Who is God (of the Old Testament)?

Michael: Today will be the first part of a two-part discussion on the character of God in the Old Testament. I will be heavily relying on and quoting from the book The Suffering of God by Terence Fretheim. 

We often get hung up on the question: Do you believe in God? And forget about the other, perhaps more important question, what kind of God do you believe in?

Because this question is not often asked, we fail to realize that our understanding of who God is is very different from each other. I’m confident that two people sitting in the same pew of the same church understand and relate to God in completely different ways. It could be so different that they may be in fact worshipping two different Gods. 

From The Suffering of God:

All too often the sole focus of the ministry of the church has been on whether one believes in God. Insufficient attention has been given to the kind of God one believes, often with disastrous results. To realize the importance of this, witness any number of atrocities, from the Inquisition to Jonestown, committed in the name of God by those who believe in God. Moreover, to define God solely or primarily in terms of activity can get one into comparable difficulties. The God of Jonestown was a creator and redeemer God who had a clear plan and purpose, moving the people toward a specific goal. The question of the kind of God in whom one believes is not only important, it is crucial. It is a question of images. Metaphors matter.

Have you ever considered this question? Who is the God that you believe in? Where do the images that have formed your belief come from? Could your image of God be wrong? How can you verify the true images of God from idolatrous ones?

As Christians, the bible serves as the source for us to know God. But the bible is a large book that is open to various interpretations. Most of us, including nonbelievers, know who God is through the commonly held and widely accepted understanding of God that the church/theologians has put forth.  But are we really sure that this is the correct identity of God? The God I would take pride in my faith for? Is this the type of God that fulfills my spiritual life? Is this the God of Grace?

Consider this description from Fretheim:

“The preaching and teaching of the church have commonly been so focused on a certain portrait of Jesus that many of the biblical images for God have been neglected, and stereotypical images have been allowed to stand unchallenged. It is almost as if faith in Jesus were thought to take care of the picture of God automatically; thus, one need pay no special heed to it. But this assumption has commonly created inner tensions for the faithful, perhaps even intolerable tensions; for the picture of Jesus presented often stands at odds with the commonly accepted picture of God. Attributes such as love, compassion, and mercy, accompanied by acts of healing, forgiving, and redeeming, tend to become narrowly associated with Jesus, while the less palatable attributes and actions of holiness, wrath, power, and justice are ascribed only to God. What tends to fill the mind is God as Giver of the Law and Judge of all the earth. If God is not the cause of all the ills in the world, God is still seen as the one who is to blame for not really doing anything about them. It is the goodness of God that is ignored, not the goodness of Jesus. One can almost hear someone say: “if only Jesus were here, he would do something about all our troubles!”. People often seem to have a view which suggests that Jesus is a friend and God is an enemy. An understanding of the atonement gets so twisted that Jesus is seen as the one who came to save us from God.” 

Does this sound a bit horrific to you? Perhaps this is because that is how you were taught to view God and Jesus and the relationship between them. Of course, it was never laid out in this direct way or expressed in these terms, but the conclusion of many of the church’s teachings usually lead to this. What many believers don’t realize is that even atheists tend to hold the same images of God-perhaps part of the reason they are atheists. I certainly have struggled with this and to me, just being aware of this contradiction between how we think of Jesus and God is a helpful starting point to correct the image of God in the OT.

In the OT, God says:

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6 ESV)

In the NT, Jesus says in the Gospel of John: “I and the Father are one” (10:30); “The word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me” (14:24); “All that the Father has is mine” (16:15); and “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). 

Do we take these statements by God and Jesus seriously enough? If we do, if Jesus and God are truly one and the same, then we have to come to a conclusion that one of the images of God or Jesus is false. But which one is it? Is the image of God of the OT is the correct one, or is it the one we have in Jesus in the NT? 

If you ask someone what the attributes of God are, they will likely answer that God is omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful). These are, to my understanding, philosophical attributes to God based on our own limited knowledge and power. When we combine those with the animated descriptions of God in the OT along with metaphors such as the court of law, we arrive at a picture of a God that primarily functions as a judge presiding over all creation. 

When we carry this image of God with us, it shapes our religious attitudes and sensitivities adversely and cuts us off from experiencing God in a different way. It is not that this understanding of God is wrong, but it is limited and there is so much more to be added to it. 

The rich language of the OT describes a God that is living, personal, but also intimately involved in the world.  Many participants in this class have described that we need to cultivate a relationship with God. “What if the word “relationship” were taken with complete seriousness? What does it take for a relationship to be real? What does it mean for a relationship to have integrity? What does it mean for God to be faithful in a relationship which is real? Once having entered into a relationship, is God bound to it, no longer free to become unrelated?

As in any relationship of integrity, God will have to give up some things for the sake of the relationship. So, God will have to give up some freedom. Any commitment or promise within a relationship entails a limitation of freedom…God has exercised divine freedom in the making of such promises, but after that, God’s freedom is truly limited by those promises. God will do what God says God will do; God will be faithful to God’s promises, and that is a limitation of freedom. God’s freedom is now most supremely a freedom FOR the world, not a freedom FROM the world. 

Moreover, any relationship of integrity will entail a sharing of power. Each party to the relationship must give up any monopoly on power for the sake of the relationship. Neither party to the relationship can be overwhelmed for the relationship to be a true one. God gives up the exercise of some power because total control of the other is not a relationship of integrity. So, for God to be in a genuine relationship with us, he has to give up some power and freedom, otherwise, it won’t be a genuine relationship.”

Fretheim argues from OT passages that the God of Israel was more intimately involved in the world than we imagine now. That God choose his dwelling place, heaven, to be more spatially located within the confines of this world, rather in a world that is wholly other. Furthermore, from passages describing time, planning and remembering, Fretheim suggests that God has bound himself temporally within this world. 

For I know the plans I have for you, says the lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

“This common language of planning assumes that temporal sequence is important for God-past, present, and future are meaningful categories. Just as God anticipates and plans for the future, so God also recalls the past. God has memories as well as hopes. For such passages that describe God remembering and forgetting and planning, to makes sense, God cannot be said to remember and forget simultaneously; such divine actions must thus be viewed in terms of a temporal flow of events. God has therefore limited his freedom to the same structures of time as ours.”

Perhaps this can help us understand the passages that describe God’s anger better. God is said to be slow to anger, elsewhere God is said (not) to restrain his anger, and to hold his peace.

They have stirred me to jealousy…they have provoked me with their idols (ps78:58; 106:29; Isa 65:3; Jer. 8:19).

Elsewhere, we are assured: 

He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.(Ps.103:9; Isa.57:16)

His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. (Ps30:5; . Ezra 9:8)

For a brief moment I forsook you,…in overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you. (Isa.54:7-8; Isa26:20; Exod. 33:5). 

These references to God’s wrath are coherent only if placed along a timeline , so that one can speak of a time of provocation, a time of momentary execution, and a time when such wrath comes to an end. “I will be calm and will be no more angry “(Ezek.16:42). God’s anger is thus expressly described as historical anger. God is not always angry: “The divine anger has its time, and a time when it is not” (Jer.18:23). 

The God of the OT is therefore not thought of in terms of timelessness. God is not above the flow of time and history, as if looking down from a mountaintop on all the streams of people through the valley of the ages. Yet, God’s life within the flow of events is qualitatively supreme; God is the eternal, uncreated member of this community. However, by dwelling among us and within our confines of time, God is under a SELF-limitation to the world he created. 

What we need to realize is that to insist that God is not self-limited is to limit God in other ways. If God is just acting upon things that he has predetermined before the beginning of time, God would not be able to make free, spontaneous decisions, in the light of the spontaneities of human action. God would also be deprived of the experience of novelty or of the joy of discovery. God’s activity in the world would become a kind of production, a mere bringing forth of what God has always determined. God would thereby become an already programmed computer. The truly personal dimension of the divine life would be sharply diminished. 

If God is limited to our confines of time, then that also affects God’s knowledge of the future. 

In the OT, there is a variety of material that suggests a divine limitation with respect to God’s knowledge of the future:

  1. By saying “Perhaps”: Thus says the lord: stand in the court of the Lord’s house and speak. ..It may be perhaps they will listen, and everyone turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the evil (Jer 26:2-3; ).
  2. By consulting with the prophets: Having made a decision or devised a plan, God consults with the prophetic leadership regarding possible insight they might have regarding the situation before God proceeds to carry that decision forth into action. For these conversations with the prophets to have integrity, we have to agree that God’s knowledge of the future is limited as it is predicated upon the outcome of such conversations. Thus, we can say generally that even if God knows every causal factor involved in shaping the future, God still recognizes all this knowledge as insufficient basis for predicting the future in detail. For the future is not entirely shaped by such causes, there is room for spontaneity especially arising from the human response and behavior. 
  3. By God asking questions: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I Do with you, O Judah?” (Hos 6:4, cf. 11:8a); How can I pardon you? …Shall I not punish them for these things? (Jer5:7, 9; v.29; 9:7,9)

These questions are similar to when a parent asks a rebellious child: “What am I going to do with you? “ They open up the answers for discussion between God and the people. But what kind of God does this? The fact that God shares these questions reveals that God opens himself up to risk; God becomes vulnerable. For the more one shares of oneself, the greater the possibility of being hurt. This portrait of God, a suffering God, is what hopefully will prompt repentance from the people. 

So, when we call God omniscient, we have to recognize that it is a limited one when we discuss the future. It is limited in such a way as to include a genuine divine openness to the future. An openness which is constantly informed by the divine will to save. 

Divine self-limitations with respect to power are also there, implicit in the promises which God has made. Whenever God makes a promise, he limits the options available for action on any related matters. God cannot use power in such a way as to violate a promise he has made; that would mean unfaithfulness. For example, the promise God makes at the end of the flood story in genesis; God promises that he will never respond to evil in flood-like ways again (9:11). This is a self-limitation with respect to divine freedom and power. God’s use of power in dealing with evil in the world is eternally self-limited. 

The OT reveals a fundamental continuity between God and world. God is graciously present in, with, and under all the particulars of creation, with which God is in a relationship of reciprocity. The immanent and transcendent God of Israel is immersed in the space and time of this world; this God is available to all, is effective along with everyone at every occasion, and moves with us into an uncertain future. Such a perspective reveals a divine vulnerability, as God takes all the risks that authentic relationships entail. Because of what happens to that relationship with those whom God loves, God suffers.”

I find that this understanding of God is more in line with how we relate with Jesus. It is out of love that God would limit his own omniscience and omnipotence in order to first be in an authentic relationship with us and second to provide salvation for us no matter what happens or what we do. As we will discuss in the next class, God suffers as a result of this. I think that this quality of suffering attributed to God the father can help us understand much more about the suffering of his son on the cross. 

Is your understanding of God conscious or unconscious? Are you willing to change this mainstream picture of God for yourself? How do you view your relationship with God once you realized what God had to give up for the relationship to be authentic?  

Donald: I think there are some aspects of the Divine that we probably don’t want to consider. And probably Michael spoke of one when he mentioned the image of two people sitting next to each other in church, thinking their gods are quite different. I don’t know if it’s that their gods are different, or their understanding of God is different. Maybe that’s just language. I went back and looked at the images I showed when I taught that Sabbath school class about our image of God. They certainly paralleled what Michael presented this morning.

It seems to me that before we can really start the conversation or understand the conversation we have relating to God, we have to understand that we talk as if they’re different things. But then we do all that talking, and yet we come back to saying all are one and the same: God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, yet we also talk about them almost like three different entities.

Most of us probably find ourselves wanting to picture God in the image of Christ, because Christ is forgiving, compassionate, and long-suffering, whereas God is angry. We never talk about Christ being angry except for that one time, and because it’s an exception, we tend to focus on it, but it’s certainly not the pattern we have of the image of Christ. It’s more of an exception where God—the exception might be a smiling God—the pattern is more of an angry God, which is unfortunate.

What was presented this morning is quite interesting regarding the gods being all-knowing in that somebody gives up power to be in a relationship. Is He really giving it up? Or is it just putting it in a box and putting it aside? I don’t know.

Our understanding and image of God is radically different from Christ. And then there’s the Holy Spirit. What we know, the three-in-one. That could be another series of Sabbath schools, it would seem to me.

Michael: I agree the language is a bit challenging. I was mostly copying from the book and tried to simplify that. It covers a lot of concepts. I basically summarized half the book, so it is very condensed. But I am looking forward to the second half. I think that’s why I’m doing this, so it will make a bit more sense then.

Carolyn: I have always believed that when He forgives our sins, our sins go to the bottom of the sea. I mean, they’re gone. But then our sins are brought up again. To me, this is what the role of God has always been in the judgment seat, which is in the future. Unless we believe that right now when I ask forgiveness of sin, my sins are all taken care of, and they’re gone forever.

David: In terms of our discussion of the image of God, I think Carolyn’s question hits the nail on the head. The inconsistency that Carolyn mentioned and others that Michael covered in his talk are in the Bible, which suggests that the Bible writers had different images of God which in turn explains why Christians too end up with different images of God. 

God’s omnipotence and omniscience is a salient characteristic of our image of God, but it seems to me that omniscience and omnipotence, while valued by humans, must be irrelevant to God. It seems to me (I cannot know, of course) that only one attribute has any value to God and certainly to Jesus, and that is simply goodness. That’s the one and only attribute that matters. 

I’ve no idea how to project an image of goodness. Because Jesus is goodness personified, the images we have of him tend to show a man who looks like he’s a good, kind, loving, merciful man. But we all know that appearances can deceive, so going on looks seems to me a pretty dangerous way to think of God. 

I believe we cannot possibly imagine God. I think there’s evidence enough within and around us to support our belief in God, but there is no way to understanding God, let alone producing an image of that entity.

If understanding God is beyond us, how can we possibly have a relationship with Him?

David: If we define God as goodness, then you can have a relationship with goodness, or with evil. We all tend to hedge our bets and fall somewhere between these extremes. 

I want to add that two frequently mentioned divine attributes—omniscience and omnipotence—are significant only if possessed by an external agent. If these attributes are confined within oneself (so that you are all-knowing and fully in control internally regarding yourself) then you lack external influence. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent being must be external. However, omniscience and omnipotence cannot have any value to the Holy Spirit—a strictly internal manifestation of God. 

To me, the only divine attribute that matters is goodness, which I associate with the Holy Spirit—God within us.

Reinhard:I often reflect on the contrast between God in the Old Testament and the New Testament. These contrasting views were shaped, of course, by historical contexts. Originally, when God created humans, our vast intellectual capacity was evident. He designed us perfectly to foster a profound relationship, channeling His love, demonstrating that He is a God of love. 

When He introduced the Law of Moses 3,500 years ago, it was intended for us to live morally and ethically sound lives. However, despite the commandments—like the Ten Commandments—our ancestors, including Adam, struggled with adherence, failing to abolish idolatry until Jesus arrived. This shows that God’s plan to correct human behavior and enforce recognition of Him as the Supreme Being has been effective over time.

By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Israelites had developed a submissive relationship to God, acknowledging His sovereignty. This was part of God’s timeline. Jesus’ arrival as a human altered our approach to understanding God’s nature, demonstrating His characteristics through human actions. In essence, Jesus, equally powerful as God the Father, chose to lower Himself to elevate humanity, bridging the gap between divine expectations and human capabilities.

Jesus’ mission was to correct misconceptions and arrogance among religious leaders and to reaffirm God’s character. By relinquishing certain divine powers—essentially the power of choice—He leveled the playing field, enabling us as humans to engage with God on equal footing. This opportunity to live in accordance with God’s will, as Jesus demonstrated, is central to our relationship with God. Throughout history, and as we continue, the essence of our creation embodies the ability to choose, and through our choices and submission, we truly acknowledge and embrace God as the ultimate authority.

Carolyn: Who do you think walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and had a relationship with them before sin entered?

David: If I maintain my position, I would have to say that they walked with goodness in the Garden—that was the relationship. In that sense they “saw” God. But the statement in John 1 where Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” raises a challenging point: How many people ever actually saw Jesus? The answer is only a fraction of a percent of all humans through history. Does this mean that the rest of us, who have never seen Jesus, have therefore never seen God? Why should a few be so privileged, and not the rest of us? 

The statement must mean something deeper than skin-deep. It surely cannot refer merely to seeing His face; it has to be about understanding his essence, his divine character. The danger lies in how casually this statement can be interpreted, leading people to believe that seeing a representation of Jesus’ face in a church icon equates to seeing God, which is a serious misunderstanding.

Don: There’s something very troubling about limiting God’s power and knowledge, yet we have no problem accepting the limitations imposed on Jesus in His mortal form, celebrated as part of the Incarnation. We find it easy to accept Jesus’ limitations, but are reluctant to impose any limitations on God the Father. This seems inconsistent. We don’t actually limit God with our imaginations; rather, God limits Himself. This aligns with what Michael suggested. We are prone to creating God in our own image, which is precisely what God warned against in the Ten Commandments, prohibiting the creation of physical images and idols. Yet, we do the same in our thoughts and imaginations. 

Perhaps another way to consider this is that God knows everything that can be known, but there are certain creative acts, such as decisions we make, which are not predetermined and thus cannot be known until they occur..

Anonymous: God is not limited in any way, shape, or form. He does not have to give up freedom or power for a relationship to work; rather, He chooses to share His power and freedom with us. 

Another point to consider is the concept of God’s suffering. When people talk about God’s suffering, they’re using human terms—God doesn’t suffer as we understand suffering.

Moreover, I attribute the confusion surrounding the understanding of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to the translators of the Bible and to the general interpretation by the church. Often, their interpretations are imposed on us, not forcefully, but in a manner that influences our beliefs. This, I believe, is a source of confusion. In my view, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are not three different entities or persons; they are interchangeable. This notion that each is a distinct person contributes to the confusion, especially for those trying to embrace Christianity.

It’s misleading to describe them as three separate entities. The relationship is more akin to you and your thoughts; without you, your thoughts have no separate identity. This concept becomes particularly perplexing when explaining the mystery of the Trinity—three persons in one—to newcomers. For me, it’s clear: when I refer to God, I mean Jesus, and vice versa. The Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus are not distinct—they are the creator. I use singular terms because they are unified in their act of creation.

As for the notion of time, you mentioned that God has to limit Himself to our temporal constraints. I don’t see any limitation on God concerning time. The language of the Bible uses human concepts to make the divine comprehensible, representing God as encompassing the past, present, and future simultaneously. Thus, any confusion does not stem from God but from our interpretations and the limitations of human language used in the scriptures.

God shares with us His power, freedom, love, and mystery. Through faith, as the Bible indicates, the Holy Spirit reveals things to come. In essence, it’s one work, one God. Any confusion arises from disbelief, not from the divine nature itself.

Michael: This is a fundamental issue for both Christians and non-Christians, and it relates to Carolyn’s question. If the images of God and Jesus were not perceived as so different, we wouldn’t face all these problems regarding their differences. It’s wonderful that you see them as the same, and that’s what I was aiming for. Unfortunately, even within the church, there seem to be two different gods.

David: I almost agree, especially as a process theologian who believes in a God who exists and a God who is coming into existence (“becoming”). To me, the only way God can exist in time is as God Becoming, because outside of time—in eternity—time does not exist. But overseeing eternity is God the Being, the eternal. Only here on Earth, under the framework of process theology, can we explore the notion of God Becoming.

