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The True Meaning of the Sabbath

The Sabbath has answered the basic questions of thoughtful people through the years. Questions such as: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go in the future? And above all, what kind of a Person is our God, and what does He want of His children? The Sabbath all through the years has answered those four questions. Where have we come from? We were made in the image of God at Creation. Why are we here? How do we attain to the greatest good in life? Our whole purpose in the present is restoration of the damage done by sin, through faith in God. The Sabbath encourages us to rest from our futile striving to heal ourselves. Instead, all good things will come to those who trust God. And where do we go in the future? The Sabbath has always pointed forward to the second coming and the earth made new. And what about our God? Every Sabbath we are reminded that God is just like Christ our Creator, for Christ is God.

Is there any information Satan would like to hide more than this? No surprise then, that Satan seeks to confuse the meaning of the Sabbath day. Notice Moffatt’s rendering of that Exodus 20:12 text: “I gave them my Sabbath to mark the tie between me and them, to teach them that it is I the Eternal, who sets them apart.” Most of the world has broken that tie. The last message of God to the world is the restoration of that tie. It’s a message of love and trust.

Keeping the Sabbath is not legalism: It is not God saying “If you don’t keep this day, I will kill you.” Rather, whenever we preach Christ as our Creator, our Saviour, and the One who is coming again, whenever we preach that God is like His Son, we are preaching the message of the seventh day. According to the sixty-sixth book, the world will be divided into two sides at the very end. Revelation 13 speaks of Satan’s final campaign, and that the whole world will be worshiping him, except the few described in Revelation 14:12: “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (GNB). In that day, the intelligent, wholehearted observance of the seventh-day Sabbath will represent this very faithfulness and loyalty to Jesus. There will be a group who still worship Jesus as their Creator and their God.

Notice that the Sabbath is really not about us. It is about God. I like to think that is why we put it in our name: Seventh-day Adventists. We didn’t put it in there to say something good about us, but to say that we have taken a position about God. I believe a real Seventh-day Adventist is a Christian who accepts and believes all that the Sabbath has to say about our God. I wish it always meant that.

Someday God will recreate our world and give it to His trusting saints. We know that the world as we know it has to be purified by fire: “The elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10, KJV). A burned up earth would be no place to live, so after that there will be a re-creation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev 21:1, RSV). And Isaiah adds: “Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17, NIV).

How do you think God will create our world the next time? He, of course, could do it in an instant, as He could have during creation week. But patient Teacher that He is, is it possible that He might do it in days one, two, three, four, five, and six again? Just to say something to saints that have questions about that simple Genesis account. I can see Him doing it like that and smiling the whole week. But there will be one difference between the creation and the re-creation. There will be no need to create another Adam and Eve. He will just open the pearly gates and welcome His children home.

Isaiah describes how in the new earth we will be delighted to meet and worship our God. Isaiah 66:23: “Month by month at the new moon, week by week on the Sabbath, all mankind shall come to bow down before me, says the Lord” (NEB). If on the first Sabbath in the new earth, God should say, “Children, would you like to join with me in celebrating? I’d like to keep this first Sabbath as the most special one we have ever had.” Would you say, “Oh, no! There we go—back under the law again. Why do you need to put an arbitrary test of our obedience upon us? Haven’t we proved that we can be trusted? How could you talk about the Sabbath still?”

Would you say that to God? Think of all there would be to remember. Can you imagine the first twenty-four hour Sabbath in the new earth? What a celebration! And if at the end of that first happy Sabbath, God would say “I have enjoyed this so much, I would like to do this again every week from here on,” would you say, “Well, one is surely enough. Do we have to do it again and again?” No, Isaiah says it will be our delight to meet and celebrate with God.

Summing up. Is Sabbath-keeping arbitrary legalism? It can be. And it was on that sad Friday 1900 years ago. But as God designed it, it is supposed to be a monument to freedom. It is supposed to remind us of the evidence; that infinitely costly evidence, that God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be. He is not arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving and severe. He gave us the Sabbath to remind us of that everlasting truth. He designed it to be a day of freedom, peace, love and trust. But most of all, it is a day to remember and be with our God.

The Sabbath and Creation

Now when we read that first angel’s message to “worship the Creator of heaven and earth. The Creator of the sea and springs,” we are reminded that the first mention of the Sabbath comes in the Bible at the end of creation week. Think back in imagination to the very dramatic events of that first week of this earth’s history. The war had begun already in heaven. Satan had already leveled his charges and his accusations. One third of the angels had already agreed with him that God is not worthy of our love and our trust.

