on a cross He became a perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of all people. Only He can save His people from their sins – a guilt which they put on themselves by breaking the law.

No compromise

Unfortunately, there are people who compromise with the old covenant by returning to certain of its commandments, in spite of the fact that the Gentiles were never part of the old covenant. Acts of this nature have very serious implications since the fulfilment of the law in Jesus Christ is hereby denied. Paul said to the Judaisers who tried to subject the church in Galatia to the law: “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? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the learning of faith? … Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 3:1-2; 5:2-4).

Compromise of this nature does not only refer to circumcision but also to the legalistic observance of Sabbaths, feasts, sacrifices and dietary laws which are not part of the New Testament command of love towards God and our neighbour. The law has been completely fulfilled by Christ, and His love was poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We would certainly deny Him should we revert to the shadows of the law. Paul blames such people by saying: “…how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:9-10).

Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 602) comment as follows on this scripture: “Under the influence of the Judaizers the Galatians had at least begun to observe the Mosaic calendar. They kept special days (weekly sabbaths), and months (new moons), and seasons (seasonal festivals), and years (sabbatical and jubilee years). They observed these special times, thinking that they would thereby gain additional merit before God. But Paul had already made it clear that works could not be added to faith as grounds for either justification or sanctification.”

By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in the sight of the Lord, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). We should stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and not become entangled again with a yoke of bondage to sin or to the law (Gal. 5:1). Anyone preaching a gospel which is contrary to complete and absolute salvation by grace, based upon Christ’s atoning death, must be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9).

When the principles of divine love have been written by the Holy Spirit on the tablets of our regenerated hearts, we truly have a message to a needy world and will be able to spread the fragrance of Christ everywhere. It will enable us to overcome evil with good, and thus be examples of Christ’s love, forgiveness and saving grace. We are also called to provoke orthodox Jews to jealousy by the way in which we serve the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob through the Messiah (Rom. 11:11). This purpose will be completely defeated if we become partakers in Jewish feasts which are prescribed by the law, e.g. the Sabbath, since Christ is denied by these feasts. We will then pursue shadows instead of the reality of the Messiah who has already come. All Messianic Jews who were previously under the law should say with Paul: “Now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6).

Saved people may only participate in truly Messianic feasts such as the Supper of the Lord or the Resurrection Day of the Messiah on Sundays. Pentecost and the feast of Tabernacles can also be celebrated as Messianic feasts in which the first coming of the Messiah, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the expectation on the second coming of the Lord Jesus are explicitly recognised. When these conditions are met the feast will no longer be a mere shadow of things to come, but celebrate their fulfilment in the Messiah (Col. 2:16-17). In that we the participants in the feast will tell Israel and the whole world that their celebration is not within a legalistic framework, but within the Messiah’s New Testament plan of salvation for all people. Paul had such a Christian feast in mind when he said: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast…” (1 Cor. 5:7-8). We as Christians should never, for the sake of acceptance by orthodox Jews or other unsaved people, be ashamed of Jesus and keep silent about His name when celebrating feasts. He is a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel (Luke 2:32). But Israel is not His people if they do not recognise and accept Him as Messiah. The same condition applies to the Gentiles as they have to accept Him by faith if they wish to belong to Him and share in His grace. Have you done that and do you serve Him wholeheartedly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

 

3. The Grace of Christ

God is the source and personification of true love. All those who wish to belong to Him must receive His divine love in their hearts and live according to its noble principles. John described this new life as follows:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested towards us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:7-16).

A true believer is not someone who tries to please God by efforts to observe the law, but one who received the new life of Christ by faith and daily put it on. God’s agape love is poured out in the hearts of His children by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). It completely changes their character and enables them to live according to its divine principles. The love of God should be the salient characteristic of their personal life and relationship with others:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8).

Consequences of God’s love

God’s love was revealed in a spiritually depraved world that lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19). By yielding to Satan’s deception in the Garden of Eden, our first parents and all their descendants became sinners by nature (Rom. 5:12). In this fallen situation, God’s love is of great significance as it offers the only hope of salvation to the millions of sinners on earth. But His offer of salvation also demands judgement and punishment upon His adversaries who reject His love and grace. The various consequences of God’s love gave rise to the manifestation of more of His attributes, such as the following:

  • Truth. God is the measure for all truth. His Word is the truth, and His Spirit is the Spirit of truth who guides us into all truth (John 17:17; 16:13). The Lord Jesus revealed these great truths to us (John 14:6). The opposite concept of lies is associated with Satan who is the father of lies (John 8:44). We should be able to clearly distinguish between good and evil. To this end the Holy Spirits convicts us of our sin, the righteousness of God and the judgements that have been proclaimed upon Satan and his followers.
  • Wrath upon sinners. God hates sin as that is an expression of the rejection of His love, and therefore also of His kingdom of truth and righteousness (Ps. 45:7). His wrath and judgements will come upon the wicked people who despise Him by persistently living in sin (Rev. 14:10). They act under the instigation of Satan, who leads the kingdom of darkness.
  • Righteousness. God is righteous because He gave all people a free will to choose between good and evil. Those who reject Him will be the objects of His righteous judgements (1 Pet. 2:23; Rev. 16:5). “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We should never ascribe a type of love to God which nullifies His judgements and wrath upon the wicked. There are those who wrongfully argue that God is so loving that He will never punish people by condemning them to hell.
  • Grace. The Lord has great mercy and forgiveness, and therefore offers remission of sin and spiritual restoration to all sinners. God hates sin but loves sinners. They were created in His image but have fallen into sin because of Satan’s deception. God’s righteous judgements compelled Him to pass an eternal death penalty upon all sinners. But how can His grace and mercy be shown to sinners if they have already been condemned? By having an innocent and righteous Person to take the death penalty of sinners upon Himself. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is a propitiation for our sins, on condition that we confess our sins and accept His sacrifice on our behalf in faith. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). God imposed His righteous judgement against sin on His Son, so that all who believe in Him can be forgiven and acquitted. That is grace! His grace to salvation is followed by the giving of grace for all other needs that we may have. We are called upon to trust the Lord for everything since His grace is sufficient for us.

Progressive revelation

During Old Testament times, God often intervened in a totally depraved and godless world to judge the wicked and save the righteous, e.g. in the times of Noah and Lot. But the subsequent generations proceeded with the iniquity of their fathers, and God called for Him a special people from among the heathens to live separated from the wicked. They were the people of Israel. He revealed His love to them by giving them His law. That was a basic set of rules prescribing the right conduct (righteousness and holiness) and prohibiting evil. He said, “I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44).

However, the love and grace of God were not poured out in the hearts of people, so they did not really have a strong motivation to serve the Lord. There was only a short step between serving the Lord and bowing before idols, which they often did. Their fixed times for worshipping the Lord were easily neglected, thereby excluding Him from their lives. The conviction of sin was instilled in them by reading the law, while forgiveness was ensured by repetitive animal sacrifices. Priests were the mediators between the nation and God; consequently, ordinary people’s experience of God’s love, holiness, forgivingness and His guidance in their lives was very limited. They tried to observe the law and also put their trust in circumcision as a sign of their covenant with God. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was only imparted to specific leaders of Israel (kings, prophets and priests). Grace and the forgiving of sins were available to people, but only after the priests had offered prayers and sacrifices to the Lord on their behalf.

Sacrifices under the law were only shadows that pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of the Messiah for the sins of the whole world, when He died on the cross as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). The law was unable so save people as no one could fully observe the law. The law condemned the world before God: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).

With the coming of Christ, the dispensation of the law was ended and replaced by the dispensation of grace. Paul said, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:14-15). Sin is contrary to the new life which we receive from above since God’s agape love instils a divine life in us which reflects His holiness (1 Pet. 1:15-16). The Holy Spirit was poured out upon all people, convicting them of sin – that includes all thoughts and deeds which are in conflict with the holy nature of God.

In the dispensation of grace God reveals His love to a spiritually depraved world by His Son’s atoning death on the cross by which He saves repentant sinners. Grace is God’s gift of forgiveness to lost sinners who are alienated from their Creator and His divine nature. His Holy Spirit convicts all people of their sin and of the righteousness of Christ (John 16:8). The conviction of sin is no longer effected by the reading of the law. Furthermore, the forgiving of sins is no longer obtained through the sacrifices brought by priests – all sinners can now approach the throne of grace where they can confess their sins and be granted forgiveness (Heb. 4:16). The forgiveness which they freely receive form the Lord as a gift of grace commits them to also forgive their own trespassers (Matt. 6:15).

The fact that we are not under the law implies that we are on a higher spiritual level than the people of the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16) and also convicts us of the sins which separate us from God. Even the smallest sin can impede our relationship with the Lord and grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), and should therefore immediately be confessed and forsaken. The Lord’s work of grace in our lives includes cleansing by the blood of the Lamb and the indwelling the Holy Spirit, through which the righteousness and holy nature of Christ are imputed to us.

The love of God which was poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), constrains us to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and not to allow any other love to take precedence over the love of God in our lives (Matt. 10:37, 1 John 2:15-16). By virtue of Christ’s death on the cross we can also die to sin and become alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11). We don’t need to live under the dominion of sin (Rom. 6:12-14). God’s grace is freely given to us.

In this higher life of dedication to the Lord we should never exalt the law to the guiding principle of our lives, as we would then “turn again to the weak and beggarly elements” of the law (Gal. 4:9). A New Testament believer would deny the sufficiency of Christ’s grace if he tries to supplement his relationship with the Lord Jesus by an Old Testament covenant sign such as circumcision, or by the legalistic observance of the Sabbath (Gal. 5:2-4). “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). The Living Bible paraphrases this scripture as follows: “So Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free and don’t get all tied up again in the slavery to Jewish laws and ceremonies.” We should not become servants of sin or of the Mosaic law.

In the light of these facts it is of the utmost importance that we should know the basic principles of the dispensation of grace, how they function in our lives and what the Lords expects of us. Let us avoid the serious error of the Galatians, who underestimated the grace of Christ and tried to add to it by observing certain laws. In the new dispensation, covenant signs such as circumcision do not determine the relationship that a person has with God, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). Covenant signs (baptism or circumcision) do not render us new creatures – only the rebirth by God’s Spirit because of His mercy can save us. We should walk according to the rules of the new man (Gal. 6:16) and be guided by the Holy Spirit into the full truth of this life.

The love of God has its own dynamics and principles to keep us moving in the right direction (1 Cor. 13:4-8). It strengthens and uplifts the inner man if you observe its principles: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-25). As Christians we still have a free will and have to take decisions with regard to our spiritual life. We must continuously surrender ourselves to the will of God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are deeply dependent upon the Lord to fill us with His Holy Spirit so we can be spiritually strengthened in the inner man, to give us knowledge, wisdom and discernment, to guide us through life, to teach us as His disciples, to use us in His service, to carry us through difficulties and to deliver us from evil. He promises us His continued presence in our lives (Heb. 13:5).

In the dispensation after the coming of Christ, God’s saving grace is proclaimed to all nations, and that gave rise to the New Testament church of Christ. The Holy Spirit enables and empowers us to preach the gospel message (Acts 1:8). He also regenerates the hearts of people to make them Christians (1 Cor. 12:13). Because of this, the present dispensation is not only known as the dispensation of grace but also as the church dispensation and the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. What does the Bible teach us on the grace of God?

Grace for salvation

All sinners are alienated from God and cannot see or hear Him, so they need to hear the message of His love and grace from one of His children who has already been saved by grace. The Holy Spirit enables sinners to respond in faith to God’s calling by accepting His Son as their Saviour. When they do that, they become believers who are associated with God because they have received His grace in their lives by faith. They have a hopeful future in the Lord because they know that they are destined for His eternal glory. Before salvation they were without hope and without God in the world.

Faith, hope and love are the spiritual characteristics of a person who has been recreated by the grace of God. His faith represents a relationship with the living God. That gives him a fixed hope on the Lord for daily sustenance and protection, but particularly also on eternal life in heaven. The love of God determines the nature of our relationship with Him and also with other people. A Christian must be grounded and rooted in this love so it can become the foundation of his life (Eph. 3:17-19). Love and grace should abound in our lives to strengthen our faith.

No person can be saved without the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is the basis of God’s saving grace, and can only be accepted by faith as a gift from Him. We cannot even in the smallest way deserve our salvation: “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” (Eph. 2:8-9).

In this context, works refer to people’s own efforts of law observance and good living in order to ensure their salvation. If it was possible for anyone to earn acceptance by God he would boast in his own works for salvation. There is no exception to the rule that we can only become children of God by grace because of the atoning death of Christ. But does this mean that works have no place in a believer’s life? Certainly not! We must be cautious not to wrongly assess the role of works in a Christian’s life as that would rob us of many blessings and also of the fruit of the Spirit. Although human works and a good life do not in the least form part of the basis for our salvation, works nevertheless play a big role in our lives during and after salvation.

The saving grace of Christ cannot even be imputed to us if we do not react to His offer of salvation by the works of repentance and the confession of our sins (1 John 1:9). That is faith in action. Repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all people (Luke 24:47). Forgiveness of sins by grace must be preceded by repentance. After salvation we must do works that befit repentance (Acts 26:20). We must build upon the foundation, Jesus Christ, by doing works with eternal value (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Some Christians neglect this duty and will consequently appear before Christ empty-handed. Faith and works go hand in hand; that is why faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:14,17).

Immediately after Paul has denounced the role of works as a basis for salvation, he explained the important role of works in the life of a Christian: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). After I have been saved by grace through faith, the Lord will use me daily to work for Him. He said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

The riches of God’s grace

The information in this section has been derived from the article Grace covers it all by Anton Bosch (Aug. 2007):

Many people struggle to accept that God’s grace is sufficient to deal with, and to forgive their sin. They live in constant guilt, not believing nor accepting that grace is more and bigger than their sin. Irrespective of how we feel or what we think, God’s Word is clear: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us” (Eph. 1:7-8). Notice it is according to the riches of His grace.

But then there are just as many people who abuse the grace of God and think that His abundant grace is an excuse to sin and to continue in sin. This is a line of thinking that has become increasingly popular over the past 30 years. Many preachers have distorted the message of grace because they are more interested in increasing the size of their congregations than in rightly dividing the Word of truth. People in these churches feel that it does not matter how they live since the Lord will always forgive. This has given rise to a generation of “christians” who deny every principle in the Bible except that of grace.

This is not a new problem. Paul had obviously come across the same thinking and he responded: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). He then presents a brief, but complex argument in the following 12 verses. The conclusion of this argument boils down to one simple fact. If we have truly been born again (died and risen with Him) then we should be dead to sin and alive to God. Thus those who continue in sin, that grace may abound, are clearly declaring that they are not new creatures, but have simply grabbed hold of God’s grace to escape His judgment. They have no desire to be united with Him, to live in, and for Him, or to submit to Him. All they want is a “pass jail” ticket and a license to continue in their sinful ways without feeling guilty.

In Romans 6:15, Paul says something similar: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” Once again, he explains his statement with an 8-verse argument. In this case he says that those who continue to sin because of grace need to check who their master is. If they are addicted to sin, then sin is their master. If they are enslaved to righteousness, then God is their Lord and Master. He is really saying the same thing as before. Those who continue to sin and abuse the grace of God may not be saved! If we are truly saved, we will be addicted to doing right things and not sin… If we have understood the message of the Gospel and the price Jesus paid for us and the greatness of God’s grace, we will not want to sin, but will want to please Him and serve Him. You cannot have visited the foot of the cross and treat sin lightly. Once you have (even partially) understood what sin did to Jesus, you will flee from it.

Grace for sanctification

The grace of God is not only related to salvation but also to sanctification and separation from the world: “For the grace of God that brings salvation… teaches 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 Saviour 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). After salvation, the Holy Spirit pours out the grace of the Lord into our hearts more abundantly to motivate us towards a new life of holiness and service to the Lord. We should follow His guidance wholeheartedly.

Paul urged the Corinthians not to remain “babes in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1) but to grow up spiritually in the grace of the Lord: “In this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit” (2 Cor. 1:15). The Amplified Bible explains “a second benefit” as “a double favour and token of grace.” When the Holy Spirit regenerates us He ministers the first work of grace to us, which is salvation. When He fills us with Himself and equips us for service He ministers the second work of grace, which is sanctification. Both these works are done by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross – that is why we all receive from His fullness one grace after another (John 1:16). The Lord Jesus paid the ransom for our justification and sanctification, but the Holy Spirit does these works of grace in the hearts of those who trust the Lord.

The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts, endues us with the nature of Christ and enables us to live accordingly. In this way He teaches us to live pure and holy lives. Although God sanctifies us by virtue of Christ’s work of atonement (1 Thess. 5:23), He expects from us works of dedication (2 Tim. 2:19,21; 2 Cor. 7:1). We should live soberly and rest our hope fully on God’s grace for holiness. He can give us a pure heart.

Many Christians do not actively pursue holiness as they should, and consequently grieve the Holy Spirit. They disregard the command to deny themselves and surrender their old nature (the flesh) to be crucified. Because of their neglect, they do not walk in the Spirit but actually oppose Him through their uncrucified flesh (Gal. 5:16-17). The Holy Spirit wishes to lead us out of a worldly and self-centred orientation by promoting divine characteristics and attitudes in us. If we strive after these things we will receive more grace to enable us to devote ourselves to this wonderful, new life. The Lord will then be with us and bless us. Paul gives the following advice:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil. 4:4-9).

The newness of life is part of the grace that we receive from the Lord, but we must also increase our knowledge of it from the Word of God. We should be greatly motivated when we behold and consider the lives of Spirit-filled children of the Lord. We should encourage one another to this end by praising the Lord and quoting truths from Scripture: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

Grace for works

We should, as Christians, continuously draw on the grace of the Lord if we wish to please Him and be of service to Him. He did not only save us by grace to go to heaven one day but also to be His witnesses in an evil world. If you do not fulfil this calling then you were called in vain to be a disciple of Christ. Have you offered yourself to work for Christ as one of His disciples? Paul said: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul was not only saved by grace but the Lord’s grace for works was also given to him according to all his needs. He did not boast in himself for what he has achieved.

The Lord expects every child of Him to grow in His grace so all of us can contribute towards proclaiming the gospel to the unsaved world. We are blamed if we do not grow up spiritually to the level where we can be used of the Lord: “For though by this time you aught to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection” (Heb. 5:12–6:1).