Was Jesus divine? Consider how he exhibited power. If he was divine in the popular conception of the word (omniscient and omnipotent, with the power to do anything at all) then why did He generally disavow the use of his divine power? He refused to summon angels for support in the Garden of Gethsemane and he rejected the devil’s temptations to show off his power in the desert. The real power of Jesus was not in the popular exercise of divine power but in his teachings. 

His words—“Turn the other cheek,” “Go to the back of the line,” “Put yourself last”—illustrate the real divine power. These phrases have resonated through the ages, not because they defeat evil through force, but because they represent moral victory. Turning the other cheek might not prevent one from suffering at the hands of another, but it ultimately upholds goodness, which is what truly matters.

Reinhard: The concept of the Trinity—three in one—is indeed a mystery that perhaps we as humans cannot fully grasp at this moment. When God said, “Let us create man,” as recounted in Genesis and echoed in Paul’s epistles, it clearly involved God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To me, they are three but in very close agreement, almost in unison in every decision, yet thinking they are one is not quite accurate. 

When Jesus came to Earth, the significance of “Turn the other cheek” became profound. Jesus not only demonstrated how to live from God’s perspective, lowering Himself to experience human pain and emotions, but also set an example of how to live rightly under God’s commandment. His sacrifice was part of God’s plan for salvation, formulated after the fall of Adam. Interestingly, Jesus’ claim to be God was one of the main reasons the Jewish authorities condemned Him to death, viewing it as blasphemy, while the Roman Empire feared His potential to incite rebellion. 

However, as Christians, we recognize that Jesus died to save us, linking together the teachings we’ve discussed here. Furthermore, although God can see the future, we still retain the power of choice, to either accept Him or oppose Him. This, I believe, is crucial. God’s omnipotence means He sees from the beginning to the end, affirming His all-powerful nature.

Don: Some provocative observations have been made suggesting that the translators of the Bible lacked the modern words and knowledge we possess today. This makes me wonder if our view of God in contemporary times is different from the view of people in ancient times, or will be different again in the future? Should factors like the World Wide Web, artificial intelligence, and computing power influence a reevaluation of Old Testament theology?

David: That is a fascinating question. I think that although our understanding of God might evolve with new experiences and technologies, it remains based fundamentally on human interpretation. This means that religious views and our understanding of God may shift, but God Himself remains unchanged. 

There will likely be much debate and speculation about this in the future, just as there has been over the past 2000 years. However, despite our evolving perspectives, to me, two truths remain constant: (1) God exists and (2) God is good. This was known 2000 years ago, it is acknowledged today, and it will still be recognized 2000 years from now.

Michael: Carolyn’s asked about sins. If God declares, “I will remember your sins no more,” it would contradict His word to bring them (sins) up again at the end. To do so after stating they are forgiven would not only be unfaithful to His promises but also to the relationship itself. It wouldn’t constitute a genuine relationship. 

Therefore, I would challenge the interpretations or the images suggesting that sins resurface at life’s end or the world’s end. I believe that when my sins are forgiven, they are truly erased and will not reappear at the end.

Don: This discussion ties directly into our extensive conversations about grace. Thank you, Michael, for your thought-provoking essay and for facilitating this engaging discussion. Thank you also to all friends who joined us and shared their insights. We will continue exploring these themes next week.

* * *

The Transformative Power of Grace

A few weeks ago, I gave a sermon to the youth at a local church. My message centered on the concept of God’s grace, and I chose to illustrate it using the parable of the wedding feast. Let me summarize my sermon. 

In the parable of the wedding feast, a king invites both good and evil people to attend a grand wedding feast in honor of his son. Remarkably, there are no preconditions for acceptance, and everyone is welcome.  

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:8-10)

The act of accepting the invitation by a guest represents justification. It’s a beautiful picture of how God’s grace extends to all, regardless of our past or present circumstances. We can see this in John 1 also:  

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13)

Now, let’s focus on the guests who arrive at the feast.  

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.” (Matthew 22: 11-12) 

This parable emphasizes that after receiving an invitation, guests are expected to put on a wedding garment. The fact that nearly everyone complied, except for one individual, indicates that putting on the wedding garment is a simple task. When the King questioned the guest about not wearing the wedding garment, the guest was rendered speechless and offered no defense for his actions. It appears he had introspected and found himself guilty. 

What does this wedding garment represent?  

For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, 
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, 
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, 
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

According to Isaiah garments represent salvation.  

Now there are two schools of thought on how you get the wedding garment or what it is actually. The first school says these garments are clean clothes that were washed and prepared in advance. A second school argues that given the nature of the last-minute invitation, it would be impossible for everyone to wash their clothes. Therefore, they must have been provided by the King.  

If you like the first school of thought that these are washed clothes, then question becomes how can one wash the stains of sins on their garment of righteousness?  

So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14)

This passage suggests that this robe is nothing but our sinful character, and it needs cleaning. But no matter how much we clean it with whatever soap we can find, stains of sin won’t go away. To remove stains of sin, we need the blood of Christ which cleanses every sinful blemish. The blood of Christ is provided free to us at the great cost to Heaven. All we must do is wash our character in the blood of Christ. Refusing to do so ends us up in outer darkness.  

Coming to the second school of thought that suggests that the wedding garments were provided by the King to every guest, the question becomes what is our part then?  

Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by. (Zechariah 3:3-5)

Here the filthy garment represents our iniquity. God took away our iniquity and provided His Son’s righteousness. Refusing to remove our filthy garment and refusing to put on the new garment requires active resistance in the face of God and angels.  

Coming back to the parable, it appears that this guest believed his own garment to be superior to the one provided by the King. Therefore, he must have actively resisted wearing the King’s garment.  

Washing our sinful nature in the blood of Christ or removing our righteousness and putting on Christ’s righteousness is the process of Sanctification. In this process, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ from glory to glory. The important thing to note here is that no matter which school of thought we ascribe to, in either case, the thing we need to make ourselves righteous is given by God freely to us. We are transformed by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is not our doing.  

After I preached this sermon, during a potluck lunch, a couple of people whom I have known for years approached me with a thought-provoking question: “How does your understanding of grace manifest in your daily life?” Essentially, they were asking how you cannot play a role in your own salvation.  

Interestingly, their inquiry mirrors the one posed by Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus, a respected Pharisee, and member of the Sanhedrin, approached Jesus secretly, seeking answers. Their conversation revolved around the concept of being “born again.” Jesus explained that this spiritual rebirth involves both water and the Spirit. Nicodemus, perplexed, asked, “How can this be?” 

Jesus responded by referring to an event from Israel’s history.  

As the Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. (John 3:14)

In Numbers 21, the Israelites grumbled against God, and as a consequence, venomous serpents plagued the camp. When the people repented and sought God’s mercy, Moses interceded. God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and raise it on a pole. Anyone bitten by a snake could look at the bronze serpent and live.  

This thing perplexes me. The normal thing to do would be to remove the snakes. Instead, God kept the snakes but asked anyone bitten to look at the brazen serpent and live. How could a mere gaze at this brazen serpent heal them? It defies logic. Yet, it worked. Sometimes, God’s ways transcend our understanding. 

Similarly, when we face life’s “snake bites or sinful failures,” our natural response is panic and frantic attempts to fix things. We look at ourselves, others, different things, or the snake itself. But Jesus invites us to look to Him and live. It’s not about our efforts; it’s about fixing our gaze on the One who brings healing and transformation. 

Consider this powerful verse from Paul: 

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

I appreciate the Message Bible’s rendition of this passage: 

“Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of His face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like Him.” 

This verse is self-explanatory. With this verse in mind, I want to ask you:

  • Does this explanation satisfy your Nicodemus question?  
  • Do you still have reservations about how we are transformed into His likeliness? 
  • Are you afraid when you hear this type of message? If so, why? Help me understand.  

Sharon: Kiran’s talk was important because I don’t think we can live—especially those of us in the Seventh-Day Adventist culture—without being constantly reminded that we’re “not good enough” or “not doing enough.” It’s deeply ingrained in us that the idea of freedom in the grace of Christ, being in the process of sanctification, is a lifelong struggle. The messages we received as kids in the Academy were that our skirts weren’t long enough, we weren’t vegetarian enough, we shouldn’t drink coffee, and so on. It’s a lifelong battle to release ourselves to the freedom that we have in resting in the grace of Christ, letting His work be done in us instead of trying to navigate the whitewater of life on our own.

David: I can’t resist saying it makes one wonder about religion as a whole and the extent to which it is a stumbling block. Jesus said, “My burden is light.” I don’t think life is supposed to be so hard that one must live in constant fear, spiritually. That’s not what Jesus meant by saying His burden is light. I think all religions need to look very seriously at the restrictions they place on people and ask whether they need revision.

Donald: By the very nature of personalities, some are more prone to reject organized religion than others. I know people who are incredibly attentive to their neighbors with great needs. I’ve come to understand that this is just the way they live their lives. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with them, and they never bring up the topic of organized religion. 

So, they have taken on the wedding garment, but I’m not sure they go to church. I think for us Adventists, it’s hard not to feel that “pinch”, which Sharon described, of going through the day worrying we’re doing something wrong. I don’t know if my neighborly friends feel guilty or burdened. They seem to be just acting upon their faith and doing good.

C-J: I envy you in that what I’m hearing is that you’ve landed in really good fellowship. Every church I’ve been in feels like a political landscape. I have never been in a church where they truly live the Word of God. For me, my walk with God has been very solitary. I choose to follow what the Word of God says, to try to put on that mantle and not just give lip service to it. 

I can’t even imagine what you describe; I’ve never seen it. It’s like, I’m always waiting for the curtain to be pulled back. And like what you told me, now you’re doing this, it’s a very hard thing. And maybe that’s partly what we’ve all been hearing this morning. I didn’t walk away from God; I considered other avenues to experience God. But in the end, without a doubt, I say I landed on the Christian faith because it’s the only faith or practice that really transformed me. It was the only one that restored what was so broken. The others were just rules, traditions, and history. 

Without the Holy Spirit, the promises, and the provisions of the Christian God, I would never have survived, never thrived, never known how to love others. I would just isolate myself out of protection. But the Christian God says to go out and be the witness. No matter how many times you fall, get up and keep giving. 

I feel very blessed for this group, very blessed for the faithfulness of God, the Creator, the divine.

Don: I’m struck by how the king addresses the man without the robe and calls him “friend.” Jesus addressed three people as “friend” in his ministry, at least that I can remember. One is the vineyard worker who complained about receiving the same pay as those who worked only the last hour; another is Judas, whom Jesus addresses as “friend” when he is betrayed in the garden. 

So, if Jesus identifies these people as friends, it certainly should reassure us that you and I, too, are friends of God. But for some reason, it’s almost impossible for us to leave our salvation to God alone. We just have to help Him, as if He’s inadequate. Somehow, pushing Him in the right direction is our responsibility. It’s remarkable when you think of it in those terms. But as those of us who have been lifelong religiously affiliated people find, it’s the reality we live in, as Sharon said. 

The question that keeps resounding in my head is, why is it so difficult to accept grace? It seems like it should be the easiest and most natural, wonderful expression of relationship with God. But for some reason, we just have to help God. He just can’t quite do it himself. It’s a necessity we can’t seem to get over. I wonder why that is?

Donald: Actually, it’s going beyond the call of duty. I think we’re surprised by the response of someone when we go in expecting them to behave a certain way. So, I go into a bank, expecting the person there to talk to me and know the information I need. But when they do the second and third and fourth thing, like calling someone for me, that’s going beyond the call of duty. That’s grace. We don’t see it very often. Well, I shouldn’t really say that. I think, as I explained earlier, people reciprocate the behavior they’re shown—if you show grace, they’ll give grace; if you’re unpleasant, they’ll reciprocate that too.

Don: But that’s not what’s at stake here. What’s at stake is that you might act unpleasantly, but God still gives you grace.

Donald: That’s God. What does grace look like? It’s like prayer. Okay, let’s have this conversation. Well, it’s a one-way conversation, so that gets a little tricky after a while. But what does grace look like on a day-to-day basis? I understand that God overlooks all of that. And here I am, being unpleasant, and He’s being gracious. But in everyday life, what does grace look like? So that we can have an idea of what grace is.

C-J: I think it’s in Corinthians 13. The difference between hospitality, which is the law of the Bedouin, and the Abrahamic brand. It’s about being patient, kind, loving, long-suffering—all of that. And it’s effortless, not even a choice. It’s not about just doing this because God commands me, but because the Holy Spirit has completely enveloped us, mind, body, and soul. It’s not work; it is a joy unto the Lord. 

I’m not there yet, but I recognize it when it happens. When I step outside of my concerns like, “This is going to hurt” or “Why should I?” I’m never disappointed with how God is always present. I’m never like, “Now you show up?” God is always there, because God is always working. Everyone in the room is blessed.

Don: Donald, does your question imply that one of the reasons we have difficulty accepting grace is because we don’t know it when we see it? Or because we don’t see it very often, or at all?

Donald: I think part of the challenge is that in organized religion, when we go to a church and see people proclaiming they’re Christians, it ramps up our expectations of those we share faith with. I no longer have the same expectations for them as I would for someone down the street working in a shop. But when you go to church, then you start thinking, “This is how I expect you to behave.” 

So it ramps up our expectations of how we should behave towards each other. That’s unfortunate, because usually when you meet someone, you have fairly low expectations, maybe just expecting a smile. But beyond that, you don’t know what you’re entering into regarding their day, their background, or how long they’ve worked there. My point is that I have higher expectations, unfortunately, of organized religious people than I would have of others who don’t profess that faith. 

God certainly understands that. It’s beyond belief that we are flawed, but God accepts us. But for me to see what grace looks like, I guess I have to look at the literal and then try to apply that to something that’s beyond.

Don: I think you’ve put your finger on it now. You say it’s beyond belief. Yes, it is.

Donald: It’s beyond belief. But we don’t live in a world of beyond. We live in a world where the only time we do “beyond belief” is when we pray, when we talk about these kinds of things together. We’re doing “beyond belief” a bit by trying to understand it. But “beyond belief” is by its very definition something I can’t believe. So, it’s intangible.

David: Why do we need to see grace in our lives now? I don’t understand why. I mean, there’s a difference between seeing God’s grace, receiving God’s grace, and seeing that you’re receiving God’s grace. I would dispute that we need to see it at all.

Donald: Maybe, David. Understanding it would be about it. Well, I can’t understand what grace says.

David: The same objection applies: You don’t need to understand grace and you don’t need to see it. What we need is God’s grace. That’s all. We get it even if we don’t know it. Maybe if we don’t have faith that grace exists, then we’re like the guest at the wedding feast who wouldn’t put on the garment. He could not accept that he was at the party by the grace of God—if he did, he’d be wearing the garment. So he’s there by his own efforts, but he doesn’t get to stay, he doesn’t receive the lasting grace. 

I don’t believe we need to see grace. We don’t need to know that grace is Christ-centered. All the people who’ve never heard of Christ still receive grace. Some faiths never even talk about grace. It’s not a concept within their culture. Yet, we must believe, as Christians, that they receive God’s grace. But they don’t understand it, they don’t see it, they don’t know it. And it doesn’t matter.

Don: There are two more things about this parable that I think weigh in on this conversation. One is that of the many people who came, only one apparently refused the wedding garment. This belies the idea that it’s difficult to be saved. I’ve always been taught and grew up thinking that it was going to be really difficult to be saved, and if we were just lucky enough to get invited by the skin of our teeth, that would be our good fortune. But this parable suggests that it’s pretty hard to be lost. 

The second thing that accentuates this point is that here you have a man who is confronted with: “Why didn’t you take the wedding garment?” and he has nothing to say—he’s completely speechless. He recognizes that he’s defenseless in this endeavor. 

It’s just so opposite of what we’ve been taught and what religion teaches us that it’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come off the rails when it comes to understanding God’s grace.

C-J: I think when this man shows up at a wedding knowing he’s not appropriately attired, it’s like saying, “Don’t you know where you are?” I myself have done that. You know, “Accept me as I am. If you don’t want me here, I can leave. I don’t belong with your group. I don’t have XYZ, but somebody invited me, but I’m not going to change. I’m not going to turn myself inside out because I don’t want to be fake with you.” 

The other piece is the narrative of who I am that was given to me, and not the narrative that God gave me. Which is that I am worthy to be loved, I am worthy to be accepted, as I am worthy to expect God to restore and make provision, not by a list of rules. But understanding that love and grace is what transforms me. It’s not about what I’m wearing to church, or the words that I use. It’s often not about being out in public a lot, or with many different people. 

But when I used to teach, I’d walk into a building and be talking with someone, and I’d think, “Right, I’m a Christian,” because the spirit was just God’s Spirit. That grace, it just knew intuitively, this is different. This person trusts God in every walk of his or her life. And they’re just genuinely loving, generous people.

I wanted to add the importance Donald was speaking of regarding the people who help take care of their needy neighbors. It’s much easier to lift the log when there are four or five people who, even if they say, “I’m tired, I’m done with this. It’s not making a difference.” But when you’re together, it’s like, “Yeah, this is good. This is really good. I’m glad we did this.” But when you’re doing it alone, it’s a heavy lift. 

It’s not about somebody else seeing; it’s just that in community, you can do anything. It’s like marching the walls of Jericho, as Carolyn often speaks about. In community, there’s not just power and authority, but a multiplication of the good. It’s just, you stand back and you go for it.

Donald: I don’t want to waste your time, but I always have to tie something to my experience. Maybe that’s part of the thing. I recently rented a car from an airport kiosk. It asked for my license and my credit card. I go through the whole thing and it says, “Okay, this is the car you’ve ordered, would you like an upgrade?” Ah, somebody started to offer me more than I would expect. “Oh, wait a minute. If you do that, we’ll cut you a deal. Right now, before you see the cars. This one will be $10 a day more,” etc., etc. I’m like, “No, I’m gonna stay with what I got.” But the machine doesn’t know whether it’s giving me a good car or not. So I get out to the lot where a guy tells me to “Pick any car you want in the lot.” I mean, now there’s grace! It felt like I hit the lottery. The machine wanted to wring more money out of me but the guy simply says, “The keys are in all of them. Take anything you want.”

C-J: I never mind anybody sharing real-life experiences because we live in this dimension, and we all filter through our experiences and our value system. We don’t live in the clouds; we have to deal with people we don’t like and do things we don’t want to do because we’ve made commitments. Those caring neighbors did not sit back and say “Don’t you have family?” to those in need. 

It’s really important that we show up in desperate times, and it’s better if proximity allows us to do it. Like what a nice surprise, “Come on in, you were in the neighborhood,” when actually, you made an effort to ask, “Is this a good time for you?”

Donald: It’s very important that we show up. So, do I have to even show up? Do I have to be present?

C-J: I think in this dimension, in our reality, we measure things—it’s binary, the way our brain works. In the spiritual world, I think we’ve all experienced the unfathomable grace and love of God, something that nobody but God could have done. “Something is different with me now, and I can’t explain it.” We just go forward, and we try to allow God to do the work He’s intended for us, to be in the purpose of our life. 