Right in the middle of that devastating crisis, God invites His family to watch Him as He creates yet another world—this time, ours. How easily He could have created our world with a snap of His fingers, in just an instant of time. But in the dramatic and significant setting of the great controversy, He chose instead to do it in six twenty-four hour days. On the first day, all He said was “Let there be light.” That’s all. And then on days two, three, four, and five, God in unhurried majesty and drama unfolded His plans for our earth. By the sixth day, what a beautiful place this was! Where now were Satan’s charges that God was selfish?

The most unselfish of God’s gifts in creation was freedom. He created us in His own image with power to think and to do. And we know from human history that He created us free to either love and trust Him, or hate Him and spit in His face, because both of them have, in fact, happened. He created us able to do it! God even allowed Satan to approach our first parents at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And He didn’t hide that tree in some dark corner of the garden; He put it right in the middle near the Tree of Life, so that Adam and Eve would see it every time they came to that other tree. “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9, NIV).

Now the God we know could be trusted not to allow our first inexperienced parents to be tested more than they were able to resist. You know He would not do that. And so Satan was only allowed to approach them at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were warned not to risk a confrontation with their wily foe. In that warning God was already demonstrating the meaning of that famous key text, 1 Corinthians 10:13: “But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm” (GNB). Paul could have said instead, “God can be trusted. . . ,” that’s what God keeping His promises is all about.

You see, that tree was not put there as an arbitrary test of obedience. That tree was put there to help them, to protect them. What is not directly stated in Genesis is that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not placed there before sin, but after sin. The war had already begun. The Enemy was already on the loose. If the tree had been placed in the garden before sin, it would have been an arbitrary test. But coming after sin, it was there to help them and protect them like every other one of God’s gracious laws. Then God stunned the universe by sharing with us some of His own marvelous creative power. God so designed it that when a man and a woman come together in love, they are able to share life with little people; to create little people in their own image.

Isn’t it interesting to watch our children and our grandchildren? They look so much like us. They behave like us, at our best points and at our worst points. Truly, they do reflect our image and God designed it to be this way. You may recall God’s words in Genesis 1:28: “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control” (GNB). That was His original plan. The Song of Solomon right in the middle of the Bible reminds us that this whole thing was God’s idea. That we should be male and female and feel the way we do about each other, and say the things we do to each other, and come together in love, and create little people in our own image. He thought that all up Himself.

He could have created us to look like E.T. or maybe little green people with antennae. And babies could have come in test tubes. But that is not the way that God designed it. That worries some people. “What kind of a God must He be to think it up this way?” And then to put a whole book in the middle of the Bible that confuses some people and delights others? Think what The Song of Solomon says about our God; reminding us of the original creation week and of the Sabbath that came at the end of it. The universe watched all this, the universe that had heard the charges against God. And when creation was over, they said “That’s very good.” Love and admiration for God must have known no bounds. Where now were Satan’s charges that God does not respect the freedom of His creatures? Or that He’s very selfish in His use of authority and power?

The climax of the creation story comes in Genesis 2:2, 3:

On the sixth day God completed all the work he had been doing, and on the seventh day he ceased. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he ceased from all the work he had set himself to do (NEB).

When the text tells us that God “rested,” it does not mean that He was tired. It was more like an attorney saying, “I have presented all my evidence. I now ‘rest’ my case.” God ceased from all His work. Can you imagine how the universe spent the next twenty-four hours as they celebrated with God the first seventh-day Sabbath?

Now this Sabbath was not Adam and Eve’s seventh day. It was their second day. And if the Sabbath were designed to give us a rest every seventh day since our creation, we should be observing Thursday. The first Sabbath was God’s day of celebration. He called on His family throughout the universe to join with Him in reflecting on the significance of what had been done; the answers He had given to Satan’s charges, the falsity of Satan’s accusations, and the truth about freedom, love, and generosity on the part of our gracious Heavenly Father.

You see, the Sabbath was given after sin, not before. If it was given before, we might think of it as an arbitrary test of our obedience. But it was given after sin, because we needed it. It must have seemed to the universe looking on that the great controversy had been won that Friday night. But no event of creation week had answered Satan’s most serious charge, the charge that God had lied to His children when He warned that the consequence of sin is death. Nothing during creation week, eloquent as it was, spoke to that issue.

