Today we embark on a multi-part study of salvation. It is a time for watchfulness. Free-floating ideas abound around us, left open, undefined, exploitable by those who would teach a peace-and-safety gospel. But if we will work through the inspired information point by point, there is much more than that for us as we pin things down where inspiration pins them down. Although surrounded by all the confusion, still, the people of God long to give their hearts to Jesus. Still they want to know how to find God, what salvation means, and how their life can be filled with all blessing.
In this, our first presentation, we consider just what is our human nature. What is my heart that I would give to God? What defines the boundaries of the salvation problem?
In the next presentation we turn our attention especially to Jesus. What is He? Alien, human, or God or both or neither? Why would we give our hearts to Him?
In the following presentations we'll chase salvation-understanding through the centuries, and see where that takes us to today.
In the last presentation, we'll be especially interested in application. How and when shall I give my heart to Jesus? We'll consider the answers.
Weigh, my brothers and sisters, these points carefully, that all of us may give to Him what only we have to give; our hearts; and receive what He only has to give; salvation in all of its fullness.
The Historical Desire of God
Consider for a moment the pages of history. Our Father in heaven made man for His glory, His pleasure, even His companionship. Colossians 1:16 says that we were created "By Him, and for Him [Jesus]." Revelation 4:11 goes further. There we are told that for His pleasure we "are and were created." But God is holy. He does not take His pleasure as we take it.
His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. He is the ground of all morality. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11), no pleasure in burnt offerings or sacrifices (Hebrews 10:6), no pleasure in wickedness (Psalm 5:4). He takes pleasure in what is right, what is morally upright (1 Chronicles 29:17), in those who understand their relation to Him (Psalm 147:11), in His people (Psalm 149:4), in giving us the kingdom (Luke 12:32), in making us His sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5; John 1:12-13), in working His will in us (Philippians 2:13), and in our restoration through Jesus:
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall My Righteous Servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:10-11).
He desires to heal, to change, to save. He desires that we would give Him our hearts. Hear again, from Ezekiel 33:31-32: "And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as My people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not."
Through Isaiah 29:13 we hear it again: "This people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men."
And in Matthew 15:8 it comes again, "This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me."
Over and over again we find that God looks on our hearts, He cares for where our hearts are. But over and over again He finds our hearts far from Him. He has waited thousands of years for a generation that would simply give to Him their hearts, that would not hold back, that would be the clay for the Potter and let Him make a people who could dwell with Him forever. His plan has been to remove sin from the people, to tabernacle with them. He wants to be with His people, who were made for His pleasure.
And He takes pleasure in righteousness.
To Moses and his band of delivered but ignorant slaves, God instructed, "Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). Jesus came in human flesh and dwelt among humanity (John 1:14). In the end, fire comes down from God out of heaven and destroys those who refuse to let go of sin (Revelation 20:9). But the New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven and we hear the word of consummation: "Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Revelation 21:3). And His plan is that where He is, there we may be, ever to be with the Lord (John 14:3; 17:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The historical desire of God is that He would be with His people whom He has created. Sin intervened and so sin must be eradicated. And so He comes to us to share with us just how this can be accomplished. So we are going to look into it in some detail, explain it, get it clear, thus being enabled to experience it for real in our lives.
Now maybe someone will be concerned. "Aren't we going to take something precious away if we explain
To Adam and Eve in their natural state before the fall, the natural world itself was a lesson book. From the rocks and the leaves and the trees and the flowers and the animals and the insects they were to learn, in detail, much about who they were and who God was. But at the fall we might say that the ceiling fell in on their classroom. The lessons they were to learn there were obscured, good and bad were blended. Their faculties of perception were damaged, blocked. A vast chasm opened between man and God. Suddenly all the race was blinded, psychologically shifted in desperate ways.
So God began to communicate with humankind through alternative means. In came the inspired revelation, and its written recording in Scripture. Revelation is an unveiling, a revealing of that which in our present situation we could not know apart from God's unilateral intervention. God chooses to reveal that which shall help us return to Him.