But in the real world where we are, and until we are transformed to a different place, I have to tell myself, “Be anxious for nothing. God’s timing is perfect, God will reveal it when it’s needed.” Do the right thing, not because you’re supposed to, but because you are allowing yourself to be a vessel of God.” And that’s hard. It is not an easy gig. 

Sometimes, after it’s all done, because there isn’t joy when I’m getting in my car, picking up my stuff, thinking, “Boy, this is gonna be a real pain. I just know this isn’t gonna go well, I don’t want to do it. They tell me it’s a couple of hours, it’s gonna be all day. I have other things planned.” I have to really make an attitude adjustment. “If you’re gonna go, go with the right attitude. Get yourself together here.” And just leave it alone. Don’t put parameters on it. But it’s hard. It’s really hard. I think that’s the grace. 

I mean, when people have gone through what many of us here have gone through—such as been sick for prolonged periods of time—it’s God’s grace that carries us every day. When we pray for someone that we know is hurting, it’s God’s grace every day. God cycles that thought back, “Lord, keep your hand on this person.” Instead of just throwing it up, sometimes I just tell myself, “Stop, count, and drop to your knees.” This isn’t a time to just say, “Lord, again, keep your hand on that person.” Because I feel heavy in my spirit. It doesn’t happen very often, but when I hear it, I do it because even if it’s pulling the car over, because God is so faithful, God is doing that work and that transformation in everybody on the stage.

Anonymous: I think what we need to see is that we should be thankful and recognize God’s grace in everyday life. We don’t have to understand that it’s there. And when we realize that it’s there all the time, no matter what we do, the only thing we can do—and that’s what we call adding to salvation—is not in addition to anything God does to save us, but just a thankful heart as a response to His grace. The only way we can react to grace is by being thankful and conscious about everything we go through during our lives. 

It’s all put in a way for our good because of God’s grace, and all we have to do is be thankful. We don’t need to understand grace, we don’t need to see grace, because as soon as you recognize that you’re living in this grace, that’s enough. We’ll be thankful all the time.

Reinhard: I think the love of God that we experience in everyday life, or in our actions and the responses from those around us… If we walk with God, I think we can feel the love of God. Then we always have to introspect. When we walk with God, He helps with every decision we make, day in and day out. We can see the love of God in our life, no matter what the situation. 

Of course, we always have challenges in life. But when we walk closer with God, everything is okay. I think the Grace of God, we can always feel in our life. Sometimes it’s hard to accept grace. In my thinking, the problem with salvation is it makes us always worry. “Am I going to be saved?” I think that’s the challenge. 

If grace is cheap, how can it secure our salvation? To me, salvation is for people who believe in God, that’s what distinguishes between those to be redeemed and those who are not going to be saved. I think there has to be something to differentiate people because God is going to choose who’s going to be saved or not. 

And even though grace is free for everybody, there’s always some kind of responsibility for us. So to me, the distinction between salvation and outer darkness depends on how we respond, how we follow God’s commands. We have to obey God’s will in order for us to be saved. 

I think that’s the ultimate challenge for us, to make sure that we will receive this salvation, and God makes a distinction between the saved and not saved according to whether they followed His command. God will separate, and that’s the key. Yes, grace is free for everybody, but I think it is key that God will separate. 

If salvation is the work of God, we cannot do anything; no matter how good we are, we cannot guarantee ourselves salvation, but we cannot afford to not work no matter how good we are. We cannot save ourselves, but our righteousness, our obedience to Him is the distinction God is going to use to choose who’s going to be saved and not be saved.

David: I wonder, is it really a matter of it all boiling down to obeying rules? I’m not sure that’s the case. We’ve got to remember that there were good and bad people at the wedding feast and they were all saved, except for one guy. What was different about him, besides not wearing the wedding garment? 

He didn’t answer when God spoke to him. Why not? We don’t know. We can come up with all sorts of theories as to why he didn’t answer but to me, the answer is that he could not see or hear God, he didn’t realize that he was being spoken to. He did not believe in God, so could not see him nor hear him.

That’s what leaves you outside, in the dark. That’s why you can’t be “saved.” If you cannot see or hear God speaking to you, you can’t respond, so you can’t be saved. I don’t think it has anything to do with obedience.

Don: We will discuss this further. The issue of obedience and grace is still on the table for more thought.

* * *

Grace As the Conduit For God’s Love

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have Grace, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have Grace, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have Grace, I gain nothing.

Grace is patient, Grace is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Grace does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Grace never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part,

but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and Grace. But the greatest of these is Grace.

I’ve argued before that Grace is synonymous with Love. I’ve changed my mind, after creating this version of 1 Corinthians 13, replacing the word “Love” with the word “Grace:”

It seems to me that the substitution just does not work. Paul did not mince words. Love is everything Paul says it is, but Grace is not. Grace can be neutral, but Love cannot. You can be gracious without loving, but you cannot be (truly) loving without being gracious. In our human hubris we may talk with a kind of steely smugness about “tough love,” but Love “does not boast, it is not proud.” The closest Jesus ever came to “tough love” was telling the rich young ruler to give it all up, and he (Jesus) probably said it with tears in his eyes. 

So I returned to the literature to figure out where I had gone wrong in my earlier conclusion that Love and Grace were synonymous. As is now my habit, I rang the bell for my assistant, ChatGPT, to do the heavy lifting while I sat back with a gin and tonic to do the real pondering. (I don’t think ChatGPT knows how to ponder. Yet.) 

What I discovered is that God’s Grace has been known for a long time as the conduit or the medium through which his Love is delivered and experienced. But why do we need a conduit? The answer is: Because we cannot experience God’s Love directly, at least not until Jesus walks the earth again and we are lucky enough to meet him face-to-face. As it is, we can only experience God’s love indirectly, through his Grace.

The idea that Grace is what mankind experiences of God’s Love has in fact long been central to Christian theology (which I found to be a pleasant surprise, though it may be old news to you all.) Apparently, Grace has often been described in Christian theology as a key aspect of God’s character, embodying His kindness, mercy, and Love towards humanity, despite human imperfection and sin. 

Furthermore, in Christian theology, Grace is viewed not only as the means through which God’s Love is given but also the means by which salvation is made possible. Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

But Grace is not only a static gift. Some see it as a dynamic and transformative power that enables individuals to grow in spiritual maturity and “live out” their faith. It helps believers to overcome sin and reflects God’s Love through their actions. We’ve often discussed this as “passing on the Grace.”

And this is not just any Grace. It is not “common Grace,” which some literature exemplifies as the beauty of nature or societal order. “It is Special Grace” which refers to the salvation said to be offered to believers through Jesus Christ.

The idea of Grace as an experience of God’s Love highlights the intimate and personal way God interacts with each individual one of us. As we’ve noted, many theologians (perhaps most), see the purpose of Grace as salvation, as redemption and restoration. This implies that the relationship between God and ourselves is rooted in Love and mercy rather than in strict legalism or moralism, otherwise there would be no need for Grace. You can give Grace without Love, but you cannot Love without giving Grace. I suspect the same is true of God himself.

Three great theologians have examined Grace in depth. They are Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Karl Barth (1886-1968), and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Each framed Grace as an integral part of the experience of God’s Love (which, to me, is the key takeaway), though each focused on different aspects. 

Bonhoeffer wrote about Grace as “cheap” versus “costly.” Cheap Grace is not the same as common Grace, as I understand him. He argues that cheap Grace is Grace we give ourselves. It’s easy self-forgiveness, repentance nice but not necessary. Costly Grace is a gift from God. It is “costly” because it cost God the life of His only begotten Son and it costs us the sacrifice of our lives in return. (By “our lives” I mean the way we live. We sacrifice the way we want to live for the way God wants us to live.) So costly Grace is deeply tied to the experience of God’s Love through the sacrifice of Jesus. It requires our response and our transformation from what we were to what Jesus wants us to be. Bonhoeffer emphasized the transformative experience.

Many of us think of God’s Love as something that is a great comfort to us, but Bonhoeffer saw it as more than that; much more. To him, God’s Love is not merely a passive comfort; rather, it is transformative and radical; it is an active, challenging force that compels change. Its supreme expression was manifested in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but since we can’t have Jesus sacrificed every day, it has to be expressed to us in some other way. By “expressed” I don’t just mean “told”—we certainly can read about his crucifixion every day, but we can’t be there, with him, in Gethsemane, in the flesh, ever. If we were there—if we could look at that suffering face and hear his cries, we would feel his Love viscerally, in our bones. But we can’t be in Gethsemane. We can’t be at the Sermon on the Mount. We can only read about it afterwards. So how can we feel it? As I understand Bonhoeffer, the way we feel it is through Grace.

Cheap Grace justifies the sin but not the sinner. Bonhoeffer said it is Grace without discipleship, Grace without the cross, Grace without Jesus Christ. It is essentially Grace taken lightly, an acceptance of God’s forgiveness without transformation or a commitment to follow Christ. To me, this is the kind of Grace that too often comes from just going to church and reading the Bible every now and then. We feel pious, we feel cleansed of our sins.

In contrast, costly Grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of which, a man will gladly go and sell all that he has (Matthew 13:44). It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble (Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:47). Costly Grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for (Matthew 7:7), the door at which a man must knock (Matthew 7:8). It’s costly because it calls us to take up Jesus’ cross (Matthew 16:24) and thus costs a man his life (Mark 8:35), and it is Grace because it replaces that life with the true life (John 10:10).

I largely agree with Bonhoeffer. I certainly believe that true Grace is Grace that is experienced—felt—directly and personally; and not just indirectly and impersonally by reading about it. Where Bonhoeffer and I seem to differ is that, to me, the experience can be passive—you don’t have to do anything to get it. Bonhoeffer says you do. 

Bonhoeffer emphasizes that the response to an experience of God’s Love through Grace is not merely intellectual acknowledgment but involves a total life transformation. It forces you to decide and act morally—in other words, to sin no more, to be like Jesus, to live according to the teachings of Jesus—which include, you may recall, giving up all your worldly belongings. Ouch. That is costly!

Barth viewed Grace as the fundamental characteristic of God’s interaction with humanity. He argued that Grace is God’s unconditional election of humanity in Jesus Christ. We’ll talk about election a bit later, but what he meant here was that in Christ, God communicated His Love and established a new relationship with mankind. For Barth, Grace is both the invitation and the enablement to participate in the relationship with God, but it is entirely initiated and sustained by God’s Love.

So I asked ChatGPT: “Does Barth mean that humans cannot initiate a relationship with God?” 

“Yes,” it replied. “According to Karl Barth, humans cannot initiate a relationship with God on their own. He emphasized that all human capacity to relate to God stems from God’s prior action. He argues that Grace is God’s unilateral act of reaching out to humanity, an act that is entirely initiated and sustained by God’s Love.” So again, like Bonhoeffer, Barth sees Grace as the medium through which God’s Love reaches us.

According to Barth, God made the first move in establishing a relationship with us by sacrificing his son. The relationship was not anything we did and is not anything we can do. We may respond to that act of Grace, but we do not initiate the relationship. 

So Grace is an unmerited gift. But what about those who died before Jesus was born and sacrificed or who have never heard of him anyway? From what I can make of it, Barth saw Christ as the savior of all humanity, transcending time and geographical boundaries, but a “transcendence” argument by definition cannot be proved, so it is not a very satisfying argument. Apparently, Barth based it on his own take of the Calvinist “Doctrine of Election” according to which human knowledge of Christ is not what saves anyone—it is only Christ, only God, who saves; so in that sense salvation transcends human geographical and historical conditions, so anybody, anywhere, who has ever lived may be saved—provided they were pre-selected! I can’t say I like that idea very much.

Aquinas also described two types of Grace. One is “habitual” Grace, a gift of God that elevates and perfects human nature; the other is “actual” Grace, which helps us to act and turns us towards God. Dr. Lawrence Feingold describes them this way: “Actual graces perfect us in the order of movement and action whereas sanctifying grace elevates us to the order of supernatural being.” Aquinas’ understanding of Grace as what humans experience about God’s Love is tied to the enabling factor of “actual” Grace as a help from God to lead a life directed towards his divine Love. 

To me, this seems to leave people who have been (say) brutalized from birth with zero experience of God’s Grace, totally incapable of leading a life directed towards divine Love, and thus bereft of hope of actual Grace. 

Aquinas believed that Grace may or may not be “felt”—it is given, subconsciously, to people who do the good that already lies within them, implying that following your conscience is supported by Grace. You might think that suffering and hardship would suffocate Grace (at least, I thought so, after recalling Jesus’s last words), but Aquinas said suffering only makes Grace stronger. (That’s not quite “No pain, no gain,” but close!) As well, he thought that charity (which I think our group would identify as the passing on of Grace), serves to demonstrate God’s Love to people who are suffering and thus guide them towards it. 

Aquinas believed that natural law and reason could help people get with the Christian program (so to speak). Even in brutal conditions, our capacity for reason and our inclination towards good (which he thought, as I do, is inherent in all people) are elements of Grace that lead us to live a more Godly life. But if reason fails, we must accept that God’s concept and execution of Grace are a divine mystery and we must have faith in Grace whether we can feel it or figure it out or not.

The Church’s role, he thought, was to mediate Grace through community and the sacraments. which serve to bring Grace to believers, especially those who are suffering and in need.

So Aquinas believed that Grace can be experienced both on a purely personal level and as mediated through the church; but first and foremost, he saw Grace as a personal, interior gift from God, which sanctifies and justifies the individual: 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

This “actual” or “sanctifying” Grace is infused into the soul by God, making the person righteous and holy before Him. It is received individually and directly impacts the person’s ability to live according to God’s will, empowering them to perform good acts that are meritorious for eternal life:

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we did in righteousness, but in accordance with His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He richly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)

This illustrates the role of the Holy Spirit in the personal reception of Grace.

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him.’” (John 6:53-56)

This supports the sacramental theology where Grace is transmitted through the Eucharist. The sacraments (including baptism, confirmation, marriage, and others) are external signs that confer the Grace they signify. According to Aquinas, the sacraments are the primary means by which Grace is dispensed to the faithful, helping to sustain and nourish the Christian life and play a vital role, according to church and Matthew, in the believer’s spiritual journey: 

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

This passage has traditionally been seen as granting authority to the Church to mediate Grace, among other things, through its teachings and sacraments.

Aquinas saw the communal and individual modes of experiencing Grace as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. The personal, internal workings of Grace prepare and fortify the individual to receive and respond to the sacramental Grace offered through the Church, which in turn supports and deepens the personal experience of divine Love and sanctification.

In summary, Aquinas’ concept of Grace is as both a personal, internal reality and a communal, ecclesial experience through the sacraments. To him, Grace is both a deeply personal encounter with God and a communal experience mediated through the Church’s sacramental life, each aspect reinforcing the other within the framework of Christian life and salvation.

Is all this theology worth knowing? Isn’t the Bible all we need? Or is theology vital, as an interpreter? If so, isn’t that a bit dangerous? Can we trust the theologians? 

What do you think about the idea that we cannot experience God’s Love directly? That this is why we need Grace, and why God gives it?

C-J: I see grace manifesting in two lanes. For millennia, we didn’t have a text. God communicated with us spiritually through our environment. I think the theologians consider this component important, but it’s institutional. When churches and communities were developed, they needed a theologian. 

So, how does this work? You say, “God speaks to you here.” There had to be a consensus, rituals, social expectations, and interpretations. But in the wilderness, millennia ago, as nomadic tribes, humanity faced the harshness of nature. You never know what’s going to happen. A sandstorm can arise suddenly. So, you are truly dependent on that grace. 

But I also believe that when God created humanity, he created the garden, which was full of grace.

Donald: I’ve tried to live, see, and feel my faith, probably at more of a surface level. Let me unpack a few things. One concerns the comparison between grace and love. I started thinking, “What about “like”? Can you like somebody and not love them? Or can you love somebody and not like them?” I think we would all agree that it’s possible to love somebody and not like them. ChatGPT says it’s possible to love someone without necessarily liking them: “This situation can occur in complex relationships where there are deep emotional bonds alongside significant differences.”

Then I connected that idea to David’s mention of piety, which reflects my understanding and concern about organized religion. It was implied in his statement that people may act out their faith, but it may not be as deep as one might hope. If we went around the room and asked how we live out our faith, we’re all on a good, solid plane when we discuss our faith each Sabbath morning. But in reality, if we wanted to live out our faith spiritually, I think we would choose to do it quite differently from each other. I don’t think we’re in the same circle anymore. 

It’s not a matter of like or love. It’s more of a personality difference. I may look at different birds and think, “Well, the Orioles are orange; they should be red like the Cardinals.” Is it really just a matter of choice? Or should we all be in the same spiritual circle? Because I feel somewhat troubled when I hear the word “pious”, as I think there are devout people who follow their spiritual journey through traditional roles and express it in churches and communities. But then there are others who barely seem to embrace it, yet they show it; they don’t share it, but they show it. 

My final point is, maybe it’s our personalities, but what causes us not to be in the same circle to say, “Let’s do something spiritually”? Well, I think that’s what we’re doing here. But if we were together every week, would we just sit in a circle and do the same thing? Would we show grace to each other and discover God’s love in different ways, given that opportunity?

C-J: What I’m hearing from Donald is a compassionate love, expressing that he cares about us deeply. Sometimes, when we face cognitive dissonance—and I’ll speak for myself—I feel threatened. My paradigm of processing information is challenged, and I have to make a choice: Am I willing to risk what I think is truth to receive or be part of this other person’s life because I value them for various reasons? 

I believe that God is always in the room. It’s that grace we’ve been discussing that compensates for whatever I lack or whatever discomfort I may cause another person by speaking my truth or living my truth, which is not intended to harm. But like light passing through a prism, it has many components, each beautiful in its own way. If we can accept that, through this vehicle of grace—either directly from God or that we try to allow in our own lives—to forgive someone even though we’ve been hurt, to approach that person and say, “I’m trying to understand so I can be a better friend, a better reflection, and meet what you need me to be for you.” That’s powerful. I can’t promise it will happen. I can’t guarantee you’ll understand. But I can tell you, at this moment, my heart’s desire is to let this relationship I have with the divine be at the forefront, to set aside my misunderstandings or limitations, and do what you mentioned: surrender my life to what I believe God would want me to do, not to be pious, but because I know I’m not doing it well and I care about this other person or our community. 

So I think that’s part of when, metaphorically, Adam and Eve left the garden. It was safe there; they walked with God in the cool of the evening, could ask their questions, were protected. But when they sinned, when they chose their own way, they faced a world full of different ways of being—culture, music, ritual traditions—and they had to make choices about survival, about needing community even if they didn’t like these people. That’s the essence of hospitality in the desert. Looking at our spiritual lives, sometimes being in a desert, we are compelled by the grace we’ve been discussing. We have to learn how to use that gift, to feel comfortable with it. Even if it feels like a loss, saying, “Okay Lord, I’ll surrender, I’ll sell everything because you told me to,” but walking into it feeling liberated instead of denied.

Reinhard: I find theologians today comparable to the teachers of the law during the Israelite times. But as we know, Jesus condemned them when he preached the gospel. Some of them, I believe, became power-hungry. The scribes and teachers of the law abused their power. 

