“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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A person God turned around many times.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Good fruit before conversion?

Most of us know the saying,“Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16).

And that should go for us, too; not only “them”, we will be known by our fruits. So, we look at ourselves, comparing ourselves to the publicans and sinners, pimps and drug addicts all around, and say, “We must be children of God.” We think that we must be converted and saved, that God is at peace with us. Compared with the social outcasts and obvious enemies of God, we look like we have good fruits. But, it may be unsettling for us to hear that many apparently sanctified, Christ-like traits of the character, which pass as fruits and gifts of the Spirit, of themselves contain no definite evidence of salvation. Listen to how apparently righteous and apparently character-developed Jacob was before his conversion.

“Jacob, thoughtful, diligent,and care-taking, ever thinking more of the future than the present, was content to dwell at home, occupied in the care of the flocks and the tillage of the soil. His patient perseverance, thrift, and foresight were valued by the mother. His affections were deep and strong, and his gentle, unremitting attentions added far more to her happiness than did the boisterous and occasional kindnesses of Esau. To Rebekah, Jacob was the dearer son [all emphasis mine].” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 177.

“Jacob had learned from his mother of the divine intimation that the birthright should fall to him, and he was filled with an unspeakable desire for the privileges which it would confer. It was not the possession of his father’s wealth that he craved; the spiritual birthright was the object of his longing. To commune with God as did righteous Abraham, to offer the sacrifice of atonement for his family, to be the progenitor of the chosen people and of the promised Messiah, and to inherit the immortal possessions embraced in the blessings of the covenanthere were the privileges and honors that kindled his most ardent desires. His mind was ever reaching forward to the future, and seeking to grasp its unseen blessings [all emphasis mine].
With secret longing he listened to all that his father told concerning the spiritual birthright; he carefully treasured what he had learned from his mother. Day and night the subject occupied his thoughts, until it became the absorbing interest of his lifehe thus esteemed eternal above temporal blessings [all emphasis mine].” Ibid. p. 178.

Ellen White goes on to say of this son of redeemed and heaven-honored Isaac and Rebekah, their son who apparently was born holy: “But while he thus esteemed eternal above temporal blessings, Jacob had not an experimental knowledge of the God whom he revered. His heart had not been renewed by divine grace [emphasis mine]. He believed that the promise concerning himself could not be fulfilled so long as Esau retained the rights of the first-born, and he constantly studied to devise some way whereby he might secure the blessing which his brother held so lightly, but which was so precious to himself.” Ibid.

That is quite a reversal of eternal destinies for Jacob. Despite all those good qualities and manifestations of excellence, instead of being in the kingdom of God, Jacob was really outside the kingdom. Or, maybe Jesus could have said to Jacob as He did the scribe, “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, He said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34). But, is being not far outside of the kingdom real bad? Isn’t it pretty good? Isn’t it not real bad and despicable, like the real bad publicans and filthy prostitutes?

“…They never know what it is to have peace and harmony in the soul; for without entire surrender there is no rest, no joy. Almost Christians, yet not fully Christians, they seem near the kingdom of heaven, but they do not enter therein. Almost but not wholly saved means to be not almost but wholly lost.” Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 399.

This brings a serious indictment to us good church people who have grown up around the Bible. Are we sure we are safe and in the kingdom? Do our good works and big achievements come from a natural, carnal heart, a heart empty of the grace of Christ? Or do they flow from the Spirit of grace and truth; do they come from a heart and mind that are born again with a new source of life? Are we examining our works to know which of the two kinds we have? Are we putting ourselves to the test? This is what Paul recommended to the saints of Corinth.“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2Cor. 13:5). Once we have examined our own heart, and bowed before the conviction of God and the mercy of Christ, then we can assist others to examine their heart, as a friend did to help Charles Wesley secure his conversion.

