Dominos, Sabbath School and Controversy!
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DominosDominos is a game played around the world, but I have found lately that it is not played the same way around the world. I was raised in Oklahoma, where my grandmother taught me how to play, by playing off the ends as well as the sides, so that you are going in four different directions. (As seen in the picture) You score when all four sides add up to a 5, like 5, 10, 15, 20 and so on. For example in the picture the score would be 10. When the total does not round off to a five you get no points.

I did not know anyone played any other way – that is until I moved to Florida and sat down to play with some friends from Cuba. When I played off the side instead of the end, my friends started laughing. They had never seen anyone play off the side before and thought it was a joke. I thought they were joking. They were serious. Where they were raised, you only play in a straight narrow line, and you don’t even score by fives. You don’t even score at all! You just play till you are out of dominoes.

We were both raised to play the same game in different parts of the world, each one thinking our way was the only way it could be done. Obviously the other way they were taught was wrong. So we both thought.

This led me to do some research. My first reaction was that I was right and they were wrong. Later I realized I thought I was right, only because that is how my family taught me to play. My friends also thought they were right only because that is how their family taught them. I decided to have an open mind and go to the rule book and find out what the exact rules are. I Googled “Dominos rules” and come to find out I was right! Actually we all were right. Seems there is more than one way to play Dominos.

In the process I learned a valuable lesson about tradition and how we all come from different parts of the world, with different views and opinions – each thinking our way is the Gospel truth, and we are going to save the world by making the rest of the world just like us. I am being a bit sarcastic, but how many times have we been tempted to correct someone for no other reason than they weren’t like us? How many times has a country sent missionaries to another country, and, instead of just teaching them how to be like Jesus, actually taught them how to be like the people in the country from which the missionaries came?

A while back a gentleman joined my Sabbath School class. When I write, I enjoy giving all the details about places and times, however I can’t or at least shouldn’t do that this time, because this story also involves another Sabbath School class that may not wish to be identified. You see, the gentleman joined my class because he had basically been thrown out, or so he thought, from another Sabbath School class. He was not an Adventist. He did not believe in the Sabbath, and so he was asking questions that may not be usually asked in a traditional Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath School class. The class in which he asked the questions had a theology as narrow-minded as those who can only play dominos in a straight line. They could not vary from the regular “cookie cutter” questions and answers that were to be given in a traditional study. Now I am not here to knock the way people play dominos. You may be able to play dominos in a narrow little line, but our God is too big for a narrow line.

Since the first class did not want to deal with his questions, he showed up in my class. Instead of me telling him how my grandmother kept the Sabbath, or how we kept the Sabbath back in Oklahoma, we went to the rule book. We compared his questions to the Word of God and used that as our standard instead of how we each had been raised. (See 2 Timothy 3:16) My Sabbath school class was not intimidated by his challenging questions, because we did not have an agenda to defend ourselves. We were open to his suggestions, and compared them to the Scriptures to see if those things were so. (See Acts 17:11) When he saw that we treated him with respect, he treated us with respect. I wish I could tell you the end of the story, but the gentleman moved away before too long and I lost contact with him.

The Sabbath school class this gentleman originally joined apparently forgot that the whole purpose of Sabbath School is for evangelism! That’s right. Adventists got the idea of Sabbath School from Sunday-keeping Protestant churches’ Sunday Schools. After the Dark Ages, these Sunday Schools were instituted in addition to the regular worship service as a way to evangelize and teach people about Jesus.  In my church, the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church, I teach what is called a Seekers’ class or new believers’ class, but the purpose of my class is the purpose of every Sabbath School class, which is evangelism.

In evangelism you have to allow people to ask questions. That is how we learn. I have preached sermons during the worship hour, and then gone home, quite satisfied that my points were well made. I only got that notion because in the worship hour nobody asks questions. Later I found out that I was not as convincing as I thought. I also found some people with Scripture that seemed to contradict my point. As we sat down and looked at all the Scripture on that point, there have been times that the people saw that I was right. There have been times we have seen we both were right, and there has been a time or two I have seen I was just plain wrong. That’s okay. Being wrong does not scare me. I have no personal agenda that I have to defend. All I want to do is go by the Bible and teach others to do the same. After all, isn’t that how the Seventh-day Adventist church was formed? By people coming out of other churches and saying, let’s sit down and study the Bible, and just go by what the Bible says?  If that is how the Seventh-day Adventist church was formed, should that not be our mode of Sabbath School evangelism?

Richard Tibbits, in his book Forgive to Live, says studies show Seventh-day Adventists have a harder time forgiving than the rest of the general population. Why is that so? Is it because of our unique beliefs, that we have always been taught to defend our faith and stand our ground, and show the world that we are right, that we get defensive? Even when there is no reason to be defensive? If you stand alone of the Word of God the B-I-B-L-E you don’t have to be defensive. You have no agenda, no dog in the fight so to speak, other than to go by the Bible.

