Reading 3 – Sunday, December 3, 2017
Perfect Obedience in Christ
By Roland Dela Paz, Philippines
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:19.
This year, we commemorate a very important event in the history of the Protestant Reformation–500 years since Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses were posted to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He is one of the prominent Reformers, whose lives and teachings are worth studying.
Martin Luther (November 10, 1483- February 18, 1546) was an Augustinian monk, German professor of theology, composer, and priest, as well as a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation.
“Foremost among those who were called to lead the church from the darkness of popery into the light of a purer faith, stood Martin Luther. Zealous, ardent, and devoted, knowing no fear but the fear of God, and acknowledging no foundation for religious faith but the Holy Scriptures, Luther was the man for his time; through him God accomplished a great work for the reformation of the church and the enlightenment of the world.” –The Great Controversy, p. 120.
Luther’s teachings and the Roman Catholic Church
Luther came to reject a number of teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. He objected strongly to his understanding of the Catholic view on indulgences–that freedom from the punishment for sin could be purchased with money. Luther proposed an academic discussion of the practice and efficacy of indulgences in his Ninety-Five Theses of 1517. His refusal to renounce all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor.
“He declared to his hearers that they must individually believe in Christ, if they would receive salvation through Him; no priest or pope could take the place of the divine Mediator. Those who came to Jesus as repentant, believing sinners, would find pardon and peace, and would have His righteousness imputed to them. Sanctification is the fruit of faith, whose renewing power transforms the soul into the image of Christ. It was by faith in a crucified Redeemer that souls were saved in the days of the apostles; it was only by the same faith that souls could be saved in the days of Luther. He taught the people that they must exercise repentance toward God, whose holy law they had transgressed, and faith in Christ, whose blood could atone for their sins. He showed them that all who were truly penitent would pray earnestly for divine aid to battle against their evil propensities, and he also urged upon them the fact that the sincerity of their prayers would be evinced by the energy of their endeavors to render obedience to the law of God.” –Signs of the Times, June 7, 1883.
Using his arguments against the traditions and dogmas of his day, let us compare his teachings with the Bible and Testimonies’ declarations on the righteousness of Christ.
The Righteousness of Christ
Understanding the righteousness of Christ and how to render obedience that is acceptable to God is supremely important for our salvation. Without the righteousness of Christ, it is impossible for man to obey God’s holy law.
“Righteousness is holiness, likeness to God, and ‘God is love.’ 1 John 4:16. It is conformity to the law of God, for ‘all Thy commandments are righteousness’ (Psalm 119:172), and ‘love is the fulfilling of the law.’ Romans 13:10. Righteousness is love, and love is the light and the life of God. The righteousness of God is embodied in Christ. We receive righteousness by receiving Him.
“Not by painful struggles or wearisome toil, not by gift or sacrifice, is righteousness obtained; but it is freely given to every soul who hungers and thirsts to receive it. ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat,… without money and without price.’ ‘Their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord,’ and, ‘This is His name whereby He shall be called, The Lord Our Righteousness.’ Isaiah 55:1; 54:17; Jeremiah 23:6.” –Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 18.
Imputed and imparted righteousness
As we ponder these important subjects concerning our salvation, we will obtain a clearer view of how God saves man. The inspired pen wrote that “the righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven….
“As the penitent sinner, contrite before God, discerns Christ’s atonement in his behalf, and accepts this atonement as his only hope in this life and the future life, his sins are pardoned.
This is justification by faith. “Sanctification is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime. It is not gained by a happy flight of feeling, but is the result of constantly dying to sin, and constantly living for Christ. Wrongs cannot be righted nor reformations wrought in the character by feeble, intermittent efforts. It is only by long, persevering effort, sore discipline, and stern conflict that we shall overcome….
“There is no such thing as instantaneous sanctification. True sanctification is a daily work, continuing as long as life shall last.” –The Faith I Live By, p. 116.
“But while God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, no man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ’s righteousness while practicing known sins, or neglecting known duties. God requires the entire surrender of the heart before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.” –Selected Messages, book 1, p. 366.