“When Charles Wesley at one time fell ill, and anticipated that death was approaching, he was asked upon what he rested his hope of eternal life. His answer was: ‘I have used my best endeavors to serve God.’ As the friend who had put the question seemed not to be fully satisfied with his answer, Wesley thought: ‘What! are not my endeavors a sufficient ground of hope? Would he rob me of my endeavors? I have nothing else to trust to.’ ―John Whitehead, Life of the Rev. Charles Wesley, page 102. Such was the dense darkness that had settled down on the church, hiding the atonement, robbing Christ of His glory, and turning the minds of men from their only hope of salvation―the blood of the crucified Redeemer.” Great Controversy, p. 253.

The standard is high. Even for us church members—especially for us righteous churched people—we must ask ourselves the searching question: Have we or have we not surrendered all of our heart to God?

“Whitefield and the Wesleys were sincere seekers for the favor of God, and this they had been taught was to be secured by a virtuous life and an observance of the ordinances of religion [emphasis mine].” Ibid. p. 253.

It is not enough to perceive the loving-kindness of God, to see the benevolence, the fatherly tenderness, of His character. It is not enough to discern the wisdom and justice of His law, to see that it is founded upon the eternal principle of love [emphasis mine]. Paul the apostle saw all this when he exclaimed, ‘I consent unto the law that it is good.’ ‘The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.’ But he added, in the bitterness of his soul-anguish and despair, ‘I am carnal, sold under sin.’ Romans 7:16, 12, 14. He longed for the purity, the righteousness, to which in himself he was powerless to attain, and cried out, ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?’ Romans 7:24, margin. Such is the cry that has gone up from burdened hearts in all lands and in all ages. To all, there is but one answer, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ John 1:29.” Steps to Christ, p. 19.

Wrestling in our own soul-anguish and despair, and beholding the Lamb of God, is the only way to full surrender, to a changed nature, and to peace with God. Our natural born qualities—even good qualities—can never come close to recommending us to God, or restoring us to Him and His peace. Only a Mediator can make us commendable before God who we have assaulted.

“Many are the figures by which the Spirit of God has sought to illustrate this truth, and make it plain to souls that long to be freed from the burden of guilt. When, after his sin in deceiving Esau, Jacob fled from his father’s home, he was weighed down with a sense of guilt. Lonely and outcast as he was, separated from all that had made life dear, the one thought that above all others pressed upon his soul, was the fear that his sin had cut him off from God, that he was forsaken of Heaven. In sadness he lay down to rest on the bare earth, around him only the lonely hills, and above, the heavens bright with stars. As he slept, a strange light broke upon his vision; and lo, from the plain on which he lay, vast shadowy stairs seemed to lead upward to the very gates of heaven, and upon them angels of God were passing up and down; while from the glory above, the divine voice was heard in a message of comfort and hope. Thus was made known to Jacob that which met the need and longing of his soul―a Saviour [emphasis mine]. With joy and gratitude he saw revealed a way by which he, a sinner, could be restored to communion with God.” Steps to Christ, p. 19.

To Paul’s cry, “‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?’ Romans 7:24, margin….there is but one answer...” Steps to Christ, p. 19. “God through Jesus Christ” (Rom. 7:25); that is, the limp, tormented and wasted, bloody, and dead “body of Christ” (Rom. 7:4), “God…in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” (2Cor. 5:19). “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6). A Saviour alone, a Counselor and Friend before the great Father who we have offended, meets the need and longing of our soul.

The Christian examining himself or herself must require a close investigation. One time my cousins and I hiked through a marshland park. The trail was a boardwalk from start to finish. And because it was a wetlands area much life abounded. Soon, we saw what we thought to be a Hummingbird. It seemed to keep near us, so we watched it and watched it, happy to have its company. Then, someone in the group said, “Maybe it isn’t a Hummingbird. It just doesn’t seem like one.” But, we couldn’t put our finger on just wasn’t right about it. It hummed; it hovered in the air, just like a Hummingbird. It was the exact same size as a Hummingbird; its wings were invisible in their hyper-speed as it kept perfect altitude. It darted here and there. It ate nectar from the flowers and blossoms. All just like a Hummingbird. Yet, something just didn’t look right. Finally, we realized what was missing. It had no beak! And the typical moth proboscis curled up on its face was very difficult to see. Most of the time it had kept its rear end to us and its distance a minimum of 6 feet, so we couldn’t quickly spot the discrepancy. Now we all knew it was not a Hummingbird. But then, what was it? Not long afterward I found out from the internet what it was―a Hummingbird Moth.