We take nothing away by examining closely the Bible, the inspired writings. Their very purpose is to open the door for us to understand the spiritual. The better we understand them, the more readily shall we grow in our Christian experience.
And just here is the dividing line between mysticism and Christianity. Mysticism and magic are ventures by man to find God. Christianity is God's venture to find man. Mysticism and magic are venues by which unconverted men and women seek for wisdom and power by which to manipulate their world. By obtaining secret knowledge they become the sought after experts and gurus and obtain power over others. That is, by their dark "arts," they bring their environment into bondage to their control.
Christianity is not man's manipulation of God, but God's work of punching through the obscuring veil and healing a broken race. He would take from us the blind selfishness, the running-with-the-sharks Darwinian mentality. He would return us to the image of God and make us like Jesus instead of Satan. Satan is the Accuser-destroyer, Jesus the Forgiver-restorer.
As Christendom's tumble toward Babylon accelerates, common ideas of what Christianity is all about are becoming more and more mystical and arcane. That which should be opened up before people, the revelations of God, is being obscured. Charismatic "leadership" is the new lodestone. The Christian masses venture where they are steered by their teachers.
The Bible says that the itching ears win out in the camp of the lost in the end. Babylon becomes the habitation of devils, the prison-house of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird (Revelation 18:2). She becomes the epitome of all bondage. And there once again people toil to make spiritual bricks without straw, without rest, building the final edifice: Satan's end-time church of disobedience. This new religious angle will cover the globe like a death-shroud. It will be believed by countless multitudes who will look to their pastors and teachers and vest their own salvation in a strange confidence in their leaders who lead inevitably astray.
It is not safe to trust your leaders. It is safe only to test your leaders. And it is safe only to test your leaders by the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Yes, respect those who have the spiritual guidance wherever you are. But remember how that verse goes
Far better we take extra time and become Scripturally sounder, than to hear misconceived platitudes and run blindly with them. Our own salvation and that of our sons and daughters is at stake.
I was told that you are a theologically astute congregation. How many here were born sinners? Let me see your hands. Let's be precise. OK. Interesting.
How many here were born saints? OK. You are realists.
How about this one: how many of you were born with a blank-slate so to speak, neither good nor evil? Interesting.
How many of you are uncomfortable with all of the options I've given so far, still waiting for something you can respond in agreement with? Good for you. Right here is an important lesson: Always learn what all of your options are before committing yourself to one of them. Some of you haven't raised your hand because you didn't like the options presented. Some didn't because you were afraid of being wrong (let's just be honest with ourselves, really, that's the way it is, isn't it?). Friends, don't be afraid to be wrong. I'd rather you were willing to commit to something even if it was wrong, than to be wobbling in the middle somewhere. But better yet is that we would investigate what the inspired writings say and arrive where God wants to take us. He wants us to have the right answer. He wants us to understand what we are, who He is, what it means to be saved, and how to receive His salvation.
How many of you would be willing to agree that we are born in a spiritually weakened state, alienated from God; that we enter the world having done neither evil or good, yet leaning all the way over toward the evil; but that the Bible nowhere says that we are born sinners? There we are.
Evidences for this are found in texts such as Romans 5:6: "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Humankind after the fall is weakened, even portrayed as being "without strength." No power lurks within us to help us obey. Our condition then is critical at this point. We must obey, we want to obey, but we have no strength.
Born sinners? No. Born alienated? Yes. Inspiration speaks to us in that way. Steps to Christ, p. 43 says, "By nature we are alienated from God." Ellen White uses the same description and links it to the fall in several other places (Some are Steps to Christ, pp. 19, 21; Desire of Ages, p. 113).
