Monthly Archives: July 2019

You Become Like the God(s) You Worship (14:6)

How does one grow up like this? How does one become perfect and mature? It is very simple, we are saved, we are healed, by faith. And faith, as we’ve discussed earlier, means trust. It means love. It means admiration. And that means a willingness to listen. It is a law in this orderly universe, that we will inevitably become like the person we worship and admire. We know that from experience. We also see it corroborated and confirmed in Scripture:

Then with unveiled faces we can all behold as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord. And we become changed into His likeness, from glory to glory, through the Spirit of the Lord working in us ( 2 Cor 3:18, Norlie).

This is how the Spirit works. He brings us the truth. He brings us the picture of God. He brings us all the evidence of Scripture. We look at the picture. We like what we see, and it changes us.

The same principle works in the other direction as well: “Those who make them [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Psa 115:8, NIV). It is inevitable that we will become like the person or the object we worship and admire. If we regard God as arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe, we too will become like that. History has borne out the truth of that, hasn’t it? Think of so many who have claimed to worship God, but having the devil’s picture of God, have been incredibly cruel in their treatment of other people, even as Paul was before the Damascus road.

On the other hand, we can look at God as He really is, as His Son proved Him to be, and as He is portrayed in the Scriptures. If we like and admire what we see there, if we worship the One we see there, then it is a law that we will become like Him. How absolutely essential, then, that we have a true picture of our God. The hazard of a false picture, if we prefer it, is that we will become like that. The trouble with this matter of perfection is that we tend to talk too much about perfection and not nearly enough about God. We tend to be preoccupied with our performance rather than being preoccupied with the truth about God.

Paul admits this was his error before the Damascus road. But when his picture of God changed, he became totally preoccupied with the truth, with Jesus Christ, with why Jesus had to die, and what this said about the Father. Look what it did to Paul from Damascus on, when he shifted his attention from his own performance to the good news about God. Look how he treated the problems in the city of Corinth with such incredible grace and skill. When he was through, he wrote: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ“ (1 Cor 11:1, RSV). Paul knew how it works. It is a law that we become like the one we worship and admire.

How very sad it is that God’s offer of perfect healing should be seen as a very forbidding and burdensome requirement. It is the cause of much anxiety and fear, and sometimes even the subject of heated criticism and debate. As our Physician Father, God has offered to make us completely well and to completely heal all the damage done. Our part is not to heal ourselves. Our part is to cooperate. As Jesus said to the paralytic at the pool, “Would you like to be well? Would you like to be made whole?” John 5:6. Perfection is not a command, it’s a generous offer. How could we possibly turn such an offer down?

The Meaning of Perfection (14:5)

What does it mean to be perfect? How perfect must one be in this life? Suppose you saw someone who never swore, never gambled, never smoked, never drank, never stole anything, never lost his temper, never broke the Sabbath. Would you be looking at a perfect person? I hope not, because you could be in an anatomy building, looking at a well-preserved corpse. Corpses never do anything bad, but they never do anything good either. They just never do anything, which is a rather popular view of perfection.

In the early days of the church, the number one exponent of that view was a man by the name of Simeon, a member of the church in Antioch. He so much wanted to overcome sin, that as soon as he could afford it, he got material and built himself a small pillar. He climbed up on top, but found it was not tall enough. So he got more material and built on it until it was sixty feet high. He perched on top of that pillar for 30 years until he died. Think of all the bad things you cannot do on top of a sixty-foot pillar. So they called him Saint Simeon Stylites.

Other members of the church envied his perfect life, and as soon as they could afford it, they built pillars all around the area. Pretty soon most of the members were perched on pillars. So Simeon founded a whole order in the church, known as the Order of the Stylites; the order of the pole-sitters. Is that how the saints are going to be found when the Lord comes, all perched on pillars? They are of no use to anybody, but they never do anything wrong either.
Is that the best definition of perfection? The absence of doing wrong?