In our Sabbath School classes we should not be afraid to ask questions, even untraditional questions, and just let the Bible answer them. This is what Sabbath School evangelism is all about. While you normally don’t ask questions during the sermon, Sabbath School is the place to be asking them, and questions should be encouraged, not discouraged.

Now I understand that people should be respectful with both their questions and their answers. There have been times I have been teaching a class, and the debate has become a little heated, and so I tell everyone to direct their questions to me and not each other. That way nobody feels they are being personally attacked.

Remember in Sabbath School class we examine ideas. We don’t examine the people. We compare Bible verses with other Bible verses. We do not compare people with other people.

A while back two elderly ladies were in my class. One was extremely short. The other lady would playfully refer to the smaller lady as the “little lady.” I told the lady calling her that, that it was not appropriate to be commenting about people’s bodies in the class. People don’t come to Sabbath School to have their bodies discussed. She told me she meant no harm and continued calling her “the little lady.” I realized I now had to contact her outside of class to let her know the seriousness of the issue. I told her that these comments would not be tolerated in my class, and that if she refused to refrain from such comments she would be asked not to return to my class. A very awkward position for an evangelistic Sabbath School teacher to be in, but I had no choice! Thankfully the lady refrained from her comments and continued in our class.

When Jesus met Nicodemus He treated him with respect and let him ask his questions. When Jesus met the woman at the well He also treated her respectfully and let her ask her questions.  In both cases there was mutual respect. Honest, sincere questions, with no personal attacks.

Around this last election time in the United States, at my Bible study group which meets after school at a nearby Adventist grade school, I was surprised how passionate the youth were about the candidates. One student who supported Obama said something not so nice about Romney and offended another student. I pointed out to the Obama supporter that the other student had been hurt. I asked if the point could be made without having to insult Romney and his supporters. The Obama supporter was grieved when she realized her comment had wounded her friend, and she quickly apologized and rephrased her comment more appropriately. We all decided, as we discussed vital social issues facing the youth, that neither the Democrats, nor the Republicans have all the answers. Furthermore, while both candidates have good points, they also have negative points, and neither one was all right or all wrong. We decided that since we all have good points and weak points, the solution would be for us all to work together combining all our good points.

In Sabbath School, I doubt any of us are all right or all wrong. We all have something to bring to the table. In the mid 1800′s a Seventh-day Baptist lady by the name of Rachael Oaks introduced to a new Bible study group of Adventists the idea of keeping the Seventh-day Sabbath. The first reaction of the group was similar to the reaction my friends had, when they saw me playing dominos a different way than they traditionally played. However, this new group of Advent Bible studiers opened their minds, knowing like my after school Bible study group, that everyone should be treated with respect, and searched the Scriptures to see if what Rachael Oaks said was so. Turns out this Seventh-day Baptist lady did have something to offer the group of Adventists. Think it could happen again? Let’s be respectful of others and use the Bible as our only guide and we will find out.

Just a parting thought as I close. I realize not all Bible studies will end with everyone agreeing. Some disagreements are inconsequential. Other disagreements may actually have consequences concerning church membership, but even that does not bar people from worshiping and studying together, and while there is such a thing as baptismal vows, and rightfully so, there are no Sabbath School class vows nor should there be. The Sabbath School serves a totally different purpose than church and the worship hour. As long as people can be respectful of other people and their ideas, they should not only feel welcomed to attend Sabbath school, but also join in the discussion and be a part of the class.

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Dominos, Sabbath School and Controversy! — 34 Comments

  1. Hi William,

    Thanks for a beautiful post. I love the domino picture, lesson and ideas, and was very touched by all the experiences you shared. Is this post the beginning of the Sabbath School 2013 Etiquette Manual?!!!

    I didn't know this, "Richard Tibbits, in his book Forgive to Live, says studies show Seventh-day Adventists have a harder time forgiving than the rest of the general population. " I find most people in my life cannot say they are sorry about anything and most of the people in my life are not SDA.

    I think not being able to say your are sorry is a big problem. I remember the movie, "Love Story" and in it, the actor says, "Love means never having to say you are sorry". But 1John 1:9 says God is happy to forgive us if we admit we are wrong.

    I have had people in class (I teach the adult class) and they assert that they are completely right. How about this example: in a previous GUIDE, it mentioned the word, "leader". I was told we should never use the word, "leader" because the Bible doesn't use the word leader and we should only use the word servant. I was told the GUIDE was wrong and I was wrong for using the word. How would you handle that person?