We read the Bible, we listen to preaching, and if we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, I think God gives us the opportunity to draw close to Him. We can’t just read superficially; it’s supposed to transform our lives, to bring us closer to God.

Regarding the history of receiving grace and how it’s responded to: It was a costly to God; He sacrificed His son, the creator gave His life to save people. The term “chosen” implies that while many are called, not everyone is selected. It’s a misconception to think everyone will receive grace sufficient for salvation. 

Following Jesus is costly, as we see from the disciples, most of whom died as martyrs. Stephen was stoned to death, and throughout history, other well-known martyrs like John and those during the French Revolution who faced the guillotine. It was costly for those who chose to follow God and were prepared to sacrifice their lives to receive grace.

Today, life is easier. Everyone can freely exercise their beliefs at home, at work, or in places of worship. God has given us this choice. Yet, it still depends on us to respond, because grace is given to everyone, just like air. But just as air can be costly for some—like those needing oxygen, people who go scuba diving, or astronauts in space—grace, too, has its costs. We must meet certain responsibilities. God said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” This is part of the selection process. Not everyone will be saved. God already knows those who will follow Him to the end, those whose names are written in the book of life. 

We have to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. That’s part of our responsibility in responding to grace. We have responsibilities that we must meet in order to be counted among the chosen.

C-J: Mention of things being written in the book of life reminds me that the concept may stem from church traditions like recording baptisms. But before written language, humans likely had no concept similar to what we find in various texts, though here we’re primarily examining the Bible and how we’ve been taught to interpret it. 

Yet, there’s the notion of grace in sacrificing one’s life. I think about those who suffer greatly—maybe not by going to jail or losing their lives, but perhaps losing a job, facing a divorce, or getting hurt while trying to help others. I often wonder, if we were in such situations, how would I internalize that experience? Would I be able to see God’s grace while witnessing authority harm a citizen, denying them a voice or protection under the law? 

Life is fluid, circumstantial, and can be incredibly harsh and unjust. It echoes what David mentioned: grace is what we must rely on. If I’m hungry, suffering from an infection, and confined in a cell with just a bucket and minimal sustenance, deprived of all sensory comforts, I might not be okay. But if I can connect with my spirit and with God, I hope to find peace—a peace that isn’t dependent on circumstances but is a manifestation and amplification of grace.

Don: David raised a crucial topic we need to delve deeper into—the transformational power of grace. Grace isn’t just an addition; it’s transformative, it changes everything, particularly the recipient of grace. I was reminded of 1 John 4:19-20, where John writes, “We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and yet he hates his brother or sister, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother and sister whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

This command—that one who loves God should also love his brother and sister—is significant. We often see people who claim to love God yet show little love towards others. I wonder, is this a simple yet profound way to judge whether we are truly recipients of grace—by how we treat our brother?

Sharon: Relating to Don’s question, how does “sanctified” grace fit into the practicalities of us becoming Christ-like? And what is the process we go through to have this impact our behavior, our actions, and our love for those around us?

David: Aquinas would argue that sanctification can be approached in one of two ways, ideally both: through the workings of the Holy Spirit and through the teachings of the Church. Both of these elements work together to bring about that level of sanctification, which essentially means beginning to live out the life of Christ. When you start living like that, you are tapping into sanctifying grace, without which it’s simply too difficult to do on our own.

Don: But isn’t sanctification primarily relational? In the end, isn’t it something that requires a relationship?

David: Yes, you do need a relationship with God. However, it doesn’t have to be a conscious relationship. It can be unconscious, partly because God initiates and sustains the relationship. That’s what Bonhoeffer said, and I agree with him. 

In the Garden of Eden, there was no grace needed until sin entered. Before that, God’s love was directly experienced; there was no need for grace. But after Adam and Eve strayed, grace became necessary—they received it first in the form of fig leaves. 

To me, these theological insights might not be just intellectual concepts about grace and love; they may be operational ways forward. Whether we need to understand them intellectually, conceptually, is my big question. I don’t think we do. Sanctification can occur because we were already partly sanctified at birth, with grace injected into our souls, eternity set within our hearts. That is why we tend to be good. If we were more evil than good, the universe would collapse because evil is destructive. 

To the extent we you conscious of that sanctification, and to the extent we then consciously decide to act upon it, grace can be transformational, but I also believe people can still be passive recipients of God’s grace, whether they know it it or not. If they do recognize it and it transforms them, that’s great. It can help them to help others and thereby show the transformative power of God’s love, making others want to experience that love for themselves.

Carolyn: Before Jesus, and even during the time of John the Baptist, there was no Bible for the common people, nothing concrete for them to draw upon. And though everyone is given the Holy Spirit, I wonder about the people in Jericho or other places who didn’t follow the prescribed path to grace. 

With all the modern resources we have—TV, radio, books—it makes me think about the balance. Grace is said to be written in our hearts, but I’m not solid on the idea that sanctification is always brought by work.

C-J: All religions, traditions, and rituals include an element of purification, such as washing your hands or feet before eating, entering a special tent, or dwelling. The Jews practiced these rituals even when they were in Egypt, similar to Roman baths that emphasized cleansing before engaging in communal activities. 

This ties back to what David was saying about how God inscribed in us desires that make communal living more feasible. Part of the ritual is coming together with a shared belief system, like sitting down at a table, washing hands, and expressing gratitude for what’s provided. These elements have always existed in tribal communities, whether they’re composed of 10, 15, or 20 people—the washing, the gathering, sitting around a campfire, sharing stories that teach children using examples from nature. For instance, how two animals might approach a piece of meat; do they share it, or do they risk their lives in a conflict? 

We often complicate things when God has given them to us with such beautiful simplicity. We need symbolism, storytelling, ritual. These help focus us, as our species is capable of higher-order thinking. Even my cat pauses to decide whether to jump on the bed while I’m making it. Sometimes she waits, sometimes she jumps anyway because she seeks attention and affection. We make things complex, but the beauty of God’s grace is like breathing—it’s a natural rhythm, simple and soothing.

Donald: I find the concept of gathering and community experiences intriguing. C-J mentioned the word “table,” and a table is significant. When you sit down, even in a circle, it’s different from sitting in a circle with a table in front of you. The table, whether you’re eating or not, signifies a common space. And if you were to extend that to, say, a campfire or water, it underscores how gathering around a physical element that everyone appreciates can level many things. For example, watching a sunset doesn’t mean everyone is thinking the same thing, but there’s a shared appreciation at that moment.

This leads me to think about the dynamics of love, like, and hate. Can I love someone but not like them? Where does hate fit into this spectrum with those three emotions? And then, I’ve been pondering the concept of light. Light is the result of something, like a light bulb or the sun. When you remove the light source, darkness ensues. Darkness isn’t something that is turned on; it’s the absence of light. So, was the Garden of Eden filled with God’s light, providing everything necessary? And when sin entered, was that light withdrawn, leading to a tension between light and darkness? This returns to many discussions we’ve had about the fundamental nature of light and darkness in the presence of God and sin.

* * *

The Clock and the Sabbath

For the last two weeks, we have been discussing the Sabbath as a sacred time of rest and Grace. A statement that Dr. Weaver has mentioned in both of the classes is going to be the starting point of our discussion today, Quote: “By making time sacred instead of space sacred, God forever removed mankind’s control over the designation of what is sacred. Man, you see, can control space but cannot control time.” Today, we will discuss how humankind has actually challenged God over the control of time, and in so doing, we have lost touch with God and the sacred. 

In this class, we discussed several times about the diminishing role of God in modern life. We were trying to come to understand how this happened. What invention or philosophy was or is going to be the cause of the irrelevance of God? Was it the printing press, or perhaps the computer? Was it the internet, or will AI be the final straw that will drive God into extinction? 

For today, I would like to discuss with you the invention that has caused us to lose much of our reverence for God. It is actually none of the ones that we have discussed before and in fact its invention preceded all of them. The fourteenth century invention that weakened our reverence for and reliance on God was…. The mechanical clock! Distinguished among other previous clocks, such as the sun dial or water clock, which were suspect to the seasons. 

This idea was proposed by Lewis Mumford. Mumford was an American philosopher and historian who was interested in how the invention of machines transformed our societies and ways of life into capitalism. And the first machine that facilitated this transformation: the clock. 

Before the clock, time was in the hands of God. A human lived and acted based on our human experiences; we ate when we got hungry, we went to sleep when we got tired or it got dark outside, and we woke up with the chickens. Of course, this varied throughout the year and during the seasons as the days became uneven in their duration.  This is what we will refer to as organic time. What happens during organic time is outside of our control, and we are only able to respond to it. Phenomena and natural events outside of our control dictated how we behaved and lived. Since humans were not the arbitrators of their lives, it was easy and natural to see and revere God everywhere they looked. 

Mumford says all of this changed upon the invention of the clock. Time stopped being “organic” and became “abstract”.

“By its essential nature, the clock has dissociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. With the invention of the clock, we are able to quantify and measure time, and this transformed our living reality.”

Mumford goes on to say that the clock is the most important machine that led to the capitalist society we live in. Think about it this way: When we divided the 24-hour day into two 12-hour shifts, one for the day and the other for the night, we invented wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslight, electric lamps, so as to use all the hours belonging to the day.

The clock has synchronized our actions, we go to work at 8 and finish at 5, and then get stuck in rush hour, we eat, not when we feel hungry, but when the clock says it’s time to do so and we sleep and wake up not by our organic functions, but by the tyranny of the clock. 

This is Mumford again:

“When we think of time not as a sequence of experiences, but as a collection of hours, minutes, and seconds, the habits of adding time and saving time come into existence. Time takes on the character of an enclosed space: it could be divided, it could be filled up, it could even be expanded by the invention of labor-saving instruments.”

We have basically made time into space and declared our dominion over it. When we make time into a space, we have an illusion of control over it. In reality, we are the ones who are now time-slaves. Time is now a commodity and not an experience. As the saying goes, time is money, and your worth as a human being is calculated based on your hourly rate.

Mumford would like you to think of the clock as a machine, much like a printing machine or a vacuum cleaner, but instead of producing printed paper or vacuum for cleaning, what the clock produces are the seconds and minutes. When it does that, your experiences, emotions, and life events are now dictated by the ticking of the clock. 

When time became quantifiable, it lost its sacredness. When the clock standardized time, we stopped looking for God in the everyday experiences of our lives. God became more distant and harder to find. It is not just God that we have lost touch with, we are also not in touch with ourselves anymore. We are in a constant race against time. We imagine that our quantifiable achievements are going to shield us from our death, and we are in a rush to accumulate as many of those achievements as possible. We do not accept the organic cycle of life that goes through birth, growth, development, decay, and death and we try to defy it by adding to it as much more time as possible. 

However, amidst this pursuit of temporal control, certain ancient practices and traditions stand as reminders of a different perspective on time—specifically, the Sabbath, observed from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday in the Jewish tradition. The Sabbath, rooted in the biblical narrative of creation and subsequently codified in the Ten Commandments, represents a deliberate relinquishing of human control over time, acknowledging a higher authority.

In the book of Genesis, after creating the heavens and the earth, God rests on the seventh day and sanctifies it as a day of rest (Genesis 2:2-3). This act of divine rest establishes a precedent for humanity to emulate—a rhythm of work and rest that aligns with the natural order of creation. The observance of the Sabbath, therefore, becomes a spiritual discipline that transcends mere temporal regulation; it is an act of faith and obedience, acknowledging God’s sovereignty over time.

In the biblical context, the Sabbath is not merely a day of idleness but a sacred interval for reflection, worship, and communion with the divine. It signifies a pause in the ceaseless pursuit of productivity and self-reliance, inviting believers to trust in God’s provision and grace. The Sabbath invites us to release the grip of time from our hands and to enter into a state of spiritual renewal and refreshment.

The symbolism of the Sabbath, especially in relation to the mechanical clock, underscores a profound theological truth: that true rest and restoration come not from our ability to control time but from our willingness to surrender to the divine rhythm of creation. By observing the Sabbath, believers affirm their dependence on God, acknowledging that He alone holds the ultimate authority over time and eternity.

God occupies the Eternal. The Eternal is a measure of time, but it cannot be measured by mechanical time. God’s time zone is very different than ours. We obviously have to leave the time produced by the clock behind, and instead listen to what God is telling us-through our experiences, emotions, encounters, and the unencumbered moment to moment living. This, I think, is what the sabbath is all about. This also aligns with eastern religions’ emphasis on meditation and the practice of being present- after all, that’s where God resides. 

Listening to this, have you realized how much the clock dominates your life? How many times do you look at your clock per day? Can you imagine living life without a clock?

What do you think of this new angle on the Sabbath, that what is required is to leave our time measurements and pursuits behind and instead listen to the voice of God present all around us? Can you spot the hypocrisy in chasing the sabbath from a specific minute of sunset on Friday until a specific minute of sunset on Saturday?

David: I think it’s a great idea to abandon a time-bound Sabbath, and I think you can do that if the Sabbath is strictly an individual affair, because it cannot work for a community. To practice Sabbath in a community requires time coordination; you have to set the day and time of the Sabbath meeting because otherwise, you just cannot have a community gathering. It just won’t work without the use of time as humans have engineered it, as Mumford so well explained. 

So, I am all for it. And as I said last week, I do think that the Sabbath can be a personal affair; it doesn’t have to be a community practice.

Kiran: I like the idea that by suspending our control over time, we are recognizing that sacredness is in the divine. Submitting to Him is a very powerful idea. I think we lose that symbolism when we strictly observe the exact moment of sunset to start and end the Sabbath. 

Realizing I am this tiny little part in this universe, and here is the sacred time created by the Creator, and that it’s my privilege to suspend everything right now and surrender to Him—is a beautiful thing. It makes me want to keep the Sabbath.

Donald: I guess I’m a little confused. To me, a mechanical clock is like a light bulb. Naturally, we only have light at certain times of the day. Just because you have a light bulb doesn’t mean you’re not controlling light; you’re able to produce light and use it in a modern way. Mechanical time, to me, is nothing more than a reflection of natural time. Now we manipulate it a bit based on our location and time zones, I suppose. 

Yes, we divide time up, but as I see it, we’re dividing natural time up, rather than dividing mechanical time up. We’re taking natural time and organizing it into segments so that we can gather and organize ourselves to be on time.

In photography, when you take a picture, it timestamps that moment. That’s mechanical time, I suppose. But it actually still represents the moment; it has nothing to do with telling you the natural time at which that image took place. And it’s very useful. Such “metadata” about the picture can tell you where it was located but not what the moment is about. That is something that is human. Why you took that picture is totally up to you. The metadata is still nothing more than data: this is where you took it, this is what time you took it. AI may identify who’s in the photo, but it can’t tell you what the relationship between the people in it is. It can guess, and apparently, it will get better at it.

The purpose of a photograph is to remember what’s important to us. And then we look at the metadata, and we can say, okay, when did that take place? Those are very important things. It would be fascinating to have had a camera during the time of Christ with metadata. I

Our focus is on the Sabbath. But again, a mechanical clock only reflects the bulletins every week that tell you when sunset is and when sunrise is. So, sunset is the next step. It’s dividing time up and precisely defining what the Sabbath is naturally.

Michael: I don’t think mechanical time reflects natural time. The problem is we’ve been with mechanical time for so long that we miss what natural time is. We know to the minute the times of sunrise and sundown. But imagine it’s cloudy, and there are no clocks. 

The idea of natural time would be that your day in the winter is very different than your day in the summer. When do you go to sleep? When do you wake up? When do you work? It’s all dictated by this natural time. The clock—what mechanical time measures—is irrelevant for nature, and I would argue, for the human organism. 

For example, with regard to memories, it turns out that we don’t remember things based on when they happened, but based on our emotions at the moment. When you look at your life events, in hindsight, you always remember how you felt, or what happened. It doesn’t matter what the time was, the year, or your age; those are all mechanical timers. But the natural events happened in their own rhythm.

C-J: Speaking of rhythm, that’s what I was going to say—that time, to me, is not measurable because it’s interpreted. And if you think about the many dimensions within the universe, the spectrums within that, it’s really just an illusion. Anyway, we have a sun, we’re in a solar system, so we can capture that. But it’s very finite. But the truth of it is, even throughout the day, they go, “Wow, the day went really fast,” or “I can’t believe how long it took me to do that.” It’s really an illusion. And the Sabbath is built into that. 

So, the first year that I retired was the most difficult because I was accustomed to the mechanism of measured, socially agreed upon time. But then when I had free rein, I was caught between, “I’m going to do this, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes, or who I’m doing it with, or what my intention is.” Those weren’t the metrics anymore. And so, tapping into other things like creativity, personal value, exploration, all those things became my metric. But I think, as an organic being that has energy content, I am more aware, maybe because I’m towards the end of my life, it could be today, here now, that I’m much more aware that living in the present, being aware of the presence of God in all things is perpetual. 

And sometimes it just makes me smile because if I was working, I wouldn’t have time for my conscious mind to identify that; I’d be absorbed in a task or a responsibility. So it’s very freeing. It allows me to examine my choices in life, those experiences redefined, and the impact of that whole different way of perceiving time and putting a value on it. I hate clocks now. Before, I measured whether it was a good day if I got a lot accomplished; now, I see it as an impediment—necessary but an impediment. 

I think all of these new inventions are wonderful in the sense that they help us to maximize in this construct of time, this measurable, definable; we’re more productive and creative, perhaps, but I really enjoy, much more, daydreaming, or reflection. It’s like being a child again, but at a higher level of thinking.

Donald: I guess I’m still stuck on that phrase: ”living in the present.” It’s a concept I’ve battled with, or certainly confronted, based on my professional background. Some people argue that using a camera suggests you’re not fully experiencing the moment. “Put the camera down and enjoy the moment,” they say. I have dear friends who have done that over the years. 

It’s interesting when you grow older, your kids have matured, and you realize you have no pictures. As a photographer, I have argued that one of the highest values of being a photographer is to look at things more carefully and precisely with a camera than you would by just gliding through the moment. Without taking pictures, during an interesting time in one’s life as friends age and move beyond the strict schedules of their working years, becoming more affluent and moving from one event to another, they claim they’re living in the present, but they can’t remember what they just did. They’re not relishing the moment. 

So, I consider photography actually as something that suggests I take a slower, different look at things because of having a camera. And I highly value having metadata because it helps me organize when things took place. 

The Bible consists of just written stories. They didn’t have cameras back then, but they did their level best to precisely reflect what was important at that moment. A lot of effort was put into trying to organize things and get them lined up so that the stories come together in a more precise way.

Don: Are you suggesting, Donald, that the Sabbath is God’s camera?

Donald: Exactly. He’s wanting us to slow down, take a look, and reflect on what’s most important. And He has told us to do so. As opposed to gliding through the moment and saying, “I loved Jesus every day of my life.” No, He wants a special moment. And He wants it time-dated.

C-J: That seems am arguably autocratic way of having a relationship with God. It’s like saying, “This is the day I want you here, and if you’re 15 minutes early, you’re on time.” I could never live like that. Nomadic tribes, for example, breathed in the air, were thankful for their community, and depended on oral traditions passed down from generation to generation. They discussed changes like when the waters changed. What happened before the waters changed? Was it too hard? Did we get too much rain? They didn’t need a camera because they were one with the earth. 

