“There is the Law of God. Take it there as a man sees it in letters, that is the form–the perfect form, too–of knowledge and truth. Take it as it is in Jesus Christ, and we have the thing itself, the complete idea of it, and all the grace and the spirit of it” (A.T. Jones, The Third Angel’s Message, No. 25).
If you have not read this sermon read of A.T. Jones, you need to. Seriously, every SDA needs to read it, because many of us have what Paul calls “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5).
What we see when we look at the Law, or any good spiritual book, is words. These words are shadows and not the substance. Unless we have the Holy Spirit, all we have is a form, and we remain in our flesh. The power and presence of the Messiah are contained in the words and are right within our reach of faith. But the problem is that we all have the tendency to read a holy book like any other book–to get information and to try to practice what we see we like in it. This is not the way the Law was intended to be used, and it is probably one major reason why God did not give the Law in its written form for thousands of years, because He knew of our tendency to misuse it. But when the benefits outweighed the the bad tendency, He gave it to us at Sinai.
We can learn a lot from Sinai. There were thunderings and lightnings and the people ran to hide from God. Why? Because all they could see was the form. The heard the noise and saw the light, but knew not what it all meant, except for their preconceived ideas from Egypt of a violent god whom they had to somehow appease. And then we read how Moses came down from the Mount one day and they could not bear the glory shining about His face, and so Moses realized that he had to veil himself, for this was because of the veil upon their hearts. What was this veil? What did it prevent them from seeing?
The veil was unbelief. It was a misapprehension of God. They had no conception of a grace-imparting God of agape love whom asks for no appeasement, only trust in His promises. So they interpreted the power of thundering and lightning to be of anger and revenge. They seriously thought that Moses and his God wanted to take them out to the wilderness to kill them (see Exodus 17:3). But what the thundering and lightning of Sinai really was supposed to mean is that God is all-powerful and could fulfill all the righteousness in them if they would just trust in Him to do it. And the glory shining about on Moses’ face was not brightness to destroy them as they perceived, but it was supposed to represent the bright glory of love and the life that comes from the Messiah, just as sunlight imparts physical life to all living things on earth.
All they could see is a form and they interpreted the form according to their preconceived ideas, not the real Spirit-filled ideas contained in the words, for they were blind to them just as they were blind to beholding the light shining from Moses’ face. This veil is upon every heart that has the enmity of sin. God’s Law to these hearts is interpreted to be something that is against them, that wants to kill them, rather than something that is for them–a Schoolmaster to bring them to the Messiah.
The Law that is against us is God’s Law, perceived from a heart veiled with unbelief. It is viewed as something that we need to try to appease. The Sabbath and the festivals are perceived as things that need to be guarded and will be unfavorable to us because right away we realize that keeping them means persecution from our family members, friends, employers, and church clergy and members. It is enmity to us, because our hearts are filled with enmity against it. But to those who believe in keeping the appointed times and still have the veil, they just see the form. They think they are all the better than all those who do not observe them; perhaps subconsciously, they think they are in better standing with God.
It is the Torah, perceived from a carnal heart blinded with unbelief to only see the form, that the Messiah came to abolish on the cross. It is not the Law of God, but a false conception of His Law, under the framework of sin and death.
“I delight in the Law of God after the inward man: But I see *another law* in my members, *warring against* the Law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of *sin* which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this *death*?” (Rom. 7:22-24).
Do you see the war, the enmity? These are clearly two different laws! They both share the same form of words, but the ideas or meanings contained in the form are completely different. The flesh sees legal rules that must be followed lest we die; and since we continually fail to live up to this law, we see it as our enemy, our stern schoolmaster that threatens to expel us from this school of life. We are in the flesh every time we sin, so God knows that this law will deal sternly with us until we find the Messiah to fulfill the righteousness it demands in us. The flesh deserves this sternness. It is like a rod of a father correcting a child. It is out of love. But God does not want to keep us there, just as a loving father doesn’t want to use His rod on a disobedient child day after day.
What about the Law of God? How do we shift from the form of the law to the fullness of the Law? Paul continues…
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in the Messiah Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1-4).
