Living the Gospel
As soon as we talk about God’s commands, requirements, or instructions, we run the risk—or even face the temptation—of thinking that somehow what we do can earn or contribute to our salvation or otherwise gain favor with God. But the Bible tells us repeatedly that we are sinners saved by God’s grace through Jesus and His substitutionary death for us on the cross. What could we possibly add to this in any way? Or, as Ellen G. White has written: “If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason.”—Faith and Works, p. 24.
Thus, too, even our works of mercy and compassion toward those in need should not be seen as legalistic. On the contrary, as we grow in our understanding and appreciation of salvation, the link between God’s love and His concern for the poor and oppressed will be passed on to us, recipients of His love. We have received, so we will give. When we see how God so loved us, we also see how much He loves others and calls us to love them, as well.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, September 7.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world . . .” (NIV; emphasis supplied)—and the original Greek word is kosmos, meaning “the world as a created, organized entity.”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 929. This verse is about salvation for humanity, but the plan of salvation has implications for the whole of creation too.
Of course, on one level, salvation is about each one of us in our personal relationship with the Lord. But there’s more. Justification is really not just about getting our sins forgiven. Ideally, it also should be about how, through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord creates the family of God, the members of which celebrate their forgiveness and assurance of salvation by, among other things, being witnesses to the world through their good works.
We can accept that God loves people other than just ourselves. He loves those we love, and we rejoice in that. He also loves those we reach out to, and our recognition of this truth is often our motivation for our own reaching out to them. But He also loves those whom we are uncomfortable with, or even afraid of. God loves all people, everywhere, even those whom we might not particularly like.
Creation is one way we see this demonstrated. The Bible consistently points to the world around us as evidence of God’s goodness: “ ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ ” (Matt. 5:45, NIV). Even life itself is a gift from God, and regardless of the individual’s response or attitude to God, every person is a recipient of that gift.
The intermingled stories of salvation and the great controversy call us to acknowledge a truth about life that is foundational for our understanding of our world and ourselves, and that is: we and our world are fallen, broken, and sinful. Our world is not what it was created to be, and though we still bear the image of the God who created us, we are part of the world’s brokenness. The sin in our lives is of the same nature as the evil that causes so much pain, oppression, and exploitation all over the world.
Thus, it is right for us to feel the hurt, discomfort, sorrow, and tragedy of the world and of the lives around us. We would have to be robots not to feel the pain of life here. The laments in the book of Psalms, the sorrows of Jeremiah and the other prophets, and the tears and compassion of Jesus demonstrate the appropriateness of this kind of response to the world and its evil, and particularly to those who are so often hurt by that evil.
We also need to remember that sin and evil are not just “out there,” or the result of someone else’s brokenness: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, NIV). In the understanding of the biblical prophets, sin was a tragedy not primarily because someone had broken “the rules,” but because sin has broken the relationship between God and His people, and also because our sin hurts other people. This may take place on a small or large scale, but it is the same evil.
Selfishness, greed, meanness, prejudice, ignorance, and carelessness are at the root of all the world’s evil, injustice, poverty, and oppression. And confessing our sinfulness is a first step in addressing this evil, as well as a first step toward allowing the love of God to take its rightful place in our hearts: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).
The Bible tells us that among other things, we were created to worship God and to serve others. Only in our imagination can we try to understand what these acts would be like in a sinless environment.
For now, because of sin, we know only a broken and fallen world. Fortunately for us, God’s grace, expressed and enacted in Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins of the world, opens the way for forgiveness and healing. Thus, even amid this broken existence our lives become more fully God’s workmanship, and God uses us to partner with Him to seek to heal and restore the damage and hurt in the lives of others (see Eph. 2:10). “Those who receive are to impart to others. From every direction are coming calls for help. God calls upon men to minister gladly to their fellow men.”—Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 103.
Again, we do not do good works—care for the poor, lift up the oppressed, feed the hungry—in order to earn salvation or standing with God. In Christ, by faith, we have all the standing with God we will ever need. Rather, we recognize ourselves as both sinners and victims of sin who are, nonetheless, loved and redeemed by God. While we still battle with temptations to self-centeredness and greed, the self-sacrificing and humble grace of God offers a new kind of life and love that will transform our lives.