Look at the Aztecs and how they used their calendars related to tracking God, because to them, God was nature, and every day they lived very close to the earth amidst disease, war, famine, etc. There’s something very nice about getting lost in an idea. 

So, whose idea was it to write the days of the week? What was created in the Bible?

Donald: I think it was functional. It had to do with commerce. They needed to know when to plant, when to harvest, how long it took to get from one city to the next, to bring their goods to market. They had to know there was this rotation on this free market trail, like the Silk Road. I don’t think it had anything to do with nomadic people who probably didn’t travel more than 20 miles.

C-J: I see it as a narrative, an example, a pathway to gather people together in this very important exercise of storytelling. For Donald, it’s the camera, but in ancient times, it was storytelling from the elders, from those considered gifts from God—the healers, those who knew what natural medicines were available in the environment and how to keep people healthy through trial and error. You don’t mix meat in a milk pot; you don’t eat pork because of the risk of trichinosis, that worm that gets into the muscle when pork isn’t fully cooked. I really don’t think it’s about a physical way of capturing point A to point C, and what happens in between. 

The storytelling is important, the planting and sowing is very important, but singling one of those out and saying this has higher value—that’s why it’s really important. The Sabbath may be just a time and place that we might carve out to make sure we don’t forget. But for me, the Sabbath and its time and place is ever-present, maybe because I’ve had a very nomadic life. It’s very fluid, new experiences, and always challenging. 

My life is not predictable. I challenge people to say their life is. Those who work, do research—it’s never the same day twice. And no, it’s just how you look at it. When I taught, every day was different, my students were always different. I think it’s an illusion, but a very important narrative.

David: Ramadan seems like it’s a kind of annual Sabbath for Muslims, a month of meditation and restraint. I know Fridays are a Sabbath of sorts, but they don’t seem to treat Friday quite the same way as Christian’s treat their Sabbath. I could be wrong there. My point is that the timing of Ramadan is determined by the moon and its phases, not by the clock and calendar. It depends on the phase and setting of the sun and moon. In short, it’s the old time, pre-mechanical time. 

Michael: When we apply a clock to something, we are quantifying it. We measure it and say, “If it’s before this minute, I’m fine; I can do my thing. After this minute, I have to observe the fast.” And that’s the point where I put myself in the shoes of God and say, “This is when I do what I do.” And that’s the whole point of the clock, which I think is a little difficult to see because we’ve been living with it for centuries, and we’re completely dependent on it. It takes a while to see how life was very different before the clock, very hard to see what was different.

David: The Nobel Laureate physicist Frank Tipler argued (persuasively to me, but controversially to others) that time is the devil. And if that’s the case, then certainly it’s not very good of us to make use of it! 

Don: I’m struck by Michael’s observations about time. My understanding of the biblical record is that God gave man dominion over the earth, over the sea, and over the fishes in the sea, and the birds of the air and so forth. But, after the Flood, He again gives man dominion over the earth, but He seems to be more circumspect with time. Our attempt to wrestle control of time from God is part of our condition of the fall. I think God calls us to a position of relinquishing our desire to control time to Him.

Donald: I’ve said over a number of years that Adventists are fixated on time. It’s really how our church began. We measured time when we thought something would take place. The Great Disappointment was about time. The Seventh Day is something we pronounce very distinctly when talking about judgment, you know, “23 days,” and the prophecies in Revelation all focus on very specific times. Time is very prominently important in the Bible as it speaks to prophecy. Now, are we not supposed to pay attention to that, or what was the purpose in the Bible of talking about time whatsoever?

C-J: To me, time is always relative. In the Old Testament, the Hebrews who followed a certain line became Jews and in the New Testament the Hebrews who believed in Christ became Christians. So after a certain period of time, they were no longer merely Hebrews—they became Jews. And the Christians came out of that. So again, the storytelling, they’re always looking for a messiah. It doesn’t put a time date stamp on when one is expected, but it has certain characteristics. He had to be a leader, know military strategy, be a peacemaker, be wise and patient, and able to see into the future in terms of what would be good for the people. But they didn’t say all those criteria had to be present; what they did say was that the Messiah would come and the Messiah would have these components. 

And that’s why so many times Jesus was asked, “Are you the Messiah?” And that’s what Jesus said to His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Because it’s relative. We use that word quite easily in terms of “Oh, I was saved,” or “that person was hired,” or “thank goodness, that person was there; an angel of God was present.” We say that in a really broad context, but we recognize in those statements the presence of something greater than ourselves, meaning humanity.

So, I don’t think it’s wise to put God in a box because it’s easy for me to draw that box, beginning, middle, end. I like looking at God and saying there are endless possibilities and God’s wisdom is beyond my understanding, even if I make a mistake, it was kind of built into the plan: “Okay, you’re human. I anticipated this, but I had a plan B, I’m way ahead of your calculations. Don’t worry about it. Now you’ve learned, right?” 

So when we try to put God in a block of time, in a space, within a narrative, we do a disservice to the divine. It’s like saying, “God, please don’t let it rain tomorrow because it’s my wedding.” That’s a very selfish statement. It rains because hot and cold air mix, there’s enough moisture in the air, it’s the right season, and it’s going to rain. So to deal with that, in old times, they had a saying, “If it rains, the marriage will be good.” We have workarounds. I never want to put God in a box. I never want to say, “You promised me this, and it should look like that.” That’s the way I’ll know it’s you because you are consistent in how you behave. 

I think God meets us where we are. And it’s fluid. The universe is not static. We’re just little tiny atoms and molecules going along on the train track, metaphorically.

Don: The observation is really an interesting one. I never thought about it before, that Christians in general, and Adventists specifically, link a great deal of their belief system to a timeline—a prophetic timeline, a timeline of Sabbath keeping, and so forth. 

It’s fascinating what we do in terms of our constructs, and putting ourselves in the middle of it. One of the things I’ve learned in our discussions here about the Sabbath and grace is that when we put ourselves at the center of the Sabbath, when we put ourselves at the center of these timelines, then we do God a disservice. 

We should be looking at what the significance of these timelines—prophetic timelines, Sabbath timelines, etc.—say about God and His eternal grace, as opposed to what they say about us and us putting ourselves in the middle of the Sabbath. It doesn’t negate the Sabbath or its importance, the special invitation that it makes to us to enter into a oneness with God on a regular basis. But it does change the point of emphasis, I think, and that, to me, is a real blessing.

Donald: I’ve described it more as a fascination with numbers. We take numbers very seriously in the Bible and try to interpret them. Whether those numbers represent time, or other meanings, the number seven itself is a prime example of how we place a distinction on that number.

C-J: It’s not just the Jewish faith that uses numbers for divination. Asians do it too, or have done it, and still do it in their calendars. The Aztecs used numbers, but divination can be used in many ways to explain sickness, times and seasons for planting, politically…

I agree that we need to make more room for God and not try to fit God into our plans. Instead, we’re supposed to fit into God’s plan, not the reverse.

Reinhard: In the Bible, of course, there is no mention of Monday, Tuesday, and so on. It speaks of the preparation day, of Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week, and so on. Time is not really defined in terms of hours like we do today; it talks about the first hour, second hour, ninth hour, which are vague. 

In the Old Testament, ages are noted precisely—for example, Adam died at a certain age, and some of the ancestors lived for 900-plus years. However, as far as the 24-hour cycle goes, that’s not detailed.

In our consensus, Saturday is the Sabbath, but actually, the worship day is observed from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. So, the term “Saturday” isn’t really a substitute for “Sabbath”. In the Indonesian tradition, a new year starts on the 31st at sundown. But in northern lands, there is no sunset in Summer, so they need another way to determine the Sabbath.

The bottom line is that God asks us to worship Him on the seventh day of creation, from sundown the previous day. But  whatever day people choose as their day of worship, I think God will accept it. Although I keep to my belief—I go with the truth I know, the seventh day as the Bible says.

Anonymous: Michael has shaken up my previous understanding—or maybe put many question marks on it. Two points in particular drew my attention during this discussion.

Firstly, the number seven. Since there were no named days like Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc., how did the people in ancient times count? They must have relied on the moon and the sun, which God gave us as signs of times. For example, during the time when the Israelites were in the wilderness, and God gave them manna to eat and gather every day except for the seventh day, and on the day before the seventh day, they were to gather double portions for the Sabbath. So, how did they know it was the seventh day? They must have counted. I don’t know how they started—maybe by observing the moon? How did they know for sure? What if they messed up the count? What if that man who went out to gather manna on the Sabbath and was killed for doing so simply messed up his counting? How do we know?

The second point is that in light of grace, the number seven doesn’t matter as much as living throughout the week, or even life, as a Sabbath. Because grace is always being offered to us in every single second, every moment, continuously. Life is a continuum; there is no need to designate or assign beginnings and ends, but the mechanical clock changed everything and really took humanity out of God’s view.

But if we view the Sabbath as resting in grace for our whole lives, then the specific days don’t matter. We have the moon for actual counting, and we have the spirit for resting in God’s grace, always. With that spirit of rest dwelling in us, we live in a continual Sabbath. Because we’re resting and acknowledging that God is the creator and our lives are in His hands. So we’re resting, day after day, without even counting to seven to start the Sabbath or to one to start the week.

Reinhard: Of course, they knew about the year, how the sun returns to its position. They knew about the moon, how it completes its cycle every 30 days. And of course, night and day together make up 24 hours. But the week—seven days—there is no sign from nature for this. 

God told the Israelites through Moses, “Tomorrow is a day of preparation,” etc. So the concept of the seventh day comes not from observation but directly from God. The Jewish practice from that day to now has observed that as a separate day. So while the concept of a day may relate to natural observations, the seven-day week does not, except as God instructed.

Michael: I think that’s a simple point, but exactly the point. It seems like it’s hard to realize until you retire and can enjoy more than just moment-to-moment living. But I think that’s exactly what God was trying to say: when you’re working, you have to take time to rest, to forget about your own time and just accept God’s grace.

Don: We’ll pick it up next week. David’s going to talk next week about grace and love, and how they interact or amount to the same thing.

* * * 

The Sabbath as Evidence of God’s Grace 2

Don: This is the second part of a two-part series on Sabbath and grace. Of necessity and for context, there’ll be some duplication from last week so that those of you who weren’t here will not be lost. 

The subject of a Sabbath recurs throughout the Bible. From Genesis through Revelation, from the creation of this earth to the creation of a new earth, we see the story of the Sabbath:

“For just as the new heavens and the new earth,
Which I make, will endure before Me,” declares the Lord,
“So will your descendants and your name endure.
And it shall be from new moon to new moon
And from Sabbath to Sabbath,
All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord.” (Isaiah 66:22-23) 

The emphasis throughout, especially the emphasis placed on it by Jesus, is not on the day of the Sabbath, but on the meaning of the Sabbath. The day of the Sabbath was not in dispute as the Jews of Jesus’ time thought. The Sabbath was the seventh day, it was commonly held. By making time sacred instead of the space sacred, God forever removed mankind’s control over the designation of what is sacred. Man, you see, can control space but can I control time. 

Like Grace, Sabbath Rest is a gift of God to all mankind, we cannot hasten the Sabbath, we cannot delay it, we cannot manipulate it, modify it, move it, control it, contain it, advance it, retreat it ,or alter it in any way. All we can do is enter into that sacred rest. Like Grace, it is everywhere, available to all and always free. To enter into it is to enter into God’s presence, to lay down one’s burdens and to “study war no more” as the old spiritual song puts it. Life is a war; a daily contention among and within ourselves, with others and even sometimes with God. It is to change our swords for plowshares and pruning hooks:

And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift a sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war. (Micah 4:3) 

But Sabbath Rest is not just physical. Primarily Jesus told us it is a rest for the soul:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” (Mathew 28-30)

Why grace? While we tend to want to control it and use it for our own selfish advantage, we cannot in fact do so. We cannot possess the Sabbath; it can only possess us. When we place ourselves and what we do or what we don’t do at the center of the Sabbath instead of letting the Son of Man who is the Lord of the Sabbath reign than we are in danger making the Sabbath into an idol and worshiping it instead of worshiping God. Make no mistake about this: Our reverence and our keeping of the Sabbath does not make us special in God’s eyes. He is the God of all mankind. If God wanted uniformity of worship or correctness of doctrine, he would have spelled it out more clearly in the details of how we are to relate to him. 

But herein lie two related perils. First, the more that God lays down rules, the more we place emphasis on our own work. to keep those rules, God knows that since we ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we are wired to seek discrimination of our work. Second, if God gave the rules to one group only, that group would use those rules to suppress everyone else. Even now, every religion and every sect claims to speak for God and seeks to subject everyone else to their view of his rules. I believe that God has revealed elements of his truth to all people everywhere and that every great faith and every great denomination has some identifiable insight into the element of truth, which then they rightly emphasize. For us, those of us who call ourselves Seventh-Day Adventists, one of those elements is the Sabbath. 

When we talk and share and teach, we all have something to contribute to a discussion about what it is that God would have us to see in him. By grace, the gift of the Sabbath rest must not be hoarded—it must be shared, but not as a doctrine simply to be justified or proven: It must be shared as a gift as it was given to us. To disconnect from our daily pace and connect with God and enter into physical, emotional and spiritual rest is a very special opportunity to be cherished and shared. It brings us back to the oneness that we lost in the Garden. 

The notion of a Sabbath controlled by man with his rules and prohibitions at the center of it is obsolete, according to Jesus. How we apply the eternal gift of Sabbath rest to ourselves is between us individually and God. Our church, that is our Adventist church must share how, what, and why it means something that is important to us, but we also must share how we use it ourselves individually and demonstrate in terms of our relationship with God. We must do so with great humility and without sanctions or judgment. 

Last week, Donald asked the question”When you’re talking about the Sabbath and grace, is that Sabbath with a capital S or sabbath with a small s?” In other words, is Sabbath simply a concept, or is the day itself important? In the realm of religious observance, the question of which day to set aside for worship has been a topic of debate and divergence across faith traditions for centuries. While some adhere to specific days based on theological interpretation, or cultural practices, others argue that any day is suitable for worship. However, 

The Sabbath emerges, I believe, as a compelling choice for worship not because other days are inherently wrong, but because the Sabbath holds unique significance and symbolism that make it the “right “ day for communal worship.Yet there is no inherently wrong day of worship. God accepts worship whenever and wherever it comes from as long as it’s sincerely given. 

The Sabbath, in Scripture, is a day that is set apart. In both Jewish and Christian traditions, the Sabbath holds the central place as a day of rest and worship, rooted in the creation narrative where God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). The Sabbath was later enshrined as a commandment in the decalog (Exodus 20:8-11). Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Sabbath is depicted as a sacred day for communal worship, reflection and spiritual renewal. 

The Sabbath carries profound symbolism as a day of rest and renewal. By setting aside one day in seven for rest and worship, individuals acknowledge their dependence on God as the sustainer and the creator and the restore of life. The Sabbath offers a sanctuary and a time enabling believers to pause from their worldly pursuits and reorient themselves from the mundane toward the divine. 

Observing the Sabbath as a communal day for worship fosters unity and cohesion within a religious community. Gathering together on a designated day promotes fellowship, mutual support, and shared spiritual experiences. It strengthens the bond of faith and solidarity amongst believers, creating a sense of belonging and connection and indeed a sense of community. 

Across cultures and civilizations, the concept of a designated day for worship has been prevalent, often aligned with astronomical, agricultural or religious calendars. In many societies, the seventh day has been recognized as the time for spiritual reflection and communal worship, reflecting a human longing for transcendence and divine connection. Regular observance of the Sabbath cultivates spiritual discipline and specifying a day lets individuals prioritize their relationship with God and invest in their spiritual growth. The rhythm of Sabbath observance creates space for prayer, study, worship acts of service and nurturing a deeper intimacy with the divine through introspection and personal loss. 

The Sabbath emerges as the right day of worship not because other days are inherently wrong, but because of its unique significance and symbolism in religious tradition. Rooted in biblical precedence, this is the Sabbath for me. By linking the Sabbath to a day, it actualizes the message and the significance of the Sabbath. The concept of a  Sabbath without an acknowledged and actualized day makes the message, in my opinion, less real. A real life day of rest accentuates the message of grace. When the Sabbath shows up on the seventh day, every seven days, it is a reminder of God’s gift of grace. It is what I’ll call a down payment on God’s eternal grace. 

In the tapestry of religious practices, the Sabbath stands out as a profound expression of divine grace rooted in Abrahamic traditions, particularly in Judaism and Christianity. The Sabbath is more than just a day of rest: It is a sacred gift, a manifestation of God’s grace and a downpayment of his blessings. The significance of the Sabbath is as a testament to divine grace, and its observance serves as a foretaste of the abundant blessings bestowed upon humanity. It is in this sense that I refer to it as a downpayment. 

At the heart of the Sabbath lies the notion of cessation, a sensation from worry from labor, and from worldly pursuits. In the biblical narrative, God Himself rested on the seventh day after the work of creation; not of fatigue, but as a divine example for humanity. This act of rest was not imposed as a burden but offered as a gift, a space carved out in time for community communion with the divine. 

In the rhythm of the Sabbath individuals find restoration and renewal for their weary souls. It offers a pause in the frenetic pace of life inviting believers to reconnect with their spiritual selves, with their loved ones and with the natural world. This rejuvenation is a testament to God’s grace, offering solace and strength amid life’s trials. 

The Sabbath also symbolizes freedom from bondage, echoing the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Just as God commanded the Israelites to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20) He invites all humanity to experience the freedom that comes from surrendering to his divine rhythm. Sabbath observance fosters communal harmony and solidarity as people gather to worship, share meals and engage in acts of kindness. They experience the interconnectedness of humanity under the shelter of God’s grace. It is a time for reconciliation for forgiveness and for building relationships. All of these are essential aspects of God’s redemptive love. 

In addition, beyond its immediate benefits, the Sabbath also serves as a down payment of God’s blessings, offering a foretaste of the ultimate rest promised to believers. It is a glimpse of the eternal Sabbath, where sorrow and pain will cease and all creation will dwell in perfect harmony with its creator. Jesus Christ proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God, as Michael so elegantly taught us, where the weary will find rest and the oppressed will be set free. The Sabbath therefore becomes a tangible expression of this end of time hope this eschatological hope, a taste of the kingdom yet to come. 

In the ministry of Jesus, the Sabbath was a time for acts of compassion and healing. He demonstrated that the Sabbath was made for Humanity’s benefit, but not as a legalistic burden. Through His miracles, Jesus revealed God’s grace in the fullest expression, bringing redemption, restoration and healing to a broken world. Ultimately, the Sabbath points to eternal fellowship with believers who enjoy their fellowship with believers who enjoy their relationship with God and the new heaven and the new earth. It is a symbol of the eternal rest promised in Hebrews 4:9-11, where every tear will be wiped away and God will dwell among his people. 

The Sabbath stands is a manifestation of God’s grace and a down payment for his blessings. It is a sacred space and time where believers experience restoration, freedom and communion with the divine. Moreover, the Sabbath anticipates the eternal rest and joy, promised to all who embrace God’s redemptive love. Honoring the Sabbath reminds us of God’s abundant grace and hope for everlasting life in His presence. 