There is a much more positive approach to perfection. That is to understand that the very word in the Bible (Greek: teleiotês) means “completed” or full-grown. When referring to animals or human beings, it means mature, or grown up physically. It is generally used in the New Testament for spiritual maturity (1 Cor 2:6; 14:20; Eph 4:13; Heb 5:14). So to be perfect means to be mature. And one version, at least, has it that way in Matthew 5:48: “You must become spiritually mature, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Norlie). You see, when someone is converted, when they are won back to trust, and the procedure of healing begins, the change is so great that it is like being born all over again. Jesus said this to Nicodemus: “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3, GNB. Do you remember Nicodemus’ response? He thought that was a little too much to believe (John 3:4). That is how great the change is.

That’s why Paul interpreted baptism the way he did. Baptism by immersion symbolizes the great change in a person’s life. “By our baptism we were buried with Him in death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glorious power, we also should live an entirely new life.” Rom 6:4, Weymouth. Baptism by immersion represents this new life best. It is like washing the dishes. It doesn’t do much good just to sprinkle them a little—though our children might try that short cut sometimes. The word “baptize” means to dip, to immerse.

This is recognized by many scholars, including Roman Catholic scholars. In a footnote to Romans 6:3-4 in the Roman Catholic New Testament by Kleist and Lilly, you can read the following: “St. Paul alludes to the manner in which baptism was ordinarily conferred in the primitive Church, by immersion. The descent into the water is suggestive of the descent of the body into the grave, and the ascent is suggestive of the resurrection to a new life.” Could it be said much better than that? That is why many Christians still symbolize the beginning of healing through baptism by immersion. At the time of baptism, of course, Christians are just beginners. Paul and Peter call them babes in the truth (Rom 2:20; 1 Cor 3:1; 1 Pet 2:2; Heb 5:13), and babies need a great deal of protection. Yet even at that beginning stage, God treats them as if they had never sinned, as if they had always been His loyal children.

Does that mean that since He is so generous, it is all right to remain “babes in the truth?” Or does God want us to grow up into perfection and maturity? We know from the Biblical record that it disturbed Paul a great deal when, even after a few months, he found that the Christian converts were still babes in the truth (1 Cor 3:1-3). When a child’s physical development is delayed, we become very worried, don’t we? When a child’s mental development is delayed, we are even more concerned. But when a Christian adult is spiritually immature, we say, “Isn’t that precious? Isn’t that sweet? He still has the faith of a little child.” But the most serious of all conditions is to be spiritually immaturity. Notice what the Bible says about this:

. . . though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truth of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature [Greek: teleiôs], who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. . . . Heb 5:12 – 6:1, NIV.

The author of Hebrews essentially urges new believers to “grow up.” Compare that passage with Paul’s advice to the believers in Ephesus:

His gifts were made that Christians might . . . arrive at real maturity [Greek: teleion]. . . . We are not meant to remain as children, at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching, and of the jockeying of men who are expert in the crafty presentation of lies. But we are meant to speak the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ. . . . Eph 4:12, 14-15, Phillips.

Paul says in Ephesians that the whole purpose of the church is to help people grow up to perfection and maturity. The Bible explains why. Daniel 12 (verse 10), the Book of Revelation (chapters 13 and 16), and the warnings of Christ (Matt 24:24-27) and of Paul (2 Thess 2:8-12), tell us that we face a time of confusion and deception such as the world has never seen. If we are still babes in the truth then, we will never survive. And so God in mercy waits for us to grow up, and to be as settled into the truth as Job was. This topic is so important for the church that we will invest a whole chapter (Eighteen) on it, under the title “God Waits For His Children To Grow Up.“ This is even the reason for His merciful delay of the Second Coming. You see, it is not an arbitrary requirement that we grow up. It is absolutely necessary if we’re going to survive in the end times. We must not be satisfied to be babes in the truth; but we must grow up and be able to distinguish between right and wrong.

There is another way of looking at perfection: we can look at it as perfect obedience to God’s law. The perfect person is the one who is perfectly obedient. That might sound arbitrary until one takes another look at God’s law. You see, God’s law is no threat to our freedom. All God asks of us is love. But what does it mean to love? “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor 13:4-5, RSV). Isn’t that the description of a grown-up person? To really obey God’s commandments is to simply grow up; to be a safe and pleasant person to live next door to.