When we look at the Cross, we see the great and complete sacrifice done for us and realize that we can add nothing to what it offers us in Christ. But this does not mean that we shouldn’t do something in response to what we have been given in Christ. On the contrary, we must respond, and what better way to respond to the love that has been shown us than by showing love to others?
By His ministry and His teaching, Jesus urged a radical inclusiveness. All who sought His attention with honest motives—whether women with bad reputations, tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans, Roman centurions, religious leaders, or children—He welcomed with genuine warmth and care. As the early church was to discover in transformative ways, this included the offer of the gift of salvation.
As the first believers slowly recognized the inclusiveness of the gospel, they were not merely adding good works for others onto their faith as a “nice” thing to do. It was core to their understanding of the gospel, as they had experienced it in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. As they wrestled with the issues and questions that arose, first individually for leaders such as Paul and Peter (see, for example, Acts 10:9–20), then as a church body at the Jerusalem Council (see Acts 15), they began to realize the dramatic shift this good news had brought into their understanding of God’s love and inclusiveness and how that should be lived out in the lives of those who profess to follow Him.
Galatians 3:28 is a theological summary of the practical story Jesus told about the good Samaritan. Rather than arguing about whom we are obligated to serve, just go and serve, and perhaps even be prepared to be served by those we might not expect to serve us. The common element of the global human family is realized at a higher level in the common family of those who are bound together by the gospel, by the saving love of God that calls us to oneness in Him: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free” (1 Cor. 12:13, NIV).
The transforming invitation and appeal of the gospel “to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6, NIV) has continued throughout Christian history. However, Revelation describes a renewed proclamation of this message—the good news about Jesus and all that entails—at the end of time.
Revelation 14:7 brings together three key elements we have already noted in this study of God’s concern about evil, poverty, and oppression throughout the Bible story:
Judgment. The appeal for judgment—for justice to be done—has been a repeated call of those who have been oppressed throughout history. Fortunately, the Bible portrays God as One who hears the cries of those in distress. As often expressed in the Psalms, for example, those who are being treated unfairly regard judgment as good news.
Worship. The writings of the Hebrew prophets often link the subjects of worship and good deeds, particularly when comparing the worship of those who claimed to be God’s people with the wrongs that they committed and continued. In Isaiah 58, for example, God explicitly stated that the worship He most desired was acts of kindness and care for the poor and needy (see Isa. 58:6, 7).
Creation. As we have seen, one of the foundational elements of God’s call for justice is the common family of humanity, that we are all created in His image and loved by Him, that we all have value in His sight and that no one should be exploited or oppressed for the unjust gain and greed of another. It seems clear that this end-time proclamation of the gospel is a broad and far-reaching call to accept the rescue, redemption, and restoration that God wants for fallen humanity. Hence, even amid the issues regarding true and false worship, and persecution (see Rev. 14:8–12), God will have a people who will stand for what is right, for the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, even amid the worst of evil.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “ ‘God With Us,’ ” pp. 19–26, in The Desire of Ages; “Saved to Serve,” pp. 95–107, in The Ministry of Healing.
“God claims the whole earth as His vineyard. Though now in the hands of the usurper, it belongs to God. By redemption no less than by creation it is His. For the world Christ’s sacrifice was made. ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.’ John 3:16. It is through that one gift that every other is imparted to men. Daily the whole world receives blessing from God. Every drop of rain, every ray of light shed on our unthankful race, every leaf and flower and fruit, testifies to God’s long forbearance and His great love.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 301, 302.
“In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free. All are brought nigh by His precious blood. (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:13.)
“Whatever the difference in religious belief, a call from suffering humanity must be heard and answered. . . .
“All around us are poor, tried souls that need sympathizing words and helpful deeds. There are widows who need sympathy and assistance. There are orphans whom Christ has bidden His followers receive as a trust from God. Too often these are passed by with neglect. They may be ragged, uncouth, and seemingly in every way unattractive; yet they are God’s property. They have been bought with a price, and they are as precious in His sight as we are. They are members of God’s great household, and Christians as His stewards are responsible for them.”— Pages 386, 387.
Summary: God’s love as expressed in the plan of salvation and enacted in the life and sacrifice of Jesus offers us forgiveness, life, and hope. As recipients of this grace, we seek to share this with others, not to earn salvation, but because it is what we have been created and re-created to do. As such, the gospel transforms relationships and moves us to serve, particularly those most in need.