*March 22 - 28
The New-Covenant Life
MEMORY TEXT: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10, RSV).
THIS QUARTER HAS BEEN A STUDY ON THE COVENANT, which (to pare it down to its simplest, purest form) is, basically, God saying, This is how I will save you from sin, period.
Though the outcome, the grand finale of the covenant promise, is, of course, eternal life in a world made new, we do not have to wait for it to enjoy the covenant blessings today. The Lord cares about our lives now; He wants the best for us now. The covenant is not some deal where you do this and this and this and then, a long way off, you will get your reward. The rewards, the giftsthey are blessings that those who by faith enter into the covenant relation can enjoy here and now.
This week's lesson, the final in our series on the covenant, looks at some of these immediate blessings, some of the promises that come from God's grace shed into our hearts because, having heard Him knock, we have opened the door. Of course, there are more blessings than what we can touch on this week. But it is just a start, a start of something that will, indeed, never end.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: Why should we feel joy? On what basis can we claim that promise? What is it about the covenant that should free us from the burden of guilt? What does it mean to have a new heart?
*Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 29.
Sunday March 23
"And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4).
Look at what John wrote here. In a few simple words, he expresses what should be one of the great advantages we, as covenant people, haveand that is the promise of joy.
As Christians, we are often told not to go by feeling, that faith is not feeling, and that we need to get beyond our feelings, all of which is true. But at the same time, we would not be human beings if we were not creatures of feelings, emotions, and moods. We cannot deny our feelings; what we need to do is understand them, give them their proper role, and, as much as possible, keep them under control. But to deny them is to deny what it means to be human (we might as well tell a circle not to be round). Indeed, as this verse says, not only should we have feelings (in this case joy) but they should be full. It hardly sounds as if feelings are to be denied, does it?
Read the context of the above verse, starting at the beginning of the chapter. What was John writing to the early Christians that he hoped would make their joy full? And why should it give them joy?
John was one of the original Twelve. He was there, almost from the start of Christ's three-and-a-half-year ministry, a witness to some of the most amazing things of Jesus (he was there at the Cross, at Gethsemane, and at the Transfiguration, as well). Thus, as an eyewitness, he was certainly well-qualified to talk about this subject.
Yet, notice, too, that the emphasis is not on himself; it is on what Jesus had done for the disciples so they can now have fellowship not only with each other but with God Himself. Jesus has opened the way for us to enter into this close relationship with the Lord; and, one result of this fellowshipthis relationshipis joy. John wants them to know that what they have heard about Jesus is true (he saw, touched, felt, and heard Him), and thus they, too, can enter into a joyful relationship with their heavenly Father, who loves them and gave Himself through His Son for them.
|In a certain sense, John is giving his own personal testimony. What is your testimony regarding your relationship with Jesus? What could you say that could help increase someone's joy in the Lord, as John sought to do here?|
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1).
A young woman had been brutally murdered, her killer unknown. The police, setting a trap, placed a hidden microphone in her grave. One evening, many months after her death, a young man approached the grave and, kneeling and weeping, begged the woman for forgiveness. The police, of course, monitoring his words, nabbed him for the crime.
What drove the man to the grave? It was guilt, what else?
Of course, none of us (we hope) has ever done anything as bad as what that young man did. We all are guilty, we all have done things we are ashamed of, things we wish we could undo but cannot.
Thanks to Jesus and the blood of the new covenant, none of us has to live under the stigma of guilt. According to the text for today, there is no condemnation against us. The ultimate Judge counts us as not guilty, counts us as if we have not done the things we feel guilty about.
How do these verses help us understand the text for today? John 5:24; Rom. 3:24, 25; 2 Cor. 5:21.
One of the great promises of living in a covenant relationship with the Lord is that we no longer have to live under the burden of guilt. Because of the blood of the covenant, wewho choose to enter into that covenant relationship with God, who choose to abide by the conditions of faith, repentance, and obediencecan have the burden of guilt lifted. When Satan seeks to whisper in our ears that we are evil, that we are bad, that we are too sinful to be accepted by God, we can do what Jesus did when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness: We can quote Scripture, and one of the best of all verses to quote is Romans 8:1. This does not mean denying the reality of sin in our lives; it means, instead, because of the covenant relationship we have with the Lord, we no longer live under the condemnation of that sin. Jesus paid the penalty for us, and He now stands in the presence of the Father pleading His own blood on our behalf, presenting His own righteousness instead of our sins.
|What difference does it make in your life that the Lord has forgiven you for whatever sins you might have committed? How does that reality help you in dealing with others who have sinned against you? How should it impact the way you deal with those people?|
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19).