And if anyone has ever seen a Hummingbird Moth, they’ll agree that the two appear nearly identical except for the mouth. But, appearances aside, the two are vastly different. One is of the animal kingdom and the other is of the insect kingdom. The bird has skin and tissue and organs; but the insect is everything mucous surrounded by a thin shell. The bird has muscles, but the insect has something else much more inferior. The bird has a brain far in advance of the insect; the bird has a conscience and some intellect, while the insect has none. The bird was clean, while the insect was unclean. The Hummingbird is in every way more advanced than its moth counterpart.

Likewise, every good work before conversion may appear to be no different from the similar good work after conversion. But, the good works that flow out of a converted heart have unselfishness and a new capacity to love, which are of much greater worth in the sight of God, and bring Him great relief and joy. Self is no longer the central motivation; the Spirit has laid it to rest. A person’s alienation from God and the resulting aggravation in his soul come from the “wrath of God”. And, God’s wrath that “abideth on him” (John 3:36) because he “believeth not the Son”, reflects his every thought, word, and act, and is manifested in them. “He…shall not see life.” (Ibid.), while “he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” (Ibid.). “And this is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40). “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12,13).

And God must treat the unbelieving one with wrath, even to an extreme measure as He did to Martin Luther, Ignatius Loyola, and Ellen White, because every soul represents a potentially new citizen for a future eternal kingdom that cannot admit any sin. The sin problem will never cause the same great suffering again, ever! The Father deems that His condemnation of sin, which poses as a great test to the heart’s desire, must happen despite its terrible ordeal upon the body, mind, and soul of the seeker for peace with Him. The wrath of God ensures that we honestly recognize and admit to sin, and that we need His Son for a Saviour from sin. No one can repent or surrender from his own will or by his own self-made sorrow; such self-made repentance needs to be repented of. We must be brought to heaven-born repentance by bowing to the Father’s condemnation of sin and then to the Son’s acceptance of sinners. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Those who have not humbled their souls before God in acknowledging their guilt, have not yet fulfilled the first condition of acceptance [emphasis mine]. If we have not experienced that repentance which is not to be repented of, and have not with true humiliation of soul and brokenness of spirit confessed our sins, abhorring our iniquity, we have never truly sought for the forgiveness of sin; and if we have never sought, we have never found the peace of God. The only reason why we do not have remission of sins that are past is that we are not willing to humble our hearts and comply with the conditions of the word of truth.... The confession that is the outpouring of the inmost soul finds its way to the God of infinite pity. The psalmist says, ‘The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.’ Psalm 34:18.” Steps to Christ, p. 37. Only “the confession that is the outpouring of the inmost soul finds its way to the God of infinite pity.” That confession is a gift from God’s condemnation and His Son’s mercy.

What can we do if we examine ourselves and find that we are not far from the kingdom, but not inside it? Should we immediately despair? No, but we will tremble before Him. First, we can know that if we willingly looked into the Law of life, Jesus doesn’t leave us to our devices. Secondly, if we are sincerely seeking Him with all our heart, we will find Him. “God...giveth all life, and breath...that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.” (Acts 17:27,28). The first thought of the sinner guilty before the Law is that he has committed the unpardonable sin. But, let’s remember that “the Lord…is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2Pet. 3:9). (There is nothing like the power of God’s Law that can drive us to find all the precious promises of His mercy and grace and long-suffering.)