O friends, this is the precious, precious gospel. We as SDAs have been dwelling on the form of the Law in our flesh for too long! God does not want us to remain in condemnation, but that is just what the Law will do when we are at enmity with it. We are crucified with the Messiah who condemned sin in our sinful flesh, but He cannot operate in our lives, He cannot *fulfill* (fill full) the substance, the true meaning, the Spirit, of the Law in us until we accept the fact that we are crucified with the Messiah. And I will come back to this idea of the cross shortly.
The main point that A.T. Jones makes in his aforementioned presentation is that the form of the Law is not the righteousness–the real thing–itself–and that we need the Messiah. It is only words. Someone can read the Bible 100 times through and never be a converted Christian! Every unconverted person who can read can see the form, and it will be filled full in their minds with all of the preconceived ideas a person has when they read it based on their past experiences. If the person accepts the form, their experience will automatically be FORMalism, or ceremonialism, for that is automatically the religion of all who live in the flesh. They have not allowed the Spirit of the Messiah to fill full the words, so they must fill the words with forms and ceremonies. And this is precisely, exactly, verily the problem we have in our church and in all churches. The Messiah is absent, so we must fill the gaps with everything we can that is not of Him, otherwise we feel condemned because we know that the words we are seeing are not being filled full in our lives. So we fill the gaps with church activities, spiritual formation/disciplines, legalism, gossiping (to lift ourselves up), practicing every reform so that we have a FORM that recommends us to God and others on the outside, etc., etc., etc. I’ve been there, you’ve been there, and now that we recognize our problem, let’s get to the solution.
The Messiah is not afar off–or as Jones would say, “away off yonder” or “away back yonder”. “this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it. Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? ***But the Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it***” (Deut. 30:11-14).
Whether we are reading the Scriptures or in temptation’s way or whatever we are doing, the Word, Jesus the Messiah, is very nigh unto us. Now why does it say “in thy mouth, and in they heart”? Paul expounds on this further…
“The Word is [very] nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the Word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:8-10).
Evangelicals have murdered this passage just as they’ve murdered most of Paul’s writings and many Adventists have as well. The preconceived idea is that we confess and believe that Jesus died for our sins away back yonder at the cross, and then we are “saved”, and many believe once-“saved”-always-“saved”, and then we have full assurance that me, myself, and I will go to heaven and we can go on with our lives and live as we please and still be “saved”, and the good morals in the Bible are not for salvation but for us to try to live respectable lives the best we can, for “none of us are perfect” they say.
Paul did not mean those things at all. Christendom and much of Adventism has no clue about the cross. Again, it is only a form, a symbol, to them. The cross is a form and a symbol, but it is SO MUCH MORE than that.
Friends, the cross of Jesus the Messiah is a present reality. On the cross, He transcended all time. Sure, His body was there, but in His infinite mind (His Holy Spirit), He was in you and in me, bearing our sins since the day we were born. We are not to limit His experience to our infinitesimally small minds that dwell within space-time. While we are indulging in a sin in our sphere of space and time, the Messiah is presently in sinful flesh (His body on the cross which is ours and in our individual bodies through His Spirit) of death suffering the guilt and the shame of that sin. The old testament system illustrated this very well, for there was CONTINUAL (Hebrew: Tamiyd) sacrifice taking place, not just once in time. In addition, the Messiah is also in the heavenly sanctuary, and if we confess our sin upon Him there, He must bear it again in His infinite mind, so that the sin can be transferred into the sanctuary through His blood; Sister White is very clear on this in the Great Controversy as is Paul in Hebrews. Sin is terrible. And yet the Messiah bears it all!
Confessing the Lord Jesus means much. This needs to be our study, for it is little understood. It means intelligently believing what He does on the cross and in the heavenly sanctuary as our sin-bearer. He forgave us of all of our sins unto temporal life already without us asking for it or even responding. That should melt our hearts right there, that here and now in this life, we are already accepted in the Beloved as if we have never sinned. That is how God sees us, because the Messiah legally became we–you and me–for He has our identical sinful flesh there and He bore all of our sins there. It is us. We need to confess and believe this is so, for if we do not accept His forgiveness for us, how can He help us any further. So Jesus, through His Spirit proceeding from Him at Calvary (transcending space-time), He continually gives us temporal life. The cross is stamped on every life-imparting element that we partake of, and we have done absolutely nothing to get this. What love! What divine love!