As earlier lessons this quarter showed, the new covenant is one in which the Lord puts the law in our hearts (Jer. 31:31-33). Not only is the law there, but according to the texts for today, Christ is, as well, which, of course, makes good sense, for Christ and His law are so closely connected. Thus, with Christ's law in our hearts, and with Christ dwelling there, too (the Greek word translated in the above text dwell means also "to settle in," giving the idea of permanency), we come to another one of the great covenant benefitsa new heart.
Why do we need a new heart? What changes will be manifested in those who have a new heart?
Read again the text for today. Notice that Paul stresses the element of love, saying that we must be "rooted and grounded" in it. These words imply stability, firmness, and permanency in the foundation of love. Our faith means nothing if it is not rooted in love for God and love for others (Matt. 22:37-39; 1 Corinthians 13). This love does not come in a vacuum. On the contrary, it comes because we get a glimpse of God's love for us (a love that "passeth understanding") as manifested through Jesus. As a result, our lives are changed, our hearts are changed, and we become new people with new thoughts, new desires, and new goals. It is our reaction to God's love for us that changes our hearts and instills love for others. Perhaps this is what Paul means, at least partially, when he talks about us being filled with "the fullness of God."
Read 1 John 4:16. How does this text relate to what Paul has written in Ephesians 3:17-19?
|Look at texts we have studied today. What can you do that will allow the promises of these texts to be fulfilled in you" Are there things you need to change, things that are perhaps hampering you from experiencing the "fullness of God" (Eph 3:19)? Make a list of what changes you need to make in your life. Make one for yourself and, if you are comfortable, make one that you could share with the class. How can you help one another make necessary changes?|
"'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die' "(John 11:25, 26, NIV).
There are two dimensions to eternal life. The present dimension brings to the believer an experience of the abundant life now (John 10:10), which includes the many promises we have been given for our lives now.
The future dimension is, of course, eternal lifethe promise of the resurrection of the body (John 5:28, 29; 6:39). Though still in the future, that is the one event that makes everything else worth it, the one event that caps all our hopes as Christians.
Study the verse for today. What is Jesus saying here? Where is eternal life found? How do we understand His words that those who live and believe in Him, even if they die, will never die? (See Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8.)
Of course, we all die, but according to Jesus, this death is only a sleep, a temporary hiatus thatfor those who believe in Himwill end in the resurrection of life. When Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise immortal, and the living followers of Christ will, in the twinkling of an eye, be changed into immortality. Both the dead and the living who are Christ's will possess the same kind of resurrection body. Immortality begins at that time for God's people.
What a great joy to know now that our end is not in the grave but that there is no end, that we will have a new life that lasts forever.
"Christ became one flesh with us, in order that we might become one spirit with Him. It is by virtue of this union that we are to come forth from the grave,not merely as a manifestation of the power of Christ, but because, through faith, His life has become ours. Those who see Christ in His true character, and receive Him into the heart, have everlasting life. It is through the Spirit that Christ dwells in us; and the Spirit of God, received into the heart by faith, is the beginning of the life eternal."Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 388.
|In what ways can we now enjoy the benefits of eternal life? In other words, what does this promise do for us now? Write down some of the benefits this promise of eternal life gives to you, personally, in your day-to-day life. How could you take this hope and promise and share it with someone who is struggling, perhaps with the death of a loved one?|
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:19, 20).
All over the world, people often struggle with what South African writer Laurens Van Der Post called "the burden of meaninglessness." People find themselves with the gift of life, yet they do not know what to do with it, do not know what the purpose of this gift is, and don't know how to use it. It is like giving someone a library filled with rare books, only to have the person not read the books but use them to build fires. What a terrible waste of something so precious!
