When Truth Becomes Vital

FEATURES: When Truth Becomes Vital

"One of the most serious problems facing the remnant church and its ministry is that of making the fundamental certainties of the third angel's message alive and vital in personal Christian experience."

Dean of Theology, La Sierra College

One of the most serious problems facing the remnant church and its ministry is that of making the fundamental certainties of the third angel's message alive and vital in personal Christian experience.

"The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ's day was, that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness. In all human experience a theoretical knowledge of the truth has been proved to be insufficient for the saving of the soul. . . .

"The same danger still exists. Many take it for granted that they are Christians, simply because they subscribe to certain theological tenets." The Desire of Ages, p. 309.

"The tremendous issues of eternity demand of us something besides an imaginary religion, a religion of words and forms." MRS. WHITE in Review and Herald, May 21, 1908.

"Personal religion among us as a people is at a low ebb. There is much form, much machinery, much tongue religion; but something deeper and more solid must be brought into our religious experience. . . . What we need is to know God and the power of His love, as revealed in Christ, by an experimental knowledge." Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 743.

That we are made for fellowship with God and obedience to His voice through the Word is the heart of the everlasting gospel. The tragedy too often found in our preaching and teaching of the truths of this message is that belief in them and obedience to them have been exalted and separated apart from fellowship with and devotion to the living Christ. When this occurs our doctrines easily become an end in themselves. Obedience to them becomes mechanical. People see the letter but miss the spirit. The more mechanical the interpretation of truth be comes, the more the letter requirements are multiplied, and the more superficial becomes the test of religious experience and accomplishment. Man can now work out his own salvation. His standing before God and his spiritual and eternal destiny are actually in his own hands. All he has to do is to satisfy the demands of the letter of the law and fulfill the quantitative requirements of the church.

Worse yet, once a worker or a believer fulfills the letter of the law without the spirit, he tends to exalt the religious good ness that he himself has acquired. The righteousness of Christ is lost sight of. The fruit of all this is that he comes to believe that he is "rich, and increased with goods," and in need of nothing. The pride of self- righteousness is manifested in spiritual blindness, in a bland unconcern for the eternal welfare of others. And instead of our message breaking down the core of all sin, selfish pride, this type of religion intensifies it. Such a religion is totally incapable of redeeming men and women. It is the one thing that separates us from God and from men. People come to say of us that we are exalting Sabbath observance at the expense of human need of salvation, that we are pressing for the tithe of mint and cummin and omitting the weightier matters of the law, that we are mostly concerned with the shell of religion rather than with the kernel.

Mrs. E. G. White declares in Christ's Object Lessons page 402:

"There is no religion in the enthronement of self. He who makes self-glorification his aim, will find himself destitute of that grace which alone can make him efficient in Christ's service. . . . Only when selfishness is dead, when strife for supremacy is banished, when gratitude fills the heart, and love makes fragrant the life, it is only then that Christ is abiding in the soul, and we are recognized as laborers together with God."

True Repentance

Nothing is so blind to the need for spiritual vitality as the exaltation of self through a religion of mere mental assent. "Be zealous therefore, and repent," is God's message to this people. But true repentance is possible only when the heart perceives its own sin and turns in sincere contrition to God. The message to the Laodiceans continues to tell us that we are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." In the certainty of our own righteousness we are unable to understand what is wrong with us. We may even resent the idea that we could be so sinful.

The call by the True Witness to repent is absolutely meaningless unless we come to see the nature of our own spiritual malady. We cannot feel sorry for that for which we do not hold ourselves responsible or even consider ourselves to blame. The peculiar nature of our spiritual problem is not that we do not understand the meaning of repentance or fail to call people to repentance, but that we do not understand the nature of our own Laodicean condition. Consequently our penitence so often becomes superficial. Our souls are not uncovered before God. We speak of revivals and seek to conduct them, but not until we understand and see the specific nature of our sin is repentance that leads to revival possible.

So many times we as Seventh-day Adventists are quite sure of the divine favor. We do so many things that merit it, as if God's favor could be won. Convinced of our own goodness, we miss the relevance of our Lord's searching and burning words to us: "So then because thou- art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." We see ourselves exempt from the critical scrutiny of the True Wit ness to the Laodiceans. We take for granted that we have the gold, the white raiment, and the heavenly eyesalve. We do not realize that unless we experience vital godliness we shall be spued out.

Can anything be so obnoxious to God as a paper orthodoxy that kills, when the message we proclaim is guaranteed by God to bring eternal life? Can anything be so repulsive to our Father in heaven as the preaching of the Word of God divorced from the Holy Spirit and the love of God? Can there be any preaching of the gospel so far removed from the living Word as that which reduces God's personal presence to a course of lectures in dogmatic the ology? Can there be anything so tragic in connection with an intended soul-saving ministry as to leave people solitary, alone, merely with their thinking instead of with a living voice and a loving presence?

Do Our Hearers Meet Christ?