And then there is eternal life. Hence, “if thou shalt … believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” O friends, it is not about believing a historical fact. The devils believe and tremble at this and are not saved! We must believe in our heart that the Messiah is we, and that we are crucified with the Messiah–that our sin is condemned in our sinful flesh… that He died our second death, so that the Jesus who was in our fallen flesh died to never return. What does this mean? It means that the crucified Messiah takes up all of our sins unto the close of probation and dies to them. It means that our sinful flesh, we as He on the tree, was crucified and died a permanent death, and then on the third day God raised Him from the dead–still bearing the form of humanity, but no longer our sinful flesh! SIN IS DEAD BECAUSE HE HAS DEFEATED IT! The risen Messiah lives, no longer bearing a body of death, and He is we!
“Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus the Messiah our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the Law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:24, 25). But how can we serve with the flesh the law of sin anymore when the flesh is crucified with the Messiah–He as we–a present reality? Only because we want to think that our lives are our own and we exist apart from the Messiah on the cross. We continue sinning because we continue to believe a lie–that the Messiah has not come in our sinful flesh and forever crucified the sinful flesh, and is resurrected without that sinful flesh.
Sin is ended. It is a reality. God dwells outside of time, so He already knows this sinless reality when the last sin is born on the cross and probation closes. The crucifixion and the close of probation are really not separated for the Messiah; He bore the last sins committed before probation closed, and then His resurrection, which is ours, came after the Sabbath. In our perspective of time that we are in, this sinless reality is only in the resurrected Messiah and not yet in us. We can barely comprehend this, yet can fully accept it by faith; but we are still in the sinful flesh, and so then is the Messiah still on the cross bearing our sins because His Spirit proceeds from that time and place of Calvary into our present flesh to bear the sins we still commit.
Friends, the Word–speaking life into us from Calvary and from the sanctuary above–is not afar off, but very nigh. The crucified Saviour, and the risen Saviour are both present realities, for His Spirit proceeds to us from the cross, and also from heaven, in both cases taking our sins and giving us His life. We already all experience temporal life which comes to us from Calvary, and spiritual, eternal, righteous life is already ours as well as it is in our Saviour. This comes to us from His Spirit from the heavenly sanctuary when we confess our sins but only to those who believe. It must be conditional because God allows us to believe in sin (based on believing that our life is our own, separate from the Messiah) if that is what we want to believe and live in for a time. He cannot force anyone to live in His reality–an eternal reality without sin. That must be a choice. And so He deals with this in the heavenly sanctuary, where our prayers ascend and He takes our sins and gives us His life.
So this is my humble attempt to explain some of what it means to believe in and confess Christ and His resurrection. We must see the reality that He is we, and then this becomes a reality in our personal lives. And from there, it is just a matter of continuing in this belief and in His Word. Again, “the Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” The words on a page are a form; that is not the true Word. Yet, if we are in the Messiah (believing that He is we), and He is in us as a result (in us personally through His Spirit), the words we read on the page will instantly be filled full with what the Spirit, the power of the true Word, fills in our thoughts as we read. And since, the Word can be instantly present anywhere, within the reach of anyone if they just believe in their hearts and confess with their mouth Jesus as their crucified and risen Saviour, the fullness of words on the page are there for everyone.
But those in the flesh only see the form of words when they read the Scriptures. They cannot discern the fullness, the Word itself, though the Saviour is right there for them knocking on the door of their hearts. The fullness is right there, available, they just don’t believe, so they only see the form. Therefore, only a form of Christianity remains in their lives. They try to fill the form with ceremonialism, it is only form itself. The Word, the Messiah, is the only true fullness; everything else is artificial fullness. Ceremony and sin can fill no human soul. There is only emptiness and an artificial sense of stimulation that deceives. But I thank God that in the Messiah Jesus we no longer have to remain that way. The faith of Jesus that lived a perfect life, trusting in God, is still living in Him today. We can read a command in the Scriptures and simply agree with it, knowing that the substance of it is the Messiah, and He speaks the righteousness into us where we are void. He fills us with His Spirit–the only filling for a soul.