One of the most common reasons for the lack of spiritual growth and discipleship is sin and worldliness. There shouldn’t be things in our lives that mar our testimony as that would disqualify us to work for the Lord: “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity… If anyone cleanses himself from these, he will be a vessel of honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:19,21).

The Holy Spirit endues us with different gifts of grace to be able to work for the Lord (1 Cor. 12:4; Rom. 12:6). When we offer ourselves to work in the Lord’s vineyard, we need the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) as well as self-discipline. Paul says: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). The Living Bible says: “Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside.” A living faith will lead to works. Are there any works that emerge from your faith? If not, you may have a dead faith. Do you use your talents in the service of the Lord, or are they dormant? Lazy servants will in vain offer excuses for their failure in serving the Lord (Matt. 25:24-28; Luke 19:20-24).

The Lord Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). Do you also do that? The night of God’s judgement will soon enfold this wicked world. Then, the dispensation of grace will have expired and be followed by the time of God’s reckoning: “Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your Name, small and great, and You should destroy those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18). The Lord Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work” (Rev. 22:12).

Grace during temptations and spiritual warfare

The Lord Jesus is able to aid those who are tempted as He Himself has suffered, being tempted (Heb. 2:18). “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Because we are weak the Lord gives us grace to overcome temptations. He will not allow that we are tempted beyond our strength, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape that we may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). But temptations are necessary as the testing of our faith makes it strong (Jas. 1:2-15). We must resist and conquer it. The Lord also promises us strength and grace to prevail in the fierce battle against the devil (Eph. 6:10-11). In this dispensation we are not kings who are ruling with Christ in His kingdom, but soldiers for the cross in a world that lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19). Under circumstances like these we are greatly dependent upon the grace of the Lord to remain standing in “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).

Grace for other needs

The Lord cares for us in all respects and says that He shall supply all our need according to the riches of His grace (Phil. 4:19; Eph. 2:7). For how many of your needs have you trusted the Lord? We should ask grace for every difficult task that faces us, also when we have to resist temptations and sin, or when we have to handle crises or solve problems. There is no situation for which the grace of God is not sufficient.

When you are sick or weak, the grace of the Lord is sufficient to either heal you or to give you strength to bear your cross and remain standing during trials and afflictions. His grace even helps you to triumph in the most difficult situations: “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom. 5:20). The love of carnal Christians will grow cold (Matt 24:12).

It is important that we believe and accept the all-sufficiency of Christ’s grace. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven by His grace, and no demonic bondage that cannot be broken. The Lord Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); therefore His grace is enough to deliver us from Satan. The grace of Christ is sufficient for forgiveness and saving from sin, the remission of all transgressions, and for all spiritual problems: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It is not necessary to resort to special deliverance ministries, inner healing, psychological counselling, hypnosis, or the breaking of alleged generation curses in an effort to supplement the grace of the Lord, as that would deny the all-sufficiency of Christ to do a complete work in our lives. He has come that we may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

Manifold grace

The Lord graciously endows us for special ministries in His service: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10). Every preacher, evangelist and witness for Christ should proclaim the manifold grace of the Lord – for salvation, sanctification, service to the Lord, strength to face the storms of life, victory over all the temptations and attacks of Satan, as well as supplying in all the needs of the saints.

We should also identify all the stumbling-blocks that prevent us from experiencing the fullness of the Lord’s grace in our lives. When these hindrances have been removed, we can again “put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We will then know and experience that Christ fulfils our every need. “Hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).

The question is: “how much of the grace of the Lord do you experience in your life? We obtain it by faith in prayer. If we neglect to pray for God’s grace and to accept the promises in His Word by faith, we will remain spiritually poor and weak. James says, “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2).

Grace and law

A life under the law is quite different from a life led by the grace of Christ according to the principles of His love. We should clearly realise that we are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). The fact that we are not under law does not mean that we lead a lawless and unrestrained life, but that the grace of Christ induces us to live on a higher spiritual level of dedication to God. His grace teaches us to renounce carnal passions and desires, and to conform to His holiness – also in our secret thoughts.

Paul says, “…the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane” (1 Tim. 1:9). The law is not intended for those who have already confessed their sins and came to Christ for forgiveness. The law is a tutor for sinners to bring them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). Neither are we under the law after our salvation since we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:13-26). The Holy Spirit grounds and roots us in the love of Christ. He leads and empowers us to live in accordance with divine love. He continuously convicts us of sins so that we should confess and forsake them.

We must have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and follow in His footsteps (1John 2:6). He has completely fulfilled the law, so we don’t need to revert to overt observances of the law to determine our behaviour accordingly. When the love of Christ has been poured out into our hearts, and we apply it to our lives, then we have fulfilled the law (Gal. 5:14). If I love God with all my heart I do not need a law to tell me that I should have no other gods before Him. If I love my neighbour as myself I am also not in need of laws that determine the nature of my relationship with other people (Rom. 13:8-10). The love of Christ (not the law) lays the necessity upon me to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16; 2 Cor. 5:14).

We are only subject to the law of Christ, which is the law of love (John 13:34; 15:12). Even the command about the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ as we have entered the rest of the Lord in Him. We are free to make any day of the week a special day of dedication to the Lord, or even all seven days of the week (Rom. 14:5). We daily live in His grace and do not need to observe shadowy festivals that have already been fulfilled in Christ (Col. 2:16-17).

Falling from grace

The Lord wants us to love Him freely and therefore does not compel anybody to accept and follow Him. We retain our free will after salvation and thus have the choice and ability to sin, take wrong decisions and thereby to grieve the Holy Spirit. Because of this, there is always a possibility to decline in the grace of God instead of growing in grace: “Look diligently lest anyone should fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up should cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:15).

There is a definite possibility of declining in grace as well as falling from grace if we do not abide in Christ. That happens when people accept wrong doctrines or fall back into sin despite the pleading and conviction of the Holy Spirit. Since Old Testament times believers were warned against apostatising: “When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Ezek. 18:24).

Faith is our communication with God. When our faith weakens or ceases to exist, we backslide. Grace will then decline or even vanish from our lives. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). There are various warnings against backsliding and apostatising in the New Testament. The following are the most important ones:

Falling away from the love of Christ. There are individuals and even entire congregations who are falling away from the love of Christ. The place of divine love is then taken up by love for their church, love for their pastor and other foreign loves – also love for the world (1 John 2:15). The Lord Jesus warns such people that unless they return to their first love He will remove their lampstand (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) from them: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). The light of the gospel can, therefore, be removed from a person or congregation in cases of persistent deviation from the truth. The Bible says, “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14). Through his disobedience he was responsible for the serious apostatising in his life. He was never restored to faith. There are many such people who started in the light of God’s kingdom but ended in spiritual darkness.

Falling from Christ Himself. We have a clear command to abide in Christ, but not all people heed this command: “Abide in Me, and I in you… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:4,6). But what then of the following guarantee: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28)? There are definite conditions attached to the promise of eternal security: the sheep of Christ must continue to hear His voice and to follow Him. Only then do they abide in Him and have the assurance that no other power will snatch them from His hand; therefore the command: “Abide in Me!” Eternal life is only in Jesus Christ. If, by wilful sinning or deviating on the way of deceptive doctrines, we do not abide in Christ, we are indeed at risk of forfeiting eternal salvation.

Falling from grace. When believers no longer regard the grace of Christ as sufficient for salvation and sanctification, and supplement it by observing certain laws, they inevitably fall from grace. Paul said to saved Galatians who reverted to the law: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Believers can be severed from Christ because of their own actions. The following promise is conditional: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). The condition for eternal security (that we should not grieve the Spirit) is mentioned with the promise. Some believers do not allow the Holy Spirit to fill and guide them into the whole truth. In this way they grieve and resist Him. How can He keep on sealing our salvation if we don’t walk in Him and recognise His control over our lives? Because of our free will we can do wrong things, start believing wrong teachings and even fall from grace. Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). That means that we should not extinguish Him like a light that is switched off. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is very sensitive and dependant upon our full obedience. Like a curtain that can be closed to bar the sunlight from a room, we can also reject the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit through wilful sinning. In such situations we forfeit the guarantees that we had as believers.

Departing from the faith. People who don’t abide in the doctrine of Christ by turning to false doctrines, backslide and even stand to lose their faith: “The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). John says, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John v.9). Profs. John Walvoord & Roy Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) say the following on this Scripture: “These words suggest strongly that the apostle was thinking here of defection from the truth by those who had once held to it. The word ‘continue’ (Greek meno) has been used 23 times in 1 John in reference to the ‘abiding’ life. A person who does not continue in a thing has evidently once been in it. The New Testament writers were realists about the possibility of true Christians falling prey to heresy and warned about it, particularly in the book Hebrews. John had just cautioned his readers about possible loss of reward (v.8). They were thus now cautioned not to overstep the boundaries of sound doctrine, but to remain where they were, and to abide (continue) in the teaching about Christ. To deviate from the truth is to leave God behind. God is not with a person who does so. What such a person does, he does without God.”

Paul says to Timothy that he must have “faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19). Those who have abandoned their faith and defected from the truth proclaim their heresies to others and “overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18). Various fundamental truths are attacked and denied by the heretics, e.g. the deity of Jesus and the spiritual significance of His atoning death. Peter warns against false teachers “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways” (2 Pet. 2:1-2). They proclaim fables (or lies) instead of biblical truths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Former Christians who become entangled in lies are causing their own destruction by departing from the faith.

Departing from the faith because of sin. People do not only backslided because of wrong doctrines but also because of sin (immoral behaviour). Hebrew believers were warned as follows: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called Today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13). The same form of apostatising also occurred in the case of the prodigal son, but he restored his broken relationship with his father by returning to him and expressing sincere remorse for his sin (Luke 15:18-19). During the time of his backsliding he was lost and spiritually dead. Christians who backslided into a life sin can again repent and be spiritually revived. The prodigal son “was dead and is alive again.” (Luke 15:32). King David realised the seriousness of his situation when he fell into sin, as well as the possibility that the Holy Spirit could depart from him. He prayed, “Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:1-2, 9-11).

Departing from the faith due to changing God’s Word. The last few verses of the Bible contain a solemn warning: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19). In view of this, it is entirely possible that someone’s name may have been written in the book of life, but later blotted out because of his presumptuous infringement of the Word of God. But if we are among the overcomers who do not accept wrong teachings or fall into sin, and who don’t deny the Lord or His Word, our names will always remain in the book of life. Christ said, “He who overcomes shall be clothed with white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the book of life” (Rev. 3:5). But it can nevertheless happen that certain names are removed because of their own doing. The Lord Jesus will say to the faithful ones, “You have kept My word and have not denied My name… Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:8,11). We must uphold sound doctrine and persevere on the right way.

Departing from the faith due to self-justification and materialism. The Lord Jesus said to a congregation of this nature, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:16-17). Jesus Christ withdraws Himself from people who boast in their own achievements and declare themselves saved on these grounds. They do not even know that the Lord is no longer in their midst. Sardis is another congregation that suffered from the same problem of only having a form of godliness. Jesus said, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). The Amplified Bible says’ “I know your record and what you are doing; you are supposed to be alive, but in reality you are dead.” Their faith has withered away because of spiritual stagnation, as it bore no fruit. But they still regarded themselves as good Christians. They may have started good but they didn’t end well. Demas was also a person who started good, but materialism and love for the world led to his spiritual downfall. Paul says, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). We should clearly realise that love for God and love for the world cannot coexist in our lives (1 John 2:15).

Departing from the faith due to a lack of perseverance. Paul says to the Hebrews, “we [must] hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end… For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:6,14). The Colossians were also ensured of ultimate glory “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23). Paul himself experienced severe attacks by Satan on his faith, and for that reason he often admonished other believers not to lose hope and withdraw from the spiritual race. He said, “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving [preserving] of the soul” (Heb. 10:37-39). There are different reasons why some depart from the way of truth. Paul persevered on the right way to the end, and shortly before his death wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Departing from the faith due to the wilful rejection of Christ, His atoning death and the Holy Spirit. Although most of the believers who apostatised and departed from God’s grace can be spiritually restored, there are also those who rejected Christ and insulted the Holy Spirit. They cannot be restored because they have despised and rejected the only One who can save their souls (Heb. 6:4-6). “How much worse punishment… will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). Peter also warns against this foolish act: “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 in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:20-21). This is a very serious matter.

Growing in grace

Instead of falling from grace we should grow in grace: “Since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away by the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:17-18).

Grace and knowledge should develop and increase simultaneously. Knowledge of the truth is necessary if we wish to grow spiritually and increase in grace. But we should not confine ourselves to knowledge alone. The promises in God’s Word must be accepted in faith if we wish to be spiritually strong en properly established in God’s grace. The Lord Jesus is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). His words should dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16) so that grace can abound in our hearts.

We should endeavour to be perfect and complete in all the will of God (Col. 4:12). That means that the love of Christ must be perfected in our hearts (1 John 2:5) while we are built up on our most holy faith (Jude 1:20). Do not confine yourself to the first principles of Christ but go on to perfection (Heb. 6:1). Grow up to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13) and press towards the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14-15). His grace will enable you to make progress on the way to ultimate perfection.

Amazing grace, that brings a sinner up out of a horrible pit and gives him new life; that pours divine love into his heart and gives him strength to be like Christ; that empowers him for the spiritual battle and equips him to work abundantly for the Lord; that conforms him to the image of Christ and gives him, through the righteous acts of the saints, a wedding garment for the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-8). Walk in the fullness of God’s grace whereto all of us have been called.

When we have received the riches of God’s grace through Christ’s work of atonement and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we achieve the purpose for which the Triune God has created us. He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). The final purpose of God’s grace to us is that we are conformed to the image of His Son. “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it… 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). This high purpose for our existence can become a glorious reality through the love of the God of all grace.

 

4. The Dangers of Judaising

Among Christians in various parts of the world an extremely dangerous spiritual movement is under way, where people in many respects revert back to the Old Testament law. They do so under the deceptive supposition that the outward observance of the law would add to the grace of Christ to make them better Christians. The converse situation, however, is more likely to be true, as this practice may jeopardise people’s salvation.

An objective study of the law in the New Testament (NT) – not quoting selectively only those sections which support one’s own view – clearly indicates that, in the time after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer under the law:

  • “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). We are not convicted of sin by the law, but by the Holy Spirit who ministers the grace of Christ to us and instils His image in us. Everything which is in conflict with the nature of Christ is sin. The NT fully informs us about the works of the flesh (sin), as well as the fruits of the Spirit which represent God’s righteousness (cf. Gal. 5:16-22).
  • “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). Christ’s work of grace, as well as the example of His perfect life (1 John 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:21), calls and enables us to reach loftier heights in our spiritual life. The faithful following of the Lord Jesus leads to more complete sanctification than was possible through the law. That is why Paul said that his righteousness was not from the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:9).
  • “If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal. 2:21). The law renders all people guilty before God (Rom. 3:19), since no person can comply with the demands of the law to be saved through it. The law only brings us knowledge of sin but cannot save us. We can only be saved by accepting Christ’s atoning death and then surrender ourselves to be guided into all truth by His Spirit.
  • “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Any Christian who tries to supplement the grace of the Lord Jesus by observing the law – even if it is only the legalistic observance of the Sabbath – actually says by this action that Christ is not sufficient for him, thereby undermining the gospel of the cross. We cannot be under law and under grace at the same time!

The reference to observance of the law in Matthew 5:17-19 was relevant to that particular time, since Jesus had not yet made atonement for our sins, and the Holy Spirit was not yet poured out to convict people of their sin. The law fulfils the function as a tutor to Christ as only He can save (Gal. 3:24). The relevance of the law as a tutor to Christ still prevails, but in the period after Christ it can only be applied to unsaved sinners: “… knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane” (1 Tim. 1:9).

In their Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 732), Profs. Walvoord & Zuck comment as follows on this scripture: “The law is designed to show people their sinfulness. Thus the law is not for one who had already recognized his sin and turned to Christ. That person is no longer under the law but should now walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:13-26). The law is intended for those who remain unconvinced of their sin.”

“But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor [the law]” (Gal. 3:25). The only law to which we are subjected is Christ’s New Testament law of love: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). If we love God and our neighbour we have fulfilled the entire law (Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-10). That includes the command on the Sabbath as well, because in Christ we also enter the rest of the Lord. There is nothing wrong in observing a weekly day of rest (Sunday), thereby honouring and upholding a long-standing Christian tradition, but there are no laws pertaining to this day of rest in the Bible.

The love of God was poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5) and enables us to live spiritually on a higher level than the law. There is not the slightest possibility that the liberty from dominion by the law, which we have in Christ (Gal. 5:1), can lead to a life of licentiousness. We have a clear command to holiness, and also a high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Reverting to the law will in no way help us to attain a higher level of sanctification.

Why do so many Christians return to the weak and insufficient elements of the law by observing days, months, seasons and years? (Gal. 4:9-10). These practices refer to weekly Sabbaths, new moons, sabbatical years and other Old Testament (OT) Jewish festivals. It is unthinkable that believers would try to gain additional merit before God by pursuing the shadows of the law after having received the final fulfilling of God’s work of grace through Jesus Christ in the NT. Is Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God’s love not sufficient to them? Do they want to supplement it, thereby detracting from grace? Let it be far from us to lapse into this heresy.

Hebrew roots or Christian roots?

The Hebrew Roots Movement is one of various movements committing themselves to exploring the roots of our faith in Israel’s language, culture and religious institutions. They use the image of the olive tree in Romans 11 as biblical justification for their movement. They see the olive tree as Israel, and the grafting in of the wild olive branches as the salvation of Gentiles, who then become part of a “spiritual Israel.” Having been grafted in, Christians from the Gentile world should then be spiritually edified and nourished by the sap which is offered to them from the trunk and roots of the olive tree (Israel).

In the process, many of these [Christian] believers develop a strong Jewish orientation by referring to themselves as spiritual Jews or Israelites, while also observing Jewish feasts and Sabbaths. They prefer to use Hebrew names and terminology – particularly the Hebrew names of God and Christ. Eventually they reduce themselves to no more than a Christian sect of Judaism, and try to live under the law and under grace.

Believers who think they have been grafted into Israel, actually imply that they were grafted into a nation who were dispersed during the past 2000 years because of rejecting the Messiah due to their unbelief and ignorance on Messianic prophecies in the OT. Now that this nation, still in unbelief, is restored to their land and again started keeping their feasts and Sabbaths in which Jesus is denied as Messiah, many Christians are participating with them!

