Three Angels' Messages Part 9

Thanks for joining us today as we continue in our study of the Three Angels’ Messages, Heaven’s last attempt to reach the people on this earth. The first angel is described as “having the everlasting gospel,” the “Good News,” and we’ve seen that God’s Good News can be viewed as a complete program of redemption, made up of three separate parts. God takes care of our past mistakes by offering His forgiveness, made possible by Christ’s death on the cross, so that we can be washed in the blood of the Lamb and be free of the burden of guilt. Praise God for that!
But, God’s great Good News goes far beyond the forgiving of our past sins. His redemption strategy not only deals with the past, but with the present and the future. Thus Paul could say that God “delivered (past tense) us from so great a death and does deliver (present tense) us; in Whom we trust that He will still deliver us (in the future kingdom of glory).” II Corinthians 1:10.
            It is the tendency of many preachers and commentators to emphasize part one (the forgiveness from past sins) and part three (the future home in glory) and neglect or de-emphasize part two, the “does deliver” part, which involves righteous living today. We might say that part two of God’s plan is the “cross in the middle,” with the two that stand beside it “robbing” it of its importance. In other words, we hear a lot about God’s gracious act of forgiving past sins, which is part one. That’s wonderful! And, we hear a lot about the future kingdom of glory, the third part of His plan. That also is marvelous! But we don’t hear too much about the second part, overcoming sin through His grace today. And yet the Bible makes it clear that there is no crown without a cross. We desperately need His saving power to be active in our lives today.
            We need, through the Gospel, to put away sin, to think and live as did Christ; to pursue that “holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:15. Human nature wants to cling to sin and to salvation at the same time! That’s not possible! It would be like having one foot on a floating ice floe, and the other foot on another, with the two separating and becoming farther and farther apart. Light and darkness cannot coexist. No one can serve two masters. It is very popular to preach a “Gospel” that emphasizes forgiveness and future glory, but not the present battle against the flesh, which involves bearing a cross. And yet God is willing and able to overcome sin in us and for us, if we let Him!
            When we exercise faith and let Jesus come into our lives, He begins a work of restoration and change. Originally, man was made “in the image of God.” Genesis 1:26. He was made “upright.” Ecclesiastes 7:29. That image of godlikeness, godliness, was marred by the entrance of sin. Man lost his power of self-control, his majestic and noble character. He became self-centered. His thoughts and actions reflected a selfish and sinful orientation.
            One of the saddest verses in all the Bible is Genesis 5:3, which speaks of Adam who, “begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Once the “image of God” created in Adam was lost though sin, Adam could only pass on to his children his own likeness, that of a fallen creature with a flawed character. Like vessels coming from a cracked mold, each one of us has inherited that same defective character, the same sinful nature.
            However, it was God’s purpose to rectify this situation. Jesus came to “save us from our sins.” Matthew 1:21. A popular “gospel” would have this text read, “He came to save us in our sins,” giving the impression that a present-day battle against temptation is not necessary; that we can coast along and neglect spiritual conflict; that it’s just fine to be a “Christian” but never experience the saving power of Christ now, to know the “power of His resurrection” today. Philippians 3:10.
            But that is not what the passage says. It says that He came to “save us from our sins.” God is too wise and too kind to exclude victory in the warfare against sin today from being a part of His plan. According to the grand purpose of the Gospel, He works within us to restore our characters to be like His; to bring us back to holiness in thought and deed. We can’t do that on our own; it’s impossible. But He can. In fact, it’s His specialty. When we allow Him to change our way of thinking, overcoming becomes easy, natural. We become new creatures, or a new creation, when He writes His laws within our minds.
            Why is that so important? Because it does us no good to know what’s coming unless we’re prepared for it. We can know all about the prophecies (the Jews in Jesus’ day were quite skilled in their knowledge of Scripture), but without a new heart, without a godly character, we will be left behind when Jesus comes back. He’s coming back to transform our bodies, not our minds or characters. Philippians 3:20, 21. When Jesus returns, there will be no mystical change in our thinking that will take place between the moon and Mars. The work of changing the way we think and behave is to be performed while we are here on earth. This life is the “vineyard” in which the grapes of character are pruned.
            One of the fascinating features of the building of Solomon’s temple was that all the shaping of the stones was done off-site. “And the temple, when it was being built, was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that no hammer or chisel or any iron tool was heard in the temple while it was being built.” I Kings 6:7. What a sermon there is in that text! Do you see how the spiritual application of that passage echoes the purpose of the Gospel? The great and glorious purpose of our lives is for God to re-make us new in His likeness. All of the shaping and polishing of our characters is to be done here, on this earth. This is the quarry; Jesus is the Sculptor; now is the time. Listen to the chisels in Solomon’s quarry as they preach that truth!
            When our house was about 23-years old and time had taken its toll on a few things, the sliding glass door that leads to the backyard was becoming increasingly difficult to open. Being a four-foot panel of dual-pane glass, the door is very heavy, probably weighing 75 pounds or more. Grit and grim, wear and tear had caused the track and rollers to deteriorate and remove all semblance of smoothness. Great effort was required to open it and your only reward was loud and unpleasant sounds as the door ground its way across the pitted track. At the very worst times the rollers would “jump” off the track, meaning one would have to get a pry bar and lift it back in place.
            This was becoming more and more a source of frustration. I finally went on-line and ordered new rollers and something that is called a “snap-cap” which is a stainless steel horse-shoe shaped piece of metal that snaps over the old track, effectively making it brand new. What a difference! The first time I tried it, I almost lost my balance, my body being used to exerting such a great effort to slide the door open. Now one finger is sufficient to operate it.
            This is something like what Jesus does in our lives. He makes us brand new. Things go more smoothly with Christ at the steering wheel. This doesn’t mean there won’t be trials; but it does mean that there’s nothing that can come into your life for which He hasn’t made provision. Most important of all, He has the capability of restructuring our priorities and goals so that we want to do what is pleasing to Him. The psalmist prayed, “Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness. Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.” Psalm 119:33-37. What is the “testimony” of which David speaks? A careful study of the Old Testament will bear out the fact that it is God’s Ten Commandments. As if in answer to David’s prayer, the New Covenant promises that He will indeed write His laws in our heart and within our minds. Hebrews 8:8-10.
            The grace of Christ places us in an advantageous position. When sin entered, our predisposition, our inclination became to do evil. That was the lost heritage of Eden. If God had left us in that situation there would have been no hope for you or for me. We were “conceived in iniquity,” that is, from our very birth we were selfish. Psalm 51:5, KJV. But when Christ comes into our lives, we are re-born and a new nature is born within us. When we become “born of God,” in a new and special way we partake of His nature.
            That’s a principle of life; that children share the nature of their parents. When we become God’s children by being born again, His nature is given to us. Listen to this amazing promise: “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him Who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” II Peter 1:4.
            God creates a new heart within us. New desires, new attitudes are born and take shape in our minds. An inclination to do right and please God is planted inside us. “As many as received Him (notice that we have to consent for this to happen), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12, 13.
             There is more to share on this wonderful aspect of the Good News, which we will do next time. Please join us again for that! Blessings to you this week, Pastor John

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