Romans 9:11 says of children that they are born not "having done any good or evil." Be careful here. This does not mean we are born as morally-neutral blank-slates. We are born bent way over, leaning on the pathway of selfishness. But we are not born with our full measure of moral responsibility. We have no guilt since we have never yet, within the sphere of moral responsibility, chosen to do evil. We are not born sinners. The closest you could come to that would be to say we are born sinners-in-waiting, but even that goes too far. We are born also with the image of God. It may be scorched, dimmed, blasted, impacted, nearly rubbed-out
Don't make the mistake of thinking that when Adam and Eve fell they lost their moral nature. What was the first thing they did? Before, they had been naked but unashamed; after, they felt shame at their nakedness, and sought to remedy that by making fig-leaf underwear for themselves. Their behavior, as fallen people, was to try to cover up the effects of their departure from righteousness.
How did the fall affect them? We looked at Romans 5:6 and its truth. Now, from the pen of inspiration as the Holy Spirit shared through Ellen White, consider these. "The love and peace that had been theirs was gone, and in its place they felt a sense of sin, a dread of the future, a nakedness of soul" (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 57). "In their innocence and holiness they had joyfully welcomed the approach of their Creator; but now they fled in terror, and sought to hide in the deepest recesses of the garden," (ibid. p. 57). "Their nature had become depraved by sin; they had lessened their strength to resist evil and had opened the way for Satan to gain more ready access to them" (Ibid., p 62). "When Satan heard that enmity should exist between himself and the woman, and between his seed and her seed, he knew that his work of depraving human nature would be interrupted; that by some means man would be enabled to resist his power," (Ibid., p. 66). "Crime would increase through successive generations, and the curse of sin would rest more and more heavily upon the human race, upon the beasts, and upon the earth. The days of man would be shortened by his own course of sin; he would deteriorate in physical stature and endurance and in moral and intellectual power, until the world would be filled with misery of every type. Through the indulgence of appetite and passion men would become incapable of appreciating the great truths of the plan of redemption," (Ibid., p. 68).
Summarizing these impacts, we find that at the fall,
- The sense of love and peace was replaced by a sense of sin, dread of future, and nakedness of soul.
- They fled God's presence in terror and sought to hide from Him.
- Their nature was depraved, their strength to resist evil lessoned, and Satan gained more ready access to them.
- The fall was but the beginning of a work of "depraving human nature."
- Humanity deteriorated in moral and intellectual power.
- Now entered risk that our ability to appreciate the spiritual could become incapacitated.
Our list is far from exhaustive, but indicative of the problem of introduced by the fall.
Our race was morally weakened in the context of a spiritual contest. But we were designed as worshipping beings. Made for God and for His pleasure
Scripture again tells our story. Ecclesiastes 7:29, "God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." Made originally to love the good, after the fall humankind sought out the evil. Jeremiah 2:13, "For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Digging a cistern can be a daunting proposition; a lot of work. We not only flee from God but tend to invest our energies in digging out storage pits so leaky that they can't hold any water. Instead of turning to God we make up substitutes for Him. Haggai 1:6: "he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." We veer automatically toward the broken and to that which is not God.
We see then that our problem is much worse than simply being weakened. It is much worse than remaining a moral being but being unable to live morally. We are actually prone to invest energy in carving-out substitutionary salvation schemes in which we engage in much hard work but get nothing back, while wasting precious time and energy.
Ours to Exercise
If all of that is very bad news, there is, within our nature a ray of hope still remaining. God has protected our capacity to choose.
All through the Bible and with a dogged persistence, humankind is called to choose who to follow. We are called to choose God. While God urged Adam and Eve to obey Him before they had fallen (Genesis 2:16-17), Cain was, after the fall, and just previous to his murder of Abel, urged not to give in to his weakened nature. The word from God to this fallen-natured man was, "thou shalt rule over" the downward fleshly pull (Genesis 4:7). Thus, to man fallen came the divine appeal elsewhere spoken in Scripture, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Corinthians 12:9). To Cain on the verge of disaster, God spoke and intervened and said the same: "My grace is sufficient for thee." But Cain refused this grace
But miss not this truth: for even fallen man a complete solution is provided. And it is all predicated on the opportunity to choose. We are a fallen race. We are weakened by this, and have not within ourselves the strength to obey God on our own apart from Him. While this is so, still He sends the message rolling through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that here, now, in weakened, fallen situation, yet we can choose.