Grace and Sabbath are both predictable and eternal. Both require us to rest, not to work. Both are about God and what He does, not about us and what we do. Just as it is fatal to fail to embrace God’s everlasting grace, a Sabbath rest predicated on my work is also fatal, as it was for the man stoned for breaking it in the Exodus (the story is told in Numbers 15). 

The Sabbath is also a symbol of freedom from bondage for all of God’s creatures, rich and poor, animals as well as humans, which is another way of saying this is an evidence of God’s grace.

“Keep the Sabbath day to treat it as holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.For six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; you shall not do any work that day, you or your son or your daughter, or your male slave or your female slave, or your ox, your donkey, or any of your cattle, or your resident who stays with you, so that your male slave and your female slave may rest as well as you. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to celebrate the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

The Apostle Paul told us to accept this Sabbath gift with great humility: 

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not to have quarrels over opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but the one who is weak eats only vegetables. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person values one day over another, another values every day the same. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and the one who eats, does so with regard to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat, and he gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

But as for you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you as well, why do you regard your brother or sister with contempt? For we will all appear before the judgment seat of God. For it is written:

“As I live, says the Lord, to Me every knee will bow,
And every tongue will give praise to God.”

So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let’s not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this: not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s or sister’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to the one who thinks something is unclean, to that person it is unclean. For if because of food your brother or sister is hurt, you are no longer walking in accordance with love. Do not destroy with your choice of food that person for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by other people. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the person who eats and causes offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother or sister stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is the one who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But the one who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14)

Paul re emphasizes this point in his letter to the Colossians:

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have in your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and that they would attain to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.


Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food and drink, or in respect to a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath day— things which are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Take care that no one keeps defrauding you of your prize by delighting in humility and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding firmly to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of man? These are matters which do have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and humility and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Colossians 2:1-4,16-23)

To me, this has not in any way reduced the importance of the gift of the Sabbath. Rather, it sheds light on how we should share the gift with others. Just as I should share grace with you, I should share the Sabbath and should do so without judgment, without coercion and without affectation. 

Isaiah stressed the importance of the gift by saying:

“If, because of the Sabbath, you restrain your foot
From doing as you wish on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a pleasure, and the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

I think that doing your own pleasure does not just mean doing things that you don’t want to do and shunning things that you want to do on the Sabbath. It means making yourself the focal point of the Sabbath, putting yourself at the center of it and what you do and how you keep it, rather than putting God at the center. We should rather take delight in the Lord. The result is to be wrapped in the robes of righteousness and salvation (Isaiah 61). This is the eternal abiding condition of grace. We know that the heritage of Jacob is nothing less than a new name, signifying God’s glory in His investment of grace in Jacob and forgiveness of his sins. 

Let me draw this together in the rich tapestry of religious observance. The Sabbath stands out as a day of profound significance across various faith traditions. Debates may arise regarding the appropriate day for Sabbath keeping. The essence of Sabbath lies not in what we do but in what God does. Sabbath keeping on the “right” day (“right” because of the Divine actions that occur on Sabbath rather than what human activity) is a guide more than it is a rule. It is an invitation more than it is an injunction. The Sabbath is a day, believe it or not, of divine activity. 

In the creation narrative, the Sabbath is established as a day of rest not because God was fatigued, but as a testament to his completed work and creation. The Sabbath therefore becomes a sacred day marked by God’s presence and pleasure in his handiwork. 

Throughout biblical history, the Sabbath is intimately linked to God’s redemptive Act. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath served as a memorial of God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage (Exodus 5-15.) Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus performs numerous miracles on the Sabbath, demonstrating God’s compassion and power to heal and to restore. The Sabbath is a day set apart for divine revelation, and encounter, when believers are invited to draw near to God to seek His presence and to listen attentively to his voice. 

In the stillness of the Sabbath, our hearts are open to receive divine guidance, comfort and inspiration. God’s activity on the Sabbath extends beyond physical rest to accomplish spiritual renewal and transformation. As believers enter into a Sabbath rest, they experience God’s grace and empowerment to overcome spiritual weariness, doubt and despair. The Sabbath becomes a catalyst for personal and communal revival. 

The Sabbath also points toward the end of time and eschatological fulfillment of God’s kingdom. It is a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath rest promised in the New Earth to believers. Suffering will cease and God will dwell among his people in perfect harmony. If there is a right day for keeping it, it is because of the divine activity that God undertakes—activity that unfolds on the Sabbath, rather than human actions. The Sabbath is marked by divine revelation, encounter renewal, and anticipatory anticipation of End Time fulfillment. 

As believers honor the Sabbath, they may be drawn into deeper communion with the Divine and experience the transformative power of God’s presence in their life. I believe there is a “right” day of worship, but I also believe that there is no wrong day for worship either. It is a right day because of what God does on the Sabbath, not what we do. God makes the day holy, God that makes the day right, not us.

Joyce: The number seven, representing completeness and fulfillment in the Bible, is exemplified by the Sabbath and even the Year of Jubilee. Instead of simply saying every 50 years, it specifies a cycle of seven times seven years—49 years—and then on the 50th year, actions such as freeing slaves and returning land to its rightful owners are mandated, and the land is allowed to rest completely. 

This demonstrates what completeness and fulfillment look like, mirroring how Grace is meant to be complete, not just for those adhering to specific rules, but for all humanity.

David: The notion of rules is interesting. I wonder if this group discussion can be considered a form of Sabbath worship. It’s intriguing because, as far as I know, Don hasn’t established any rules for this class. Perhaps the absence of rules is feasible because we’re a small group. In larger groups, there’s a natural need for some organization and, consequently, some rules. 

I wonder if engaging with your community on the Sabbath is a requirement, or if Sabbath keeping is on a continuum, ranging from the antisocial or painfully shy loner to the social butterfly who thrives on gatherings. Can one observe the Sabbath alone, or does that by definition focus too much on oneself? If someone chooses to keep the Sabbath in solitude, is it akin to going into the closet to pray, and is that equally valid as going to church to pray?

Donald: As someone who has been a Seventh-day Adventist their entire life, this discussion is meaningful yet somewhat disruptive to the harmony of my beliefs. It was intriguing when Don mentioned using the three words in order but added “but, however, in addition.” 

This conversation challenges some established ideas. For instance, the Sabbath is central to our identity, and our identity is often framed by others’ perspectives. I’ve used the term “Sabbath” with my neighbors, when I could easily say “Saturday” instead. Sometimes I wonder if I should adjust that terminology. I’ve rarely heard anyone who observes Sunday refer to it as their “Sabbath,” though perhaps some do. 

As Seventh-day Adventists, we’ve been encouraged to take pride in being a “peculiar people.” This distinctiveness is apparent when interacting in the community; you can often identify an Adventist by their demeanor and appearance alone. These are aspects I’ve come to understand about being labeled as peculiar. I’ve never liked being called peculiar—is that really a goal? 

Finally, regarding the choice of worship day, Don would probably agree it’s a personal choice. I also recall a friend who wished to create their own church, which I suppose is what a community church essentially does—creating their own doctrines and ways of worship. It makes me wonder, when someone says they want to create their own church, what exactly are they aiming to establish?

Carolyn: I want to revisit the distinction between communal and solitary worship, and the issue of placing ourselves at the center of the Sabbath rather than keeping God as the focal point. If you’ve ever been involved in communal worship, you’ll know that it can be the busiest day of the week. Whether you’re a preacher or fulfilling other roles, you find yourself working throughout the Sabbath. 

Conversely, staying at home allows for a solitude that offers personal time with the Lord. Choosing to go for a walk on the Sabbath, you might share the joys you’ve experienced with others you meet, which can itself be refreshing. 

However, I often feel that how we spend the Sabbath leads to judgment—both us judging others and being judged in return.

Reinhard: I grew up attending Sunday worship with my family, but I became an Adventist just before coming to study at Loma Linda. The phrase “remember the Sabbath day” has always stood out to me, especially since I knew the Sabbath was Saturday, which influenced my decision to embrace Seventh-day Adventist teachings. I believe God called me to be part of this church, and I am grateful and happy for it. 

Looking at the history of Israel, the Sabbath was one of the first signs between God and His people, meant to create a community that worships Him as the Creator. It’s interesting that there was no law to “remember the Sabbath day” until Moses’ time, suggesting that God wanted to establish a close relationship with His people from the start. 

Throughout history, from creation to the flood that spared only eight people, and then to the Law given at Sinai, God has been defining His relationship with humanity. In the New Testament, Jesus corrected some of the existing perceptions by healing on the Sabbath, which to some seemed like a violation of the law. He demonstrated God’s true character, contrasting with the strict and punitive nature some associated with Old Testament laws. 

Paul’s approach, especially to the Gentiles, was somewhat ambivalent about strict observance, emphasizing that the essence of faith is what brings people closer to God. He acknowledged that some consider one day more special than others, but for me, as a Christian who still wants to honor God, remembering the Sabbath is crucial. It’s a day of joy and delight. 

In my previous church, I learned why some observe Sunday, citing Paul’s practices, but I believe in following what God established from the beginning. It doesn’t mean we should condemn those who worship on Sunday; as long as they are sincere in their faith, that’s what matters. I stick to what I know as truth, which is observing Saturday as the Sabbath.

Donald: Reinhard refers to them as “Sunday worshipers” rather than saying they simply worship on Sunday, which they regard as their Sabbath. By phrasing it as “Sunday worshipers,” it differentiates them from us, who worship on Saturday. If you look up “Sabbath,” many will say it means Sunday. So, I guess it does boil down to a matter of perspective—big ‘S’ versus small ‘s.’

Reinhard: Many leaders and people I’ve been associated with acknowledge Saturday as the Sabbath, but they also see Sunday as a valid day for worship. To them, it’s one of the seven days suitable for worshiping God. I believe the original Hebrew term could be interpreted in various ways, but the essence remains the same: a day of rest. It’s good that we discuss and share what we know, ultimately seeking to understand the truth as we know it to please God.

Don: Is it possible to have a discussion on the Sabbath and grace without centering ourselves and our practices? It often boils down to the “right” day— and of course we’re right, you’re wrong! But what does being right really mean? Does it make us more acceptable to God? Certainly not. Worshiping on Sunday does not displease God if it’s sincere. 

We need a new theology of Sabbath keeping and grace. The argument that only one specific day is pleasing to God doesn’t align with Scripture, in my opinion. The question for me is whether there’s a way to understand Sabbath keeping and grace without making it about what I do (or don’t do).

C-J: When someone is adamant about their position and tries to prove why they’re correct, my question is always, “Why is this so important to you? Are you afraid of not being in the right line, whether in politics, religion, or justifying a personal choice that might draw criticism?” 

We’ve talked about how God’s grace is sufficient, and as we grow in God, the Holy Spirit can reveal things previously unconsidered, expanding our spiritual horizons. When we were children, we believed in fantasies that taught us lessons, but as adults, we hold ourselves accountable for our choices. 

What motivates us? What prevents us from doing wrong? When we’re confused or upset, leaning into God and trusting Him in our circumstances reflects a deep relationship with Him. This depth doesn’t arise from any specific condition or place, not even in dramatic circumstances like war. I believe that only the Holy Spirit can truly reveal the essence of what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the Sabbath,” which translates to grace. 

How to live this out is something God will guide you in. If you have to work on Saturday or Sunday, it’s not a sin; God understands our responsibilities to our time, place, and family. There was a time when you could tell your employer about church commitments on Sunday, and they would respect it. Nowadays, they might prioritize work responsibilities instead. 

God’s grace is sufficient. It isn’t about a specific day, place, or time; it’s about our relationship with God.

Donald: For Seventh-day Adventists, is there a cultural aspect? Is it something more than just about the Sabbath? We have to be careful about claiming something as the absolute truth.

David: Based on what Paul says in Colossians about not judging other cultures, I would say that if the SDA community has a culture of worshiping on Saturday, who am I to criticize that? And if someone is a Sunday observer, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that—it’s their culture.

Donald: But once we start saying it is the truth, we are implying that what others do is wrong.

David: When you tell me I should adopt your culture, it becomes challenging. But if you simply describe your Sabbath keeping and the joy it brings you, and if I then see the benefit in it, I might be inclined to adopt your culture. That’s how change should happen—not through coercion or guilt, but by seeing the value in it voluntarily.

C-J: In cultures that value tribal hospitality, inviting someone to your table and breaking bread with them is an expression of respect for their truth, regardless of their background. Hospitality doesn’t question whether someone is a good person; it simply provides water and food to a stranger without asking for their credentials. 

This ties back to the concept of grace. We all live our truths. How often do you hear someone say something is unequivocally wrong? But if you had walked in their shoes, their perspective might seem quite reasonable.

Don: We’re going to continue discussing this topic. I thought it would be provocative to link the Sabbath with grace because I believe that as a church, we need a new theology of the Sabbath and Sabbath Keeping. We need to put God back at the center of the Sabbath, rather than focusing on our actions or our identity in relation to the Sabbath. What makes the Sabbath special, if it is indeed special, is because of what God does, not what we do. There’s much to ponder.

* * *

The Sabbath as Evidence of God’s Grace

I introduce this topic with some reservation because the meaning of the Sabbath varies among us here. Those raised as Seventh Day Adventists might see it as the correct day for worship, a distinguishing sign for God’s people, and something essential for salvation. This is not official doctrine, but Sabbath-keeping has long been considered a mark of piety among us. 

Every religion and its followers cling to practices or beliefs they believe are unique and special in God’s eyes, distinguishing them from other religions and followers. No religion teaches that another possesses greater truth, is more right-thinking, or practices more effective rituals than itself. To its followers, the truth, the right, and the effectiveness of every religion is proven by their understanding of their scripture.

As I’ve grown older, the line between those who observe the Sabbath and those who do not has blurred. The realization that my religion might not be the only way to heaven, and that there are many sheep in the pen who are not of this fold, has made Sabbath keeping less compelling. I believe that God is the God of all mankind, that all people, all sheep everywhere are his flock, that he can be worshipped in a variety of ways and should be worshipped daily, continuously, and without ceasing. 

Nevertheless, I believe the Bible from beginning to end contains a concept, a metaphor, an illustration for grace that is wrapped up in an understanding of the Sabbath. In this idea, we might find a new appreciation, a new way of understanding it, and more importantly, a new way to share it, just like we can share grace itself.

The first mention of the Sabbath comes from the book of Genesis: 

And so the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their heavenly lights. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Genesis 2:1-3)

Why does God need rest? Clearly, he is not subject to exhaustion. What does it mean that the day became sanctified? For whose benefit was it sanctified? Did this benefit God? 

The clue is what took place the day before:  

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every animal of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:27-31)

Thus, we see here how God established the order of life and oneness in the Garden of Eden. Humankind—man and woman—were to be one with each other, one with the Earth and its creatures, and through the Sabbath, we see God establishing oneness with himself, resting with God when God rests. This oneness was, of course, shattered by the fall. Man and woman became ashamed of their nakedness and sought to cover themselves from one another and from God. Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the serpent. The oneness between themselves and with the rest of creation was broken, and their work and toil were multiplied immensely, as we know from the passage about the increase in pain with childbirth and the work that the man had to do (Genesis 3:16-24).

Fortunately for humankind, God had anticipated our fall and had provided the Sabbath as a way to restore this shattered oneness. The Sabbath, you see, is a metaphor for grace. The restfulness of the Sabbath contrasts with the toil of the other six days; it is the epitome of grace. It is a reminder of the creation time when there was oneness in the garden. 

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; for that reason the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:11).

Similarly, the Sabbath serves as a perpetually eternal sign of our true relationship with God:

“Now as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You must keep My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, so that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to keep the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it must be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. So the sons of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a permanent covenant.’ It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:13-17)

The death penalty declared in this passage is not simply a punishment for breaking the Sabbath; it emphasizes the fatal nature of any religion based on works without grace.

In the Gospel, Jesus taught the real meaning of the Sabbath. For His contemporary Jews, the Sabbath was a great burden. He constantly sought to teach them its importance, and in the end, He was crucified largely because the Jews considered Him to be a Sabbath breaker: 

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.  (John 5:18)

In His teachings, Jesus established three important principles of Sabbath keeping as a way of reestablishing oneness:

  • It is a day for worship, for reestablishing oneness with God.
  • It is a day for doing good works for others, for reestablishing oneness with our friends and neighbors.
  • It is a day to set aside business as usual for introspection, to reestablish oneness with oneself.

It is notable that Jesus performed many of His good works, His healings, on the Sabbath, and He explained this by saying: 

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)

The link between the Sabbath and grace was further captured by Paul in his letter to the Hebrews: 

Consequently, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let’s make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9-11). 

This suggests, of course, that there is both a physical Sabbath, a mental and psychological Sabbath, and a spiritual Sabbath. Paul continues: 

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him to whom we must answer.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let’s hold firmly to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need. (Hebrews 4:13-16).

From Adam and Eve, through the patriarchs, judges, kings, prophets, and the disciples, God is seen as an active and interactive God, constantly seeking, bending, plying, and molding us—never willing to leave us alone or to let us go. He is always eager to bring us back by whatever means possible. He brings Jacob back by wrestling with him, Moses through a burning bush, Balaam through a talking donkey, King David by the prophet Nathan, Jonah in a whale, Isaiah by a coal placed upon his lips, Elijah by a still small voice, Job through a personal encounter with God, the prodigal son by an internal awakening, Peter by a crowing cock, and Saul, who becomes Paul, through a dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus—a blinding light and a voice from heaven. God, you see, is not indifferent to our choices. He does not leave us to our own devices, He will hound us, like the Hound of Heaven. And thank God for that, because that is what grace is. That is what the free gift is—the robe of righteousness, the restoration.

But you might say, “What does God do for me? Where do I see grace in my life?” We’re proposing today a new idea that might challenge those of us who are skeptical of the evidence: namely, that the Sabbath is a propositional and perpetual sign of God’s grace. Those of you who are not convinced may be indifferent to this concept. It is based on the passage we read earlier: 

“Now as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You must keep My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, so that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’” (Exodus 31:13). 

The Sabbath is a sign that God is the one who sanctifies us, which is really what grace is. When you encounter the Sabbath, you should not see it for what you do, or for what the Sabbath means to you, but you should see it for what God does—in other words, His grace.

The subject of the Sabbath and Sabbath grace recurs throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, from the creation of the earth until the creation of the new earth. Isaiah 66 states, “’From one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,’ says the Lord.” 

The emphasis, particularly by Jesus, is on the meaning of the Sabbath—by making time sacred instead of space, God forever removes man’s control over the designation of what is sacred. Man can control space, but he cannot control time. Sabbath rest is a gift from God to all humankind. It is a fact that we have no influence upon the Sabbath; we cannot hasten it, delay it, manipulate it, modify it, move it, control it, contain it, advance it, or retreat it. We cannot alter the Sabbath in any way. All we can do is enter into it like a sacred rest, by grace. It is everywhere, available to all, always for free, and it comes every seventh day like a down payment upon grace. 