The Hebrew Roots Movement is mistaken by their statement that the whole olive tree is a symbol of Israel. Actually, only the branches of the tree represent Israel – and they were broken off because of unbelief. We were not grafted into the severed branches of the tree, but into the trunk of the tree. The trunk and roots of the olive tree spiritually represent the Messiah. He is described as “the seed of Abraham”, who is the biological progenitor of Israel:

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, in you all the nations shall be blessed. So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham … Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us … that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith … Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘and to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your seed,’ who is Christ” (Gal. 3:8-16).

The spiritual blessing which we obtain is not from the Jewish nation, but from the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. He is “the Root and the Offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16), in other words the origin and King of Israel who also came to be the Light and Salvation of the whole world (Acts 13:47). In John 15 similar symbolism is found of the stem and root which allude to Jesus, while the believers are the branches that are put in a position to bear fruit: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5). The branches are pruned in order to bear more fruit. Ongoing sanctification and an unbroken relationship with the Lord Jesus should be pursued: “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4). We should, therefore, not become more Jewish, more inclined towards Old Testament institutions, and more legalistic - but more Christ-like, more oriented towards the New Testament, and more Spirit-filled.

The Old Testament is indeed important for spiritual edification and knowledge on God’s counsel for humanity. It also contains many prophecies on the first and second comings of the Messiah, including events that will follow the second coming of Christ, particularly the thousand-year reign of peace – when spiritually regenerated Israel will dwell in their land during the revealed kingdom of the Messiah, to be a blessing to the whole world. The NT is the fulfilment of OT promises; it is the substance of OT shadows (Col. 2:16-17). It would be foolish to revert to the shadows of the law and the prophets after having obtained the glorious fulfilment of these prophetic promises in the Lord Jesus, and having been empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We have not been commissioned to become like Israel, but to lead spiritually blinded Jews to Jesus! Make use of OT prophecies to convince Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah and Saviour of the world.

Hebrew names

An inherent part of the Judaising of Christianity is the use of Hebrew names for God and the Lord Jesus. This is known as the Sacred Name Movement although their ideas are based mainly upon ignorance and false suppositions. Some of them even go so far as to contend that Greek names for God – from which the sacred names in other languages are also derived – all refer to idols. It is, for instance, alleged that Jesus is derived from Je-Zeus, which means Son of Zeus (a well-known pagan god in Greek mythology). In order to clarify this controversy we need to investigate the use of different languages in biblical times.

During the Assyrian and subsequent Babylonian captivity of Israel, and also during the ensuing period, most Jews had lost their knowledge of Hebrew. They started using Aramaic and Greek as colloquial languages. Aramaic was the lingua franca in the entire Middle East, being used by many different peoples. It was a mixture of Syrian and Hebrew. The biblical name for Syria is “Aram”. During the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the common language in Israel. Jesus and His disciples spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Knowledge of Hebrew was confined to educated Jews, e.g. the rabbi’s and the scribes.

Jesus Christ was referred to in Aramaic as Eashoa Msheekha, in Hebrew as Yashua (or Yeshua) Ha Mashiach, and in Greek as Iesous Christos (Iesous being pronounced as Yesous). All books of the New Testament were originally given in Greek by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21), and in these books God is rendered Theos, Lord is described as  Kurios, and Jesus Christ is referred to as Iesous Christos. To allege that these are the names of idols derived from a non-Jewish culture is heretical. The Greek names for God (Theos and Kurios) had already been established for more than two centuries by then and were also generally used in Israel. They were never controversial.

The nouns God or gods can, however, be used as generic terms to refer to idols, other gods or foreign gods, depending on the context in which they are used. The devil can, for instance, be described as the god (theos) of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). The same rule also applies to Hebrew, where Elohim may both refer to God and to idols or other gods. In Exodus 20:2-3 God says: “I am the Lord (Yahweh) your God (Elohim) … You shall have no other gods (elohim) before Me.” Both the Greek and Hebrew personal names and nouns were originally used by the Holy Spirit while inspiring the authors of the Bible, and it is wrong to allege that the Greek names are poor translations of the Hebrew names.

In the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the common language in Israel. The statement in Acts 21:40 that Paul addressed the people “in the Hebrew tongue” (KJV), should have been translated more accurately as “in the Hebrew dialect” – in this case Aramaic. The Amplified Bible and the Modern King James Version say: “… he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect.” The rendering of the NIV is as follows: “… he said to them in Aramaic”. In their Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 417), Profs. Walvoord & Zuck comment: “When Paul was granted permission to speak to the mob, he addressed them in Aramaic, the common language of Palestinian Jews, used throughout the Middle East at that time.” Many of those were also able to speak Greek.

Septuagint

The Septuagint is a Greek version of the Old Testament which was translated in the third century BC in Alexandria, Egypt, for use by Greek-speaking Jews. It was widely used by Hellenistic Jews who were spread throughout the Greek empire and who gradually stopped using their Hebrew language. This translation also gave many non-Jews insight into Israel’s history, culture and religious development. Septuaginta is the Latin word for 70 and refers to the 70 Jewish scholars who did the translation. For this reason it is sometimes abbreviated LXX. Other sources state that there were 72 translators – six from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Following this tradition, all the books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek. For this reason we often find expressions like: “… which is translated …” (see Matt. 1:23; Mark 5:41; 15:22; 15:34; John 1:38; 1:42; Acts 4:36; 9:36). Reference is made to certain Aramaic and Hebrew words which were translated into Greek. The authors mostly quoted from the Septuagint, and occasionally from the Hebrew or Aramaic. There is extensive evidence in the Gospels that quotations were made from the Septuagint, and not from the Hebrew text of the OT.

Hebrew text contains no vowels, and was vowelised very much later. That is one of the reasons why the so-called “Bible codes” cannot work. Aramaic words are also encountered in the NT, such as Pharisee and Abba. Authors quoted from the Greek Septuagint, as that was the medium of instruction during the writing of the NT.

General consensus among scholars of the original languages is that the authors of the NT mainly quoted from the Septuagint. The OT sections from which Romans 3:13-18 and Hebrews 1:6 quote do not even appear in the Hebrew texts and are only found in the Septuagint. The following, among other comments by them on Heb.1:6, is said by Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (ibid. p. 782): “The reference is to the Second Advent when the kingly prerogatives of the Son will be recognized with open angelic worship (cf. Ps. 97:7 where the LXX rendering ‘angels’ correctly renders the text).”

In light of these facts it is not possible that the sacred names should only be used in Hebrew. In any case, nobody knows exactly how God’s Name should be pronounced in Hebrew. The Tetragram YHWH can, in vowelised form, be pronounced in many different ways, e.g. Yahweh, Yehowah and Yahuweh. Consensus also lacks on how the name of Jesus should be pronounced in Hebrew – Yeshua, Yahshua or Yahushua.

Conclusion

Theologically we are on safe ground when using the names God, Lord, and Jesus Christ, which were derived from the Greek words. The Hebraic rendering of names and religious terminology often leads to a theological orientation where aspects of the OT law and covenants with Israel are emphasised at the detriment of the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His work of grace in the NT. Whenever the church or any group of believers see themselves as Israel, theological room for erroneous teachings of this nature is made.

 

5. The Jewish Sabbath or the Christian Sunday?

There is a growing movement among certain Christians, even evangelicals, to revert to the Old Testament law, including the law on Sabbath-keeping. This movement is prompting many questions on the so-called ‘universal applicability’ of the Sabbath. The basic question is: “How should the Old Testament Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) be distinguished from the New Testament resurrection day of Christ (the first day of the week)?” Many people are still not certain about this distinction and, under the influence of Seventh-day Adventist thinking, even allege that worship services on Sundays are unbiblical, having been introduced centuries later by the Roman Catholic Church. What are the true facts?

There are also other considerations for Sabbath-keeping: In recent years the Hebrew Roots Movement originated among certain groups of Christians who are intent on forging closer ties with Israel on the ceremonial level. It is their main objective to explore the Jewish roots of the Christian faith in the people of Israel, and also in their Old Testament laws and feasts. In the process, conformity to Israel and their religious traditions becomes the major thrust of their religious development – rather than conformity to the Jesus and His teachings as expounded in the New Testament.

A consequence of this new orientation is that Judaic reforms in which some of Israel’s ceremonial laws are observed – including the Sabbath on the seventh day, reckoned from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown. Some of these non-Jewish Christians eventually come to regard themselves as Jews and start using only the Hebrew names for God and Christ. The tragic aspect of this new orientation is that they put themselves under the law.

In this article we will examine the allegation that the Bible imposes the Old Testament law on Christians, including the Sabbath law.

The significance of the Sabbath

After His works of creation the Lord rested on the seventh day and hallowed it. He also commanded Israel not to do any work on the seventh day but to rest on it (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:8-11).

In Leviticus 23 where the religious feasts of Israel are introduced, the Sabbath is mentioned first. Apart from the aspect of rest, it is also qualified as a sacred assembly, i.e. a day of special dedication to the Lord (Lev. 23:2-3). As for the sacrifices, it was a day of increased religious activity. Instead of one lamb, two lambs had to be sacrificed on this day, with a correlating increase in the amount of fine flour that was to be used (Num. 28:9-10). On the Sabbath, therefore, the Lord had to be worshipped more than on the other days. This was also the day when fresh loaves of bread which represented all the tribes were to be set out in the temple.  (Lev. 24:5-9).

Furthermore there was a third, specifically Jewish reason for the Sabbath as a sign between the Lord and Israel. Observing the Sabbath served the purpose of drawing the people’s attention to their exodus from Egypt (Deut. 5:15). They were also reminded through this sign that Lord is the One who sanctifies them (Ezek. 20:12). After their Babylonian exile, the Sabbath observance of the Jews became extremely distorted due to the addition of new prohibitions on things that were not to be done on this day. Because of their own interpretation of the Sabbath the Lord Jesus often clashed with them (cf. Matt. 12:1-8).

The New Testament day of the Lord

The weekly day of rest and spiritual dedication would get a deeper significance after the coming of the Lord Jesus and be celebrated as His day of resurrection. Two questions need to be asked in this regard: (1) Why is the New Testament day of the Lord the day after the Old Testament Sabbath?; and (2) Does the Old Testament give any indication of such a day after the Sabbath that would be of great significance in a future dispensation? There are clear answers to these two questions in Leviticus 23.

Firstly, there is great emphasis on both the meaning of the feast of First-fruits as well as the day on which it was to be celebrated: “Tell the Israelites, When you have come into the land I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest to the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, that you may be accepted; on the next day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Lev. 23:10-11; Amplified Bible - AB).

In the Spring month when Jesus was crucified, the wave-offering of the sheaf of first-fruits was conducted on a Sunday morning – the day on which Jesus rose from the grave. It was the day after the Sabbath: “He rose early on the first day of the week” (Mark 16:9). The seed that had fallen in the ground (the death and burial of Jesus) gave its first fruit on the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the grave. It also indicated the beginning of the harvest of souls, for the whole harvest that would be gathered after that offering would be acceptable to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Furthermore, it signalled the transition from the old covenant to the new. That is why it had to happen on a Sunday, the first day of the week and symbolically the beginning of a new dispensation. That is why the celebration of the special day of rest and dedication to the Lord was changed from the seventh to the first day of the week in the new dispensation of grace.

Because of the finished work of the Messiah, we can celebrate resurrection day every Sunday. We have entered into the new covenant with God through Him, and are therefore active partakers in the resurrection life of Jesus our Lord: “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is also vain... But now Christ has risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:14,20).

In view of these facts, the great significance of resurrection day is unambiguously confirmed in the New Testament. The same clarity of intent is evident from the statement on the day when it would occur, i.e. the day after the Sabbath. It was therefore prophetically determined that Jesus would rise from the dead on the first day of the week (that is a Sunday) and that, through this act, He would make the people acceptable to God.

Besides the Preparation Day and the Sabbath (Friday and Saturday) Israel did not have specific names for other days of the week during biblical times. They merely referred to the first or second day of the week, etc. The day after the Sabbath is sometimes referred to as the eighth day. Eight is the number of new things in the Bible since the eighth day is also the first day of a new week. In a wider context it refers to the first day of a new dispensation in God’s plan of salvation for humanity.

The fulfilment of the Feast of Pentecost, when the church of Christ was formally established, was also destined to occur on a Sunday: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: Seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord” (Lev. 23:15‑16). The fulfilment of this Old Testament feast, also on a Sunday, was on the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out (Acts 2).

The Jews celebrate the onset of the dispensation of the law on Pentecost (derived from the Greek word pentecoste, meaning fiftieth). They believe that the people of Israel arrived at Sinai fifty days after their departure from Egypt. It was there that God gave Moses the law (Ex. 19:1‑3). It was for the celebration of this feast that the Jews from different countries gathered in Jerusalem on the day when the Holy Spirit descended. They did not realise that the Passover, the feast of the Unleavened Bread and the feast of the First-fruits had already been fulfilled through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, they did not realise that the dispensation of the law had been consummated. The new dispensation of grace, ministered by the Holy Spirit, was to replace it.

This was another example of God's perfect timing, since 40 days passed between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and another ten days while the disciples were praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to be poured out. This total of 50 days is exactly the same as the time that expired between the wave offering of the sheaf of the First-fruits and the feast of Pentecost.

Did you notice that it was clearly through divine providence that the important acts of salvation between Christ’s resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit happened on Sundays? The first two occasions, when Christ met His disciples as a group after His resurrection and preached to them, were also on a Sunday. These events unquestionably indicate the prominence which Sunday-worship would enjoy in the new dispensation that had just begun. Consider the following basic facts:

Resurrection day. Jesus demonstrated His victory over death and the grave on a Sunday: “On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1).

The first Christian assemblies during which Jesus ministered to His disciples were on a Sunday: “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, Peace be with you. Now when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Then Jesus said to them again, Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit… And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace to you!” (John 20:19-22,26). According to the Jews’ inclusive reckoning of time, the expression “after eight days” indicates exactly a week since both Sundays are counted.

Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “Now when the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting… And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4). According to Leviticus 23:16 the feast of Pentecost was, since its inception, only celebrated on the first day of the week – the day after the Sabbath.

Against the backdrop of these events it is easily understood why the disciples and all members of the early Christian church spontaneously assembled on Sundays for worship services, to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and to contribute towards the Lord’s work: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7).

Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 412-413) comment as follows on Acts 20:7: “This is the clearest verse in the New Testament which indicates that Sunday was the normal meeting day of the apostolic church. Paul stayed in Troas for seven days (v.6) and the church met on the first day of the week. Luke’s method of counting days here was not Jewish, which measures from sundown to sundown, but Roman, which counted from midnight to midnight. This can be stated dogmatically because daylight (v.11) was the next day (v.7). Probably the church met at night because most people had to work during the day. Because Paul was leaving them, possibly for the final time, he prolonged his discourse until midnight.”

From the earliest times it was also customary to collect financial offerings for the work of the Lord during Sunday services. Paul said, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collection when I come” (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Since we are not under the law, giving by church members is not described as “tithing”. Commenting on 1 Cor. 16:1-2, Walvoord & Zuck (ibid. p. 546) say: “Giving should be a systematic weekly practice on Sunday when the church meets together. Giving was to be proportionate – in keeping with one’s income (cf. Acts 11:29).”

A special day of dedication

There is also another indication in the Old Testament of a special day which the Lord would make to the glory of His name. That is related to the coming of the Messiah. Although He would be rejected by His own people He was destined to be the resurrection and life to millions of people on earth: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone. This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:22-24). In Acts 4:10-11 Peter confirms that Jesus who was crucified and raised from the dead is the stone which was rejected by Israel’s leaders, but became a chief corner-stone in God’s kingdom. His resurrection is celebrated every Sunday as the day of the Lord. This is the day over which we should rejoice and be glad: He has risen from the dead – He lives!

In documentation on the early Christian church there is extensive evidence that Christians always celebrated the day of the Lord on Sundays. They called it the Lord’s holy day and assembled on this day to proclaim the Word, sing spiritual hymns, to pray and to partake in Holy Communion.

Dr. David King (The Imperial Bible Dictionary, p. 112-113) says: “The great claim of this day on religious veneration is that Christ rose from the dead on it. His resurrection was an event with highly significant and joyful consequences. It ended His humiliation and demonstrated acceptance of His sacrifice by the Father. It was the confirmation of His title as Mediator and ensured the salvation of his followers. To be able to better comprehend the precedence of this day, Christ’s position on the first day should be compared to that on the preceding seventh day. During the Jewish Sabbath He was in the grave, but on the first day He broke the bonds of death, ‘whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it’ (Acts 2:24).”

The early church fathers all confirm the fact of Sunday worship as a common institution. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote in 110 AD: “Those among us who obtained the new hope no longer keep the Sabbath but the day of the Lord on which we arose from the dead in Him, so that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ.” Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), a disciple of John, wrote: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read… Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly because it is the first day on which God made the world and created light out of darkness. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, rose from the dead on the same day.” Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, said in about 178 AD that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus could only be celebrated on the Lord’s Day, which is the first day of the week. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (200-258) said that the Lord’s Day is both the first and eighth day. The eighth day is the first day of a new week.

Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, said in about 300: “We keep the Lord’s Day as a day of rejoicing as He arose on this day.” The church father Eusebius said about 315 AD: “From the Apostolic tradition until the present time, churches everywhere in the world ended their periods of fasting on the resurrection day of our Saviour… There were synods and convocations of our bishops on this question and they unanimously drew up an ecclesiastical decree which they communicated to churches in all places – that the Lord’s resurrection should be celebrated on no other day than the Lord’s Day.” This tradition started on the day of Jesus’ resurrection and is still honoured today. It did not have a dubious origin during later centuries.

The Judaisation of early believers

Acts 15 reports on a church meeting in Jerusalem where the question was discussed by prominent apostles whether Gentile believers should comply with the demands of Judaisers. These people demanded that all believers be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses in order to be saved. That means that the observing of the entire law, including the Sabbath, was proclaimed as a necessary basis for justification – not only faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 5:3-4).

However, the Jerusalem Council arrived at the conclusion that believers from Israel and the nations are saved in the same way, i.e. by faith in the Lord Jesus – not by the works of the law (Acts 15:7-11). Gentile believers were not subjected to the law but only asked “to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). These prohibitions are moral principles which also form part of Christian morality.

