by Dan Appel
by Dan Appel, August 1, 2014
In my last post we looked at the contrast between a life lived focused and guided by the Torah, including the Ten Commandments, and the Royal Law, the law by which Jesus lived his life. We discovered that it is this law which governed the universe from its inception and is the way of life to which God desires to return all who love and serve him.
But are those two commands, to love God with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love others as we do ourselves, sufficient for those who desire to serve and worship God? Therein lies the crux of the question. Just how powerful and effective do we really believe God is? Is the God who created and sustains the universe powerful enough to live in me the life he wants me to live? With my permission, can God heal my sinful heart and restore my desires and impulse to live in ways contrary to his will? Or must I make certain he gets it right? Surrendering, “letting go, and letting God,” focusing on my relationship with him and giving him permission to live in me just sounds way too simple! There has to be more! Can a life focused on getting to know and love God, treating others as he would, really be enough?
What are Jesus’ words? “Go to the whole world,” he tells his followers, “and make committed followers, disciples.” That is our mandate – to connect people with Jesus and to encourage them to follow him. He expanded on this mission in a number of places: “This is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent” (John 17:3). “If you have the Son, you have life; if don’t have the Son, you don’t have life” (1 John 5:12). So, God must think that it is enough!
Part of the reason we struggle with this issue is that, in our desire to defend the Sabbath, we have settled for a very narrow definition of sin found in 1 John 3:4 – “Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God.” Then we define the “law” in this passage as the Torah, and especially the ten commandments, rather than the Royal Law, which Jesus taught his disciples (including John, who wrote 1 John) to keep.
Further, there are a number of other definitions of sin which we often choose to ignore – i.e., knowing something is right and not doing it (James 4:17); all wrongdoing (1 John 5:17); anything, even good things, even absolute obedience to the Torah, that is not of faith (Romans 14:23); anything that damages, deforms or destroys relationships (living contrary to the Royal Law).
Some might object that connecting people with Jesus so that they follow him, and encouraging them to surrender their life and will to him would lead to some kind of moral licentiousness and spiritual anarchy.
Boiled down to its essence, that argument says that Jesus isn’t enough and that we need some kind of human effort to supplement what he does in our lives. Can we really trust Jesus to always lead us to do what is right in his Father’s eyes? Can anyone possibly imagine that Jesus is really incapable of shepherding us in the right path, or that he ever would? If fact, the comparison between the Pharisees, who punctiliously kept all of Torah, and what Jesus taught about a life focused on following him, reveals that it is only in focusing on Jesus that we have any hope of living the life God wants us to live.
The reality is that Jesus demands far more of us than the Ten Commandments and the rest of Torah do. Not only does he want us not to kill – he calls us not to hate or to remain angry. He not only calls on us not to adulterate our marriage; he challenges us not to lust. Following him we not only do not covet and steal; we rejoice with others who have things we might wish we had. Rather than doing away with Torah, following Jesus supersedes and expands and extends it exponentially.
William Glasser, the American psychotherapist and teacher, in his book Choice Theory makes the case that there is really only one thing we all can do: We can choose. Our life is made up of constant choice. We choose to get up or stay in bed; we choose to eat Cheerios or scrambled eggs, we choose to sit in one chair or the other, or to stand; we choose to love this person or that one, to watch this or that, etc.
We Adventists spring from the Arminian tradition in Christianity, which contends that God created us as creatures of free choice. Arminianism says that we lost that choice when Adam and Eve sold us into slavery to Satan in the Garden of Eden, and that Jesus came to earth to restore to us the possibility of free choice. Anything which negatively impacts our choices or our ability to choose is sin.
Jesus and Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers made the case that the Royal life is the life of learning more and more about Jesus and choosing to live our lives centered on him, and that that is enough. We do not need, Paul contended in his pastoral letters, to live our lives based on a detailed set of rules and commands found in the Torah – including the Ten Commandments. We need to get to know Jesus, intimately, and he will lead us into a life that far transcends anything written on paper or stone. He, in fact, promises that he will write all that is necessary on our hearts so that such living comes naturally for us (Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Corinthians 3:3).1
There are really only three basic sins or areas of sin described in the Bible, and they are all centered on us and our desire either to be in charge or to take God’s place in our own lives or the lives of others.
The pride of thinking we are God, or wanting to be a god in our own lives or the lives of others. All of those were included in Lucifer’s sin in heaven, as well as Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden. In Eden, the issue was not an apple or some other kind of fruit. The issue was wanting to be like God – to be gods (Genesis 3:5). This sin gives us a distorted view of reality, making it appear to us that we can handle everything (or many things or anything) without God.