    “It is true that men sometimes become ashamed of their sinful ways, and give up some of their evil habits, before they are conscious that they are being drawn to Christ. But whenever they make an effort to reform, from a sincere desire to do right, it is the power of Christ that is drawing them. An influence of which they are unconscious works upon the soul, and the conscience is quickened, and the outward life is amended. And as Christ draws them to look upon His cross, to behold Him whom their sins have pierced, the commandment comes home to the conscience. The wickedness of their life, the deep-seated sin of the soul, is revealed to them. They begin to comprehend something of the righteousness of Christ, and exclaim, ‘What is sin, that it should require such a sacrifice for the redemption of its victim? Was all this love, all this suffering, all this humiliation, demanded, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life?’
     The sinner may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be drawn to Jesus; a knowledge of the plan of salvation will lead him to the foot of the cross in repentance for his sins, which have caused the sufferings of God’s dear Son.
     The same divine mind that is working upon the things of nature is speaking to the hearts of men and creating an inexpressible craving for something they have not. The things of the world cannot satisfy their longing. The Spirit of God is pleading with them to seek for those things that alone can give peace and rest―the grace of Christ, the joy of holiness. Through influences seen and unseen, our Saviour is constantly at work to attract the minds of men from the unsatisfying pleasures of sin to the infinite blessings that may be theirs in Him. To all these souls, who are vainly seeking to drink from the broken cisterns of this world, the divine message is addressed, ‘Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’ Revelation 22:17.
     You who in heart long for something better than this world can give, recognize this longing as the voice of God to your soul. Ask Him to give you repentance.” Steps to Christ, p. 27,28.

The gift of repentance does not come without a cost from the seeker after Christ. We must endure the divine curriculum that leads us to repentance. That curriculum is a crucible that requires of the sinful heart abundant grief and sorrow before it can, of its own accord, humbly bow in shame and guilt. Depending on the sinner’s environment, from birth to the present, Satan can have created high walls of prejudice against the God of strong love. Still, the God of goodness is very patient with the sinner; but, will the sinner be equally patient with the God of goodness? Will he stay in the crucible until his pride is cooked off? We must remain under the fire of the heated battle raging over our heads until we hear the hopeful words from above, “The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zech. 3:2). Just like Joshua the high priest, we must remain in the fire of guilt and remorse and sorrow for sin until God plucks us out. We must endure to the end of His process if we truly want peace with God and freedom from Satan. Only “he that endureth to the end shall be save.” (Matt. 10:22). But, the process of conviction and repentance ends in peace with God and a metamorphosed new creature! “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Heb. 12:11).

“The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” (1Tim. 1:5). “The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” (Gal. 3:24). “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (Rom. 10:4). “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37), “that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us.” (Rom. 8:4).

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.… But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” (Rom. 8:1,9).

Once surrendered to the righteousness of God and justified by trusting in Jesus, the soul has peace with God; and all of its works are touched with His Spirit. The justified soul’s works are transformed from the slimy moth goo that makes up the creeping works of the flesh, to the strength and firmness, and the blood of life that make up the soaring works from the Spirit of Christ. The Christian knows the Spirit of Christ, and Christ does not call him a worker of iniquity because He has his heart; and his heart is now a humbled and happily dependent heart. Because of the reforming power of conversion, the heart loves to think of Christ and to dwell upon Him.

“Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:17-20).

“A selfish heart may perform generous actions. By what means, then, shall we determine whose side we are on?
Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are Christ’s, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.” Steps to Christ, p. 58.

Here is where we distinguish the true Christ-likeness from the unwitting fake. Here is where we distinguish the beautiful, feathered bird from the (cute?), hairy bug. Here we distinguish them that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. With Jesus at our helm, we will be given the same thing through His Spirit that Jacob received when he found his fathers’ God; that is, the guiding principles which would lead him to the new life of holiness with God, and the discernment to see the false works from the true.

“The knowledge that through him the purpose of God was reaching its accomplishment, would constantly prompt him to faithfulness.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 184.


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