Questions and Answers (5:1)

In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night following by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the fifth presentation, “The Record of the Evidence.”

Lou: No one has wanted to burn a new version in quite some time, as far as I know. Although I do know someone who wanted to burn the Reader’s Digest Bible.

Graham: Well, that’s an improvement, in any case. In Tyndale’s day they burned the translator. In modern times, they burn the translation. Now they cremate people with words as they talk about them in the press.

Lou: In a way Graham, I can understand the frustration of a person who says, “Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of all these versions? It’s so confusing. Why are there so many? I go down to the religious book store, and I say, ‘I would like to buy a Bible.'” But it’s not that simple any more. The sales person responds, “Well now, what version do you want?” How do you respond to the confusion that is created by all these versions?

Graham: It’s a pity that such a blessing is perceived as confusion. I think a lot depends on how much one knows about the source of the Bible. If it had been written originally in our own language, maybe one version would be enough. But when you look at the Greek and the Hebrew and the Aramaic, you realize that the same phrase can be translated in different ways. Like, “Be ye therefore perfect,” in Matthew 5:48. Now is that a command, or is it a promise? You cannot tell from the Greek. It is very difficult to bring that ambiguity over into English. This is where Goodspeed shows himself such a master. His English translation of Matthew 5:48 is, “You are to be perfect.” That can be read as either a command or a promise. But most versions would say it either one way or the other. So in view of the difficulty of bringing ambiguity over into English, I don’t want to limit myself to a single version that would give me only one possibility. I want to have all the possibilities that are available.

Lou: I noticed you spoke of Goodspeed, I’ve sometimes thought that was your favorite. But then I’ve heard you say, “Well, today this one is my favorite, but tomorrow it may not be.” Of all these translations, which one is the most trustworthy and reliable?

Graham: It’s simply incredible that the Goodspeed translation has held up so well over the decades. By the way, Goodspeed did the New Testament and he did the Apocrypha. He did not do the Old. In The Chicago Bible, a group of others under Dr. Smith did the Old. That’s why it’s sometimes called the Smith-Goodspeed Bible. Which is my favorite? Which is the best? It all depends on what you use it for. When I get home at night, if I want to put my feet up and read something inspiring, it’s still difficult to beat Phillips. Absolutely marvelous! But if I am doing serious preparation for teaching, I’ll have the original out in front of me but also several versions. One of them would be the Revised Standard Version. Though it was burned in 1952, it has proven to be one of the most precise, conservative, and safe English translations ever.

Lou: Do you think that a group translation, a committee translation, is a little more reliable than one by an individual?

Graham: That’s a very useful question. Group translations may be a little more dull. For example, when the Revised Standard Version was being prepared, they always had to have a two-thirds vote before they would arrive at a decision. Often, Goodspeed was on the committee and so was Moffatt. Sometimes they would disagree with the two-thirds vote. So when it was all over, Goodspeed wrote a book, Problems in Bible Translation, to list the one hundred or so places where he was voted down. And it’s very exciting reading. So if the translator is an individual, there is a little more freedom. And in spots an individual translation may even be more correct, because the group had to arrive at a compromise in order to get the two-thirds vote. You know, textbooks written by committees aren’t as exciting as books written by an individual.

It’s Not About Power and Force

Conversations About God (4:3)

What methods did God use to answer the charges and accusations in heaven? As far as the heavenly angels are concerned, the war has been over for two thousand years. What did they learn that became a sufficient basis for trust in the heavenly Father? For the answers to these questions we go to the Bible and we ask, “God, why didn’t You take charge more vigorously and end the conflict? We would expect that of trustworthy leadership.” And I hear the answer coming back as I go through the sixty-six books of the Bible. If the great controversy were over power, God could have settled it in a moment. But the great conflict is not over who has the most power. If that were true, the devil would have been converted long ago. He knows that God has power superior to his own. In James 2:19, it says: “Do you believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe, and tremble with fear.” (GNB). You see, they believe in God’s existence. They believe there’s only one God. They have great faith in His power, in fact it scares them, but that doesn’t move their hearts toward God.

A similar point is made in Revelation 12:12: “The Devil has come down to you and he is filled with rage, because he knows that he has only a little time left” (GNB). In other words, the Devil is so convinced of his helplessness in the face of God’s power that it makes him angry. The Devil is an Adventist, you know. He knows God is coming soon, and it terrifies him to think of it. So there’s a kind of faith that God is not looking for. It is the kind of faith that a show of power might actually produce. It is not enough.