Joshua 24:15: Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
1 Samuel 18:21: And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
Matthew 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 16:24: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
Romans 6:12: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Of this capacity to choose, sister White wrote the following: "What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise." Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 47.
We may conclude then that although fallen, God has intervened to assure that we retain the faculty of choice, enabling us to choose to follow Him. The strength to act upon that choice is lost to us through the fall, but made available to us through the work of Christ. His strength is sufficient for us.
But make you no mistake here. When we choose to follow God, choose to embrace the power He provides us to overcome, we receive no merit, no salvation for that. Here we have conditions, not merit. Here we see that our salvation rests entirely upon what Jesus has done and is still doing for us through His covenant. Again, Steps to Christ, p. 63: "We have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us."
Our Father in heaven intervenes, because "The heart of man is by nature cold and dark and unloving . . ." Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 21. With our broken, fallen nature, where there had been warmth there is coldness; where there had been light, there is darkness; where there had been a predisposition to love, now there is the predisposition to unlove. The fall numbed humanity, ruined our spiritual strength, leaving us able to choose but not able to love without God. But the Father of humanity made us to live and not to die. So He works, and grants to us life that we may live. Consider these words of Ellen White:
The Spirit of God is appealing to men, presenting to them their moral obligation to love and serve him with heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves. The Holy Spirit moves upon the inner self until it becomes conscious of the divine power of God, and every spiritual faculty is quickened to decided action. Review and Herald, May 12, 1896.
There must be an entire renunciation of self, and every physical, mental, and moral faculty must become perfectly sanctified to the Master's use. If ever we have fellowship with Christ in His glory, we must have fellowship with Him in His humiliation. Ample provisions have been made whereby man may have divine power through the exercise of faith. Sabbath School Worker, September 1, 1893.
It is through the exercise of the faculty of faith that we are enabled to receive and practice the word of God. Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 341.
And what are all these but mere echoes of the Bible in 2 Peter 1:3: "According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue."
Our need is severe. Our situation as fallen people is catastrophic. But our God is all powerful, and gives to us all that we need to overcome, to join Him as sons and daughters, to live a life of godliness against the odds, and to meet Him in peace.
Conclusion: What is My Heart That I Would Give?
So. Just what is our human nature? A weakened, depraved, morally-leaky flesh that wants to worship but is anti-magnetic toward God. We lack strength to obey, but we want to obey; we want to be moral. My capacity to choose remains, but it must be linked to the power of Jesus.
If I want to give my heart to Jesus, I need to know what it is that I give. I am a broken being, born onto a broken planet, into a universe broken by the rebellion of sin. Wrong ideas about the sin problem take us to wrong solutions to it. I can give to Jesus what I am without knowing the details, but I can receive His healing better if I know what's broken. We shared these truths today so that we will not fall into arrogance or self-sufficiency. When we make commitments, we ought to know what we are doing. When we give our heart to Jesus, we are giving a broken and polluted life back into the hand that was nailed to the cross to heal what was broken and cleanse what we have polluted.
The long-term historical desire of God has been to take pleasure
As we consider the depths to which our race is fallen, we begin to see something of the heights to which our Savior would lead us. And all the glory and all the praise and all the power is of Him only. My brothers and my sisters, every polluted life can be healed
Next week comes I Want to Give My Heart to Jesus #2: Who is Jesus to Whom I Would Give? If we are going to give ourselves to Him, who is He? What, really, does the Bible say about the One altogether lovely? Who is this Jesus? Join us next Sabbath as we focus our attention on God who came down into the pit to save us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Mentone CA SDA 2001-07-14