What God requires
In every promise of God, there is a corresponding requirement. He tested Adam’s faithfulness and obedience to determine if he would remain in Eden and have dominion over all the creatures. He had access to the tree of life, he communicated with his Creator face to face, and he enjoyed the company of the holy angels.
The Greek word for “obedience” is hupakoe’ (hoop-ak-o-ay’), which also refers to compliance and submission. Therefore, to be perfectly obedient, the entire submission of self is required. “When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life.” –Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 312.
“God requires of us perfect obedience. We are to purify ourselves, even as He is pure. By keeping His commandments, we are to reveal our love for the Supreme Ruler of the universe. And the Lord has not left us in ignorance regarding His law.” –Review and Herald, September 27, 1906.
God required of Adam perfect obedience to His law. Likewise, He requires of every person righteousness without a fault in His sight. He makes it possible for us to render to Him all that His law requires–through that faith that brings Christ’s righteousness into daily practice. Through the transforming grace of Christ, His children will be obedient to all of God’s requirements.
“True sanctification will be evidenced by a conscientious regard for all the commandments of God, by a careful improvement of every talent, by a circumspect conversation, by revealing in every act the meekness of Christ….
“This is the true test–the doing of the words of Christ. And it is the evidence of the human agent’s love to Jesus, and he that doeth His will giveth to the world the practical evidence of the fruit he manifests in obedience, in purity, and in holiness of character.” –Faith and Works, pp. 53, 113.
We need living faith, because faith and action go together; believing and doing are blended. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. James 2:26. Christ requires and provides–perfect obedience and flawless righteousness.
“In order to meet the requirements of the law, our faith must grasp the righteousness of Christ, accepting it as our righteousness. Through union with Christ, through acceptance of His righteousness by faith, we may be qualified to work the works of God, to be colaborers with Christ. If you are willing to drift along with the current of evil, and do not cooperate with the heavenly agencies in restraining transgression in your family, and in the church, in order that everlasting righteousness may be brought in, you do not have faith. Faith works by love and purifies the soul. Through faith the Holy Spirit works in the heart to create holiness therein; but this cannot be done unless the human agent will work with Christ. We can be fitted for heaven only through the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart; for we must have Christ’s righteousness as our credentials if we would find access to the Father. In order that we may have the righteousness of Christ, we need daily to be transformed by the influence of the Spirit, to be a partaker of the divine nature. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to elevate the taste, to sanctify the heart, to ennoble the whole man.” –Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 374.
Cooperation with God
When Jesus came to this world, He showed His perfect obedience in complete cooperation with His Father. In every aspect of life, we must grow in Christ through His grace and love.
“Man is to cooperate with God, employing every power according to his God-given ability. He is not to be ignorant as to what are right practices in eating and drinking, and in all the habits of life. The Lord designs that His human agents shall act as rational, accountable beings in every respect….
“We cannot afford to neglect one ray of light God has given. To be sluggish in our practice of those things which require diligence is to commit sin. The human agent is to cooperate with God, and keep under those passions which should be in subjection. To do this he must be unwearied in his prayers to God, ever obtaining grace to control his spirit, temper, and actions. Through the imparted grace of Christ, he may be enabled to overcome….
“He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law, is attempting an impossibility. Man, cannot be saved without obedience, but his works should not be of himself; Christ should work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure. The effort that man makes in his own strength to obtain salvation, is represented by the offering of Cain. All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin; but that which is wrought through faith is acceptable to God. When we seek to gain heaven through the merits of Christ, the soul makes progress. Looking unto Jesus, we may go on from strength to strength, from victory to victory; for through Christ the grace of God has worked out our complete salvation….
“Let no man present the idea that man has little or nothing to do in the great work of overcoming; for God does nothing for man without his cooperation. Neither say that after you have done all you can on your part, Jesus will help you. Christ has said, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’ John 15:5….
“Never leave the impression on the mind that there is little or nothing to do on the part of man; but rather teach man to cooperate with God, that he may be successful in overcoming. Let no one say that your works have nothing to do with your rank and position before God. In the judgment, the sentence pronounced is according to what has been done or to what has been left undone. Matthew 25:34-40….