These basic moral principles were given to the young Christian churches, but not the Old Testament law. The crucial issue to be noted in this doctrinal statement is that both Jews and Gentiles received the Holy Spirit to convict them of sin, to regenerate them, to give them power in their struggle against evil, and to guide them into all truth: “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us” (Acts 15:8). In the New Covenant people’s lives are not judged by the law which they are expected to observe, but they are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit. They receive remission of their sins by faith in Jesus Christ who died to atone for their sin. The Lord Jesus expects us to remain true to Him, to walk in the Spirit and refrain from grieving Him, while we grow up spiritually to the stature of the mature man or woman in Christ (Eph. 4:13-14,30). He never commanded His disciples to develop observance of the Old Testament law as a Christian virtue – neither does He expect of us today to pursue the works of the law such as circumcision and observing the Sabbath.

Shadow and substance

The Sabbaths, feasts and sacrifices of the Old Testament, as well as the sabbatical year every seventh year (Lev. 25:3-4), were all shadowy practices that pointed to the new dispensation that would dawn with the coming of the Messiah. These shadows would be finally fulfilled in Him, as He is the “substance” to which they refer. We enter the rest of the Lord in the Messiah as He has fulfilled the entire law. “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). We are no longer under the obligation of laws on food, festivals and Sabbaths which were mere shadows of the Messianic dispensation which has long ago been introduced.

We should find gladness, joy and spiritual fulfilment in the Lord Jesus and celebrate His resurrection as a special day of the Lord without complicating it by legalistic requirements. He only gave us one law, and that is the law of love – love towards God and our neighbour. “For the commandments, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal… and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself… therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom. 13:9-10). The law on the Sabbath is therefore also fulfilled when we love God through Jesus Christ.

Love is the fulfilment of the entire law – that includes ceremonial as well as moral laws. According to the Strong’s Concordance, the word “fulfil” means “to finish (a period or task), to accomplish, end, or conclude.” The law was not undone by Christ, but fulfilled. The love of God is poured out into our hearts through regeneration and the filling of the Holy Spirit, and the principles of His law of love are written on the tablets of our hearts. In the new dispensation we are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). The profound effect of God’s grace through Jesus Christ is vastly more superior in the life of a believer than the moral obligations and fear for punishment instilled by the law. Through the cleansing by the blood of Christ and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit we lead a life in which the image of God becomes manifest in all aspects of our life. That is the resurrection life of Jesus Christ to which we should become conformed (Rom. 6:5; Phil. 3:10).

In this new life we must move from victory to victory. We should stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and not be entangled again by a yoke of bondage to the law (Gal. 5:1). We should not pursue shadowy laws and Sabbaths which do not come close to the glory that has been revealed to us in the new dispensation. It is a pity if people revert to the former things. Paul says to the legalistic Galatians: “But now after you have known God… how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:9-10).

Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (ibid., p. 602) say the following on Gal. 4:10: “Under the influence of the Judaisers the Galatians had begun to observe the Mosaic calendar. They kept special days (weekly Sabbaths), and months (new moons), and seasons (seasonal festivals) and years (sabbatical and jubilee years). They observed these special times, thinking that they would thereby gain additional merit before God. But Paul had already made it clear that works could not be added to faith as grounds for either justification or sanctification.”

End-time compromise

The spirit of Judaising again revived after Israel’s restoration as a modern state. The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem released a musical, The Covenant, in Hebrew and English. One of the Jews who was deeply touched by this presentation reacted as follows: “If Christians know so much about Jewish traditions they should begin observing the Sabbath with greater reverence.”

It would be a pity if only orthodox sentiments were strengthened by this musical, as that implies that the message of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and the nations was not proclaimed. If we do not succeed in persuading Jews to worship the Messiah with us and to celebrate His resurrection from the dead, we have spiritually not achieved anything. To participate with Jews in feasts in which the Messiah is not explicitly recognised, honoured and served, amounts to compromise and even the outright denial of the Messiah.

We should be prepared to go outside the camp of Judaism and bear the reproach of the Messiah if we wish to be of service to Him and His kingdom, and also to promote the salvation of Jews (Heb. 13:13). Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matt. 11:6). But the Jews were often offended at Him (Matt. 13:57; 15:12). Why? Because the misplaced basis for their justification is the works of the law, and not faith in the Messiah and His work of atonement. Paul says, “For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offence, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:32-33).

We must continue proclaiming the Messiah to Israel and the Gentiles despite the most severe opposition that our message might elicit. Part of this message is the celebration of the Messiah’s crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. If we do it in a convincing manner the Jews will be provoked to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). They should be made to see that we have something which they with their legalism and orthodox Sabbath celebrations do not have. It will be of no avail if we become jealous of Israel’s ceremonial laws and feasts and start observing them, because to the Jews Jesus Christ has no place in these institutions. We cannot be witnesses to the Messiah in this way as that would constitute reverting from the fulfilled reality to the Old Testament shadow.

Sunday worship

Worshipping on Sundays is not enforced or complicated by any laws. It is to all people’s advantage that this tradition be honoured. This day can be distinguished as follows from the other days of the week:

  • Resurrection day of Jesus is the New Testament’s day of rest.
  • It is a day of joy in the Lord.
  • It is a day of showing special honour to the Lord.
  • It is a day of participating in and giving for the proclaiming of the Gospel.
  • It is a day of spiritual preparation for the week that lies ahead.
  • It is a day of showing charity to others and supplying in their needs.
  • It is a day of spiritual refreshing.

The idea is not to split hairs over rules that apply to this day but to demonstrate the general spirit and character of this day in your life. The day of the Lord has been given to you to enjoy the advantages that it offers to you. This applies to all people as all of them at least need one day on which they can rest from their secular work: “And He said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark. 2:27-28). In Him we enter the eternal rest of the Lord. The spiritual rest and deepening that we need, as well as worshipping the Lord, are the main purposes of the Sunday. This rest only became a reality after the Messiah rose from the dead on a Sunday and, seven weeks later, again on a Sunday, the Holy Spirit was poured out.

It is conspicuous that in our time, which is characterised in all spheres of life by a reckless spirit of apostatising, there is mounting criticism against the observing of Sunday as a Christian day of rest and special dedication to the Lord. Many of these critics come from so-called Christian churches, and they now join hands with worldly people to convert Sunday into a day strenuous sporting day, a day for worldly pleasure, as well as a day for working and shopping. What will become of people if they continue without a day of rest and spiritual dedication?

Do not fall prey to the end-time spirit of compromise by rejecting or disdaining the Christian Sunday. On the other hand, you should guard against determining a strict set of rules through which a dark cloud of do’s and don’ts are imposed upon this Christian feast and God-given day of rest. Spend the day to the glory of God and be spiritually enriched and strengthened for the challenges that lie ahead. Have a rest after all the activities of the week and regain your bodily strength. Exhausted people are not productive and are unable to successfully handle crises and tension.

Do not feel guilty about essential work that needs to be done on this day; neither neglect doing good on Sundays if it is within your power (Matt. 12:11-12). Above all the Name of the Lord should be exalted and your relationship with Him strengthened by a double measure of dedication.

Present campaign by the SDA

The Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) are involved in an intensive campaign to promote their church’s view on the Old Testament Sabbath among as many South Africans as possible. DVD’s by Prof. Walter Veith are distributed everywhere among the public, also at meetings of Angus Buchan where unsuspecting people who leave through the gates are offered a gift parcel from the SDA.

I wish to advise those who have been influenced by Walter Veith to thoroughly investigate his theology. Even the SDA themselves are deeply divided on his teachings. On one of their websites (www.thejerichoroad.com) Jan McKenzie expresses great concern over Veith’s strong emphasis on conspiracy theories, secret societies and the Roman Catholic Church – to such an extent that very little is said on the Gospel of the cross. McKenzie adds, “In much of what Veith says he is simply wrong… I find it unimaginable that a man calling himself a Christian teacher has so very little to say about his Lord.”

But in this article we mainly took issue with their understanding of the Sabbath. All biblical facts which contradict the SDA’s view are avoided by them, or otherwise they revert to the dispensation of the law to find justification for their views. They commit a serious error of judgement to equate New Testament expressions such as ‘the commandments of Christ’ (cf. John 14:15,21) with the Old Testament law and to wrongly read the Sabbath into them. The commandments of Christ refer to love, peace, obedience, forgivingness, service to the Lord, prayer and various other matters. He never included Sabbath-keeping and other Old Testament laws in His commands.

There is extensive historical evidence on Sunday worship by the early Christian church, but the SDA rejects it and still alleges that that Sunday worship was only introduced centuries later by the Roman Catholic Church. They clearly also dispute Paul’s reference to religious assemblies, including Holy Communion, on the first day of the week (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).

The SDA has a strange preoccupation with worshipping the Lord Jesus on Saturdays. They show very little understanding of New Testament theology after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the process they detract from the New Testament Gospel of the cross and engage in endless disputes. Various unnecessary and bitter family quarrels have been caused by Walter Veith’s DVD’s. Seemingly, the message on the crucifixion and grace of Jesus Christ is not sufficient to them – it still has to be supplemented by the law and the Sabbath. Their campaign should be viewed as one of the major threats to evangelical Christianity in our country.

This church is so inspired by their false supposition on the continuation of the Sabbath after the Lord Jesus has delivered us from the law and established us in the Gospel of grace by His Holy Spirit (Rom. 10:4), that various wonderful promises in the New Testament are overlooked. In this regard they greatly impoverish themselves spiritually. In terms of the unbiblical replacement theology which they practise the SDA see themselves as the New Testament continuation of Israel. They reject the promise of the rapture as an escape from the judgements of the tribulation period (Luke 21:36); consequently, they are expecting all the horrors of the tribulation period. They see an expected ban on Saturday worship as the beginning of “Christian” persecution. What a lamentable situation!

I wish to advise them to follow Paul’s example by only proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). If they wish to glory in something they should not glory in their church or in the Sabbath, but glory “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). The New Testament injunction is to stand firm in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and not to be entangled again by a yoke of bondage to the law (Gal. 5:1). I would further advise the SDA to conduct an intensive study of the books of Romans and Galatians in order to achieve greater clarity on our relationship to the law. However, a study of this nature will call for a changed name and dogma for this church!

We should rather remind people that the law was not given to Christians but to unsaved sinners (1 Tim. 1:9). To them it is a tutor to bring them to Christ (Gal. 3:24-25). In Jesus Christ there is no room for legalism as that would totally destroy our testimony about Jesus as our only Saviour: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). This scripture is obviously not mentioned in Sabbatarian churches or either not discussed in its full implications.

We must realise that the Gospel of the grace of Christ is vastly more important than the law of the Old Testament. We have the advantage of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin, righteousness and judgement, and also guides us into all truth. Christ cleanses us with His blood and sanctifies us by His Spirit who instils in us the nature of the Lord Jesus. If people fail to realise that this is all they need, and then revert to an Old Testament form of law observance, they would deny the sufficiency of the Gospel of the cross. Do not yield to the temptation to do that. The law was completely fulfilled by Jesus Christ and He leads us into a life of holiness and conformity to Himself.

 

6. The Seventh-day Adventists

For a better understanding on how aspects of the law are sometimes erroneously integrated into a Christian confession of faith we offer you a review of the Seventh-day Adventist’s theology. The SDA is a Protestant church which is strongly opposed to the false doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. But they also have strong convictions which clearly distinguish them from the mainstream of Protestant thought. The following are the most important aspects of their theology:

Name

It is evident from their name that the Seventh-day Adventists identify themselves in terms of the following two basic doctrines:

  • Sabbath. They honour the Old Testament (OT) Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, in accordance with the Jewish observance of time. The Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Because of this practice they are also called Sabbatarians. Contrary to church history the SDA allege that the early church used Saturday as their day of worship. According to them the institution of Sabbath-keeping continued until Constantine, who is regarded as the father of the Roman Catholic Church, in 321 AD acted under heathen influence and decided to change the day of Christian worship from Saturday to Sunday.
  • Advent. This word alludes to the coming, or second coming, of Christ. Adventists have a strong expectation on the second coming of the Lord Jesus and devote much attention to a study of the signs of the times. One of the contributing factors to the establishment of this church was a strong expectation on the coming of Christ in 1844. Speculation of this nature gave rise to a credibility crisis in the SDA and caused much internal strife.

A cult or not?

In some books on religious cults the SDA are included and in others not. The word “cult” is a controversial concept as not all Protestants define and apply it in the same way. There was a time when Reformed churches regarded as cults all denominations that do not uphold the Reformed confessions. However, in the present postmodern and ecumenical way of thinking there is such a large degree of tolerance towards other churches that many of these modernists even accept the Roman Catholics as a full-fledged Christian church in the biblical sense of the word. The initial motivation for the Church Reformation is herewith questioned and even denounced.

Evangelical Christianity needs a clear-cut doctrinal basis in terms of which churches can be assessed as orthodox or dissident. How else can advice be given to believers on which churches they may confidently join? An evangelical believer should at least subscribe to the following doctrines:

  • Christology. The biblical teaching on Christ should be fully accepted. That includes His virgin birth, deity and eternal self-existence. As God the Son He is equal to and one with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:7). He was incarnated to offer Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Jesus Christ also rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and will return again to establish a government of righteousness on earth.
  • Soteriology. All people inherited a depraved, sinful nature and are by nature sinners who are under God’s wrath (Rom. 6:23). Salvation is offered to us by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 3:25). The Holy Spirit was poured out to convict us of sin, to regenerate, guide and fill us, and also to endue us with power from on high.
  • The authority of Scripture. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God which contains the full doctrine on salvation (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We fully recognise its authority because it is God’s Word. Through Bible study and the building up of our faith we are called upon to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Churches that uphold these three doctrines cannot be described as cults, even though they may differ on secondary doctrines such as predestination, baptism, speaking in tongues, and eschatology. There are a number of Protestant theologians who contend that, on the basis of the SDA’s Christology, soteriology and their view on the Bible, they cannot be classified with the cults. One of them is Dr. Walter R. Martin (The Kingdom of the Cults p. 360). However, his criteria for identifying cults have not been consistently applied since he did not discuss the cultic religion of the Roman Catholic Church in his book on the major cults. Various other theologians such as M.R. de Haan, John Rice and Oswald Smith regard the SDA as a cult. Dr. A Hoekema (The Four Major Cults, p. 403) rejects various aspects of SDA theology and describes them as a cult, but does not question their basic commitment to the Christian doctrine. He says:

“It is recognised with gratitude that there are certain soundly Scriptural emphases in the teaching of Seventh-day Adventism. We are thankful for their affirmation of the infallibility of the Bible, of the Trinity and of the full deity of Jesus Christ. We gratefully acknowledge their teachings on creation and providence, on the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, on the absolute necessity for regeneration, on sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and on Christ’s literal return.”

There are different and often contradictory interpretations of SDA theology – some of them more evangelical and others less so. Many of the former church leaders who defected from the SDA are adamant that Seventh-day Adventism is a cultic religion. In his article, Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church a Cult? (updated January 2, 2009 on the website www.truthorfables.com), Robert K. Sanders, a former member of the SDA, defines the characteristics of cults as follows:

1.    All cults have a leader, a group of leaders, a prophet, or prophetess, who claim to speak for God. Ellen White claims to replace Jesus Christ in speaking for God. In Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV) the Bible says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.” Ellen White says: “In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In these days He speaks to them by the testimonies of His Spirit. There was never a time when God instructed His people more earnestly than He instructs them now concerning His will and the course that He would have them pursue… In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision – the precious rays of light shining from the throne” (Testimonies 5, p. 67). Do you believe that it is Jesus speaking to his church or do you accept the heresy of Ellen White and her testimonies? (emphasis by the author; further information on the deception introduced by this prophetess to the SDA is offered on the website www.ellenwhiteexposed.com).

2.    Their writings and teachings to their followers contradict the Bible. Ellen White contradicts the Bible over 50 times.

3.    Many members taking issue with the authority of the leader are disfellowshipped, shunned, or not allowed to hold office in the church.

4.    Cult leaders teach infallibility in their teachings or the writings of their cult leader, in this case Ellen G. White. “It is from the standpoint of the light that has come through the Spirit of Prophecy (Mrs. White’s writings) that the question will be considered, believing as we do that the Spirit of Prophecy is the only infallible interpreter of Bible principles, since it is the Christ, through this agency, giving real meaning of his own words” (G.A. Irwin, General Conference President, from the tract, The Mark of the Beast, p. 1).

5.    Cult members believe that they are superior to others because of their unique teachings as they have knowledge of God’s will that other Christians do not have.  Because of the false teachings of their prophet or leaders, they consider themselves especially chosen by God, and look at themselves as the Remnant Church or the True Church. Ellen G. White and the SDA Church view themselves as the Remnant Church alone, especially called by God in 1844 over all other churches which they call Babylon. The Adventists still consider themselves the Remnant Church: “One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the Remnant Church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White.”

6.    Religious cults look at individuals that leave their group as being lost, and without salvation. It is difficult for Seventh-day Adventists to fathom that a person leaving their church can remain a Christian and still be saved. After I left the Adventist Church I had letters telling me I was being led by Satan, I was making war on God's church, I would burn in Hell, and that I should come back to the church, etc. Christians that do not belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church are often called “outsiders.” When a Christian from another Church joins the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they are said “to have come into the truth.”

7.    A religious cult is an organization that has departed from mainstream Christianity to follow doctrines that are not Biblical. They hold their leader’s Bible contradictions over the Word of God.  The Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches many non-Biblical doctrines. Christians need to be alert as to what is being taught as truth and refuse to accept any teaching that contradict the Bible – especially if a church has a prophet. People find comfort and security in belonging to religious cults, as it agrees with their beliefs that they were brain-washed into believing as truth (end of Robert Sanders’ review).

Some of the doctrinal contradictions in the SDA have been highlighted by one of their former pastors, Dennis J. Fischer, in his article, Beyond Adventism: The Truth Re-examined (www.truthorfables.com; updated Oct. 2008). He says:

“With intentional ambiguity and complexity, many facets of Adventism are most difficult to examine, understand and expose… Many of their leading apologists widely differ in their understanding of the doctrinal pillars in their belief system. It is not uncommon to find two opposing views, on many topics, in the writings of Ellen White… Since the 1950s, Seventh-day Adventists have had a deep yearning to appear as Evangelicals. The book, Questions on Doctrine, published in 1957 with no author listed, is a prime example of this desperate strategy to appear Evangelical – thereby hoping to remove their cult stigma. Since then, however, the SDA Church has officially replaced and deleted key words in some doctrinal statements, e.g. the words ‘all-sufficient’ and ‘unerring’ were removed from their statement on the authority of Scripture. This action allowed room for the extra-biblical writings attributed to their revered messenger and prophetess, Ellen G. White…

“After being devout, third-generation Seventh-day Adventists for more than 40 years, my wife Sylvia and I requested our names to be removed from their membership records…

“Jesus Christ is our true Sabbath Rest. Jesus is the reality and substance of the Old Covenant shadows that included the weekly Sabbath given exclusively to the Hebrew people (see Col. 2:16-17; Deut. 5:3). According to Leviticus 23:2-3, the weekly Sabbath was one of the appointed feasts mandated for the ‘Sons of Israel’. Certainly, we are not required to observe the Jewish festivals in order to obtain or maintain our salvation” (end of statement by Dennis Fischer).