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    • Being able to say "sorry" is nowhere near as hard as saying, "I forgive you." I found out what it really meant to say, "I forgive you", many years ago when somebody had metaphorically kicked me in the gut and stomped on my head. I felt deeply hurt and knew the events of the last few months were going to affect me for the rest of my life. It was during the early hours of a sleepless morning that I picked up a book that I had recently purchased and read the short story by Henry Lawson, "Shall we gather at the river."

      Here is how the story ends (You will have to look it up on the Internet for the rest of it - and it will probably not make sense to a lot of you because it is Australian)

      And Peter sang--the first and last time I ever heard him sing. I never had an ear for music; but I never before nor since heard a man's voice that stirred me as Peter M'Laughlan's. We stood like emus, listening to him all through one verse, then we pulled ourselves together.

      Shall we gather at the River,
      Where bright angels' feet have trod--

      The only rivers round there were barren creeks, the best of them only strings of muddy waterholes, and across the ridge, on the sheep-runs, the creeks were dry gutters, with baked banks and beds, and perhaps a mudhole every mile or so, and dead beasts rotting and stinking every few yards.

      Gather with the saints at the River,
      That flows by the throne of God.

      Peter's voice trembled and broke. He caught his breath, and his eyes filled. But he smiled then--he stood smiling at us through his tears.

      The beautiful, the beautiful River,
      That flows by the throne of God.

      Outside I saw women kiss each other who had been at daggers drawn ever since I could remember, and men shake hands silently who had hated each other for years."

      The story of hard-bitten struggling farmers in early Australia and their despair, and the solution touched my heart that morning. I realized that the only hope was to offer forgiveness to those who had wronged me. I wrote this message to those who had wronged me.

      "There is nothing that we can to do change what has now happened, but I forgive you, without condition. It will be a test of our Christianity if we can take the reins of our lives and rebuild the friendship and trust that we once had with one another."

      The problem with saying those words was that I had to live that forgiveness. In the next few years, I came to appreciate what Christ really means when he says, "I forgive you!"

      Thirty years have passed since that experience, people have come and gone out of my life, but the importance of forgiving has never left me. It has been the healing of my soul.

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  2. wow i'm really intrigued by this post its a complete representation of the points i'm making in my book ''that Open minded Individual''. Please permit me to include this piece in my work with complete reference to the writer of course... This write-up is really good.

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  3. Janes,
    I think the best way to handle such a person is to let the person understand that whether you use the word ''leader'' or ''servant'' , it doesnt make any difference as both of them are some-what equivalent to each other. In other words, a leader is a servant to the people. So whether you use the word ''leader'' ( a type of servant and/or someone appointed by the people to meet their needs i.e serve them) or the word ''servant'' (a person who performs duties for others) it does not make any differnce. The two are synonymous in nature.

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    • Ogu Udo,

      Thank you for the suggestion. Sometimes in class there are so many dynamics happening. I understood then what you have shared but I was caught up trying to be positive about the GUIDE. Appreciate you sharing.

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  4. Excellent post. I teach an adult sabbath School class and am constantly trying to emphasize the importance of dialogue and how easily and quickly it can be destroyed by mean and thoughtless remarks.

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  5. Hi William,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, they are really helpful for everyone who lead the SS discussion. I will share this with other SS teachers in class.

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  6. I am from a SDA church in Florida also. A group of men get together on
    Thursday night to read and study the bible. One of the men is of another church. When we discussed "souls" he also has proof texts and has never been convinced that he does not have a seperate "soul" or that the wicked will not burn forever. I am convinced that the Savior is able to judge us in our weaknesses and in our "cultural" understanding of many biblical issues. We need to preach and teach salvation free from our predetermined prejudices. Until we can openly discuss many of these issues we will continue to drive people away.

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    • John, perhaps we need to review how we are saved: We are not saved by our knowledge, but by the grace of Jesus Christ. And the evidence of His saving power is not knowledge, but how we treat others, as He taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

      I have had the privilege of taking part in several women's Bible studies, composed of women from other denominations. I shared, just as they did. And we listened to each other and grew in our relationship with Jesus. When I shared how I saw things from my (Adventist) perspective, they listened thoughtfully, and only God knows the effect of those conversations. (I didn't say it was an Adventist perspective.)

      I heartily recommend joining other Bible study groups (usually men's groups or women's groups) for the purpose of prayerful sharing, not arguing or debating.

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      • I agree with your thought Inge, and in fact we are encouraged to be a witness to other fellowships when possible. I marvel how Paul would always find an audience and uplift Jesus as Savior of the world. While it attracted enemies (and always will while Satan draws breath) it will always draw the honest in heart who are seeking for truth.

        These efforts will need the wisdom and tact of Jesus Himself and if fully His, this grace will be ours through the Gift. A thoughtful question or meaningful scripture can do incredible things with the searching heart when we pave the way with many prayers and offer it in the spirit of Eph 4:2,3.