To enter into it is to enter into God’s presence, to lay down one’s burdens and, as the spiritual song says, “to study war no more.” Life is like a war. It is a continuous contention among ourselves, with others, and sometimes even with God. To enter the Sabbath is to change our swords and spears for plowshares and pruning hooks, as Micah says: 

And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift a sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war. (Micah 4:3)

Sabbath is rest, not just physical. Primarily, Jesus told us, it is rest for the soul. It is a sign of grace, and like grace, often when we try to control it, we want to use it for our own advantage. We cannot do that with the Sabbath, and we cannot do that with grace either. We cannot possess grace, we cannot possess the Sabbath; we can only let them possess us.

Is the day itself important? I myself choose to rest when God rests, but since this is about grace, it cannot be about me and my rituals. When we place ourselves and what we do, or what we do not do, at the center of the Sabbath, instead of letting the Son of Man, who is the Lord of the Sabbath, be the center, then we are at risk of making the Sabbath into an idol and worshiping the Sabbath instead of worshiping God. Make no mistake about this: our reverence for the Sabbath does not make us special in God’s eyes. He is the God of all mankind.

If God wanted uniformity of worship or correctness of doctrine, He would have spelled it out more clearly in the details of how we are to relate to Him. But herein lie two pitfalls. First, the more that God lays down the rules about what to do on the Sabbath, the more emphasis we place on our own work in following those rules. God knows that since we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we have been wired to seek validation for our own work. Second, if God gave the rules to only one group, that group would use the rules to suppress everyone else. Even now, every religion, sect, and denomination claims to speak for God and seeks to establish their viewpoint on everyone else, compelling everyone to follow their rules.

By grace, the gift of the Sabbath must not be hoarded; it must be shared, but not like a doctrine that has to be justified or proven. It must be shared as the gift of grace just as it was given to us—to disconnect from our daily pace and to connect with God, and to enter into physical, emotional, and spiritual rest. It is a very special opportunity, one to be cherished and shared. Like grace, the Sabbath is both predictable and eternal. Both require us to rest and not to work. Both are about God and what He does, not about us and what we do.

Just as it is fatal to fail to embrace God’s everlasting grace, Sabbath or grace predicated on my work is also fatal, as it was for the man who was stoned in Numbers 15. Isaiah stressed the importance of this gift of grace: 

“If, because of the Sabbath, you restrain your foot
From doing as you wish on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a pleasure, and the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14). 

Isaiah goes on to say, in the language of grace: 

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
My soul will be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a groom puts on a turban,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth produces its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:10-11)

I think that in these passages, doing your own pleasure does not just mean refraining from things you want to do and doing the things you ought to do on the Sabbath. Doing your own pleasure means making yourself the focal point of the Sabbath, putting yourselves at the center rather than God. Instead, as Isaiah says, we should take delight in the Lord and delight in the results that come from being wrapped in the garments of righteousness and the robes of salvation. This is the eternal, abiding condition of grace. We know that the heritage of Jacob is nothing less than a new name signifying God’s investment of grace in Jacob and the forgiveness of his sins.

What does it mean to keep something holy? It simply means to be completely devoted to something, to exalt something, to hold it in the highest esteem. But make no mistake about this: we cannot make something holy ourselves; only God can do that. The Lord of the Sabbath makes the Sabbath holy because the day is a sign of what He does for us—He gives us His grace. It is not a sign of what we do for Him.

It is not surprising, given that the Sabbath is a sign of grace, that Jesus would say and teach so little about how the Sabbath should be kept by mankind. Because when we emphasize how it should be kept, we make the Sabbath about us. To enter into grace is to enter into rest, freedom from the work to which we are so easily and naturally drawn.

To re-emphasize what I said earlier, Jesus teaches us three principles for returning to oneness with a graceful Sabbath rest:

  • The Sabbath is a day to worship God. By worshiping God, we bring ourselves into oneness with God and restore what was lost in the Garden.
  • The Sabbath is a day to do good to our fellow men. This brings us into oneness with one another, with our friends and neighbors.
  • The Sabbath is a day to set aside business as usual, which is another way of bringing us into oneness with ourselves as we center ourselves upon God.

When God points the way to Himself and away from us, the Sabbath centers us upon God. For centuries, there have been discussions, even arguments, about what is the right day to keep, which centers things upon us and not upon God. It is the very opposite of grace.

I personally like the Sabbath, and I keep it because it is a perpetual reminder to me of God’s grace. But it is not the only way God expresses His grace. God has other sheep not of this fold who know His voice and are exposed to grace in a myriad of ways that God uses to reveal His grace.

When I was a boy, it was commonly held that Sabbath keepers would be the only ones who went to heaven. This was not an official position of the church, but it was a commonly believed notion. Once we began to accept into heaven others who did not keep the Sabbath, our theology of the Sabbath became quite confused. We need a new theology of the Sabbath. It is ironic that the very thing that God gives us as a sign of His grace should be viewed with such exclusivity and limitation, and should be centered on our behavior. The ultimate irony is that Jesus Himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, was crucified over being a Sabbath breaker. We need a new theology of the Sabbath, one centered on sharing the Sabbath as a wonderful gift of grace. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Another way of saying this is that grace was made for man, not man for grace.

Are you looking for a sign of grace in your life? God gives you the Sabbath. Do you want a graceful expression that you can recognize in your life? It may not be like other expressions of grace that we’ve talked about before, but you might try the Sabbath as a new expression of God’s grace. Sabbath rest is not just physical; primarily, Jesus told us, it is a rest for the soul: 

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Like grace, while we tend to want to control it and use it to our own selfish advantage, we cannot in fact do this; we cannot possess the Sabbath, it can only possess us. When we place ourselves and what we do or do not do at the center of the Sabbath instead of letting the Son of Man, who is Lord of the Sabbath, be the center, then we are in danger of making the Sabbath into an idol and worshiping the Sabbath instead of worshiping God.

I believe that God has revealed elements of truth to people everywhere, that every great faith and every great denomination has some identifiable insight into an element of truth, which they then rightly emphasize. For us, one of those elements is the Sabbath. When we talk, teach, and share, we all have something to contribute to a discussion about what it is that God would have us see in Him. By grace, the gift of the Sabbath must not be hoarded; it must be shared, but not as a doctrine to be justified or proven. It must be shared as a gift, as it was given to us—to disconnect from our daily pace and connect with God, and to enter into physical, emotional, and spiritual rest. It is a very special opportunity to be cherished and shared. It is a method of bringing back the oneness that was lost in the Garden.

David: I wonder about the notion of the Sabbath as a social activity. As Don has shown in his Biblical quotes this morning, the Sabbath is rightly about rest rather than activity, and about  worshiping God. You can define worship in many ways; to me, it’s simply being in conscious communion with God. 

Eastern faith traditions don’t have a Sabbath per se, but they do have meditation, and it occurred to me, as Don was talking, that this is a form of Sabbath. Meditation is an inactivity; it is restful, inactive, and relatively individual rather than social. People may get together in meditation groups, but the Western tradition is more actively social—you attend church services and pray communal prayers and sing songs of worship and take part in charitable activities, being actively good to your fellow human beings. Isn’t that, in a sense, a form of work? 

I’m drawn to the Eastern traditions and I personally like the idea of an individual meditative, restful period of being alone in communion with God as a form of Sabbath. Maybe there’s room for both a social form and an individual form.

C-J: As you spoke, Dr. Weaver, I had two thoughts. First, it was a sideways way of saying that your time in recovery from being so sick gave you lots of time in this state of grace and Sabbath rest, trusting God for every day, every breath, every kindness. Life didn’t have to be done by you; your job was to rest in God and recover. 

As you continued to talk, I thought about the war between Israel and Palestine, and its rippling effect. If they could just find this Sabbath that is resident in each culture, to think about future generations and not be so caught up in, ‘I’m right, this belongs to me,’ and to understand that in the Sabbath, that grace would be sufficient, more than sufficient for multiple generations going forward and preserve what is necessary for life to thrive. If you worship God, you will desire peace, you will trust God in all things, and you will do good works towards humanity. 

You will set aside your business, your personal agenda—whether it’s to gain wealth, to be with your family, to have public honor and recognition—whatever your personal agenda is, to set it aside and be stripped completely there and allow God to do the work. And that the new clothing, put on, represents honoring God, which is peace and prosperity, and all those promises that were given to us through the Ten Commandments that Kiran really brought to a beautiful light. So that was my takeaway from what you said. 

Donald: Regarding the relationship between the idea of Sabbath and grace, there are three things I think we need to clarify.

  1. Is Sabbath a concept or a specific day? The dictionary will probably give you both definitions. But for us to have this conversation, are we discussing a specific day or the concept of a day, or a moment in time, that should be established between us and God?
  1. Is Sabbath a metaphor? If Sabbath is a metaphor, then that actually might answer the question about a specific day.
  1. What’s the association between Sabbath and relationships? Is Sabbath really about relationships? And if so is about doing good work with others, and/or about worship for oneness, and/or about worship for ourselves? 

As a Seventh Day Adventist I will always be challenged when we get to the point of whether it’s a day in combination with these concepts, or it’s just a concept and the specific day is not that specific. It’s interesting that it’s part of the Ten Commandments. It’s interesting that it’s specified by a number. 

David: To me, the beauty of Don’s analysis is that in some ways it leaves the Bible open to interpretation. It doesn’t close it, nor limit it to the Seventh Day Adventist perspective on the Sabbath (or on anything else). There’s nothing wrong with the SDA perspective; there’s nothing invalid about it. It is a Bible-based, spiritual perspective, so God bless it. 

That said, to me, there is no reason to think that one’s perspective is threatened by other perspectives, and that’s the problem that I think Connie was referring to. It’s OK not to share other’s perspectives, but it is not okay to judge people based on their perspectives. I don’t share the Adventist perspective on the Sabbath being a specific day, but I don’t think it matters that you do. If it helps Adventists in their association with God, I am all for it—for them.

C-J: I think that rigid religion and politics, which are often tied to economics, create a space of when and how business—both economic and political—is done in terms of institutions. And so, Seventh Day Adventists, happen to pick Saturday on the calendar we use in the United States. I agree that it’s really not about the day of the week. It’s about what you do with that time. It could be Wednesday for you, like if you have to work weekends and Wednesday is your day off, that’s going to be your Sabbath. You haven’t been sacrilegious or disrespected the tenets or the rules of the road. 

I really think it’s about mindfulness and setting priorities for your internal life. That would be expressed in how you interact with other people and other systems, other institutions. I don’t think God thought, metaphorically, that the day when he separated the heavens and the earth was going to be a Monday. There wasn’t even a name for it. I don’t think it’s necessary to do that, but as humans, we want to put things in categories. We want to be able to organize and build off that scaffolding. But I don’t think God is like that at all.

Donald: Many religions have a tithe, often 10% of income, but sometimes negotiable. But it’s a number. So, is the Sabbath really just every seventh day? Just a number, too? It wasn’t just “Separate yourself once in a while.” So perhaps it can be Wednesday, but is it important to be every seven days? Is the number important? Is important to have a numbered portion of your wealth contributed back to goodness (the tithe)? 

When we were young we dressed up for the Sabbath, which was very structured. As young adults we came to understand that what was right to do on the Sabbath was anything that was slow. You could not ski but you could swim, or at least wade. You just have to throttle back, as we tried to get these rules stamped. We couldn’t even ride our bikes. Today, the habits of a Seventh-Day Adventist Sabbath seem to have changed radically. I wonder at my grandchildren. The concept has changed—maybe it’s conforming itself around really what your remarks this morning are about. It’s about relationships. It’s a time, every Sabbath.

Don: I keep the Sabbath because that’s what God asked me to do. But it’s not about me. It’s about grace and about what God does for me. To me, the day is important, but it’s not important to God. He has sheep of other folds, and they may have a completely different view of how oneness with God is reestablished. But that’s not their prerogative, either. It’s God’s prerogative. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to share a Sabbath rest with friends, but if they don’t see it the same way as I do, it’s not a cause for their destruction.

Reinhard: The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day.” Perhaps the word “remember” isn’t quite what the Jews had been practicing, especially in the old days. But “seventh day” is just an indicator that the world or the universe was created on the seventh day. To me, you rest on the seventh day, you are affirming that God is the Creator. It’s nothing more than that. The seventh day was made for rest, after God created everything in six days.

In the Old Testament, punishment for those who violated the Sabbath was very harsh, even to the point of death. Jesus showed a different way of practicing the Sabbath. Many of his healings were performed on the Sabbath, including the man who was crippled for 38 years, which led to the accusations that Jesus violated this very sacred day. His accusers were so focused on the Sabbath day according to the law, they forgot that the Sabbath is a day of blessing for God’s people.

On the Sabbath, I try to rest. No matter how busy I am, the Sabbath is a blessing, physically and spiritually. I believe that God gave us this blessing in the new covenant. Some people, of course, consider Sunday to be their Sabbath. That is their conviction. I think Paul once mentioned that some people consider other days to worship. Paul was known for being all things to all people. 

Most of my family members believe Sunday is the Sabbath day. I think historically the Sabbath shifted to Sunday when the Roman Emperor declared Sunday to be a day of rest from work, so people used the free time for Sunday worship.

For me, the Sabbath is a rest day, a blessing day. It was not the practice of the Jews, especially during Jesus’ time, to prosecute people for Sabbath infractions but they made an exception for Jesus. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 

The key is in the relationships built during the Sabbath. The worship of God has a special meaning to every individual. So, if we practice Sabbath on the seventh day, and others practice it on other days, the key for each individual lies in how they worship God.

C-J: God gave us the Sabbath, which is grace. Humanity wants to put us in bondage, but God wants to liberate us. When I’m taking a walk to the post office, it’s my quiet time. I reflect; I talk to God. I notice the birds, I notice the traffic. That’s a time of rest for me. I’m not thinking about what I’ll do when I get home. I’m really in that moment. 

Humankind imposes bondage on itself through rituals, through institutions, through politics, war—we put ourselves in bondage. God is constantly talking about sackcloth and ashes, about humility. That’s not dressing up, but it puts you fully in the presence of God. It’s not about the rings on your fingers, it’s not how much you put in the offering, it’s not about who you know in religious or political institutions, or what family you were born into. With God, it’s grace. It’s always been grace. Unmerited, full of love, patient and kind, bearing good fruit, loving and forgiving.

Kiran: A Sabbath focus on oneness with the self is a new revelation to me, especially given that it has to be physical, mental, and spiritual. That’s a hard task. We’ve just witnessed a solar eclipse. None of us could change it. We only had 99.4% of the total solar eclipse in eastern Michigan, but in Toledo it was 100%. I wish it had been 100% here but nothing I could do would make that happen. All we could do was to enjoy it as it was happening. I think everybody had a similar experience, so it was undying in a sense. They didn’t produce the eclipse; it just happened on its own for three minutes. And all they could do was just stay there, look up, and enjoy. Even if they didn’t look up, they would experience the darkness during the eclipse and then the light. It even united the animals because they felt eerie. We could tell by looking at some animals how they felt, how they were experiencing it. Humans had a better understanding of what was happening, of course. 

So, in a way, this whole thing makes so much sense for me. Sabbath is like a weekly celestial event that is happening, or a weekly spiritual event, whatever you want to call it, that we don’t have any control over. It’s a weekly reminder of a cosmic event initiated by God. All we can do is just enjoy it as both an individual and a communal experience.

Donald: I’ve lived my whole life conforming to a particular way, so it’s disruptive to think about the Sabbath in different forms, but it’s also liberating. But are we discussing the Sabbath with a small ‘s’ rather than a big ‘S’? I think Adventists make Sabbath with a capital ’S’, but perhaps our conversation today has been about small-s sabbath.

Michael: Don has often remarked that the Sabbath is like “a downpayment on grace.” I don’t think I ever fully understood that. Does it mean that every day we get a portion of grace, but on the Sabbath, we get to double dip?

Don: No, what I mean is that on a regular recurring basis, we’re called to think about the gracefulness that God gives us. God’s grace is good every day, 24/7. There’s no limitation to His grace. But by making the Sabbath a down payment, it’s a reminder, an event that brings us to focus on God’s grace. So that’s what I mean by a down payment. It might not be the best choice of words.

Michael: The Israelites collected a day’s worth of manna in the exodus—any more would rot, but they could collect an extra day’s worth for consumption on the Sabbath.

Anonymous: It has a different meaning to me. When somebody puts a down payment on a house, they then claim it as theirs. So when God puts a downpayment on the Sabbath, as you put it, that means “You’re Mine, because you acknowledged Me on My day. I paid to guarantee that you’re going to be in My possession during the week. So from Saturday to next Saturday, I’ve already paid for that. You’re Mine, you’re Mine, you’re Mine, week after week!” And that’s great, of course!

Don: Next week, we’ll discuss Paul’s writings about the Sabbath, Donald’s question of whether we are talking about Sabbath with a capital ‘S’ or a small ’s’, and whether the day itself is important at all.

* * *

Grace and the Old and New Covenants

Last week, we looked at the different views of the doctrine of salvation among Protestants and the various sects within Adventism. Today, we are going to explore the practical implications of these differences and how they shape our understanding of moral law.

Despite the differences, all major Adventist views, as well as mainstream Protestant beliefs, agree that true salvation should lead to moral transformation or Christian perfection. However, there is a debate over whether this perfection is primarily the responsibility of human striving and achievement, or if it is accomplished through resting in God’s grace and the finished work of Christ being applied to the believer. This disagreement fundamentally arises from different interpretations of the complex relationship between grace and human effort in the process of sanctification and glorification.

In my 24-year Adventist journey, for a good 15 years, I held the view that I must strive to achieve Christian perfection. My efforts were sincere, and my desire was genuine. But I consistently failed which led me to depression and led me to doubt my faith. Thanks to the work of Dr. Weaver, I began a new journey that made me look at the 10 commandments in a new light. To better understand that let’s first understand the difference between first and second covenants. 

God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites through Moses and established the first covenant. In Exodus 19:3-8, God promised that if the Israelites obeyed Him fully and kept His covenant, they would be His treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. The people agreed, saying, “We will do everything the Lord has said.”

We know the story. Israelites repeatedly failed to keep the covenant. God acknowledged this failure of the people in Jeremiah 31 and foretold a new covenant that He would make with His people. Paul talked about it in Hebrews 8. 

Hebrews 8:6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. 7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant. with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors. when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” 13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

The old covenant depended on the people’s promises to God, but the new covenant is based on God’s promises to us. The old covenant was built on the feeble human effort, but the new covenant was built on the Christ the Solid Rock. Our salvation rests not on our ability to keep promises to God, but on believing His promises to us. Embracing this new covenant frees us from the “yoke of bondage”. The old covenant mindset consists of constant striving to be more perfect followed by constant failures to live up to the mark set by God. The new covenant releases us from being “under the law” and brings us “under the Spirit.” The new covenant mindset consists of resting in the Grace of God. 

Under the old covenant, even the best efforts of Israel’s prophets, judges, and kings could not produce lasting revival and reformation. Their repeated cycles of backsliding demonstrated the weakness inherent in a covenant based on human promises. 

Unlike the old covenant, the covenant based on God’s promises results in success. Many of us think that this covenant based on God’s promises is new, but it was present even before the old covenant. The Abrahamic covenant precedes the Mosaic covenant, and it was made entirely on the promises of God. Abraham understood his helplessness in front of the God of the universe and didn’t dare to make a return promise. Instead, he simply believed in the promise of God. Therefore, his belief became righteousness unto Him. 