In the light of the widely different interpretations of SDA theology it is to be expected that one would encounter evangelical believers in this church who put their trust only in the atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross, despite being deceived in many other respects such as Sabbath-keeping and a distorted understanding of biblical eschatology. On the other hand, there are also nominal believers who are so legalistic and given over to the extra-biblical prophecies of Ellen White that they actually found their faith on false foundations. The theological traditions which are handed down from one generation to another, and salvation which is ritually imputed to members who subscribe to church dogma, opens the way to a form of godliness which may be described as dead formalism or ecclesiasticism. The church and its teachings become the vehicle for people’s salvation, but their ritualising very seldom coincides with a spiritual experience which leads to a life-changing relationship with the Lord Jesus. To such people who are not true followers of Christ, the church has become a cultic system.

The SDA is by no means unique as far as their large number of deceived nominal believers is concerned. This phenomenon prevails in virtually all churches, which underscores the fact that almost all of them entertain theological views which represent a combination of truth and error. The influence of their respective church fathers is still perpetuated, together with their deceptive teachings, and this influence has a strong impact on the faith of people in present-day churches. It stands to reason that not all churches can be correct on all doctrines, since there is only one central truth in the Bible but many different interpretations of it. Because of these diverse views, all churches have “built-in” sectarian tendencies against which they should guard. The weak point in the theological constructs of each church can easily pave the way to deception and a mere form of godliness, and even transform a former evangelical church into a cult.

Furthermore, we should consider the role of modern theologians who act as “agents” for theological change. In many cases they are responsible for greater apostasy since, in order to be more acceptable to other churches, including the Roman Catholics, they refuse to stand firm on Christian doctrines. Many of the traditional confessions are even rejected by them. The following are examples of sectarian tendencies against which Protestant churches, including the SDA, should guard:

The confessions of the Reformed Churches are based upon the teachings of Calvin, which contain certain imperfections that may typically lead to a dead form of godliness. Among these are the doctrine of predestination (man does not have a free will, and  God had long ago decided who would be saved and who would be lost); the covenant theology (all the elect enter into a covenant relationship with the Lord through infant baptism and are subsequently regarded as saved covenant children); eternal security (not a single one of the covenant children can be snatched from the Lord’s hand, consequently the common phenomenon of apostatising, which is falling from grace due to sinning, is not accepted); kingdom-now theology (the church is the instrument in God’s hand to establish His kingdom on earth during this dispensation, and for that reason there will be no future reign of peace during the Millennium, after the coming of Christ. All prophecies on the Antichrist and the great tribulation are spiritualised since the world, according to Calvinists, is not deteriorating and heading for the tribulation period, but gradually improving until the kingdom of heaven will be fully revealed).

In spite of these teachings there were, through the centuries, many evangelical Calvinists who did not proclaim Calvinistic dogma in all its consequences and were useful instruments in the hands of the Lord. Nevertheless, it is easy to see why Calvinism can lapse into a dead form of godliness in which only lip-service is offered to the Lord (Matt. 15:8-9). To people who justify themselves in terms of ecclesiastical traditions and doctrines without being born again, the Lord says, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:9,13). When that happens within a particular group or church, from a biblical point of view they become a cult. Adding to this the influence of many of the modern theologians’ heretical views like the open denial of the virgin birth, deity and resurrection of the Lord Jesus; the rejection of the gospel of the cross and the Bible as God’s inspired Word; as well as mythologizing the devil and hell, a church stands to completely lose its Christian character and may degenerate into a den of thieves (Luke 19:46). Evangelical preachers find it very hard to survive in such churches.

In charismatic churches there are other factors that, in spite of subscribing to a basic evangelical confession, may lead to sectarian expressions. Among these factors are, in particular, extra-biblical revelations through dreams and visions, as well as speaking in tongues. By virtue of these practices members often claim the gift of prophesying independent from the Bible. But the biggest danger is in the field of physical experiences. These churches strongly emphasise physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit, e.g. signs and wonders such as healing, slain in the Spirit, holy laughter and dance in the Spirit. These experiences become substitutes for regeneration based upon the conviction of sin, and where there is no right conception of sin it follows that there can be no acceptance in faith of the crucified Lord Jesus as Saviour.  People who justify themselves by virtue of an experience such as falling in the Spirit are building their lives upon the sand of self-deception.

The potential errors of Seventh-day Adventists are in the field of a legalistic form of godliness, including Old Testament Sabbath observance, the recognition of Ellen White’s interpretations of Scripture, including the grossly unbiblical ones, the idea of soul sleep after death, as well as a completely distorted eschatology. They also recognise the extra-biblical gift of prophecy, which leads to unbelievable speculation on the end-time and the second coming of Christ. Many of these ideas were promoted in the 19th century writings of Ellen G. White, who is the authoritative “church mother” of the SDA. She had various visions as described in Great Controversy, and they are regarded as God’s final message to the world. According to these visions the Roman Catholic Church is the personification of the Antichrist, Sunday-worship is the mark of the beast, while Sabbath observance is the seal of God. Much antagonism is stirred against Sunday-worship and Sabbath observance on the seventh day is elevated to the main characteristic of true Christianity. Legalism of this nature adds to the New Testament’s (NT) message of grace, thus jeopardising the all-sufficiency of the gospel of the cross. There are certainly members of the SDA who are caught up in this sectarian way of thinking, although not all of them would endorse these extreme views.

The question whether a particular church is a cult or not depends on how they proclaim, accept and implement the basic Christian doctrines. The convictions of the local preacher play a major role in this regard. If he is in the right relationship with the Lord and correctly proclaims the gospel message, the Lord will be honoured and souls will be saved. However, if he excessively emphasises the secondary doctrines of his church, people will be deceived and much harm will be done to the preaching of the gospel.

In summarising SDA theology I will mainly use the following sources: Questions on Doctrine (1957) and Family Bible Studies (Harvest Time Books, 2008). The latter book was published anonymously without any indication of the author(s) or the denomination by which it was issued. One gets the impression that the names “Seventh-day Adventists” and “Sabbatarians” elicit resistance from the public and are consequently avoided. But anonymous publications also raise questions on why the particular organisation would hide their identity. In his booklet, Who are the False Prophets? (The People’s Press, 1953), Oswald J. Smith says: “Seventh-day Adventists are not out to win new converts from among the unsaved; their work is to proselytize... And they often strive to hide their identity. Why, I wonder?”

The following are the most important aspects of this denomination’s secondary doctrines. That such poor insight is shown in other Scriptural truths within a church where the doctrine on Christ and His saving grace, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit are generally well understood, is inconceivable.

The gift of prophecy

Many of the SDA’s theological errors are derived from so-called “prophetic revelations” to their founder, Ellen G. White. In Questions on Doctrine (p. 89) the SDA say: “We do not regard the writings of Ellen G. White as an addition to the sacred canon of Scripture. We do not think of them as of universal application, as is the Bible, but particularly for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” They see her many visions as a special gift which the Holy Spirit had bestowed upon her for the last days of the church dispensation. Although they regard the visions as subordinate to the Bible they nevertheless accept her erroneous doctrines and interpretations of various biblical statements. This attitude of the SDA opened the way to various false teachings.

Although Mrs. White is still widely followed there are also many critics who reject her theology and writings. Some of them regard her as a sincere person but an emotionally unstable mystic, while others openly call her a false prophetess. Most of her critics agree that she was a true Christian but someone who was deceived on various issues.

In their most recent publication, Family Bible Studies (p. 317-326), the SDA included a chapter titled, The Gift of Prophecy. In this chapter they reconfirm their conviction that the last days will see a revival of this spiritual gift of prophecy. As justification for their point of view they quote Acts 2:17-18 where the Lord says that in the last days He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. Prophecies, dreams and visions will then commonly occur.

However, Peter quoted a prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 which was specifically meant for Israel. Not only is reference made to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but also to the natural disasters of the great tribulation: “And on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon in blood, before the coming of the great and notable day of the Lord” (Acts 2:18-20).

Israel as a nation did not receive the Lord Jesus as their Messiah-King at His first coming – only a small minority recognised Him and accepted Him as their Saviour. Consequently, prophecies on Israel’s spiritual restoration (cf. Ezek. 36:24-28) will only be fulfilled in the end-time when they will be going through the tribulation period – that is the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7). Then there will be a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Israel in preparation for their meeting with the Messiah (Zech. 12:10; Matt. 37:39).

When that happens, Israel will be caught up in a great tribulation such as has never been (Matt. 24:15-22). Due to their long conditioning to the rabbis’ OT preaching they will know little or  nothing of the fulfilment of end-time prophecies, and specifically of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Because of their ignorance they will accept the wrong messiah and conclude a covenant with him (John 5:43; Dan. 9:27). When he desecrates the temple in the middle of the tribulation by declaring himself to be God in the Holy of holies (2 Thess. 2:4) Israel will revoke their covenant with him because of this blasphemous act. They will then have to flee to the mountains for survival as the false messiah will try to annihilate them for denouncing him as Messiah.

That will be the time of great disasters to which Joel referred. The Lord will then reveal Himself supernaturally to His fugitive people by giving them information which will ensure their protection and salvation.

In view of these circumstances it is completely unjustified to apply Joel’s prophecies to the church dispensation. The promise of extraordinary supernatural revelations does not apply to us. For many centuries already the church of Christ has had the Bible which contains the full revelation of God’s counsel for humanity (Acts 20:27). In our time a gift of prophecy can, at most, be interpreted as enlightened eyes of the mind to correctly understand biblical prophecies and also to correctly apply them to our circumstances. We should not expect to receive extra-biblical prophecies, as that may be a door that people unconsciously open for the devil to give false prophecies which will confuse and deceive many people. Even if these false prophecies are not demonic in origin, they may still be used by many people to give credibility to their own personal ideas, dreams and the flights of their imagination.

The Sabbath

One of the most important activities in the SDA’s practical theology is the observance of the OT Sabbath. This practice is based upon the completely wrong supposition that the church is the replacement of Israel, and therefore eternally committed to keep the Sabbath. They quote Exodus 31:16-17 as substantiation: “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever” (Family Bible Studies, p. 144).

It should, however, be taken into account that the church is not “the children of Israel” and that the Hebrew and Greek words which are rendered “perpetual” or “for ever” may sometimes only denote a dispensation or a restricted period. According to Strong’s (Heb. 5769) the word olam, which is also used in Exodus 31:16-17, means: perpetual, eternal or a long time. The correlating Greek word is aion (Gr. 165) and means eternal, for ever, an age, a messianic period (present or future). Great care is needed to correctly render this word in the context in which it is used.

The SDA are well aware of the various meanings of this word since they use them as arguments to counter the idea of “eternal” punishment of the wicked. They say: “If you will read Exodus 21:6 you will find that ‘for ever’ may mean only as long as a man lives. Jonah said that he was shut up in the great fish and ‘the earth with her bars was about me for ever’ – Jonah 2:6. Yet he was in this strange abode only three short days” (Family Bible Studies, p. 259).

The SDA should understand very well two things in connection with Exodus 31:16-17: 1. The “children of Israel” do not include members of the Gentile nations, and therefore not the NT church; and 2. The covenant which the Lord concluded with Israel for ever will, according to the Bible, come to an end and be replaced by a new covenant: “In that He says, A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). An old covenant which was initially concluded for ever can therefore expire and be terminated.

It is wrong to equate God’s “eternal law” with the Ten Commandments and then to apply it universally to all people of all time. This is exactly what the SDA do when arguing that the law on the Sabbath still applies (Family Bible Studies, p. 121-132). How, then, should we understand God’s eternal law? God is love, and at the same time the most supreme expression of holiness. His eternal law is the law of love, and that also includes the obligation to hate sin and become conformed to His holiness. He demands that all people love Him with their whole heart, and that His love will be the foundation of their relationship with other people. The moral implications of this basic law have been included in the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments, and also in the ceremonial obligation towards Sabbath observance.

The truth is that in the NT the Lord Jesus concisely and explicitly summarised the OT law as the NT law of love, but without any reference to Sabbath keeping (Matt. 22:36-39; cf. Luke 10:25-28). At that stage the OT law still prevailed, but the days of Sabbath observance were numbered. In the last teaching of Jesus to His disciples He gave them a “new commandment,” emphasising that it was new and would therefore replace the OT version of the law – they should love one another as He loves them (John 13:34-35). Once again the Sabbath was not even mentioned.

The Lord Jesus came to reveal God’s love and holiness to Israel and the world. A person honours the eternal law of love by becoming conformed to Christ and following in His steps: “He who says He abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Paul says that Christ must be formed in us (Gal. 4:19). Christ is our norm, not the law. When His love has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), then we comply with all the requirements of the law, and therefore no longer need the law. We only need to comply with the demands of God’s love:

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10). The entire OT law is fulfilled by observing the law of love. We are now living in the dispensation of grace when the Lord enables us through His Holy Spirit to please Him.

Why is grace so much more excellent than the law?  The Lord Jesus cleansed us by His blood from all sin and iniquity – that is something which the OT sacrifices that were prescribed by the law could not accomplish (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 10:4-10). The Holy Spirit was also poured out to convict us of sin – it is no longer the law that convicts us of sin. The Holy Spirit regenerates all who confess their sins and receive the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, and also endues them with power to be able to serve the Lord and to remain standing against the wiles of the devil. If we faithfully follow His guidance He will manifest the image of Christ in our lives. These are all part of the extensive work of grace which the Lord Jesus is doing for us. Grace enables us more than the believers of the OT to partake in God’s holiness and power to overcome. Dedicate yourself to this end: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

In the light of these facts it is clear why Paul says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). He does not mix the two concepts by alleging that we can live under grace and still pursue observing of the law. That is impossible “for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). We are admonished to stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and not to be oppressed any more by a yoke of   bondage to the law (Gal. 5:1). When people try to do that they fall from grace (Gal. 5:4). When law and grace are mixed the all-sufficiency of Christ’s work of grace is questioned and supplemented by something else.

Paul also reminded Timothy that the law is not made for a righteous person (1 Tim. 1:9). We live according to the principles of Christ’s grace as described in the NT and impressed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit. “For the grace of God… teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).

The commandments referred to after the crucifixion of Christ are NT injunctions which are further expansions of the law of love, e.g. holiness, prayer, forgivingness, and various fruits of the Spirit. Not in a single case is the Sabbath mentioned as part of these commandments or directives. In Acts 15, a decisive answer had to be given whether the OT law was still applicable to the NT church. The answer was an emphatic “no”. Only a few norms for morally correct behaviour were mentioned.

The dispensation of the law expired on the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the grave. On that same day He met with His disciples and commissioned them to go out and preach the gospel. The following Sunday Jesus again appeared to them, promised them His peace and also removed the unbelief of Thomas (John 20:19-29). On the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus and ten days after His ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out – again on the first day of the week (Sunday).

These events laid the foundation for the disciples and the early church to assemble on Sundays to serve the Lord. They referred to it as the Lord’s Day. Paul also confirms the fact that his preaching occurred on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). On his missionary journeys he addressed the Jews on the Sabbath as that was the day of their assembly.

The early church fathers all confirm the fact of Sunday worship as a common institution. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote in 110 AD: “Those among us who obtained the new hope no longer keep the Sabbath but the day of the Lord on which we arose from the dead in Him, so that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ.” Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), a disciple of John, wrote: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read… Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly because it is the first day on which God made the world and created light out of darkness. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, rose from the dead on the same day.” Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, said in about 178 AD that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus could only be celebrated on the Lord’s Day, which is the first day of the week. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (200-258), said that the Lord’s Day is both the first and eighth day. The eighth day is the first day of a new week.

Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, said in about 300: “We keep the Lord’s Day as a day of rejoicing as He arose on this day.” The church father Eusebius said about 315 AD: “From the Apostolic tradition until the present time, churches everywhere in the world ended their periods of fasting on the resurrection day of our Saviour… There were synods and convocations of our bishops on this question and they unanimously drew up an ecclesiastical decree which they communicated to churches in all places – that the Lord’s resurrection should be celebrated on no other day than the Lord’s Day.”

The SDA completely reject the testimony of the early church fathers on Sunday worship since these fathers were allegedly deceived in many ways and could not be trusted theologically (Family Bible Studies, p. 165). But why would they all lie on the practice of Sunday worship? That was not a controversial issue but a common practice which was spontaneously honoured.

The allegation by the SDA that Sunday worship was first instituted in 321 AD through a decree of Constantine (Family Bible Studies, p. 169, 210) only refers to the official recognition of this day’s status. At that stage Christians had already been observing this practice for almost three centuries, and were definitely not influenced by Constantine to doing so.

The SDA’s assertion that Sunday worship should be linked to those who serve the sun god can only be applied to genuine sun worshippers. To the Christians this day was either the first day of the week or the Lord’s Day. The heathen’s sun god did not even vaguely feature in their practices.

The names of the weekdays were derived from the sun, moon and five of the planets. In the heathen mythology these names had religious connotations to ancient European nations; but Christians were never influenced by these traditions and only later, merely as a secular practice, accepted these names. Should the SDA allege that Sunday worshippers have something in common with the worshippers of the sun god then we may as well associate those who worship on Saturdays with the heathen Saturn feast. Hopefully the SDA will realise that this is an irrational argument.

It is obvious that the SDA have, since their early origin, shown such a deep-rooted aversion to the practice of Sunday worship that they even directly associate it with the Antichrist. According to them the Roman Catholic Church is the beast of Revelation 13; the number 666 refers to the pope; and the and Sunday worship is the mark or sign which he gives to his followers (Family Bible Studies, p. 295-306). Contrary to this, Sabbath observance is regarded to be the sign or mark which is given by the Lord to His true and faithful followers.

On this point the SDA come very close to denying evangelical Christianity since their norm for a true faith is not the acceptance or rejection of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus, but the acceptance or rejection of the OT Sabbath. SDA members in general are completely antagonistic towards all who worship the Lord on Sundays, and have adopted the view that such people will soon be in a position where they will be subjecting themselves to the judgements of God.