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  7. To Maurice,

    I meant to include, "Ask forgiveness for wrongs" because people say they are sorry all the time but at the same time aren't admitting a wrong. It takes love to be able to say we are wrong and once we start doing it, it becomes easier.
    Your comment is very touching. Thanks!

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  8. I am blessed by the thoughts God laid on your heart William. It is so vital for us to take Jesus' yoke upon us an learn of Him who was meek and lowly of heart. Only by having this close union will we be His witnesses. Anything short of this will fail.

    The hastening of the Blessed Hope and His glorious return is dependent upon our faith in Him.

    I would like to comment on the idea of the worship hour being bereft of opportunity for questions. When in that situation, I have asked any who wished to ask any questions, offer a comment or simply needing prayer to stay afterwards briefly. So much more is accomplished when striking a hot iron. Yes, this means being short and to the point with a timely end of the hour. Less is more.

    Also, our counsel tells us that the sermon is only the beginning of the work and that visiting the members to be sure the lessons were understood is the real work of the pastor/teacher. More teaching and less preaching has often been urged upon God's servants, after the manner of our perfect Example.

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  9. Do we worship God just because we don't understand the creation? What if we come to understand? Why do we worship Him anyway?

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    • Good question Ioyana,

      Solomon said in Proverbs 25: 2 "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter".

      I often wonder what's the difference between a miracle and a regular thing. Since we can't create from nothing, isn't everything a miracle from our perspective, and if all things are possible for God isn't everything regular for Him?

      Why do we honour our mothers? Simply because they are our mothers. Knowing how babies are made doesn't for me, give me less reason to honour my mother. I still couldn't be here without her. There are other reasons to honour one's mother, but the first is that she is one's mother.

      I know I worship God because He created all things from nothing. Even if I knew how He did it I would still worship Him.

      I think if we come to understand how God created us, things may not seem as miraculous to us, they may seem regular to us and we wouldn't glorify God as we should. Sure, He could show us more about how we are made, but based on Prov. 25:2 I don't foresee God revealing all. But I could be wrong. Lots of people use smart devices and wireless technology but they don't seem to marvel that they work. But I bet the physicists who know much more about how they work, and also know that they don't know much about how they work, continue to marvel at what they do know!

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    • Loyana, we worship God out of reverence and love for all His blessings and mercy towards us. We worship because we are commanded in His Word to do so. God is not eager for recognition or glory, but realizes that sinners are prone to worship self and in our self-worship will oppress all others. The command to worship God brings us to the knowledge of our true fallen condition and leads us to accept His offer of forgiveness and restoration into His Divine image, which we were created in at the beginning and which He will accomplish in us through faith.

      Actually, the command to worship is a call to be Holy. Psalm 29:2 & 96:9 tell us to "worship the Lord, in the beauty of holiness". True worship is revealed in holiness, or in the likeness of God. He tells us "Be ye holy, for I am holy", and He gives no command that cannot be fulfilled in us by His power.

      Think about this; you can tell the object of someone's worship by who they imitate. Many will wear the jersey of their favorite sports star, post their pictures on their walls, memorize all their stats and try to mimic their ways, including the brand of shoes they wear. Holiness is the result of wanting to mimic the goodness of God and will be seen in serving others. Worship is not limited to a formal service and in fact can be absent in the very act of formal "worship". True worship is seen in every act of one's life if it is present at all.

      We will never fully understand creation but will study it's marvels through all ages to come. What better reason to worship than for the reason that He gives us Life and everything needed to sustain it? He also has given us the choice of who we will worship.

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      • Robert I think I understand and can accept to a great degree what you are saying by, "True worship is revealed in holiness, or in the likeness of God. He tells us “Be ye holy, for I am holy”, and He gives no command that cannot be fulfilled in us by His power."

        The two texts below give most Christians a lot of trouble because they are often misunderstood and perhaps should be further explained as I am hopefully attempting to do here:

        Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Pet. 1:16 KJV)
        Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48 NKJ)

        While both of these texts can involve justification I think as you do that the thought is more along the lines of being God-like in a literal sense rather than declaration of righteousness. Therefore, in my opinion both of these are talking about sanctification which is a strange term because it can be both a completed action and an ongoing process at the same time.

        The word "holy" is translated from the Greek, "hagios" that comes from "hagos" which literally translated means "an awful thing" in the sense of being admirable or spectacular rather than scary. Hagios is also translated in the New Testament as "saints" in 1 Cor 6:2; 2 Cor 13:1, etc. which is in line with Paul's statement that the Corinthian church was sanctified. "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (1 Cor. 1:2 NKJV). In fact the word "sanctified" in this verse is translated from hagiazo, another word that is related to hagos and simply means to be separate and dedicated to God which is what a saint is.