To be sure, the thinking of the people who attend our meetings may be enriched. But do they meet Christ in the way? Or is there awakened in them the delusion that they can do God's will in their own strength by conforming to the letter? Such people have only a substitute for the true gospel of Christ. By such a ministry we give glory to ourselves. We become our own ideal and find ourselves having to compete with our fellow workers. Contrast all this with truth that is vital in the life.

"The Lord Jesus is making experiments on human hearts through the exhibition of His mercy and abundant grace. He is effecting transformations so amazing that Satan, with all his triumphant boasting, with all his confederacy of evil united against God and the laws of His government, stands viewing them as a fortress impregnable to his sophistries and delusions. They are to him an in comprehensible mystery. . . . To His church, Christ has given ample facilities, that He may receive a large revenue of glory from His redeemed, pur chased possession. The church, being endowed with the righteousness of Christ, is His depository, in which the wealth of His mercy, His love. His grace, is to appear in full and final display." Testimonies to Ministers, p. 18.

I want you to notice that there is nothing said about man's display, man's wisdom, man's power, and man's glory. The display is entirely supernatural, and for the glory of God alone.

When we speak of truth becoming vital we mean that God operates directly upon the human soul by His Holy Spirit, the medium of all the gracious activities of God. This means our dependence on God and on God alone. Said Spurgeon, "If there be but one stitch in the celestial garment of our righteousness which we ourselves are to put in, we are lost." And Mrs. White declares, "Not one thread of selfishness must be drawn into the fabric of character we are weaving." Notebook Leaflets, vol. 1, no. 11.

Why is all this so? Because we are saved only in a personal fellowship and communion with a personal God. To be confronted with Jesus Christ is altogether different from simply using mental energy to grasp ideas that the preacher is presenting in the morning sermon. The minister who conceives the operations of God under the forms of simply getting ideas over to his flock, leaves the hearer wholly uncertain about God's personal relation to him. God cannot reveal Himself except in personal presence. It is this that makes the difference in our religious services, for there is no true worship whatsoever unless the presence of God has been felt in our midst.

The person who is faced merely with ideas from the preacher has to assent only mentally. The one who is faced with Jesus Christ is confronted with an absolute authority, claiming that person for Himself in the entirety of his being. He who is faced by Jesus Christ is faced with a loving God, and the only adequate response that makes truth vital is the response of love, which demands not only mental assent but the whole of a man.

In order to make truth vital, then, there must be communion between Person and person. The Lord of heaven and earth wants to have fellowship with me, another individual. He wants me to know that He knows me and loves me, and in Jesus Christ has chosen me before all the universe. Therefore He is not at all concerned merely about my social standing in the community, about my knowledge of the arts, the sciences, and religion in general. He is primarily concerned with one thing: whether or not I love Him with all my heart and all my powers.

This is the reason why our doctrines cannot be forced on people and still remain vital. Such an approach is merely one man's mind over another's. So much of modern preaching and teaching in the field of religion amounts to nothing more than this. Therefore the doctrines we preach and the believers' attitude toward them can be no longer a matter of dogmatic authoritarian- ism, but a matter of personal relationship to God. Each one of the truths of this church points toward that narrow gate that leads to life eternal through real communion with God. And to go contrary to the doctrine is to disagree with our loving God and to destroy fellowship with Him. The Christian doctrines are not merely a matter of religious opinion that one may or may not hold. They are actually a difference in Christian living that distinguishes the one who does and the one who does not believe in Christ.

The "Experience" of Salvation

Let us never forget that all the treasures of wisdom are hid in Christ. The third angel's message is not opposed to hard and deep thinking. Our gospel does not encourage shallow thinking any more than it encourages moral sloth. But the message we preach must break through rational thinking, mere moralism, and religious formal ism. It must lead men and women into the very presence of Christ, where they become bound by God Himself to His own loving heart. Mere mental assent places man instead of God at the center of our lives. This so-called religious experience is a perversion that is healed only by a vital experience with Christ. Vital truth is the victory of God's power and presence in the life over the power of all that is merely human and worldly.

God's love in the heart is the power of full obedience. The obedience of faith and love is never automatic or mechanical. Salvation can be known only by experience. (See The Desire of Ages, p. 495.) Surely it must be seen that the experience of forgive ness, of being born again, of receiving par don for all our sins, of being received 'into communion with God Himself all these cannot be known by any mere mental processes. How can God be satisfied with mental assent and lip service and ignore the creature's resistance to His will?

A formal religion may be demonstrably fruitful up to a certain point. Nothing is more certain than that love of the shell of religion, of religious art and music, and even of virtue can be proud, sophisticated, and deeply selfish. Important as is the educational program in our schools and the preaching program in our churches for indicating avenues to culture and religious development, something deeper is needed. We need desperately to yield our love to the love of Another.

Once the love of Christ in the soul becomes the true motive, we can know that our lives have been changed at the center from that of the natural man to that of the spiritual. In our own insufficiency we have been led to discover the sufficiency of God. In our awareness of utter dependence we have found a new life born of supernatural power. We respond with the deepest gratitude of our being. For He has come to grip us, to heal our wounds, to cleanse our hearts and minds, to mediate to us the power of a new ministry in this final hour.

 

 


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Dean of Theology, La Sierra College

May 1952

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