In their 2008 publication, (Family Bible Studies, p. 299), the SDA quote Revelation 14:9-10: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark  on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” They comment as follows on this scripture: “How could we expect God to remain silent on such an issue as changing the only commandment that gives His sign and seal as Creator and Redeemer of the world? But God’s wrath could not justly be visited upon men unless they had warning.”

They also quote from Great Controversy (p. 144-145) in which it is stated that Christianity will be divided into two groups, i.e. those who honour the laws of God and have faith in Jesus, and those who worship the beast and his image and have also accepted his mark of Sunday worship. Church and state will, according to Revelation 13:16, join forces in the end-time to impose the number of the beast to all, both small and great. In reference to this scripture the SDA expect that governments will, in the near future, collaborate with the Roman Catholic Church to enforce Sunday worship upon all their subjects. They say that those who succumb to this pressure will be lost forever, while those who have victory over the beast and over his mark of Sunday worship will be in heaven (Rev. 15:2-3).

Are all Sunday worshippers already being regarded as lost followers of the Antichrist? No, although the SDA get very close to doing so. In Questions on Doctrine (p. 183) they say: “No one has yet received the mark of the beast. The testing time has not yet come. There are true Christians in every church… None are condemned until they have had the light and seen the obligation on the fourth commandment. But when the decree shall go forth enforcing the counterfeit Sabbath… the line will be clearly drawn between the false and the true. Then those who still continue in transgression will receive the mark of the beast.”  Their belief is that those who observe the true Sabbath will then be persecuted by the antichristian Sunday worshippers.

Eschatology

Preaching on the second coming of Christ is a strong characteristic of the SDA and much attention is devoted to this subject – also in their publications. However, their teaching on the end-time is highly controversial as it is not based upon sound exegetical principles. People are rather being confused than getting coherent and logical answers to their questions. Sadly the SDA are not alone in distorting biblical eschatology, as most of the Protestant churches also fail in this regard – particularly the large reformed churches.

The SDA is premillennial because they believe in the second coming of Christ before the Millennium. Although their basic belief in premillennialism is correct, all their statements concerning the details miss the mark: They don’t believe in the rapture as the secret coming of the Lord Jesus for His bridal congregation; they don’t believe in a tribulation of seven years under the rule of a single person who is described as the Antichrist; they don’t believe in the restoration of Israel to their own land as a sign of the end-time; and they do not believe in Christ’s thousand-year reign of peace on earth when He will rule with His saints from Jerusalem.

The following are the SDA’s most controversial eschatological views:

Rejecting the escape The SDA reject the idea of the church escaping the judgements of the tribulation period (cf. Luke 21:36). They say that any idea of a secret coming is based upon human reasoning which is not confirmed by Scripture (Family Bible Studies, p. 55).

Tribulation under the RC Church – The SDA do not believe in a seven-year tribulation under the rule of the Antichrist. They regard the RC Church as the Antichrist, and interpret the 1260 days of the Antichrist’s actions in the second half of the tribulation period as 1260 years of Roman Catholic domination. According to them every day represents a year, Roman domination lasted from 538 AD to 1798 AD when the French dethroned the pope, and that was the “mortal wound” which was inflicted on the beast (Rev. 13:3). The SDA now wait for the deadly wound to be healed, which to them means that the Vatican will again gain control over the whole world (Family Bible Studies, p. 159-160). They are greatly deceived on the 1260 days since this period is also described as 42 months or 3½ years (time, times and half a time) in Revelation 11, 12 and 13, and in Daniel 9:27. We are dealing here with 1260 literal days. The SDA also neglect to offer an explanation on where the other half of the tribulation fits in.

The mark of the beast – The equation of the mark of the beast with Sunday worship is one of the most serious errors of the SDA. The true mark of the beast will be used to control buying and selling (Rev. 13:16-18). The second half of the tribulation period, when the Antichrist will institute his reign of terror, will only last for 42 months. That is the same as 1260 days, 3½ years or one half of a year-week (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 12:6, 14; 13:15). The SDA seriously undermine their end-time preaching by their unbiblical presentation of the last year-week before the coming of Christ as being more than a thousand years long.

Daniel’s prophecies distorted – All references to the Antichrist in Daniel are also applied to the RC Church. However, the little horn of Daniel 7:8, 20-26 refers to the end-time Antichrist who will emerge from the restored Roman Empire and will enjoy a much stronger power-base than the pope. The small horn in Daniel 8:8-25 has reference to the Antichrist and one of his forerunners, Antiochus Epiphanes, but in this case within the framework of the ancient Greek empire. This prophecy renders irrefutable proof that the Antichrist will not originate from Italy since the Greek Empire only controlled Macedonia, Thrace, Syria and Egypt. The Syrian province of the divided Greek Empire was the territory under the control of Antiochus Epiphanes, from which the end-time Antichrist will arise. Syria was also a province of the Roman Empire. This region was earlier known as Assyria, and for a long time was under the control of the Babylonian Empire. That is why the Antichrist is also called the Assyrian (Isa. 10:12-14) and the king of the North (Dan. 11:31-45), as viewed from Israel. It is quite impossible to fit the RC Church within this scenario.

Date-setting – A misleading form of date-setting emerged from the SDA’s wrong understanding of Daniel’s prophecies. They interpreted the 2300 days during which the temple would, according to Daniel 8:14, be desecrated as 2300 years. Although this prophecy was literally fulfilled between 170 and 164 AD after Antiochus Epiphanes had defiled the temple and Judas Maccabeus again restored it, the SDA still claims that the 2300 days are 2300 years which elapsed between 457 BC and 1844 AD. In terms of this false perception they developed a strong expectation that Christ would return on 22nd October 1844. This blunder seriously undermined the credibility of their eschatological message on the advent.

Ignoring Israel – Apart from erroneously identifying the RC Church as the main role-player in virtually all end-time prophecies, the other very serious weakness in the eschatology of the SDA is the absence of any references to Israel, their restoration, and the important role that Jerusalem will play in the end-time. Israel is not even mentioned in their list of signs of the times (Family Bible Studies, p. 63-74). That alone is important proof that the SDA have lost touch with the most important eschatological events of our time. Don’t the SDA know that Jesus will return to Jerusalem and the remnant in Israel will be reconciled to Him (Zech. 12:10; 13:8-9; 14:4-5)? The restoration of Israel is one of the most prominent prophetic themes in the OT, and any church omitting them from the scenario would relegate itself to an impossible position in trying to offer a truly Scriptural account of end-time events.

A further implication of ignoring Israel is that their enemies, Islam, will also be ignored as if they don’t even exist. Daniel’s prophecies of the Antichrist arising from the region of the King of the North clearly focus attention on the modern abode of radical Islam. Here, the Antichrist will emerge as a dynamic end-time ruler and even deceive Israel into concluding a covenant with him (Dan. 9:27; John 5:43). Do the SDA really think that Israel will accept a decrepit pope in Italy as their Messiah?

Further evidence that they have written Israel out of the picture of end-time events is their view on the 70 year-weeks of Israel’s history of salvation until the second coming of the Messiah. They have wrongfully concluded that the 70 year-weeks have expired between 457 BC and 34 AD (Family Bible Studies, p. 102-103). Everlasting righteousness will, according to Daniel 9:24, prevail at the end of the 70 year-weeks. We all know that this situation does not yet prevail. At the beginning of the 70 year-week period, King Artaxerxes issued a decree allowing the Jews in dispersion to return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Neh. 2:1). The initial building work was completed after 7 year-weeks. During the subsequent 62 year-weeks Jerusalem was occupied and built up during troublesome times. At the end of 69 (7+62) year-weeks, in April 32 AD, the Messiah was crucified and thereby “cut off” from His own people in Jerusalem. That was the last act of spiritual rebellion which gave rise to Israel’s international dispersion during the first century, causing a long interruption in their history of salvation. Now, in the end-time, Israel is returning to their own land and will go through the 70th year-week before they will accept the Messiah (Matt. 23:39; Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:26). With Israel not in the picture, no eschatology is even closely true to the Bible.

Conspiracy theories – When the real facts on the ground no longer play a determining role in analysing world events, e.g. the conflict between Israel and radical Islam, the US and Islamic-supported terrorism, Russia and other countries, many people turn to all sorts of far-fetched conspiracy theories. Prof. Walter Veith of the SDA extensively occupies himself with these theories. Secret conspiracies are exposed in which the RC Church, the Freemasons and the Illuminati are held responsible for all the major conflicts in the world. The allegation is even made that George Bush and the CIA are responsible for the 9/11 disaster. Islam is very much in favour of these theories since they themselves then are, by implication, acquitted as the true culprits.

A ghostlike Millennium – Another of the SDA’s views which clearly denies biblical truth is that of a deserted and uninhabited earth during the Millennium, where the devil will be roaming around, having nothing to do. This theory is also one of the legacies of Ellen White. The view is held that Christ will destroy all the wicked people at His second coming, and then return to heaven with His saints to rule from there. Satan will be left behind on the deserted, ruined and ghostlike earth until the Millennium comes to an end. The SDA say: “Some people think of the Millennium as a thousand years of peace and prosperity here upon earth. This is quite different from the true Biblical idea… The first resurrection will occur and all the saints resurrected… ‘The kings of the earth and the whole world’ (Rev. 16:14) are destroyed as Christ, the great warrior of heaven, rides forth to put down the forces of rebellion (Rev. 19:11-16). All the wicked die and the earth is depopulated… The resurrected saints and the living righteous are taken out of this world to heaven… Satan will be bound to this earth (Rev. 20:2-3). During the Millennium the earth will be desolate. The wicked are dead and there is no man left. On this earth Satan is ‘bound’ for there is no living person on earth to deceive. He will have a thousand years’ vacation from deception, a millennium to meditate on his long career of rebellion and the painful condition to which it has brought him. He will have plenty of time to lay plans to make a final assault against God at the end of the long-long darkness when the wicked dead shall come forth to their final brief season of life. He will lead them in a final rebellion against the kingdom of God” (Family Bible Studies, p. 75-83).

The SDA have to ignore or distort literally hundreds of prophecies when refusing to accept the following Biblical facts: Christ and His saints will rule on earth during the Millennium (Rev. 2:26-27; 5:9-10; 11:15; 19:15-16; 20:6); the Lord Jesus will rule from the throne of David in the restored kingdom of Israel (Acts 15:16-17; Jer. 3:17); the nations will beat their swords into ploughshares and not learn war any more (Isa. 2:2-4); Israel will be a prosperous and spiritually fruitful nation (Isa. 27:6); Jerusalem will be a praise in the whole earth (Isa. 62:6-7); the nations will serve the Messiah and honour Israel as His special nation (Zech. 8:20-23); and all people on earth will know the Lord (Isa. 11:9-10).

Soul sleep

The SDA have a very strange belief concerning the sleep of the soul after death. In their chapter, The Other Side of Death (Family Bible Studies, p. 245-254), they explain that only God possesses immortality. If people want this immortal life they can find it in the gospel, but they will only effectively obtain it at the resurrection: “The saints of God receive immortality at the hour of resurrection” (p. 245). The wicked, though, are not immortal beings, and will one day cease to exist. Unbelievers thus never get immortal bodies. They will be resurrected after the Millennium only to be finally destroyed in the lake of fire. According to the SDA there is not an everlasting hell since “for ever” may also refer to a limited time span, i.e. as long as it takes to be completely consumed by the flames.

According to the SDA there are not different destinations for believers and unbelievers after death – all of them go to one and the same abode, Hades, where they await the time of their resurrection. Before the Millennium the “resurrection of life” will occur, and after the Millennium the “resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29).

The righteous will inherit eternal life: “The saints who have slept in silence, unconscious of the passing of time, will suddenly be awakened. Some have slumbered for thousands of years; others have had only a brief period in the grave. To all, the time will seem the same – as just a moment. They will come forth with their faces glowing with joy, health, and immortality” (Family Bible Studies, p. 257). The wicked will go to their final destruction in the lake of fire.

The SDA also say that no one after death has a conscious existence in heaven or in the grave (Hades). It is alleged that the body returns to dust, the spirit goes to God who gave it, and the dead have no thoughts, feelings or memories until the day when they are resurrected. They are in a deep sleep, unconscious of everything around them. The SDA erroneously seem to be strongly convinced that the Bible underwrites their views on this matter: “Yes, the Scriptures are plain. When death comes, all thinking and feeling end. If they do not, the Bible is false and unreliable. Thinking and feeling did not exist before God breathed life into man, and they stop entirely when the man dies” (Family Bible Studies, p. 249).

The doctrine of soul sleep in all its aspects is completely at variance with the Bible. Since OT times there were different destinations after death: the righteous went to paradise and the unrighteous to the abode of the wicked (Heb. Sheol and Gr. Hades). A great gulf is fixed between these two places, as is evident from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). From this parable it is evident that there is no form of soul sleep for the righteous or the wicked. They have active thoughts and feelings as well as a good memory of everything they had done.

After the resurrection of Christ the deceased saints no longer go to paradise but to heaven. Paul says, “For I am hard pressed between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:23-24). He definitely did not look forward to a soul sleep in the grave when he desired to die and to be in the presence of Christ!

Final assessment

Although some pastors in the SDA are committed to an evangelical doctrine of salvation and the inerrancy of the Bible, many others are so legalistic and inclined towards doctrine based on extra-biblical prophecies that the gospel message is seriously compromised. The SDA also have various highly controversial doctrines in which the Bible is not correctly interpreted. These teachings mainly include their view on the law and the Sabbath, their eschatology in which Sunday worship is described as the mark of the beast, their convictions on the gift of prophecy, and their doctrine on soul sleep. Walter R. Martin (The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 383) says the following on criticism levelled against the SDA and Mrs. Ellen G. White:

“The inspiration for 90% of the destructive personal criticisms levelled against Mrs. White is found in the writings of Dudley M. Canright, an ex-Adventist leader of great ability, and a one time personal friend of Ellen G. White, her husband James, and a great number of prominent Adventist leaders. He left the movement because he lost faith in the inspiration of Mrs. White and in many doctrines then held by the Adventist Church. He resigned from SDA ministry in 1887 to become a Baptist minister. Canright also rebelled violently against the extreme legalism which existed among some of the early Adventists. He wrote two volumes on his differences with them: Seventh-day Adventism Renounced and Life of Mrs. E.G. White.

Dudley Canright formulated his final conclusions as follows: “After keeping the Seventh Day for 28 years; after having persuaded more than a thousand to keep it; after having read my Bible through, verse by verse, more than 20 times; after having scrutinised to the best of my ability every text, line and word in the whole Bible having the remotest bearing upon the Sabbath question; after having looked up all these, both in the original and in many translations; after having searched in lexicons, concordances, commentaries and dictionaries; after having read arms-full of books on both sides of the question; after having read every line in all the early church fathers upon this point; after having written several books in favour of the Seventh Day, which were satisfactory to my brethren; … and after weighing all the evidence in the fear of God, and of the judgement day, I am fully settled in my own mind and conscience that the evidence is against the keeping of the Seventh Day” (quoted by Oswald J. Smith in: Who are the False Prophets, p. 18).

Another contemporary of Ellen White also questioned her visions, but not her personal faith in the Lord Jesus as her Saviour. Her cousin, James White, wrote: “I cannot endorse Sister Ellen’s visions as of divine inspiration as she thinks them to be; yet I do not suspect the least shade of dishonesty of her in this matter… I think that what she regards as visions from the Lord are only religious reveries (‘day-dreaming’) in which her imagination runs without control upon themes in which she is most deeply interested. While so absorbed in these reveries she is lost to everything around her. Reveries are of two kinds: sinful and religious. In either case, the sentiments in the main are obtained from previous teaching or study. I do not by any means think that her visions are from the Devil” (A Word to the Little Flock, 1847, p.29).

Walter Martin (The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 385) says that he cannot accept the claim that Ellen White possessed a gift of prophecy akin to that described in 1 Corinthians 14, as believed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The big difference between her visions and that which the Bible teaches leaves no room for a church to build its doctrines on these questionable visions, and to persistently accept and proclaim them as God-given revelations.

 

7. Christian Fundamentalism

Many New Testament believers wrongly transfer legalistic rules from the old covenant with Israel to the Christian faith and then slavishly observe them. They mostly do so because they are truly convinced that their view of the Christian life is in accordance with Scripture and therefore more fundamental than those who entertain shallow theological views and live immoral lives. In a wider context they see Christian law-observance as the only alternative to licentious and lawless societies everywhere in the world. A further reason why many people accept this view and lifestyle is because they see the church as the NT replacement of Israel. Their legalistic religion is an effort to give expression to God’s covenants with Israel.

In the process they do a lot of damage to the Christian liberty which we have within the doctrine of grace. We are called upon to stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and to avoid being put under bondage to Israel’s OT laws. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. Obedience to His guidance and conviction is the way to follow, and not the letter of the OT law.

The guidance of the Holy Spirit according to the principles of Christ’s grace enables us to reach much higher standards of holiness that that which was possible in the OT. Paul says the grace of God “teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age.” His grace also gives us an active and blessed hope on the appearing of the Lord Jesus at the rapture (Tit. 2:11-13). A life of this nature is not possible under the law.

We can only call ourselves fundamental, conservative, or evangelical Christians if we conform to the principles of the new covenant. Christian fundamentalism is associated with the following 32 basic principles:

Recognition of Scriptural authority. The Bible is recognised, in its original languages, as the literal and inerrant Word of God which was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It contains true knowledge on our salvation in Jesus Christ, and also offers a sure foundation to our Christian life in every domain: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17; cf. 2 Pet. 1:19-21). God is the supreme authority in the universe and His pre-eminence renders all pronouncements in His Word authoritative. If we fear God we should recognise the authority of His Word and diligently walk in its light. Divine blessings are promised to us if we do not deviate from the Word (Deut. 5:32; Isa. 66:2; Rev. 3:8). On the other hand, the judgements of God rest upon all people who turn their backs on Him, reject His authority and despise His Word.

A literal interpretation of Scripture. The literal, grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture is foundational to evangelical Christianity. The Lord meant what He said to particular people during a particular time. Figurative language and symbolism should be confined to passages which the Bible itself indicates to be understood in that way. The rule is: When the plain sense of the Word makes common sense, then seek no other sense. Even where symbols are used, they mostly have literal antitypes and should therefore not be interpreted allegorically. The beast with the seven heads, for instance, is not an abstract concept which should be interpreted allegorically but a symbolic description of a person, the Antichrist. Descriptive names are often used in the Bible to emphasise certain moral or spiritual characteristics of a person. In this way, Christ is depicted as the light of the world, the water and bread of life, the Lamb of God, etc. When people deviate from the literal interpretation of Scripture, e.g. by alleging that Israel is the church or that Jesus only metaphorically rose from the dead, they proclaim their own, subjective rendering of the Word, thereby completely changing its basic meaning.