        God is Holy because He is absolutely unique in the universe - so much so that no one will ever be like Him either physically or in any other way which brings us to the business of perfection. We can be perfect in our sphere of fallen finite beings as God is in His sphere of perfect inexhaustible infinity. We will never be equal to Him but we can choose to be like Him in character (at least as much as we can understand what righteousness is).

        What we need to see is that living in a world of sin this side of Heaven carries with it some very real limitations. That is why sanctification is a work of a lifetime to which there is no end. Paul realized that fact when he said, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on" (Phil. 3:12 NKJV). To him it was a warfare where, "I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to 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" (Rom. 7:21-23 NKJV). John also expressed something similar, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn. 1:8 NKJV). In other words we are never absolutely sinless and perfect because, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells" (Rom. 7:18 NKJV) and that, "we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6 NKJV).

        So yes the goal is perfection but we are in the process of getting there by the grace and power of God. That is what is important; that we are headed in the right direction regardless of where we currently are on the path.

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        • You raise some excellent points Tyler, and our understanding of these things must be held in the light of all God has revealed to us. The Gospel is "the power of God unto salvation", not our power. We have none.

          When John wrote that anyone saying they were without sin was a liar, he was addressing those who felt they had no need for repenting. Remember John also said "I write you that you sin not, but IF anyone sins...". Here he hints to the fact that victory IS possible. Jesus' life is the proof.

          Paul, with his struggles outlined in Romans 7 was speaking of his experience when he discovered the law and therefore discovered sin in his life which was exposed by that law. He found no power within himself as he clearly states among all those "I"s; "that which I would, I do not and that which I would not, that I do!" See the struggle here? "I" has no power, which is the point Paul was making after have first revealed in Romans 1:16 that the Gospel is "the power of GOD". Romans 8 is where he reveals this power through the Spirit, working in those who no longer live by the flesh, or their own power. Notice Paul's conclusion in Romans 7:24-8:2. This is further explained in Romans 12:1,2, where the way to access this power is revealed in complete self surrender and God's power to transform us.

          But perhaps the greatest promise to be found for those seeking the holiness of character found in Christ is found in Jude 24: "Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and present you FAULTLESS before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy..."

          But...we must realize that not one will feel faultless, and the constant search for every hidden fault will be part of our experience until that change in the "twinkling of an eye".

          We must have the Romans 8 experience of faith to be free of the Romans 7 trap of legalism. Jesus' often spoken command to "go and sin no more" is a promise, and yes, it's a life-long advancement that never ends in this life.

          I would add to all this a quote from Early Writings, pg 71, which sent me to the Bible years ago to find the answers: "I saw that none could share the “refreshing”(Latter rain) unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action. We should, therefore, be drawing nearer and nearer to the Lord and be earnestly seeking that preparation necessary to enable us to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. Let all remember that God is holy and that none but holy beings can ever dwell in His presence."

          I would recommend reading the whole page at least, and also "The Shaking" beginning on page 269.

          One more example: Peter, walking on the stormy sea. By himself, he could only sink, but close to Jesus while relying fully upon Him who is able "to keep you from falling", he walked. The sea was not calmed until they reached the ship. What does this teach us about "the power of GOD unto salvation..."?!! It's a promise that can be realized in this life of stormy temptations and trials! But like Paul, we will always see the mark still before us and must continue to press toward it through "the power of God...to everyone that believes".

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        • Robert, I am going to do something here that is generally frowned upon on this website. Since you direct us to read a chapter in Early Writings which is just that, what Ellen said very early in her ministry as a prophet, I am here quoting several paragraphs from Ellen White written later on in her life for even prophets mature spiritually. I do this because we need to understand what sanctification consists of and she puts it in a rather concise way, better, in fact, than I can. The quote comes from the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy.