Look to Jesus
“In looking to Christ, we shall see that His love is without a parallel, that He has taken the place of the guilty sinner, and has imputed unto him His spotless righteousness. When the sinner sees his Saviour dying upon the cross under the curse of sin in his stead, beholding His pardoning love, love awakens in his heart. The sinner loves Christ, because Christ has first loved him, and love is the fulfilling of the law. The repenting soul realizes that God ‘is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ The Spirit of God works in the believer’s soul, enabling him to advance from one line of obedience to another, reaching on from strength to greater strength, from grace to grace in Jesus Christ.” –Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 380, 381, 364, 381, 374, 375.
“In everything Christ sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and that which He did He commands His followers to do. This example He gave to the human race that they might in His strength render to God the obedience He requires, and in the end present themselves perfect before His throne. He was one with the Father. His life was a fulfilling of the law, a continual obedience to God’s commands.” –Review and Herald, October 2, 1900.
God’s law is perfect
“The whole world will be judged by this law. It reaches even to the intents and purposes of the heart, and demands purity in the most secret thoughts, desires, and dispositions. It requires us to love God supremely, and our neighbor as ourselves. Without the exercise of this love, the highest profession of faith is mere hypocrisy. God claims, from every soul of the human family, perfect obedience to His law. ‘Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.’ James 2:10.
“The least deviation from that law, by neglect, or willful transgression, is sin, and every sin exposes the sinner to the wrath of God. The unrenewed heart will hate the restrictions of the law of God, and will strive to throw off its holy claims. Our eternal welfare depends upon a proper understanding of the law of God, a deep conviction of its holy character, and a ready obedience to its requirements. Men and women must be convicted of sin before they will feel their need of Christ. Those who trample under their feet the law of God have rejected the only means to define to the transgressor what sin is. They are doing the work of the great deceiver.” –Signs of the Times, March 3, 1881.
Obedience by faith brings righteousness into our lives
“When we bring our lives to complete obedience to the law of God, regarding God as our supreme Guide, and clinging to Christ as our hope of righteousness, God will work in our behalf. This is a righteousness of faith, a righteousness hidden in a mystery of which the worldling knows nothing, and which he cannot understand. Sophistry and strife follow in the train of the serpent; but the commandments of God diligently studied and practiced, open to us communication with heaven, and distinguish for us the true from the false. This obedience works out for us the divine will, bringing into our lives the righteousness and perfection that was seen in the life of Christ.” –Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, pp. 357, 358; Sons and Daughters of God, p. 66.
“Righteousness within is testified to by righteousness without. He who is righteous within is not hard-hearted and unsympathetic, but day by day he grows into the image of Christ, going on from strength to strength. He who is being sanctified by the truth will be self-controlled, and will follow in the footsteps of Christ until grace is lost in glory.” –(Review and Herald, June 4, 1895) Messages to Young People, p. 35.
Compliance with the laws of health
The righteousness of Christ is also manifested in man’s obedience to nat ural law; he will glorify God with his body and spirit. He will not defile himself, knowing that his body is the temple of God.
“… Obedience to God’s requirements brings the obedient under the laws that control the physical being. Those who would preserve themselves in health must bring into subjection all appetites and passions. They must not indulge lustful passion and intemperate appetite, for they are to remain under control to God, and their physical, mental, and moral powers are to be so wisely employed that the bodily mechanism will remain in good working order.
“Health, life, and happiness are the result of obedience to physical laws governing our bodies. If our will and way are in accordance with God’s will and way; He will keep the human organism in good condition, and restore the moral, mental, and physical powers, in order that He may work through us to His glory. Constantly His restoring power is manifested in our bodies. If we cooperate with Him in this work, health and happiness, peace and usefulness, are the sure results.” –(Manuscript 151, 1901) Lift Him Up, p. 160.
“The Lord has made every provision whereby man may have full and free salvation, and be complete in Him. God designs that His children shall have the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, that all may have the light of truth. God has provided salvation for the world at infinite cost, even through the gift of His only-begotten Son. The apostle asks, ‘He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?’ Romans 8:32. Then if we are not saved, the fault will not be on the part of God, but on our part, that we have failed to cooperate with the divine agencies. Our will has not coincided with God’s will.” –Selected Messages, book 1, p. 375.
As we enter another year, may God empower us continually through His Spirit to attain His righteousness and joy in obeying and serving Him.