For a dramatic illustration of how power can be misunderstood look at the story in Genesis 9 and 11. You remember in chapter 9 that after the flood: “God said to Noah and his sons. . . ‘I promise that never again will all living things be destroyed by a flood’” (Gen 9:11, GNB). What a demonstration of God’s power the flood was! Did it win people? Was everyone so convinced by that display of power that no one ever distrusted Him again? God continued saying to Noah, “As a sign of this everlasting covenant which I am making with you and with all living things, I am putting my bow in the clouds” (Gen 9:12-13, GNB). This was a gracious promise on the part of God, but the promise alone, in the context of the Flood, didn’t build trust in the descendants of Noah.

Let’s go now to Genesis 11. “At first, the people of the whole world had only one language. . .And they said to one another . . . ‘Now let’s build a city with a tower that reaches the sky'” (Gen 11:1, 3, 4, GNB) Did the inhabitants of Babel believe in God? Did they believe He had the power to drown the whole world in a flood? Did they believe His promise that He would never do it again? Their actions provide the answer. They didn’t build the tower because of disbelief in God, but because they did believe in God and it scared them that He has so much power. But instead of leading them to worship God, His use of power in the Flood resulted in even more rebellion on their part. So there is no need to promote God’s power unless someone doesn’t believe He has it. The great controversy is not over power, but over who is telling the truth. God has been accused of the abuse of power and of a failure to tell the truth. Such charges cannot be met by force. To resort to force would only worsen the matter, as if to suggest, “I don’t have evidence, so now I must intimidate you with power.” And so, even at the risk of appearing weak, God chose the long, painful, and costly way of teaching, explanation, and demonstration.

Finally He sent His Son. The way Jesus treated people, the things He taught about His Father, and the unique and awful way that He died; these were the clearest demonstration of the truth about God and His government that the universe will ever see or ever need. Sadly though, religion often fails to use God’s methods. Thus it is often religion that most seriously misrepresents our God. Religion through the centuries has resorted to claims and pronouncements, force, persecution, and a great deal of pomp and power–methods God does not use.

The Methods God Did NOT Use

Conversations About God (4:2)

Some might imagine God visiting one of our churches, inviting our questions in the great controversy. Suppose one of us took courage from the story of how Abraham challenged God (Gen 18:25) and yet was welcomed as a friend (Isa 41:8; Jam 2:23). So we begin the inquiry with the following question: “God, did You lie to us when You said that sin results in death?” How do you think God would reply?
“Absolutely not! You will die precisely as I said. Any more questions?”
“Well God, like Abraham, I don’t want to sound irreverent, but are you the least bit arbitrary?”
“Certainly not!”
“Certainly not! How dare you ask such questions?”
And at that moment the floor would begin to move beneath our feet, and there would be lightning and thunder and fire, and a great cloud. And God would say “Any more questions?” If such a scene were to happen would you be satisfied? Would you feel convinced? Can truth be established by the show of power? Satan tries to do that. He has to, because what he says about God isn’t true. In the absence of evidence He has to use other methods. He loves to bring fire down from heaven, as the Bible says (Rev 13:13-14), or do counterfeit miracles (2 Thess 2:9), to seduce, intimidate, mislead or deceive us.

But since the truth is with our Heavenly Father, He never has to stoop to such methods. That is one reason, I believe, that God does not show Himself to us as a rule. Because if He were to show Himself visibly our tendency would be to say, “God, if You’ve said it, we believe it, and that is all there is to it!” Jesus even told His disciples in the Upper Room, “It’s better for you that I go away” (John 16:7). There was the danger that once the disciples recognized that He was God, they would stop thinking things through. They would simply run to Him and accept His answers to their questions on the authority of who He was. It would seem like the right thing to do.

Yet in the great controversy God does not ask for that. So even gentle Jesus said, “It is better that I go away, and I’ll send the Holy Spirit, who will come as a still small voice. He’ll come to be a Teacher and a Guide to lead you into the truth. You won’t see Him. He won’t intimidate you. He only works with evidence. Most importantly, He’ll help you understand the Bible” (based on John 16:7-13 and 14:26). God does speak to us. He does answer our questions. But He does it through what we call His Word. We talk to God in prayer, and He talks to us as we study the scriptures. That’s why I believe that really thoughtful study of the scriptures is a form of prayer. That’s conversing with God as with a friend.