          The Scriptures plainly show that the work of sanctification is progressive. When in conversion the sinner finds peace with God through the blood of the atonement, the Christian life has but just begun. Now he is to "go on unto perfection;" to grow up "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Says the apostle Paul: "This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13, 14. And Peter sets before us the steps by which Bible sanctification is to be attained: "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. . . . If ye do these things, ye shall never fall." 2 Peter 1:5-10.
          Those who experience the sanctification of the Bible will manifest a spirit of humility. Like Moses, they have had a view of the awful majesty of holiness, and they see their own unworthiness in contrast with the purity and exalted perfection of the Infinite One.
          The prophet Daniel was an example of true sanctification. His long life was filled up with noble service for his Master. He was a man "greatly beloved" (Daniel 10:11) of Heaven. Yet instead of claiming to be pure and holy, this honored prophet identified himself with the really sinful of Israel as he pleaded before God in behalf of his people: "We do not present our supplications before Thee for our righteousness, but for Thy great mercies." "We have sinned, we have done wickedly." He declares: "I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people." And when at a later time the Son of God appeared, to give him instruction, Daniel says: "My comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength." Daniel 9:18, 15, 20; 10:8.
          When Job heard the voice of the Lord out of the whirlwind, he exclaimed: "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:6. It was when Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord, and heard the cherubim crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts," that he cried out, "Woe is me! for I am undone." Isaiah 6:3, 5. Paul, after he was caught up into the third heaven and heard things which it was not possible for a man to utter, speaks of himself as "less than the least of all saints." 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, margin; Ephesians 3:8. It was the beloved John, who leaned on Jesus' breast and beheld His glory, that fell as one dead before the feet of the angel. Revelation 1:17.
          There can be no self-exaltation, no boastful claim to freedom from sin, on the part of those who walk in the shadow of Calvary's cross. They feel that it was their sin which caused the agony that broke the heart of the Son of God, and this thought will lead them to self-abasement. Those who live nearest to Jesus discern most clearly the frailty and sinfulness of humanity, and their only hope is in the merit of a crucified and risen Saviour. {GC 470.1 - 471.2} (EGW estate website not working correctly)

          The last sentence is a declaration that their only hope was in justification while they were involved in sanctification.

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        • Thank you, Robert, for your thoughtful comment.

          I do believe that when John wrote that anyone saying they were without sin was an unconditional statement. I believe that as soon as anyone claims to be without sin, that person demonstrates a sinful focus.

          I appreciate your remark that "we must have the Romans 8 experience of faith to be free from the Romans 7 trap of legalism."

          I have read/heard many arguments about whether Paul was referring to his unconverted state in Romans 7 or his converted state. But I think that those questions/arguments are missing the point. An unconverted man doed not "delight in the law of God according to the inward man." (Ro 7:22) But a converted man can easily fall into the trap of legalism - of focusing on eradicating sin in the life (an inward sort of focus) rather than focusing on Christ and His grace.

          So I believe you are right that the difference between Romans 7:7-24 and Ro 7:25-8:17 is the difference between a law focus and a grace focus.

          I believe that a grace focus will set us free from a self-perfecting focus, because that focus is still a focus on self. A grace focus, by contrast, is a focus on Christ, His love and His commission to us. A grace-focused person will be too busy to share Jesus with those near and far to spend a lot of time focusing on self.

          That is not to say that occasional self-examination is a bad thing, but it should not be a continuing focus -- the way I see it.

          Instead grace-focused Christians will trust Christ with finishing the work He has begun when they in simple faith go ahead and do what He commands. (Phil 1:6)

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        • To me Rom 7 is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of Paul's writings to the extent that even the greatest of scholars have a lot of problems with the section and there seems to be no definitive solution to the problems the text causes. To sharpen our understanding of the extent of the problems on this highly debated part of Paul's writings I quote from a text on Greek grammar.

          3) Romans 7:14-24
          Throughout this section of Romans, Paul speaks in the first person sin¬gular in the present tense. For example, in 7:15 he declares, “For that which I am doing I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (ὃ γὰρ κατερ¬γάζομαι οὐ γινώσκω• οὐ γὰρ ὅ θέλω τοῦτο πράσσω, ἀλλ ᾽ ὃ μισῶ τοῦτο ποιῶ). Some would see the presents here as dramatic or historical presents. But since Paul is speaking in the first person, this label is not at all likely. In other words, one cannot appeal to the idiom of the historical present for support of the view that Paul is referring to his past, non-Christian life in this text. If one wants to hold the view that Paul is either not describing himself in this text, or else he is speaking corporately (so as to include himself only in a general way), syntax is not the route to get there. (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel B. Wallace, p 531)

          In the footnote referenced to at the end of the paragraph the author goes on to add his personal struggles with these texts.

          I have struggled with this text for many years (in more ways than one!), and have held to three different views. My present view is that the apostle is speaking as universal man and is describing the experience of anyone who attempts to please God by submitting the flesh to the law. By application, this could be true of an unbeliever or a believer. The present tenses, then, would be gnomic, not historical, for they refer to anyone and describe something that is universally true. This view sees no shift in the person in the “I” of vv 7-13 and 14-25 (which is a basic problem for other views) and is able to handle vv 9, 14 and 25 under one umbrella. The biggest problem for it is that “I” then is figurative, not literal. Further, the interplay between syntax and rhetorical language is a conundrum that deserves greater exploration.

          As I consider the context of Rom 7 I can see why his current view is what it is, that Paul probably was thinking of the human condition in general (See Steps to Christ, Chap 2, "The Sinners need of Christ"). Paul's main point in Romans seems to be that there is no other solution to the sin problem other than a free gift from God. That there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves because our natures are all corrupted with a bent toward sin. I think Paul sums that point up in Rom 7: 24-25. God initiates the salvation process because we can't and then if we choose to follow Him we will not be carnally minded but thinking according to the Spirit.