The form of the Law could never fulfill righteousness. It is an absolute lie that any precept in Genesis to Deuteronomy (or Revelation for that matter) was abolished at the cross. It was the exact opposite. Our enmity against the things of the law was abolished–sin and death–and this is all that was abolished. This enmity breeds ceremonialism, and this is the only ceremonial law that was abolished. The animal sacrifices only ceased on earth because they met their fulfillment in the Messiah (Dan. 9:27), but He did not come to abolish the precepts that commanded them. They are still our Schoolmaster today to bring us to the Messiah.
Without studying the sanctuary service, which our concrete minds and senses can relate to, we cannot clearly discern heavenly things. The ceremonies commanded in Scripture have the same purpose today that they had 3000 years ago–to bring us to the Messiah, showing us in symbols while the Holy Spirit fills this knowledge with the meaning of these symbols. The prophecies in Daniel and Revelation work in exactly the same way. None of this is abolished, but our enmity against the Ten Commandments and the statutes, and the sacrifice of the Messiah typified, and the prophecies of the prophets is abolished. Our sinful flesh is abolished; in the resurrected Saviour it no longer exists, only His faith and His righteousness which He freely has given to us, for He is we, and we just need to believe and receive!
As far as the Sabbath and the festivals and all of the appointed times, they are only forms until we receive the Spirit of the Law in the Messiah. They all have meaning, but a veil is placed over this meaning for all who do not have the Spirit in these matters. But until we dwell on the meaning instead of the form–that we keep the right Sabbath–we will not be living and proclaiming the true gospel and it will continue to turn most people away, except for those who love ceremonialism and will continue to add to the problem. True Sabbath-keeping is resting from sin in the sacrifice of the Messiah; and this reality is celebrated on the 7th day along with everything else that the Sabbath conveys such as creation and redemption. It is being dead to sin, as the Messiah who is we rested that day in the grave. We need to be dwelling on this more than the form. Keeping a day holy to keep a day holy is a form. If we are dwelling on the form and arguing all of our usual points of argument to egotistically prove that we are right, we will continue to have a form of Christianity without the Spirit and power of Christ. Our evangelism will continue to be largely unsuccessful and thus who do join us will be just like us and have only the form.
If we just read the words of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and do not have the Spirit leading us, do you know what we will see? We will see the Law, the Law, the Law. We will see an angry, destructive God that we need to appease, for they are blind to the true meaning and Spirit contained in the words–very nigh, but yet far from their understanding. This is why there are many atheists. They read the Bible like any other book from cover to cover and they have no Holy Spirit to guide them. But that is not how the Bible is to be studied. Instead, “precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10), with Scripture interpreting Scripture.
The “thou shalts”, the animal sacrifices, God destroying people, and everything else needs to be studied in the light streaming from Calvary and the promises of the covenant; we need to be praying and receiving the Holy Spirit. Then we will see that every command is a promise, every animal sacrifice is a symbol of the crucified Messiah who is not afar off but very nigh, and that in every incident where God destroys it is sin doing the actual destroying through God’s judgment allowing it, His power used to accomplish it (but out of His hands like the rod turning to a serpent) and the withdrawing His presence; hence, the reason for Him rightfully being in the text such as in the case where He slew Saul. The cross, the covenant, and the Spirit will enlighten every passage and remove the veil of unbelief from our eyes. Then the non-arbitrary, non-violent, life-imparting, sin-bearing God of agape love will be seen. All enmity and its resulting ceremonialism are slain as we transition from the form to the fullness.
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Praise be to God for removing our doubts and sins and all enmity against His Law of love through His most precious gospel!
And don’t forget to read Jones’ amazing sermon!