One consequence of our sinful nature is that we all, at one time or another, in one way or another, want to, in a sense, “kill” God, dismiss him, impersonate him, pretend to know more than he does, or seduce others into disobeying his Royal Law so that we can take control of them as a type of god in their lives.
A second basic sin, which affects our heart, our emotions, is “self-love.” This is a passionate attachment to the appetites and senses of the body which blanks out zeal for spiritual things and replaces it with lust for carnal satisfaction. When self-love takes over, the mind (in the pre-frontal cortex) abandons its executive function and relinquishes the reins of government to the desire itself, leaving the soul with no government.
The self-love of making the gratification of our own materialistic and sensory desires more important than what God wants or what is best for others is evidenced in things such as greed, lust, concern for oneself and indifference to others. The Bible makes it very clear that we are born with the predisposition to protect self and please and satisfy self at the other’s expense, or at the expense of ourselves, and that only God’s living in the surrendered life and will can change that.
The third sin is described by a word that appears in older translations of the Bible, “vainglory,” which literally means “empty glory.” (It is what is commonly called “people-pleasing” in the helping professions.)
People-pleasing involves a strong desire to impress other people rather than obeying God, so that they’ll approve of us. It is anything that focuses attention on us and admiration for us. It means being willing to say or do whatever it takes to impress or get acceptance and approval from others.
People-pleasers can’t easily tolerate being shunned. The thought that something about us may not be acceptable to others can make us feel very insecure, so we adjust our desire to theirs – wanting the praise of others more than the praise of God (John 12:43).
People-pleasing puts us on a personal stage, behaving as if we were professional actors, performing to win applause from those whose approval we crave and doing anything we can to avoid having them walk out. We are constantly checking on the responses we are getting from the audience.
(Ask a person who is captivated by people-pleasing, “How are you today?” and his/her first inner impulse is to say, “I don’t know; what do you think? Or “I don’t know; what have you heard?”)
When we are captivated by people-pleasing, we become shut off from obeying and serving God. Instead of being shaped by God’s will, our impulses and desires become dictated by the desires of other people as we attempt to please them, impress them, attract their acceptance and praise and avoid losing their approval by displeasing them.
Every other type of “sin” described in the Bible is an extension of and grows out of one or all of these. They are the real sin that leads to actions or attitudes that are contrary to the Royal Law. By focusing just on the smaller picture of Torah, we often miss the larger picture of what sin really is and where the battle really lies.
Only when we allow Jesus to lead us beyond the basic kindergarten concepts of sin do we really begin to discover and experience the truth and victory of the life of a follower of Jesus! Only as we allow God to point out those areas of our life where we attempt to be a god in our own life and the lives of others, where we live our lives focused on satisfying the cravings of our carnal nature, and where we find the opinion of anyone more important than God, and then confess and repent of them and allow God to empower us to grow beyond them that we will become everything God dreams for us to be.
This understanding is what made the 1888 General Conference such a watershed, or tipping-point in Adventist history. This understanding is also what caused the leadership of the Adventist Church at the time, when Ellen White supported A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner in their presentation of this view, to banish Ellen White to Australia in the hope that by isolating her they could keep it from spreading.
But, this is the place where God has desired to lead us since Paul wrote the gospel in his landmark epistles. This understanding became the passion of Ellen White’s life and ministry after she really discovered in a new and delicious way the righteousness of Jesus, and proclaimed it to be the very essence of the Three Angels’ Messages. It is what God has been waiting and waiting and waiting for us to accept and live so that we can finish the work he gave us to do on this earth. It is also the place of spiritual maturity where people in the 5th and 6th stages of spiritual growth truly become what God intends for them to be!
1“Enoch kept the Lord ever before him, and the inspired Word says that he "walked with God." He made Christ his constant companion. He was in the world, and performed his duties to the world; but he was ever under the influence of Jesus. He reflected Christ's character, exhibiting the same qualities in goodness, mercy, tender compassion, sympathy, forbearance, meekness, humility and love. His association with Christ day by day transformed him into the image of him with whom he was so intimately connected. Day by day he was growing away from his own way into Christ's way, the heavenly, the divine, in his thoughts and feelings. He was constantly inquiring, "Is this the way of the Lord?" His was a constant growth, and he had fellowship with the Father and the Son. This is genuine sanctification . . . The converting power of God must be upon our hearts. We must study the life of Christ, and imitate the divine Pattern. We must dwell upon the perfection of his character, and be changed into his image. .” E.G. White, Review and Herald, December 5, 1912