          At the Second Advent our propensity to sin (carnal nature) will be eradicated but until then we will have choices to make and victories to win concerning those choices and as soon as one is conquered another one pops up. To me that is why sanctification is a lifelong process in this sinful world. It is something we can't avoid because our natures are at war with the spirit. Ellen White sums up the matter very well in this way:

          So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained. Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience. {Acts of the Apostles 560.3}

          In my view we all struggle with temptation to some degree and the person who has no struggles at all I tend to question whether he or she is really living a Christian life because, "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12 NKJV) and I don't think that should be confined only to persecution from other humans. Even Jesus had a battle in Gethsemane. So I see Paul establishing another reason in Romans 7 why Christ is the only way out, even if past sins are taken care of we still can't be righteous because our natures are at odds with the requirement of the law.

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        • Robert, not to be too contentious here, if we are justified by grace through faith we are considered perfect already. That is because the requirement to be spotless and without sin was taken care of on the cross. That is why, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has 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 did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit"
          (Rom. 8:1-5 NKJV). This is simply a summation of what Paul said in the previous chapter that his mind was set on the things of Christ who became sin for us and therefore was living according to the Spirit.

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  10. "instead of just teaching them how to be like Jesus" this statement is so profound. We tend to believe that going around teaching our fundamental beliefs is going to lead people to Christ. Really enjoyed this post and being of Jamaican descent I relate to the domino controversy, since I play both ways.

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    • Horace, my comment "Instead of just teaching them how to be like Jesus" was in contrast to teaching them our own country's cultural traditions, not opposed to the fundamental beliefs. However, I agree with the way you took it as well. We do want to teach Jesus above all things. All of our beliefs should be centered in Jesus and the cross. The purpose of our fundamental beliefs should be to help people understand the love of Jesus and the cross. That is the purpose of the In Light of The Cross Bible study Guides I designed. http://williamdearnhardt.com/in-light-of-the-cross-bible-study-guides/

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  11. This is another post to re-read and re-read. I am so grateful that God gives people like William words of wisdom to share with us. These posts are so encouraging. Thanks again!

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  12. Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments. I am glad to see we all want to go by the Bible and the Bible only in taking the gospel into all the world! May God bless us all in our mission.

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  13. What a great analogy! Funny how the style of dominoes you chose to associate with God's way was yours, suggesting that "God is too big for a narrow line."

    I actually read the story and thought that keeping to a narrow line is actually God's way and is much more difficult than going in all directions at the same time.

    But I get your point. It is well taken and it will do us all well to remember your counsel.

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  14. Tyler and Inge, I can find no way to reply to your posts directly, but find we are all in agreement. Somehow my post gives you another idea. Let me expand further...

    Tyler, We are in perfect agreement. None of what I quoted allows for boasting but rather quite the opposite. Only as we are found meek and lowly of heart, can any holiness be witnessed by others in our lives. Anything else is the absence of true holiness. Look in the wonderful scriptures you quoted, such as this from Peter; "...If ye do these things, ye shall never fall."

    Jesus cannot come until His people reflect Him fully. Paul tells us that the church is to be "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing", but in this spotless condition they will only see what they know too well is the natural condition of their heart: defiled and corrupt. This is the reason for the fight of faith. We will never be able to attain to holiness without this constant fight, which is with self. That's why I recommended EW pg 269, which illustrates this vital experience that leads to obtaining the victory by faith. We will never feel we have achieved anything while we remain in this world. That's why it is a fight of faith, which will never cease until Jesus comes. Holiness means never removing the armor and never laying down the sword. There are no "white robes" worn in this life, but our present experience is found in wearing the armor.

    Also, I believe what was revealed to the Messenger in her early experience was fully the truth, and the greater details in her later messages prove it. But more than this, I have found confirmation in scripture.

    Inge, John's statement applies to all on this earth, but it was directed to those who felt no need, those tempted to feel "rich, increased with goods and needing nothing". They that feel whole do not seek the services of a physician, but in this life none are whole, just some who "feel" they are. In pity and compassion, John addresses these deceived souls specifically.

    As for Paul, he clearly defines the experience of legalism in Romans 7 doesn't he? Just notice all the "I"s. Peter loved Jesus and desired holiness, but while in that condition Jesus said "after you are converted...". We can love goodness and all of us can recognize it when treated well, but we can still be unconverted. It is when we realize our need and our helplessness and turn fully to our Savior for help that we can experience true conversion. Conviction is not conversion, and Paul is clearly convicted in Romans 7. He was convicted of the goodness of the law and the badness of himself when compared to it, and thus the struggle which only faith can free us from. It's the goodness of God that leads to repentance when we see the grace offered in the Gospel through faith. That is what he found in Christ who then could deliver him from the "body of this death". The experience in Romans 8 is the result of faith and leads to conversion.