Now some people pray a great deal, but never hear God speak back because they never spend much time reading the Bible. But if one reads the Bible and then responds to God, there is conversation as one thinks along and says to God, “That’s marvelous, what I’ve just read.” This is conversation with God as with a Friend, and that’s the meaning of prayer.

But now, when we pick up the Bible and have this kind of conversation with Him, what do we find there? With respect to the questions in the great controversy, do we find denials? Do we find claims? No, we find evidence.

Even when a person has been falsely accused, there’s no way to establish the truth simply by denying the charges. If just denying the charges would have worked, think what God could have done back in eternity. He could have assembled all of the angels, all hundreds of millions of them, and He could have stood before them in all His authority. And He could have said, “I understand that I have been accused of the following. I want you to know it’s absolutely false. I can be trusted. I am not arbitrary. I have not lied to you. And I expect you to believe it. And remember who I am, and don’t forget My power!” And all the angels would bow their heads and say, “We agree.”

But in a setting like that, how do you know if people really do agree? So God did not try this. Even when a person has been falsely and unfairly accused of being untrustworthy, it is only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a long period of time and under a great variety of circumstances, particularly difficult ones, that trustworthiness can be re-established and confirmed. And I understand that the sixty-six books of the Bible are precisely the record of just such a demonstration, and every one of those books is an important part.

Chapter 4: “God’s Way of Restoring Trust”

This blog begins chapter four of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures by Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

In the previous chapter we concluded that in order to have peace once again in His universe, all God asks of us is trust. And there will be peace again, just as there was before the war that began in heaven (Rev 12). There will be peace once again because all the members of God’s vast family will trust in their heavenly Father and He in turn will be able to safely trust in them. Along with that, the members of God’s family will learn to trust each other. Wherever there is mutual trust and trustworthiness, there is perfect peace, perfect freedom, and perfect security.

Our heavenly Father, however, has been accused of being unworthy of the faith and trust of His children. He has even been accused of being a liar; of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. It might seem incredible that the Infinite One would permit such accusations. But in His far-sighted plan, God has allowed these accusations and charges to spread throughout the universe, including our planet. These accusations have led to the point of war, open rebellion, and revolt. In light of this rebellion the question arises, How could God ever restore trust in His universe—in His family?

Questions and Answers (3:4)

Lou: Another individual has written this question: “Do you see the world as a predominantly evil place? If so, how can God’s plan be vindicated, if evil seems to triumph over good?” And this individual adds, “I believe that good must triumph over evil without divine intervention before Christ can come again.”

Graham: The most important words in this question would be “without divine intervention.” If the person who wrote this means it in the absolute sense, it would leave us in a helpless situation. In this conflict we have an adversary who is intervening all he can, manipulating, deceiving and beclouding the intellect. If God had never intervened, we would be in trouble.
But if the questioner wants to say that truth will triumph without God ever manipulating things, I would agree, absolutely. My understanding is that God intervenes in order that truth may be seen clearly, so that truth may have a chance to win. God will not win because He has intervened with power and force and manipulation. That’s the devil’s method. God will win, in a certain sense, without intervention. But He is very much involved in this world in order to protect us from the adversary and give the truth a chance to be seen. God will win because the truth is seen to be true, and we’ll agree.

Lou: Moving in a different direction. “If it is true that the plan of salvation and the death of Christ was needed to confirm the faith of the unfallen angels, would it not seem that God needed a place like this earth to send His Son to die in order to answer Satan’s charges?”

Graham: Must a parent die under the wheels of a truck, pushing his little child out of the way, to prove that he or she loves the child? That is one way such love would be demonstrated, but it doesn’t have to be that way. God doesn’t need the emergency on this earth to show that He loves His children and is worthy of their trust. But when the emergency arose, look how He behaved. Look at the way He has handled it. God is no more trustworthy after the cross than before. But because of the emergency, God is more clearly seen to be trustworthy than He was before. He has taken advantage of an emergency, and I find it very gracious of Him.

Lou: Although the emergency made His heart break, He made something positive out of it.

Graham: Yes, that’s right.

Lou: Here’s a question related to Martin Luther and his problems with Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation mentioned in the previous chapter. Could you give us some actual references where people could go for themselves? People believe what you said because they trust you, but they would like to have a reference.