The rejection of spiritualization. The apostles and the early church fathers observed the principle of sensus plenior (Eng. plain meaning) when interpreting Scripture. They accepted that Scriptures only have one, basic meaning. During later centuries, this approach was increasingly rejected. Origen (b. 185 AD) is the father of allegorical interpretation and has written several books on this subject. He was strongly influenced by the Greek philosophy of Plato and tried to synthesise philosophy and Christian dogma. He regarded the Bible as a book full of symbols and allegorical constructions, and therefore did not interpret it literally. To him, the true meaning of the Bible was to be found in the philosophical-spiritual gnosis (knowledge of spiritual mysteries) to which each believer should advance. To him, there was no possibility of a literal kingdom of Christ on earth, neither of a personal Antichrist who will rule the world for seven years prior to the coming of Christ. The allegorical interpretation of Scripture has a very dubious origin as the Bible is not interpreted by itself but viewed in terms of a philosophical approach as an abstract book with a hidden, esoteric meaning. This approach is still perpetuated in reformed theology, since the reformers as well as their successors preferred to reject the rule of sensus plenior in order to, among others, avoid the idea of the literal restoration of Israel. Cell groups and care groups in churches are often encouraged to explore the multiple meanings that may be derived from Scriptures by spiritualising them. To each person, a verse may mean something quite different. In this way they rarely consider the basic, root meaning of a verse. Fundamentalists cannot accept this approach to the Bible. Different applications of the same truth are in order, but not completely different renderings of the same Scriptural pronouncements.

The recognition of spiritual realities. A literal form of interpretation also fully provides for the recognition of spiritual statements in the Bible. There is no truth in the claim by spiritualising theologians that only they understand the Bible spiritually while fundamentalists understand it literally, thereby denying its spiritual truths. This argument suggests that only they are spiritual and we are not. The fact is that we accept the root meaning of every verse. If the basic meaning of a particular verse is spiritual, we accept it on face value as a spiritual statement. We do not try to change Scriptures that have an obvious spiritual meaning. According to our understanding, it is not exegetical sound practice to spiritualise virtually the entire Bible, thereby robbing it of its basic meaning and thus undermining the authority of Scripture. There is no sound basis for true spirituality if you do not have an authoritative Bible.

Theological conservatism. A fundamental Christian is conservative since he is committed to interpreting and applying the message of the Bible in terms of its plain meaning. People who take the liberty of changing the basic meaning of a Scripture by way of spiritualising or allegorising it, are acting in a liberal and wilful way. They do not respect the root meaning of God’s Word and decide for themselves which other meaning(s) to attach to it. There are no limits to the self-willed exegesis of liberal theologians. Many of them take literal concepts such as heaven, hell, the devil, the Antichrist, Israel and the millennial reign of Christ, and then offer explanations which differ radically from those which the Bible give. They even go as far as denying the reality of some of these concepts. As justification for the their liberal presumptuousness they allege that the Bible was written in terms of an ancient worldview, when people still believed in dragons, the devil and hell. The modernist says that God’s revelations in the Bible were phrased in terms of primitive superstitions and uses this argument to actually rewrite the entire Bible. God will severely punish them, as stated in the last chapter of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).

The biblical doctrine of creation. The biblical statement that God is the Creator of everything that exists is fully accepted in evangelical circles. This belief leads to utterly rejecting the theory of evolution, which is based upon the unproven hypothesis that all life originated from a unicellular organism somewhere in a big marsh. The theory of evolution comprises a clear denial of the fact that human beings have other attributes than animals. Humans are also spiritual beings who were created in the image of God, and are therefore accountable to Him for their actions. The majority of evolutionists are agnostics since they think they have scientific evidence that God did not play any part in the origin of life. They are greatly deceived because there is no solid evidence to support their theory. No proof has been found for transitional species, in terms of which the assumption of evolutionary change to higher forms of life is made. Since creation, apes are still apes and have not evolved into something else. They are not our ancestors!

The hostile kingdom of Satan. Fundamental Christians believe in the existence of an opposing kingdom of darkness which is controlled by Satan and his demons. The Lord has prepared the lake of fire as an everlasting place of condemnation for the devil and his angels, as well as all unsaved sinners (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:11-15). Because our first parents were deceived by Satan they became sinners; consequently, we were all born with a sinful nature (Rom. 5:12). We can only be saved from the power of Satan and the destructive effects of sin by Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7; 1 John 3:18). We must prevail over our sinful nature (Gal. 5:16-17) and also put on the full armour of God that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:10-13). Spiritual warfare is the way to achieve victory in our personal battle against Satan. We should not use this method in unbiblical efforts to evict Satan and his demons from cities, countries, continents, or even from the entire world. During this dispensation, we are living in a world which lies under the sway of the Wicked One (Gal. 1:4; 1 John 5:19). We are engaged in a struggle against evil, and this struggle will intensify while we approach the end of this dispensation.

Dispensationalism. A literal interpretation of the Bible commits one to a dispensational exposition of God’s revealed truth. Every dispensation (or age) has its own characteristics, although it may also share certain similarities with other dispensations. Dispensational distinctions, for instance, should be taken into account in statements of faith which are based upon the crucifixion of Christ in the New Testament (NT) which obviously differ from Old Testament (OT) statements of faith. It is impossible to maintain the correct perspective if one does not consider dispensational realities. When different dispensations in God’s counsel for mankind are confused with one another, serious deception and false expectations may result. That happens when aspects of Israel’s dispensation of the law in the OT are confused with the NT dispensation of grace (the church dispensation) by promoting a legalistic form of worship. Major deception also follows when the church dispensation is equated with the future dispensation of the kingdom – that is Christ’s reign of peace on earth which will only be established after His second coming. By not clearly distinguishing between these two dispensations, the false expectation is advanced that the devil can now be bound and stripped of his power, that Christians can now take over the world and have dominion over it by ruling as kings, and that signs and wonders can proliferate as part of their show of kingdom powers. Such people are deluded and have no understanding of biblical prophecies which describe a world that progressively deteriorates during the final stage of the church dispensation (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-5).

The restoration of Israel. Fundamental Christians recognise the modern state of Israel because they believe in the literal fulfilment of the many biblical promises on the end-time restoration of Israel in the Promised Land (Isa. 11:11-12; Jer. 31:3-10,20-21,31-39; Ezek. 11:17; 36:22-29; 37:21). Israel is currently in a process of returning to the land of their fathers (Gen. 13:14-15; 17:8; 26:3; 28:13). They have an undeniable biblical mandate to this land, which clearly implies that it cannot be denied to them – neither can it be divided. The two-state solution which the US and the UN are imposing on them demands the dividing of this land into two states – Israel and Palestine – but this is in direct conflict with the Bible. Severe judgements of God will come upon the Gentiles who enforced the dividing of Israel (Joel 3:1-2). The Lord not only attached His name to Israel as a people (Jer. 31:1), but also to Jerusalem as their spiritual and political capital – a status which it will fully enjoy during the Millennium after the coming of Christ (1 Kings 9:3, 11:36; Isa. 2:1-4; Jer. 3:17).

Continued reformation. Serious Christians should be involved with an ongoing process of bringing the theology and practices of their church or house assembly in line with God’s Word. Bible study as well as research resources should be used to gain a deeper insight into the Word, followed by actions to implement the new knowledge. Care should be taken not to perpetuate unbiblical convictions and creeds which may have survived for a long time as church traditions, but have never been seriously investigated or challenged. Many of the reformed churches are guilty of this, and neglect to critically examine the serious errors which their church fathers have embedded in their creeds. In this way, even completely unbiblical, Roman uses and tenets have sneaked into the church of the Reformation and survived to this day. Instead of a true reformation which is a movement back to biblical principles and standards, many churches are involved with an unbiblical reformation in which the remaining evangelical beliefs in the church are uprooted and rejected. In South Africa, there is a New Reformation of this type, which is responsible for extensive theological destruction. This is not a reformation to bring the church closer to the Bible, but a deformation aimed at destroying the church’s foundations of faith. New reformers maintain that the “master-story” of Christianity is based upon the limited and often erroneous insights of the church fathers and the authors of Bible books. Through modern research, which amounts to nothing more than postmodern deconstruction and misplaced “academic reflection” they are constructing a “historical Jesus” who was not born of a virgin, who is not God, whose death on the cross has no redemptive significance, and who did not rise bodily from the grave. This “research” is done in pursuance of the Jesus Seminar in the US. To them all, the Bible is not God’s inerrant Word, but religious opinions and speculation by primitive thinkers. They also equate Christianity with the non-Christian religions. This process of religious deformation should be rejected and countered by a true reformation.

Biblical Christology. Fundamental Christians believe in the full revelation of Jesus Christ in the Bible, and proclaim it accordingly. There must be absolute clarity on His eternal self-existence, His role in the creation of the world, the equal position which he occupies as God the Son in the Trinity, together with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, His virgin birth during His incarnation, the full significance of His atoning death on the cross, His bodily resurrection from the dead, His ascension, His functions as Prophet, High Priest and King, as well as His revelation as King of Israel and the whole world at His second coming. Then He will rule the world in His millennial reign of peace from the throne of David in Jerusalem. His attributes should also, in a dispensational context, be correctly understood. In the church dispensation, the emphasis is on the crucified Christ who is rejected by the world, on His High Priestly role to intercede for us at the Father’s throne, and also on the special way in which He guides His disciples through the Holy Spirit, and empowers them for their commission to evangelise the world. During the millennium He will physically be on earth. Then, the emphasis will be on His role as King, and every knee will bow before Him.

Uniqueness of the Christian faith. In our relationship with the outside world we should take a strong stand on the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Nobody can come to the Father except through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). “Nor is salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). No credibility whatsoever can be given to non-Christian religions; neither can ecumenical ties be forged with them. Brotherly relations cannot even be maintained with nominal Christian churches that do not have a clear confession of salvation based upon the atoning death of Jesus Christ.

Evangelical doctrine of salvation. The Bible clearly says that the condition for salvation is repentance and the receiving of Jesus Christ by faith as our Saviour (John 1:12; Acts 16:31). Through His death on the cross, Jesus Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (Acts 17:30; 1 John 2:2). A sinner should express his faith in the crucified Lord Jesus, who, through His resurrection, also conquered death and the grave and ever lives to make intercession for us. No person can be declared justified on any other grounds, e.g. on his good works, or his baptism and confirmation (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). There is no biblical basis for the common reformed view that the Lord has chosen certain people for salvation before the foundation of the world, and that their predestination is confirmed by the covenant baptism of infants. This is the Roman-Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration. The Bible plainly and repeatedly confirms that God wants to save all people (John 3:16; Acts 17:30; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). The door of grace is open to everybody, and each person must decide whether he or she wants to enter in.

Sensitivity to the working of the Holy Spirit. The most important ministries of the Holy Spirit are related to conviction of sin, regeneration, empowering, teaching and comforting. Gifts such as the speaking in tongues were only meant for the transitional period, when the new dispensation of the church of Christ among all nations was established. Through this sign, the Lord indicated that the gospel message was to be preached to all nations and linguistic groups. This statement has clearly been made during the first century, and nobody has a biblical right to keep on praying for the gift of tongues. In the promise of Pentecost the Lord Jesus only mentioned the power of the Holy Spirit – not the gifts of speaking in tongues and of healing (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). We should have great sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and heed it, also when He convicts us of sin, because He never enforces Himself upon people. He can easily be grieved (Eph. 4:30), which means that such believers act outside the will of God. We should also be cautious not to ascribe strange manifestations in the physical and mental dimensions to the work of the Holy Spirit, such as slaying in the Spirit. This phenomenon usually leads to trances and bizarre, drunken behaviour such as uncontrolled laughter, incoherent speech and the making of animal noises. When testing these strange manifestations in the light of Scripture (1 John 4:1) they are clearly proven to be inauthentic and in conflict with a fundamental interpretation of Scripture.

Freedom of the human will. God gave humans a free will, so they can decide between good and evil for themselves. He wants voluntary love from us, which means we must make a free decision to repent and to worship and love Him after being convicted by the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of predestination is unbiblical since it teaches that God manipulates all people in a predetermined way to act according to His will. The Lord Jesus refutes this doctrine when He says, “Let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires [or wishes], let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). He also said that He wanted to gather the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Himself, but they were not willing (Matt. 23:37). The fact that people can act in conflict with God’s will and grieve His Spirit, in no way undermines the sovereignty of God. He Himself has taken a sovereign decision to give people a free will so they can decide of their own volition who they want to serve (cf. Jos. 24:15; 2 Cor. 5:20). The Lord has foreknowledge on who will be reconciled to Him and then chooses (or appoints) them to holiness and fruitful service. That means that He appoints them in His kingdom and determines the nature of their service.

Biblical doctrine on sin. Man had been created in the image of God, but due to the Fall he died spiritually and acquired a perverted nature with immoral inclinations. His actions and thoughts that are at variance with the divine nature of God are described as sin. In the OT the law convicted Israel of sin, and the Holy Spirit convicts people in the present dispensation of sin in accordance with Scriptural norms and pronouncements. God wants to restore His divine nature in people’s lives, and for this to happen, repentance, regeneration and sanctification are needed. His call to Israel in the OT, and to all believers in the NT, is the same: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). Since the Fall up to this day, the definition of sin has not changed, since it includes all forms of behaviour that are in conflict with God’s unchanging, holy nature. Human values can never become the standard for sin, as they are determined subjectively by people who are in most cases still dominated by their uncrucified, sinful nature. The Bible alone is the standard that defines sin. If the Bible says that homosexuality is sin (Rom. 1:26-27), it will forever remain a sin because God did not create people in that way. The Bible often discusses sin, amongst other things, as the fruit of the flesh which is the sinful nature of human beings. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), so we urgently need to be saved from our sins by Jesus Christ (Matt 1:21).

Biblical principles and culturally determined practices. Biblical principles for human behaviour never change, but culturally determined expressions of these principles may vary form culture to culture and from time to time. In the first century, women had to cover their heads when worshipping the Lord, as an indication that they subject themselves to the authority of their husbands. Today, the wearing of a hat is not in the least regarded as a symbol of accepting authority; therefore, this principle should be honoured in other ways. Men have to greet one another heartily. During the first century, they did this by kissing one another (1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:26). Today, there are other ways of greeting one another heartily! Clothing has also changed. The principle is that we should be dressed modestly. In the first century, men did not wear jackets and suits but long garments. We have completely different ways of dressing properly. But we should always remain committed to honour biblical principles in our own culture.

Thinking in opposites. The Bible teaches us to think in opposites. Fundamental Christians should always be able to distinguish between light and darkness, righteousness and sin, beautiful and ugly, good and evil, truth and lies. To be able to do so they need spiritual and moral guidelines which can be applied to every situation to draw a line between acceptable and non-acceptable phenomena or ideas, as taught by the Bible. In the emerging new world order, and also in the New Age Movement, there is a paradigm shift towards holistic thinking, which leads to convergence and the unifying of all things. Boundaries are no longer drawn as they disturb the mutual unity of all things. The emphasis is now on the building of bridges, reconciliation and unity. All religions, for instance, should join hands in terms of the holistic idea that we all worship the same God. In the same way, all cultures and ideologies should converge in order to replace the existing diversity by an all-encompassing unity. This way of thinking is diametrically opposed to biblical thinking which is based upon clearly defined concepts. God divided light from darkness and He expects of us to understand the defining characteristics of different categories of things so as not to confuse or mix them (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18).

A defensive (apologetic) disposition. The message and demands of the Bible are in opposition to a depraved and sinful world. For this reason, we as Christians should shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15) while fighting the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). We are the salt of a corrupt earth and the light of a dark world (Matt. 5:13-16). It is obvious that we should defend the Lord, His Word, our faith and a Christian lifestyle against attacks from a hostile world. False teachers who have deviated from the truth of the Word, also incessantly question and discredit the Bible and its doctrines. Paul says, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2-3). We are appointed to the defence of the gospel (Phil. 1:17). In the true sense of the word, we should be Protestants who keep on protesting against all forms of doctrinal deception and corrupt practices.

Rejection of positive thinking. The antithetic way of thinking which is entertained by fundamental Christians commits them to give full recognition to the existence of negative, sinful thoughts and works. We should be discerning Christians who are able to identify and resist evil things, particularly religious deception. A sinner should be called a sinner, despite the fact that it is a negative label. Likewise, God’s judgements upon sinners should be proclaimed together with the solution to this problem. However, liberal churches, as well as the ecumenical movement, regard fundamental Christians as a big threat to their programme of promoting unity with Roman Catholics and the non-Christian religions, and present us in a negative way as intolerant and intent on sowing seeds of conflict and discord. In so doing, we pose a threat to their efforts of becoming conformed to the world. From our position, we reject their humanistic-driven positive thinking because they are deceived and unable to discern between good and evil.

Conformity to Christ. It should be our highest aim to be conformed to the life of the Lord Jesus: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). The Lord Jesus did not live for Himself but for others: “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:27-28). We should be servants of the Lord Jesus who proclaim the message of His saving grace to all people. We should do things which have value for eternity, and not be busy accumulating perishable, earthly treasures. We should also be prepared to suffer if necessary, after the example of Christ (1 Pet. 2:21). We should not be followers of other people, including the church fathers, unless they, themselves were dedicated followers of Christ, like Paul (1 Cor. 11:1).

Upholding a biblical order of authority. God occupies supreme authority in the universe. He appointed Christ as head of the church (Eph. 1:22). Elders and deacons are appointed in the church under the authority of Christ. They are all men (1 Tim. 3:2-4). Women are not allowed to rule over men or to teach them from the Word of God, and can consequently not become pastors. Because of the demands of apologetic preaching, which includes the rebuking and disciplining of members, this responsibility should remain in the hands of men. It is humiliating to a man to be disciplined and rebuked by a woman. Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). However, women are free and often very able to teach other women and children, and also to offer adult Bible classes in which there is no ruling element. The same order of authority applies to human societies, as the Lord instituted families under the headship of men: “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church” (Eph. 5:23).