Matt 5:48: Command or Promise? (14:4)

Let’s come back to Matthew 5:48. There is an issue in the translation of Matthew 5:48 (“Be ye therefore perfect,” KJV) that we need to look at. The original language here is not entirely clear. Is it a promise or is it a command? Does it read “you must be perfect,” or “you will be perfect?” The key word (Greek: esesthe) is in the future tense. It literally means, “You will be perfect.” You can’t tell from that if it is a promise or a command. It can be simply a future statement: “You will be perfect.” Or it can be a command, as when a sergeant puts up a sign saying, “There will be no smoking in the barracks.” That use of the future is the equivalent of a command.

Notice how other versions have rendered Matthew 5:48. First of all, from the Good News Bible: “You must be perfect.” Second, from the American Standard Version, “Ye therefore shall be perfect.” They each expressed their choice as strongly as possible. On the other hand, Goodspeed, ever the skillful translator, brought into English both meanings of the Greek (and others, like the NASB, have followed his example), “You are to be perfect.” Which is it, a promise or a command? Some of you are familiar with the words in Desire of Ages, “This command is a promise” (page 311). What insight that shows into the meaning of the verse! Now if it is a command, it could be terrifying. We have to be perfect or else! It would certainly be terrifying if we didn’t know the One who has asked us to be perfect. But that is the subject of all sixty-six books of the Bible and the subject of the earlier chapters of this book. Scripture as a whole reassures us about the One who said we must be, or will be perfect.

We find a beautiful picture of God in the cases of David and Solomon, as described in 1 Kings 9:4-5 and 11:4-6. God spoke to Solomon: “If you walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness. . . . I will establish your royal throne” (1 Kings 9:4-5, RSV). Do you remember David’s life and all the awful things he did? Yet here we have God describing David. “He walked before me with integrity of heart and uprightness.” Then it tells us, “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods. And his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” 1 Kings 11:4, RSV. “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.” 1 Kings 11:6, RSV. David did some terrible things, but evidently his heart stayed “wholly true” to God throughout! Can you imagine having to deal with David’s problems in a church board meeting? Most boards would censure and even disfellowship him periodically. Yet through it all God could say that David walked before Him with “integrity of heart.” What do you think of a God who would describe David in that way?

What about Solomon? How were his sins different than David? The Bible tells us that his heart went after other gods, some of them are even listed in verses 5 and 7. He did what David never did. David never left God to go after other gods. Solomon did. He even went after the most disgusting of the gods, as some of the versions translate it. Yet at the end of his life he came to his senses and God took him back. Did he become a second-class member of the family from then on? Not at all! God even said to Solomon, “Write Me another book for the Bible.” And Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes after living such a life. According to 2 Peter, what kind of people write books in the Bible? “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Pet 1:21, KJV. Holy people wrote the Bible.

How could God describe Solomon as one of the holy men of God? A man who devoted himself to abominable pagan gods? The lives of Solomon and David do not speak too well of them, but what does this passage tell us about our God? We like to cite the promise that He will treat us as if we had never sinned. But these stories are not promises; they are facts. They are evidence. God demonstrated in His treatment of David and Solomon that He really will treat us as if we had always been His loyal children. And there are many other examples like them in the Bible. That is the kind of God who wants us to be perfect. Do we have any need to be afraid of Him?

The Biblical Meaning of Salvation (14:3)

As we considered last time, we have all sinned and we continue to come short of God’s glorious ideal (based on Romans 3:23). You recall that sin is rebelliousness and disorderliness. Sin is cheating on our relationships. Sin is knowing what’s right to do and not doing it. Sin is a breakdown of trust. We have so damaged ourselves that, left alone, we would die. Would it be enough for God to say, “I forgive you?” Would forgiveness alone heal the damage done? Or would we still die?

If you believe that eternal torture is the penalty for sinning, then forgiveness would be your primary concern, so God won’t have to torture you after all. Just think how that cruel teaching about eternal torture has cast its hellish shadow over the picture of God and the plan of salvation.

If you are afraid of God, then it is wonderful to hear Him say, “I forgive you.” And He has said that, hasn’t He? Many times. But heaven is not going to be filled with pardoned criminals. It wouldn’t be safe. Heaven will be filled with healed, changed, trustworthy saints. God proposes to set right everything that has gone wrong, to completely heal the damage done by rebellion and distrust.

It is most significant to know that the word “salvation” means, essentially, healing. To be saved is to be healed. In a more legal understanding of the plan of salvation, to be saved is more to be forgiven. It is like having your fire insurance paid up, so you can be admitted to eternity. In the trust/healing model, on the other hand, salvation means healing the damage done. This is made plain in many places in Scripture.