Graham: That’s fair enough. The prefaces that I read from can be found in a series edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, entitled Luther’s Works. In Volume 35 Luther says there is no way the Holy Spirit could have inspired the book of Revelation. I’ve also mentioned that Luther thought the book of James was totally contrary to Saint Paul. But lest we put Luther in an unfair light, you should read the prefaces for yourself. There he also spoke so reverently of Scripture. He says, for example, “James is a wonderful book, and I like the way it upholds God’s law.” That statement is needed to balance out the other. The only reason I brought it up was to answer the question whether he was able to see the larger, great controversy view. And there are even glimpses of that.
In the first volume of Luther’s Works, the one on Genesis, he says, “The holy fathers have fancied that there once was this war up in Heaven.” He said, “That is a likely idea. It fits in with the statement in Jude that angels fell.” And in another place he said, “You know, it is true that the angels apparently were once able to sin, because some of them fell.” Then he went on to say, “The loyal angels were confirmed, so that they are no longer capable of sinning.” From this evidence it seems to me that he was working with it up to a point, but he never truly followed it through.

Lou: Where will we be going with the next chapter? What is the topic?

Graham: Chapter Four is entitled “God’s Way of Restoring Trust.” God does not seek to restore trust simply by making claims or through spectacular shows of power. Instead he invites our trust on the basis of evidence. And I believe the methods that He has chosen to use are the greatest reasons for trusting Him. That will be the key focus of the next chapter.

Questions and Answers (3:3)

Lou: I hear you saying that James gives us a picture of what happens in our lives when we are truly willing to listen. But here’s another question. Trust sounds like something we have to do. But according to the Bible, doesn’t God do it all? Isn’t faith itself a gift from God?

Graham: It is certainly described in that way in the Bible. “Faith is a gift of God” (Eph 2:8, see also Romans 12:3). This is so important that it is a large part of the next chapter in this book: “God’s Way of Restoring Trust.” In fact, God gives us nearly everything, I believe. He gives us life. He gives us minds to weigh the evidence. He gives us the evidence. He gives us the freedom. He gives us everything except one important piece, He does not cast the vote. If in this great war, God were to manipulate us so we would vote the way He wanted, Satan would cry foul.
God does not win this great controversy by “stuffing the ballot box” through the gift of faith. If faith is the decisive thing, you have the question, “Why does He put faith in some and not others?” If faith is the decisive thing, there’s no responsibility. A person could say, “I don’t have faith. You know why? God didn’t give me any.” But the decisive thing is that God gives us everything, but He doesn’t cast the vote. That’s up to us. That is what freedom is. That’s where responsibility is. And I like it this way. It’s a little scary, but would you want it any other way? As I mentioned, we’ll go a little deeper into these things in the next couple of chapters.

Lou: The question has come up, Graham, how do you decide what translations to use? Are you just picking out the one that says it the way that you want it?

Graham: That’s a very fair question. I have more than a hundred and fifty different English translations and when I prepare a presentation like this, I have versions all over the table and the floor. It’s true that I am looking for what I want, but what do I want? I always begin with the original. I have taught biblical languages for years: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. What I want is a version that will be as neutral as possible.
In the previous chapter, for example, I mentioned Romans 8:3. Some versions translate it, “God sent His Son as a sacrifice for sin,” or “to atone for sin.” Those are very interpretive. The Greek of Romans 8:3 just says, “He sent His Son concerning sin.” So I chose two versions that expressed the original idea in a neutral way. One was, “He sent His Son to deal with sin.” That’s beautifully neutral. It lets the reader decide how He dealt with it. The other version said, “He sent His Son to do away with sin.” If I can’t find a translation that is truly neutral, I use several to show the various possible meanings. In the chapter where we discuss the Bible (Chapter Five: “The Record of the Evidence”), we’ll go into that in more detail.

Lou: All right. But what if I only have one? You say you have a hundred and fifty. I have maybe twenty or thirty, and I don’t think my wife is going to let me buy enough to catch up with you.

Graham: Unless your one translation is one of the really extraordinary ones, like the New Testament Revised by the Spirits, or the New Testament Translated From Numerology, you should be OK. Any of the mainline versions are very trustworthy, if you read the Bible as a whole. If you make everything depend on a single verse, on the other hand, what if the comma is in the wrong place? It is safer to put many passages together. But the safest approach of all is in reading the Bible as a whole. When you approach things that way, almost every version is dependable.