Cultural diversity. The Lord has determined boundaries between nations and cultural groups, and He expects us to honour them (Acts 17:26). That is a continuation of the confusion of tongues which occurred during the building of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:5-8). It was wrong in the eyes of the Lord that the Babylonians were building a world state with only one official language, so He gave every group their own language. They consequently dispersed and each settled in their own territory under their own government. This was the beginning of different cultural groups among the nations. The recognition of cultural diversity is the only basis for healthy relations among nations. In our commission to evangelise the world we are sent to every tribe and tongue and people so that each group should (preferably) be evangelised in their own language. In the end-time, under the instigation of Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet, a world empire will be established with only one government, one religion and one economic system (Rev. 13:1-18). The emerging new world order expressed itself in favour of a system of global control. That will be a serious infringement of God’s order of independent and self-determining nations, and for that reason the Lord Jesus will, at His second coming, destroy the evil lifestyle, holistic social order and satanic empire of the Antichrist.

The recognition of biological identity. Apart from cultural identity, the Lord also determined the basic, personal identity of every individual as male or female (Gen. 1:27). The purpose of this was that heterosexual males and females would contract marriages which are the basic social units for procreation, the raising of children, education, enculturation, and the maintenance of authority in society. God definitely did not create genderless people who do not really know whether they are male or female (homosexuals, or gays). People become like that because of learned behaviour and not inherited behaviour. There are no people with gay genes in them. Sodomy is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, as such people deny their Creator by their behaviour. Some of them even blame God for their perverted sexual orientation. There is deliverance from this sinful inclination (1 Cor. 6:10-11), and there are many testimonies of former gays who now maintain normal, heterosexual relations. Sodomy should not be condoned or justified as it is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:10; cf. Rom. 1:24-27). The establishment of gay congregations, as well as the appointment of gay pastors, are further evidence that biblical fundamentalism is rejected by deceived people, thereby destroying the foundations of the Christian faith and Christian societies (cf. Ps. 2:2-3; 11:3).

No compromise. The Lord Jesus gave us a sure faith and clear rules for living. He didn’t come to compromise. All people are born in sin and are called, by faith in the Lord Jesus, to make a clear transition from the darkness of sin into the marvellous light of His kingdom (1 Pet. 2:9). He expects of us, by repentance, to make a clean break with our sinful past. The rich young ruler was not prepared to give up his earthly possessions and form of godliness in order to become a true follower of Jesus. The cost was too high. He wanted the best from two worlds by trying to serve God and Mammon. When he turned around, the Lord Jesus did not call him back to compromise by convincing him to only abandon half of his possessions in an effort to win him as a disciple. That does not mean that rich people should part with all their possession to become Christians. But they should dedicate themselves and all their material wealth to God – then they will be stewards in the cause of the Lord, who will not find it hard to make substantial contributions to the advancement of His kingdom on earth.

Christian morality, values and practices. A fundamental Christian is a person to whom a Christian way of living is the only acceptable form of existence. He exerts himself to ensure a Christian constitution and government, Christian education, and the observance of Christian norms in society. There were times, particularly during the great revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries, when Christian reforms were characteristic of most nations in Europe and North America – also nations of European origin in other parts of the world. Afterwards, secularism and humanism again got the upper hand, and these societies gradually started to lose their Christian character. That placed bigger pressure and more responsibilities on Christian families to persevere on the right way and give Christian education to their children. People who do not seriously consider the Bible, easily abandon this way of living and accept a postmodern orientation, which is inherently post-Christian.

Strangers and pilgrims. In spite of the positive reforms in many countries during the great revivals, human history is predominantly characterised by godless and sinful societies in which there is no appreciation for fundamental biblical truths. On the most, a form of godliness will be tolerated but without strict principles and rules. In the end-time, conservative Christian principles are increasingly abandoned (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). The consequence of this falling away is that true Christians are strangers and pilgrims in a world that lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19; 1 Pet. 2:11). We have to accept this reality, as well as the opposition and persecution which come upon evangelical believers. The kingdom of God will definitely not be established on earth now, as Christ will only be revealed as King of kings at His second coming. He will then destroy the powers of the Antichrist (Rev. 19:19-21) and have Satan bound and incarcerated in the bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1-3). Only then, a government of righteousness and peace will be established for the whole world (Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:20-22). In that future kingdom, we will not be rejected disciples (John 15:18-19) but kings who will be co-rulers with Jesus Christ (Rev. 5:9-10; 20:4).

Perseverance. One of the strongest characteristics of an evangelical Christian is perseverance in his Christian life. When the road becomes steep and the progress difficult, when friends ignore you and family members turn their backs on you, you should remain unwavering in your commitment to the Lord Jesus. “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14; see also 3:6,13). Don’t allow disappointments or opposition to force you off the right course: “If indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23; cf. 1 Tim. 1:19). Persevere in following and serving the Lord (Luke 8:15; 21:19). We know that the Lord will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), but the possibility always exists that we may become unfaithful towards Him. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered” (John 15:4,6). How does that happen? People first grow cold in their love for Jesus, and ultimately many of them leave their first love (Rev. 2:4-5). Peter says that there are those who fall away from their own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked (2 Pet. 3:17). Faith, obedience and discipline are needed in our spiritual lives. Paul said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27).

A biblical future expectation. It is evident that somebody who keeps the Word of God and does not deny the Lord Jesus (Rev. 3:8) will be strongly focussed on the second coming of Christ. He will know that this world is not our home because the Lord is preparing for us a city which has foundations, eternally in heaven (John 14:2-3; Heb. 11:10). This expectation keeps us from getting bogged down in a small world of materialism and own interests. Paul says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19; NIV). We should love and serve Christ with a view to the eternal interests of His heavenly kingdom. The day when the Lord Jesus takes the true believers away by means of the rapture we will leave this corrupt world to be with Christ forever (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This is what we are living for and we are daily looking forward to it. We expect the heavenly Bridegroom any moment. The Bible describes an evil servant as one who lost his expectation of the soon coming of Christ. He says in his heart, “My Master is delaying His coming” (Matt. 24:48), and then becomes arrogant and indulges in sin.

Accountability to God. Man should guard against becoming his own god who sits on the throne of his heart. We were created by God and are called to become conformable to the image of His Son. For this reason, we are accountable to Him for what we have done with our lives. All unsaved people are living in a state of rebellion towards God and will appear before the great white throne where they will be condemned to the eternal lake of fire because of their sins (Rev. 20:11-15). Christians will appear before the judgement seat of Christ where they will receive rewards for their service to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:10; Luke 19:15-17). On that day it will be evident that many of them were not filled with the Holy Spirit, and consequently did not bear fruit that befits repentance. When their works are tested by fire they will burn like wood, hay and straw: “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). Prepare yourself for this appointment and make sure that you do not appear before the Lord empty-handed.

Fundamentalism and radicalism. Christian fundamentalism should in no way be confused with radical actions or violent behaviour. Although we have a faith and principles which differ radically from that of the world, we do not use radical or violent means to promote it: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6). We don’t demonstrate in the streets, we don’t threaten people and never take up arms offensively against others – only defensively when it is absolutely necessary. As a small minority group we are not in a position to make demands. We can only, in a civilised way, make requests to society and government in which we motivate our case well. A wrong image is often portrayed of fundamental Christians, for instance, to liken them with fundamental Muslims. The latter group is, as far as the Bible is concerned, not occupied with the truth and they also justify violence by waging a jihad against Israel and Christianity. The Koran often calls them to become engaged with such a war. In this dispensation, Christians are never called to make war, so we refrain from radical actions. We belong to a heavenly kingdom which cannot be defended by military means – only by the word of our testimony. We are called upon to proclaim the saving grace of Jesus Christ to all people, also to the enemies of Christianity, whose minds have been blinded by the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4).

Persecution. The gospel of Jesus Christ was never meant to make us acceptable to the world, but actually prepares us to be rejected, hated and persecuted by the world (John 15:18-20; Acts 14:22). We know that we won’t take over the world during this dispensation. Wherever the gospel is correctly proclaimed without lowering its standard and mixing it with sensational kingdom promises, only a minority of people will be saved (Luke 13:23-24; Matt. 7:14). It is in our best interest to stick to the full truth of God’s Word – that means to be fundamental, evangelical believers – and to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

I life which is led in the abundant grace of the Triune God, will conform to the above-mentioned principles. From a biblical perspective, such a person can be called a fundamental Christian because his life is built upon the foundation, Jesus Christ: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). If our lives have been built upon this firm rock we will never falter when the storms of life are unleashed against us. The sureness of this Rock, the certainty of our trust in Him, and the unchangeable nature of His Word offer us a hopeful future in His everlasting heavenly kingdom. The Lord Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Luke 21:33).

 

8. The New Life in Christ

We conclude the discussion on law and grace with a reflection on the important doctrinal pronouncements which Paul made in Romans 5 and 6 on this subject. In these chapters he says, among others:

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand… the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us… God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through Him… For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:1,2,5,8,9,19-21).

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 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. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves as slaves to obey, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:1-23).

Through faith, because of the love of God, we have gained access to the grace in which we stand. Because God loves all sinners and desire their salvation, He sent His Son to make atonement for our sins on the cross. Grace and love are, therefore, two closely related concepts: because God loves us He abundantly made His grace available to us through His Son.

The Holy Spirit establishes us in God’s grace by pouring our His love in our hearts. After that, our conduct is not determined by outward acts of law-observation but by the Holy Spirit’s internal conviction of sin and righteousness. If we react to this conviction and walk in its light we will have an undisturbed relationship with the Lord. Everything which is in conflict with the principles of divine love is sin. The driving force in our lives is not the letter of the Old Testament law and all its shadowy practices, but the grace and love of the Lord Jesus which are revealed to us through His Word, confirmed by His Spirit in our hearts, and to which we give expression through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

Our lives in the grace of God have great potential for further growth and development. Paul clearly mentions two works of grace which we should experience if we truly want to please God. The first work of grace is justification through the blood of Christ: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith” (Rom. 3:23-25; cf. Rom. 5:1,8).

After this, we are faced with a distinct challenge for a second work of grace, i.e. to die with Christ so that we can also live with Him. This act of faith demands self-discipline and a radically changed disposition with regard to the old and new life. We should clearly face the realities of our spiritual position in order to take the necessary decisions regarding our lifestyle and actions. The process of sanctification, which is associated with the second work of grace, will be completely nullified if we compromise with sin and refuse to put down the old man. This stumbling block first has to be removed by being united together with Christ in the likeness of His death (Rom. 6:1-5). This alone will prepare the way for unification with His resurrection life.

The important question is: how can I die to my old nature? Paul told the Ephesians that they should renounce it: “…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). I should make a commitment in which I surrender my old, sinful nature to be crucified so that I can be spiritually renewed and put on the nature of Christ. Paul says, “…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” (Rom. 6:6). The word “done away” (Greek katargeo), which is used with reference to the old, sinful nature can also be translated “to render ineffective.” The Amplified Bible translates this scripture as follows: “We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body, [which is the instrument] of sin, might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin.”

The interpretation of this concept has given rise to different theological points of view. Those who subscribe to the “eradication theory” (Wesleyans) claim that our old, sinful nature is completely eradicated by the Lord. The supporters of the “suppression theory” (Calvinists) contend that the old nature should be continuously suppressed and kept under so that we are only ‘moderate’ sinners. As a result of this view they find themselves in the spiritually unfruitful condition of carnality. Those who entertain the self-crucifixion principle (Andrew Murray and other Keswick preachers) say that the old nature should be kept in a crucified position every day. They warn that the old nature can be revived if a person fails to fully identify with the cross of Christ and then wilfully start sinning again.

In his book, Like Christ, Andrew Murray says: “They secret of holiness is that we, like Christ, should also die to sin. The Christian who does not understand this always imagines that sin is too strong for him, that sin still has power over him, and that he must sometimes obey it. But, he thinks this because he does not know that he, like Christ, is dead to sin… And, if the believer still sins, it is because he does not use his privilege to live as one who is dead to sin. Through ignorance, unwatchfulness, or unbelief, he forgets the meaning and the power of this likeness of Christ’s death, and sins. But, if he firmly believes in what his participation with Christ’s death signifies, he has the power to overcome sin. He truly understands that it is not said, ‘Sin is dead.’ No, sin is not dead. Sin still lives and works in the flesh. But, he himself is dead to sin, and alive to God. And so, sin cannot for a single moment, without his consent, have dominion over him. If he sins, it is because he allows it to reign, and submits himself to obey it. Beloved Christian, who seeks to be like Christ, take the likeness of His death as one of the most glorious parts of the life you want to lead. First of all, appropriate it in faith. Believe that you are indeed dead to sin. Let it be a settled thing. God says it to every one of His children, even the weakest. Say it before Him, too, ‘Like Christ, I am dead to sin.’ Do not be afraid to say it; it is the truth. Ask the Holy Spirit to earnestly enlighten you with regard to this part of your union with Christ, so that it may not only be a doctrine, but power and truth… In order to have the full benefit of this likeness of Christ’s death, notice two things in particular. The one is the obligation under which it brings you: ‘How can we who are dead to sin live in it any longer?’ Endeavour to enter more deeply into the meaning of this death of Christ into which you have been baptised. Regard yourself as dead and therefore released from the power of sin. ‘Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death?’ (Rom. 6:3). Let the Holy Spirit baptise you continually deeper into His death, until the power of God’s Word – dead to sin until the conformity to Christ’s death – is discernible in all your walk and conversation” (End of quotation from Andrew Murray’s book).

It is imperative that a believer has full knowledge of his stand in Christ and lives accordingly. Paul uses another key word in this regard: “Likewise you also, reckon (Gr. logizomai) yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That literally means: “Regard yourself to be dead to sin.” You can only do that after you have put down the old man in a complete surrender and delivered him to be crucified. The Lord Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself (the old man) and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

What happens if a Christian fails to, in faith, surrender the flesh to be crucified? Then he will not be united together with Christ in the likeness of His death, and will find himself in a position where sin and fleshly inclinations are still the main characteristics of his life. That effectively leads to preventing the fruit of the Spirit in his life: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17). In the church of Corinth there were many of these carnal Christians who did not live victoriously. Paul said:

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still nor able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? … Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:1-3,16).

These people did not reckon themselves dead to the world and to sin, as they had not yet surrendered themselves to be crucified of the old nature, to have their hearts purified, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. If one fails to identify with the death of the Lord Jesus, His resurrection life will not be manifested in your deeds and you will not be a useful instrument in the hand of the Lord.

It is a common inclination among such carnal Christians to appropriate aspects of the Old Testament law and to observe them in order to at least present a form of godliness in their carnal condition. Their attention is drawn to the fact that they should not be slaves of sin, and that they can only enjoy this liberty and victory through the grace of the Lord Jesus – not through the law: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:12-14).

A strong stand should be taken against the old nature and its lusts. The depraved nature can be defeated and crucified through the power of the Lord. In its place the believer must put on the new life of the Lord Jesus and pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” Gal. 5:16). The next step is to make yourself available for the work of the Lord. Look for opportunities to be a witness for Christ and to extend His kingdom, so others can share in His grace. This is the way of increased service and holiness which we should daily pursue, the result being that we will increase in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).

We should never be among those people who try to supplement a meagre Christian life by observing Old Testament laws, as that would be a complete underestimation of the value of Christ’s grace. Paul says, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal. 2:21). He did however subject himself to Christ’s New Testament law of love (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21) as the Saviour’s wondrous grace is offered to a dying world through the preaching of the gospel.

Christ’s law of love allows us to experience complete liberty on how we wish to give expression to it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This service is not restricted to certain days, not to the giving of a fixed percentage of our income, not to a legalistic form of service to God through the mediation of priests, not to compulsory ritualising by ordained officials of the church, and also not to any responsibilities which emanate from humanly-determined dogmas and traditions.

Neither does the Love of God allow us to lapse into passivity by hiding the light of the gospel under a basket. His love has its own dynamics which urges us to find ways in which we can promote the proclaiming of the gospel. We will have a love for God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; we will have a love for God’s Word; we will have a love for the brethren; we will have a love for the true church of Christ everywhere on earth and play a supporting role in it as far as possible. We will also have a love for a dying world and promote the preaching of the good news of Jesus’ saving grace in every possible way. The love of God must be perfected in us so we can be filled with all the fullness of God (1 John 4:7-21; Eph. 3:14-19).

We are right at the end of the church dispensation and should realise that time is limited to put our spiritual lives in order to be in all respects in agreement with “the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 1:9). This calls for a clear comprehension of the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives – not only to salvation but also towards executing our commands to pray always, to live holy, and to let the light of the gospel shine in a dark world. Soon we will appear before the judgement seat of Christ to give account of our lives as Christians (Rom. 14:10,12; 2 Cor. 5:10).

It is essential that, through our faith and works, we make preparations to confidently answer a few straight questions that will be asked of us. On this occasion we will not be asked whether we are saved or not, as only people who were saved by grace will go along with the rapture to appear before the judgement seat of Christ. The servants of the Lord will have to give account of their lives after repentance to determine whether they walked worthy and executed the commands of the Lord. When we consider the crowns that will be awarded to overcomers it is obvious that they will not be asked whether they observed the law or the Sabbath, as that is not the purpose why we were sent out into the world. Christ will judge and reward us with reference to the following questions:

•        “Have we lived holy, laid aside our sins and unnecessary weights and dedicated ourselves to the service of the Lord?” If so, an imperishable crown will be awarded to us (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:1-2).

•        “Have we supported the preaching of the gospel and led souls to Christ?” For all of us who were faithful in doing so, a crown of rejoicing awaits us (Acts 1:8; 1 Thess. 2:19; Phil. 4:1).

•        “Have we been faithful shepherds?” This question relates to all of us who had others, including children, in our care. We will receive a crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

•        “Were we prepared to suffer for the sake of Christ, at the same time remaining true to the faith, even under difficult circumstances?” If so, we will receive a crown of life (Rev. 2:10; Jas. 1:12; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 11:35).

•        “Have we loved the appearing of Christ and have we proclaimed it and walked in the light of His promises?” This calls for our preparedness as pilgrims and sojourners in this present, evil world. Such of us who can answer in the affirmative, will receive a crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8; Phil. 3:20-21).

Since these works can only be done with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, the rewards will be given by grace. That is the reason why the elders in heaven, who represent the glorified church (Rev. 5:9-10), will cast their crowns at the feet of the Lord Jesus. Only He is worthy to receive the glory and honour for that which has been achieved on earth in His name for the sake of His kingdom (Rev. 4:10-11).

Watchman Nee 27