    As for the focus on holiness, the bible holds this forth as a most beautiful promise, not a chore or task or even our main focus. It's a gift, not a wage, and as such it is received and not earned. Our focus is abiding in Christ and HIS holiness, not our holiness. This alone will produce the fruit. I think it's what you refer to as “grace-focus”. (?) Our “holiness” is filthy rags.

    There is no such thing as "self-perfecting", and perhaps you were making that point. This is impossible, even in a world without sin, much less our world.

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    • Come to think of it, I believe we will be growing into the character of God in eternity. But there will ever be new heights of love to understand and to grow into ...

      Our only hope is "in Christ." (Ro 6:11; Ro 8:1-3) When we surrender ourselves to Him and allow Him to be Lord of our lives the best we know (recognizing that we will have blind spots), then He can complete the "good work" that He has begun in us. (Phil 1:6 NKJV) Thus I believe that the secret of holiness is not a matter of striving for perfection, but the striving to continually look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. (Heb 12:2) Ellen White recognizes this when she writes in the quote you shared that "We should, therefore, be drawing nearer and nearer to the Lord." (Early Writings, p. 71)

      As I said earlier, I appreciate your clarification that Ro 7:7-24 documents a works/law orientation while Ro 7:25-8:17 and beyond documents a grace orientation.

      I think William did a good job of listing some symptoms of a works orientation versus a gospel orientation in "Not I But Christ" OR "Me Plus Christ." But there are many more we could potentially add, such as:

      A works orientation focuses on perfecting our lives (with the help of God).
      A gospel orientation focuses on the perfection of Christ and His love, and by beholding the sinner's character is changed into His character of love. (2 Cor 3:18)

      A works orientation results in comparing ourselves with others who have more faults or different faults in their lives than we have. (Generally this is demonstrated by a critical spirit.)
      A gospel orientation sees the faultless character of Christ, and self looks utterly sinful in comparison, causing us to cast our helpless souls on Him. Gratitude for His boundless love fills the heart with love that spills over as love of other sinners.

      You could probably add a few more examples. :)

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      • Well stated Inge. I agree completely that we will spend eternity "growing in grace and in a knowledge of the Lord...", and we will have the privilege of literally sitting at His feet and talking face to face. I can't imagine the joy that will be ours soon.

        There is no possibility of the finite ever fully understanding the Infinite, but the joy of living in His presence will increase through the ceaseless ages.

        Yes, "...drawing nearer and nearer to the Lord" is our greatest need and privilege in this present life, and is the source of all growth in wisdom and favor with God and man.

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  15. Tyler, I can't see how to post as a direct reply to your thoughts, so I will do so here...

    You opened with a statement concerning "justification". I am speaking of the resulting sanctification which is the subject of the thought given from Early Writings, pg 71, which refers to words and actions. In writing to Titus, Paul is not referring to justification when he relates the truth that the grace of God leads us to deny "ungodliness and worldly lust, living soberly, righteously and Godly in this present world". This agrees with his thoughts to the Thessalonians that God's will is our "sanctification". It's clear that sin cannot exist in the lives of those who will be translated without death.

    Find every scripture you can concerning the remnant who will be sealed as the 144,000 and the ideal becomes clear. God is looking for a holy people. No...they will not see themselves as holy, but their lives will be living examples of the "power of God unto salvation unto everyone who believes". This is a matter of faith, not works, but it results in having the character of Jesus fully reproduced in the life. This is more than pardon from sin, it is power over sin.

    Zechariah shows Joshua having the filthy robe removed and a clean robe placed upon him in it's stead. Revelation 19:10 tells us the meaning of this robe. While it signifies justification, it results in sanctification. People cannot observe justification, but they cannot help but see results in the sanctified life. What if the demoniacs had only been justified? No one would have seen anything different, but the dramatic outward change is what glorifies God. Matt 5:16

    I will never be able to look into a mirror and be pleased with what I observe while in this life, but God's standard will be fully realized in His people before they can be sealed. He will see it while we continue to fight by faith against the flesh, refusing to yield to satan's constant temptations. This is the victory we need to overcome this world, and it is through faith alone. "It is God who girds me with strength and makes my way perfect". Ps 18:32. How can we deny Him of His promise through unbelief any longer? We only limit the holy One of Israel if we fail to receive His offered gift. Jesus' example shows us how to live that life and invites us to yoke up with Him, finding rest for our souls. But we only need to look at Gethsemane to realize the struggle that will be ours until Jesus descends from heaven with a shout. Why do you think Jesus would often pray through the night? We too have such a great battle on our hands don't we? But God's grace is promised.

    To quote: "The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven." —The Review and Herald, June 4, 1895

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