Lou: Here’s a question that can be related to the earlier chapters of this book. What did Jesus mean when he told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:4, 9). A lot of people say things like “I’m a born-again Christian.” What does that mean?

Graham: Nicodemus himself even asked what it meant. Notice that Jesus did not say “you must be forgiven” or “you must be justified” or you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Rather “born again” is more like what David said in the fifty-first Psalm. “Born again” means having a new heart and a new spirit (Psa 51:10), to be changed from a rebel to someone who can be trusted, to be changed from a stubborn person (who is unwilling to listen) to someone who loves, trusts, and admires God. To experience all of these is like being born all over again. And that’s why Jesus used such a dramatic picture.
That’s also the meaning of being converted. You turn around and go the other way like you sometimes do driving a car. Being converted means to turn around and go the other way. It is a change from being stubborn and rebellious to someone who is humbly willing to listen, love, trust, and admire. Someone who does not want to miss a single word of what God may be saying. One way to describe this kind of change is “being born again.” I think that Jesus was chiding Nicodemus for being a little slow to pick up on something that he should have known very well.

Questions and Answers (3:2)

Lou: What do you say to a person who says “Look, I just want to take the Bible as it reads! I read in the Bible that ‘God’s ways are inscrutable. How can anyone know the mind of God?’ (Rom 11:33) Now why can’t I just accept that statement and say, ‘Why have conversations about God? How can we even know God? I’ll just believe the Bible.’”

Graham: Depending on the person who is saying this, one might reply differently. Let’s assume this is a very devout person who really accepts the Scriptures. I would want to make the most of that. I would say, “Well, what about these other places in the Bible? Do you accept those too? Or do you just accept this one? ”

Lou: What other places?

Graham: Places like Romans 1 that say God can be known. In fact, this individual is accepting one verse in Romans and skipping another one. If that doesn’t work, then I might turn to a place that says “Give wine to the poor, that they may forget their misery” (based on Proverbs 31:6-7), and verses like that. Hopefully this individual will realize that you can’t simply “take the Bible as it reads.” Maxims like “here a little and there a little” (often taken out of context from Isaiah 28:9-13) are not sufficient for accurate understanding of the Bible.
When you say that you accept the Bible, you need to accept it all the way through. And probably that’s what the questioner meant in saying “I accept God’s word– if it says it, I believe it.” Then I would want to point to these other verses that say that God can be known. After all, if He can’t be known, why do we have all this content about Him in Scripture? Why did Christ come to make His Father known? The use or misuse of one little verse can lead us down all kinds of pathways I’m sure the questioner wouldn’t want to go.

Lou: So you are saying that the basic attitude of “I want to accept the Bible as it reads,” is a good attitude provided it takes the Bible as a whole, all sixty-six books, the total message of Scripture.

Graham: Right.

Lou: James 2 makes reference to how Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac demonstrates that he was a “man of faith.” Couldn’t you call it “blind faith” when Abraham set out to obey God’s request for him to “take your son and offer him as a sacrifice?”

Graham: Remember Abraham’s relationship with God. They were two of the best friends in all of history! Abraham knew God well. He had had a long experience with God. When God had asked him to do things before, it had always worked out well and it made sense in the end. So on Mount Moriah there was no blind faith on Abraham’s part. God asked him to do something that puzzled him a great deal. At the moment he couldn’t understand. But he said, “God, if it is You saying it (and I know You so well) I know that this will make sense at some point and you will provide some kind of solution, so I’m on my way.”
This is the kind of faith that says, “God, I’m on my way, but may I ask You why?” And as Abraham thought it through, he said to himself, “The One who gave me this son miraculously is able to resurrect him as well (Heb 11:19). Or maybe He will provide a substitute at the last minute (Gen 22:8).” So instead of the sacrifice of Isaac being blind faith, I would say he knew God well enough to go, and to know that God would provide a solution that made sense. And so it did.

Lou: But there was in that experience an element of uncertainty and pain. Would all this work out in the end? How would it all work out?

Graham: Abraham certainly wondered and questioned. Faith can include that kind of thing. And when we have found God to be trustworthy in the past, we are willing to obey Him when He asks us to do something beyond our present understanding.

Lou: I want to come back to James 2 again. James seems to be saying that faith alone is not enough. Does that mean that we also have to have works? And isn’t that getting back on dangerous ground?