Let’s use Luke 18:42 as an example. In the King James Version, Jesus said to the blind man: “Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.” But in the New International Version, it reads: “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” The Greek word is exactly the same, sôzô. This word is sometimes translated “I save” and sometimes “I heal.” This double meaning of sôzô can be found multiple times in the New Testament (Luke 7:50; 8:48, 50; 17:19; see also Acts 16:30, referenced above). Luke’s wording is powerful evidence for the trust/healing model of salvation. But there is much more.

Jesus the Healer (14:2)

When Jesus was here to demonstrate the truth about His Father and the plan of salvation, He spent most of His time healing rather than preaching. While there is influence and value in preaching, healing eloquently illustrates the truth about God and His government and what it would mean to set right everything that has gone wrong. Jesus certainly didn’t practice the healing arts to attract crowds of people to His meetings. Whenever He found that people were coming for the wrong reason, He said something that caused most of them to go home (see John 6 as a whole, for example).

When Jesus healed the paralytic at the pool (John 5:1-15), He was preaching in action rather than in words. The healing was a demonstration of the truth about God. Forbid the thought, but imagine that you had terminal lung cancer as the result of a lifetime of smoking. You’re sitting anxiously in the office of your physician. What is the best news you could possibly hear at that moment? Would it be for the physician to say, “I forgive you for smoking?” Forgiveness wouldn’t heal the damage done by smoking, you would still die. The only difference is that you would die forgiven. And forgiveness would only help, in this instance, if your physician were accustomed to killing all the patients who contracted lung cancer because of a lifetime of smoking. It would be a relief to hear such a physician say, “I forgive you.“ Now you won’t be killed after all. But physicians do not kill their patients. Neither does God.

What if the physician should say instead, “I have very good news for you. I can make you completely well, if you’ll cooperate”?
“Do you mean that although I have spent a lifetime smoking, and this is really my own fault, you can make me perfectly healthy again?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Well actually, doctor, all I really want is to be forgiven.”
Would you say anything so absurd? Yet so often we seem to say that to God. Wouldn’t you rather say, “Doctor, if that is true, how can I cooperate? What do you want me to do?”

The doctor might respond, “Well this will require some changes. But if you trust me enough to follow my instructions, I can absolutely guarantee that you will be perfectly restored.”
Would you say, “One moment, Doctor. I don’t want to have to do anything, I was counting on you to do it all. I am expecting you to put your hand on my chest and heal me by a miracle. If I have to work to get well, then I am going to look for another physician.“ Would you do that? Or would you say, “Doctor, do you mean that if I trust you enough to cooperate with you and follow the instructions you give me, you can guarantee to make me well? Then, please tell me what I have to do.” Wouldn’t you eagerly ask, like the jailor during the earthquake at Philippi, “What must I do to be saved (Greek: sôzô)? What must I do to be well“ (based on Acts 16:30)?

As Christians we need more than mere physical healing. We have been damaged in many other ways. The most serious damage has been done to our ability to live in love, peace and freedom, to be able to trust and be trustworthy. In other words, we are no longer the kind of people God could really trust with all the privileges of eternal life.

Chapter Fourteen: “God Can Completely Heal the Damage Done” (14:1)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ uttered those memorable words that have troubled saints and sinners alike ever since. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, KJV). Whether we find those words encouraging or discouraging depends, as with so many of our beliefs, upon the kind of person we believe our God to be. It also depends on our understanding of what He wants for His children throughout the universe. This is especially true for those of us who live on this planet, who have been caught up in the damaging consequences of the great controversy.

The topic of this chapter is the Christian doctrine of perfection, but in the larger setting of the conflict in God’s family. Rightly understood, perfection can be good news and speak very well of our Heavenly Father. But misunderstood, it can put God in a very bad light —it can make Him appear to be arbitrary, exacting, and severe.

As we’ve considered before, all God wants in His family is peace and freedom. But to have peace and freedom there must be mutual love and trust, maturity and self-control. Things like this cannot be commanded, or produced by force or fear. Instead God offers to set right and keep right everything that has gone wrong. That means He is willing to completely heal the damage that sin has done.