For the new-covenant Christian, however, that problem is not one they need to struggle with. On the contrary. Those who know (and having personally experienced) the wonderful news of a crucified and risen Savior, who died for the sins of every human being everywhere that they all might have eternal life, know joy. Considering the unequivocal call in Matthew 28:19, 20, the believer certainly has a mission and purpose in life, and that is to spread to the world the wonderful truth he or she has personally experienced in Christ Jesus. What a privilege! Most anything else we do in this world will end when this world does. But spreading the gospel to others is a work that will make an imprint on eternity. Talk about a sense of mission and purpose!
Break down the verses for today in their various elements. What are the specific things Jesus is telling us to do, and what is involved in each one? What promise do we have that should give us the faith and courage to do what Christ commands?
As new-covenant Christians, we have been given a clear mandate by the Lord Himself. Whoever we are, whatever our station in life, whatever our limits, we can all play a role. Have you been doing anything? Can you do more? What can your class do, together, to have a greater role in this work?
FURTHER STUDY: Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 635645; Steps to Christ, pp. 115126.
The holy Son of God has no sins or griefs of His own to bear: He was bearing the griefs of others; for on Him was laid the iniquity of us all. Through divine sympathy He connects Himself with man, and as the representative of the race He submits to be treated as a transgressor. He looks into the abyss of woe opened for us by our sins, and proposes to bridge the gulf of man's separation from God." Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7A, p. 462.
"Come, my brother, come just as you are, sinful and polluted. Lay your burden of guilt on Jesus, and by faith claim His merits. Come now, while mercy lingers; come with confession, come with contrition of soul, and God will abundantly pardon. Do not dare to slight another opportunity. Listen to the voice of mercy that now pleads with you to arise from the dead that Christ may give you light. Every moment now seems to connect itself directly with the destinies of the unseen world. Then let not your pride and unbelief lead you to still further reject offered mercy. If you do you will be left to lament at the last: 'The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.' "Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 353.
SUMMARY: The covenant is not just some deep theological concept; instead, it defines the parameters of our saving relationship with Christ, a relationship that reaps us wonderful benefits now and at His return.
J. H. Zachary
In India some thieves broke into a home and demanded that the elderly woman who lived there give them her jewelry and money. When the woman resisted, the robbers killed her. Then they noticed Rathi, the dead woman's house girl, in the house. She had no money, so they beat her and locked her in a room.
Police investigated the murder and learned that Rathi had been in the house that day. They arrested her, and she was tried. In spite of a lack of evidence, the judge found Rathi guilty of the woman's death and sentenced her to prison.
Locked in her jail cell, Rathi prayed to her family's and her village gods. "Please help me," she begged. "You know I did not kill that woman." But years passed without any answer to her countless prayers. Rathi became discouraged. It seemed that no one would help her.
Then two lay Bible workers began working in Rathi's home village. One day as they visited from home to home, they heard the sad story of Rathi. The next day they went to the jail to visit her.
They shared with Rathi the story of Jesus. They told her how Christ had spent his life helping others. Rathi was amazed that God Himself, who could heal the sick and still the forces of nature, would take time to touch people's lives. "Do you think that your Jesus can help me?" she asked hopefully. "I did nothing to deserve being here in jail."
The two lay workers told her that Jesus answers prayer and then offered an earnest prayer that Rathi would be released. "Thank you for visiting me," she said as they departed.
The next day Rathi was set free. She learned that the police had captured a gang of thieves who had confessed to killing Rathi's employer. Rathi returned home convinced that God had stepped down into her life and answered her visitors' prayer. "For more than three years I prayed to the idols, and nothing happened," she told people. "But after just one prayer to Jesus, I was set free the next day."
Rathi's happy family invited the two lay workers to come to their home to tell them more about Jesus. Bible studies were started, and Rathi's entire family has been baptized. Rathi volunteered to become a Bible worker and has won several families to the Lord. Because the local mission is facing serious financial problems, they can give Rathi only 200 rupees (about $4.45) a month. Her entire village is now receptive to the message of Jesus, who listens to their prayers and answers them.
J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour.
Join the SSNET moderated email discussion group. You are also warmly invited to join a group discussion of this lesson Sabbath morning with your local Seventh-day Adventist congregation.
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