Graham: I guess it depends on what we mean by “works.” Remember that the word for obedience means “a willingness to listen.” God does not expect perfect performance. Suppose I have just gone to my physician with an advanced case of arthritis, will he ask me to run the four-minute mile on the way home? Of course not! Instead, he helps me down the steps into my wheelchair. He says, “Walk a little further this week, take your medication, and be sure to come back.” What the doctor is really asking of me is “a willingness to listen and cooperate.”
I think to picture God as our Physician is the best model we could have. As with the physician, the performance God really desires of us is the willingness to listen. I might die the next day, but I’m going to die his trusting patient. And at the resurrection I will arise his trusting patient and all will be well. He knows we are too weak to perform perfectly. He wants us someday to be perfect: not just spiritually, but physically, mentally, socially, all those things. But He knows it is going to take a little time. What He wants right now is a sincere willingness to listen, without reservation. Then the healing is guaranteed. God has the ability to perfectly restore every one of His children. He has never lost a patient, except the patients who are unwilling to listen. But when we are willing to listen, Our behavior becomes more and more like God.

Questions and Answers (3:1)

In the original lecture series (Conversations About God) done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night following by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the third presentation, “All God Asks Is Trust.”

Lou: You have said a great deal about trust in this chapter. I can hear a person saying something like this, “When are we going to get on to the really important things, like justification and sanctification, expiation, propitiation, atonement, substitution, and so forth. Haven’t we spent long enough on trust?”

Graham: I think we have been talking about justification, but we’ve given it another name. We’ll even use those familiar names along the way, because they are an important part of our history. And when we talk to our friends for whom those are the words, then we should use them if we are going to communicate at all. But I’d rather use the words the Bible uses. And some might respond, “Well, aren’t those the words the Bible uses?” No, it’s going to be interesting to arrive in the Kingdom and settle all debates about Paul by going up to him and saying “Give us the last word, Paul. What did you mean by justification?”
He’ll say, “Could I hear that one more time?”
“Justification. You know, your favorite word.”
“You think so? Actually, I never used it.”
“How about sanctification?”
“Not that one either.”
“You mean you used none of those terms? What about expiation?”
Paul never used one of them. Neither did Jesus or anybody else in the Bible. You see, many of our favorite theological words are actually Latin and Greek terms that came from a period when Latin and Greek were the main languages used for theology. Take Sola Scriptura, for example. That’s pure Latin, meaning “the Bible only.” Or think of the word I used in a previous chapter, the Christomonistic principle. That’s based on the Greek. Christos (Christ) and monos (only). Very few people study Latin and Greek these days. So why do we keep using these words? Why not simply say “the Bible only” or “Christ alone?” I would much rather use plain and simple terms to describe these things, but each of these terms has a history and it is good to mention them, so we can see where they fit into the larger picture. But we should keep in mind that Jesus described the whole truth about His Father and how we can be saved without ever using one of those words. Jesus spoke Aramaic, rather than Latin or Greek.

Lou: I wonder if the words become a sort of scholarly shorthand? But the danger of that is we think we understand what we are talking about when we may have loaded the word with meaning that really isn’t fair to the Scripture.

Graham: That’s certainly the hazard. So it’s good to go back to how these things were described in the beginning, and we’ll try to do that in a later chapter.

Lou: All right. Let’s move along to another question. “You’ve talked about faith meaning trust rather than just ‘knowing’ something. Aren’t there some things that we could legitimately say we only know by faith, such as that statement in Hebrews, ‘by faith we know that the world was made’” (Heb 11:3)?

Graham: I would want to reply, “By faith in what? What do you mean when you say you know something by faith? Do you have a feeling of conviction inside perhaps?” Where Hebrews says “we know by faith,” what would the writer mean? Faith in something, to be sure.
How do we know anything about where the world came from? We have to read it in the Scriptures, don’t we? So we read the record. By faith in the Scriptures we believe that God created the world as recorded. But that leads us to another question. Can the Bible itself be trusted?
When we say we know these things by faith and they are things described in Scripture, we are not saying, “I know this because I have a warm feeling down in my heart.” That warm feeling could come from indigestion! So when you say, “I know something by faith,” I would want to know what you are having faith in, and in Hebrews eleven it is faith in the Bible. We will cover this question in some depth in chapter five, “The Record of the Evidence.” Can the Bible really be trusted? Can you say in the most critical company, “I have found the Bible to be utterly reliable from cover to cover?” I believe you can, and I’ll lay that out in chapter five.