The idea is that Justification is by Grace alone, but sanctification requires Grace, and Human effort is like mixing the new covenant with a little bit of the old covenant. The problem with this mixing is that a little bit of the old covenant paralyzes the entire spiritual experience producing lukewarmness. 

The new covenant message of righteousness by faith alone makes us realize that just like Abraham, by believing in Christ’s promises, we become righteous, and the Ten Commandments become Ten precious promises. By resting in God’s grace, we become righteous. This is hard for us to understand because in this world nothing comes to us by resting. But that is exactly what we need to do in Christ and His Grace. 

Based on this understanding, I reimagined the Ten Commandments as the Ten Promises of God. By simply believing in His promises, and resting in His grace, they will be fulfilled in our lives. 

Just a word of caution. This is my interpretation based on the books that I read. I spent almost a month writing these ten promises. More than the finished product, the act of writing them was more rewarding for me. I don’t have a good way to explain how wonderful my experience was. You may not like what I have written but I encourage you to write the 10 commands as 10 promises on your own and experience the joy that I experienced. You will not be disappointed. 

First Commandment

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me.

I am your Creator and Redeemer. Despite any hostility you may harbor toward Me, I claim you as My own. I have completely freed you from the bondage of sin, self-centeredness, and eternal condemnation. Only in Me will you find true freedom, joy, and fulfillment. Nothing false will ever deceive you again. 

Second Commandment

You shall not make for yourself a carved image any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Understand that nothing in this world can fully grasp My essence. My goodness, grace, and love transcend anything earthly. I am the sole source of true goodness and love, capable of fulfilling all your needs. My presence is constant and enduring. I will guide you to seek Me with sincerity and authenticity, ensuring fulfillment for countless generations. However, if you turn to false sources for fulfillment, I, in My grace, will restrict the repercussions to only three or four generations. 

Third Commandment

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

I will refine your hypocritical character into an authentic one that endures the flames of trial. You will never misrepresent Me again but embody genuineness through and through.

Fourth Commandment

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

After completing creation in six days, I gave you the gift of the Sabbath, a day of rest intricately woven into the very fabric of time. It’s more than just a respite from the week’s toils; it’s a precious gift, a gentle beckoning to seek solace in My embrace. When you embrace this sacred day, dear child, and enter the tranquil sanctuary of My love, you unlock a wellspring of peace and a deeper communion with your Creator. In that serene stillness, I assure you of My presence and infuse your heart with the peaceful joy of My company. Come, rest in this assurance, and affirm your belonging as My chosen people. As you find solace in My presence, I pledge to sanctify and shower blessings upon you.

Fifth Commandment

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

I will empower you to honor your father and mother, regardless of their imperfections, ensuring your days on this earth are prolonged and filled with joy.

Sixth Commandment

You shall not murder.

I will transform your heart to cherish and safeguard life.

Seventh Commandment

You shall not commit adultery. 

I will cleanse your heart, nurturing faithfulness, and integrity in your marriage. Moreover, I will mend your mind, instilling a profound reverence for the inherent dignity bestowed by Me upon both you and your spouse.

Eighth commandment

You shall not steal.

I will cultivate contentment in your heart, guiding you to cherish what you have and to respect the possessions of others.

Ninth commandment: 

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

I will cultivate truthfulness in your speech and integrity in your interactions, ensuring you uphold honesty and fairness in your relationships with others.

Tenth commandment: 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s. 

I will uproot covetous desires hidden deep within your heart, replacing them with a rich harvest of contentment. From the depths of your being, I will cultivate a profound sense of peace and satisfaction, banishing envy and discontent. Trust in Me, for in My embrace, you will find true fulfillment and lasting joy.

(A key reference I used in assembling my thoughts on this topic was Wieland, R. J. (2000). A New Look at God’s Law. CFI Publishing.)

How do you feel about the 10 Commandments as 10 promises?

Reinhard: The coming of Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Old Testament talks about, the New Covenant. This shows us how to relate, how to receive, how to worship God. In the Old Testament, people tried to be sanctified by work, but with Jesus, we have grace. So, the New Covenant is very compatible with the idea of grace. People can understand more in the Old Testament if grace is introduced to them. Before, they didn’t know how to have faith in God, how to worship God with this idea because Jesus’ sacrifice is complete. By believing in Him, justification by faith can happen; He will accept us. 

What I get from this is the old versus the new. The New Covenant, after Jesus came and showed us how to worship God, means we don’t have to rely on our work to be with God or to earn our salvation. Just by faith, we will automatically do His work. Jesus summed up all 10 Commandments with: “Love God and love man.” I think it will become easy for us to do what God wants from us when we understand more about the mission of Jesus and how He showed us during His ministry how we can come to God and worship the right way—by faith and to love Him. 

C-J: What I liked about the way that God revealed His love, grace, and intention for His creation is that it’s all about loving provision. I don’t think that I have enough faith, goodness, or capability of being made in the image of God. I have to completely trust in the promises you spoke of, that when I experience struggle and come through it, the humility and appreciation for that is what transforms me. It takes me out of my confusion, my sense of loss, my sense of “I must do it too,” to completely surrender. And as I allow that root to grow, it gets easier for me to just surrender. Let God do the work. It’s not your battle. It’s beautiful. Kiran, I am so blessed by your testimony and that experience. It is work to grow in God, to not have all that junk in our head saying “I am unworthy.” But when we just surrender, God does it in such a beautiful way. I’m so blessed to hear what you shared.

Donald: It’s interesting how you interpret the 10 Commandments, transitioning from the old to what is not as concisely described in the New Testament. It’s more of a statement than a direct translation. This reflection, piece by piece, contrasts with something short and concise. Although it’s refreshing in its brevity, it’s certainly different. It’s wonderful to compare the old with the new, step by step, walking right through it, as you just did.

Don: It seems, Kiran, that what you’ve offered, which is beautiful and much appreciated, really boils down to something quite simple. The Old Covenant was based on our effort, and the New Covenant is based on God’s effort. Looking at the Old Testament stories, the motif of the New Covenant plays out in various narratives. For instance, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord through the ark, a vessel of refuge engineered entirely by God, including its dimensions and construction materials. 

In Abraham, we repeatedly see the assurance that God will provide, symbolizing that Isaac represented all of Abraham’s efforts and future. Yet, when Abraham placed Isaac on the altar, it highlighted that our efforts are not sufficient; only God’s provision is. This illustrates the Old Covenant’s reliance on human effort, which is ultimately futile and fatal, versus the New Covenant’s foundation on God’s work, which is sanctifying and salvific.

Anonymous: Where does faith fit into this picture? Looking back, Abraham’s faith allowed God to work through him, offering a new understanding of salvation. Isn’t part of salvation for us to believe? If we don’t have faith, then nothing can work. What do you think?

Kiran: The distinction is important. Abraham is often regarded as the epitome of faith. Yet, it’s crucial to recognize there are two types of faith mentioned in the Bible: general faith, considered saving faith, and specific faith, known as wonder-working faith. In Romans 12:3, Paul emphasizes that through grace, each individual is endowed with a measure of faith sufficient for salvation. Additionally, in Corinthians, faith is depicted as a spiritual gift, capable of performing miracles, granted to those with a committed relationship with Christ. Thus, the requisite faith for salvation is innate, enabling us to embrace Christ. This faith, bestowed by God, grows through our experiences with Him. 

We celebrate Abraham’s faith despite his failures and lapses in truthfulness. This suggests that the essential faith is provided by God, who also nurtures its growth within us. It’s a dynamic of relationship rather than self-generated faith.

Michael: Despite our recognition of Abraham as a paragon of faith, his narrative is not predominantly marked by faithfulness. It may seem that his faith only becomes evident towards the end of his journey. I concur that faith is crucial and it also underpins how we interpret the 10 Commandments as promises rather than mere directives. This perspective is a testament to the power of faith.

Carolyn: I’m curious about the interrelation of faith versus belief. Is one contingent upon the other? Do they coexist within us, and is the act of believing or acting upon our beliefs the sole requirement? I’m interested in exploring this further.

Donald: Don’t you think belief precedes faith? If you don’t believe, then what’s the point of faith? It seems to me that belief is a prerequisite for faith, not the other way around. It’s a sequential process, yet they are intricately linked. In my prayers, I often reflect on how God, who created us, understands our struggles, our hearts, and our minds. He’s aware of the challenges His requests pose to us and how easily life can overshadow our faith or belief. It’s not that we don’t believe; sometimes, we just fail to take the time to believe. God knows us completely, and this knowledge reassures me that He understands our journey and struggles.

C-J: I compare faith and belief to drilling a well for water, inspired by my grandfather’s profession as a well driller. When drilling, you don’t always know how deep you need to go to find water, nor whether it will be of good quality and sufficient quantity. Similarly, when Kiran chose to delve into the 10 Commandments, it was like drilling into the foundation of our belief system. Despite the historical depth and potential obstacles, he continued, hoping to discover something valuable. In the end, he struck a gusher. This metaphor illustrates that our faith deepens and strengthens as we continue our journey, understanding our past and embracing our relationship with God. It’s a process where the longer we walk with God, the more we produce good fruit, shifting from self to God. Certain individuals, like Samuel and Daniel, were recognized early for their closeness to God and their potential to do great things. However, even they had to learn surrender, ensuring that it’s not about their achievements but what God accomplishes through them. This perspective significantly alters how we view our relationship with God.

Kiran: I read a book titled “Justified” by an Adventist professor from Andrews University, which discusses the difference between belief and faith. In the original languages of the Bible, Greek and Hebrew, the same words denote both faith and belief, with their verb forms also being interchangeable. The distinction in English between faith and belief, each drawing from different linguistic sources, is primarily to enrich meaning. However, in common usage, there might be a nuanced difference: belief acts as a roadmap, indicating God’s will, while faith goes beyond mere acknowledgment, embodying trust, obedience, and action in alignment with belief.

Carolyn: Now, considering faith and beliefs as implanted in our hearts, the question arises: How do we acquire belief? Is it something innate, or do we reach out, accept, and practice it?

Don: Reflecting on previous discussions about love, charity, and grace, it’s essential to delve deeper into Carolyn’s inquiry. The Book of Hebrews identifies Jesus as both the author and finisher of our faith, highlighting faith as a divine initiative rather than a human effort. This perspective suggests a synergistic relationship between faith, grace, and even the concept of Agape love, necessitating further exploration to delineate our contributions versus God’s interventions in cultivating faith.

David: I agree that faith and belief are largely synonymous, and I caution against overly analytical or reductionist approaches to biblical interpretation. The Hebrews passage Kiran quoted emphasizes that God’s laws are inherently within us, inscribed in our minds and hearts, signifying that faith/belief is a pre-existing condition within our essence. This beautiful simplicity eliminates the need for existential angst or theological quandaries over “developing a relationship” with God, because it’s already there.

Carolyn: While I acknowledge the simplicity of John 3:16 and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus, I’ve recited this since childhood without fully grasping that the New Covenant was within my heart. Despite my desire to believe, I find myself wavering and questioning whether belief alone is sufficient. I struggle with self-judgment and doubts, even though I cherish the New Covenant and my love for Christ deeply.

C-J: I view belief as a conscious decision, a choice to have faith, whereas faith itself is transformative and marks a transition. It’s akin to Einstein’s theory of relativity—initially, he had no equation to prove his insights into the universe, just a theoretical understanding. As Christians, we choose to believe based on the evidence presented through biblical stories and human history, recognizing our consistent failures. Faith, as Kiran articulated through his new perspective, clears the slate and illuminates our understanding in a profound, simple way that leaves little else to be said.

Michael: While I theoretically concur with David on the simplicity of faith and belief, my reality contrasts sharply, highlighting the difficulty and rarity of such discussions in religious contexts. For me, understanding began with knowledge, particularly about grace, and evolved through experiencing grace, which often contradicted everything I was taught and believed. Recognizing grace’s omnipresence and pivotal role, despite initial teachings, suggests that knowledge is crucial, paving the way for faith to manifest and transform our experiences.

Reinhard: Looking at the Old Covenant, we recall the 10 Commandments given to Moses, alongside the civil and ceremonial laws. In the New Testament, those laws were essentially abolished, except for the 10 Commandments. This highlights a fundamental difference in how people worship God. In the Old Testament, individuals came to the temple, adhered to the regulations, and while they believed in God, their experience and adherence often remained superficial, limited to mental acknowledgment rather than heartfelt conviction. The key difference introduced by the New Covenant is the embedding of these principles within the heart, making them a part of one’s very essence and spirit, unlike the external adherence observed in the Old Testament. 

The New Testament teachings emphasize a deep, internalized faith that enables us to live in accordance with God’s covenant, especially the moral law. Through grace, our shortcomings are covered, and by placing everything in God’s hands, we avoid the mistakes of the past, such as idol worship and rebellion against God. With faith in Jesus, our relationship with God is strengthened, and the Holy Spirit aids our faith. This encapsulates the essence of the New Covenant—living by what God desires for us, knowing His grace is always sufficient in times of struggle or failure.

* * *

The Evolution of the Doctrine of Salvation by Grace Among the Seventh-Day Adventists


My understanding of these concepts and my attempt to articulate them may not fully explain all the nuances in the broader Protestant and Adventist theology. So, I encourage you to check them on your own and feel free to disagree with me. 


The doctrine of salvation is defined by many protestant denominations as salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Seventh-day Adventists just like many protestants profess their belief in this doctrine. Even though this doctrine is so simple, there are several interpretations of this doctrine among the protestants. I am going to discuss three major ones. 

  1. Lutheranism: was developed by German monk, Martin Luther. According to Lutheranism, salvation is by Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (Grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), and Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Lutheranism opposes reliance on human works or traditions. 
  2. Calvinism: was developed by a French Church reformer, John Calvin. According to Calvinism, humans are depraved and cannot contribute in any way to their salvation. Therefore, salvation is entirely by God’s grace and God predestines who would be saved and lost. Reformed Churches, the Presbyterian Church, the United Reformed Church, and Particular Baptists believe in this view.
  3. Arminianism: was developed by a Dutch reformed theologian named Jacobus Arminius. Arminianism rejects predestination. Therefore, salvation is made possible by God’s grace, but humans have free will to accept or reject it. The denominations that believe in view are the Methodist Church, Seventh Day Adventists, Wesleyan Church, and General Baptists.

One thing to note here is that even though all these views especially Calvinism and Arminianism are different, they all have their foundation in the scriptures. You can easily convince one using scriptures for Calvinism or Arminianism. That is why even today people strongly believe in these opposing views. 

The Seventh Day Adventist Church adopted Arminianism, and it evolved its view of salvation much further from Arminianism and made it uniquely Adventist. Today in the Adventist community, there are at least four different interpretations of the doctrine of salvation by Grace. They are different in their views based on differences in their understanding of the roles of God’s grace, human effort, and moral perfection. Today, we will dive into these different viewpoints briefly.

Traditional View:

The traditional SDA view on salvation emphasizes the importance of reaching moral perfection in our character and overcoming sin with the help of Christ’s grace. This view argues that justification comes only by grace, but sanctification requires both human effort and God’s Grace. This view insists that by co-laboring with the Holy Spirit, we must resist sin, develop moral perfection, and be obedient. This view doesn’t believe that we will attain the perfect moral character of Christ in this life fully before the second coming but if we fail to put in our effort, we will hinder our spiritual growth and potentially lose our salvation. 

Last Generation Theology:

Another perspective within Adventism is the Last Generation Theology, which builds upon the traditional view but takes it a step further. This perspective believes that before Christ’s Second Coming, there will be a final generation of believers who will reach a state of sinless perfection. This perfection serves as proof of God’s nature and shows that it is possible to obey the law with the help of Christ’s strength. The lack of human effort is seen as a shortfall in meeting the expected level of excellence and the potential loss of salvation. 

The 1888 Message: 

The 1888 Minneapolis General Conference was a significant moment in Adventist theology. Because of Wagner and Jones’s message, the focus of salvation by the SDA Church since shifted to faith-based justification and the credited righteousness of Christ. This “1888 Message” emphasized the impact of Christ’s completed work and the believer’s connection with Him and downplayed the importance of moral perfection and obedience in the ultimate salvation process. The lack of human effort was not considered a danger to salvation, but it could hinder one’s sense of certainty and spiritual progress.

Dr. Jack Sequeira’s View:

More recently, Adventists have become more interested in the perspective of Dr. Jack Sequeira. Dr. Sequeira stresses the complete substitutionary atonement of Christ, where believers are considered completely righteous in the eyes of God due to Christ’s credited righteousness rather than their own achieved perfection. The growth of character is seen as an outcome of salvation, not a requirement for it. The believer’s position in Christ is not impacted by their own actions, as righteousness is given solely through faith. Lack of human effort does not affect the believer’s standing in Christ, as righteousness is entirely credited by faith.

Comparison and Contrast of SDA views:

These four perspectives cover a range of beliefs in Adventist theology. 

  • The traditional view and last-generation theology give greater importance to the believer’s responsibility to achieve moral perfection. On the other hand, the 1888 message and Dr. Sequeira’s perspective downplay the believer’s responsibility and highlight the completed actions of Christ and credited righteousness. 
  • These four views differ in how they relate to the doctrines of the Sabbath, the investigative judgment, and the heavenly sanctuary. The traditional view and last-generation theology place a stronger emphasis on the observance of the Sabbath, the importance of investigative judgment, and the ongoing work of Christ in saving humanity in the heavenly sanctuary. The 1888 message and Dr. Jack Seguerra’s view place less importance on these doctrines and focus more importance on the completed work of Christ on the cross. 

Comparison with Other Christian Traditions:

Some other Protestant views of salvation share similarities with certain Seventh-day Adventist perspectives.

  • The traditional SDA view regarding achieving moral perfection and overcoming sin with the help of Christ closely aligns with the Wesleyan and Arminian concepts of Christian perfection. This view is not widely accepted among the protestant denominations which typically do not believe in attaining sinless perfection in this lifetime.
  • Dr. Jack Sequeira’s focus on Christ’s completed work and the believer’s connection with Him aligns with Reformed teachings on justification and imputed righteousness. This aspect of Dr. Sequeira’s perspective is popular within Presbyterian, Reformed, and certain Baptist congregations.
  • The 1888 message, with its strong emphasis on justification by faith and the imputed righteousness of Christ, shares some similarities with the Free Grace perspective found in certain Protestant circles. Both views downplay the role of character perfection and obedience in the final salvation process, focusing more on the finished work of Christ and the believer’s resting in His righteousness.


The evolution of the doctrine of salvation by grace among Seventh-day Adventists reflects an ongoing dialogue and diversity of perspectives. Despite their agreement that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, Adventist scholars and members grapple with the complicated balance between God’s grace, human effort, and moral perfection.

In my opinion, the temptation of many Adventists is to somehow change salvation from a gift of God to a human effort-based process. We constantly argue over how much of our effort is needed in securing an already secured salvation. This tendency stems from a cognitive dissonance within our minds, where we struggle to fully accept the radical nature of grace and the sufficiency of Christ’s work on our behalf. We wrestle with the idea that our efforts do not contribute to our salvation, as it goes against our natural inclination towards works-based righteousness.

The greatest temptation for me is to believe that my righteousness, which was likened to filthy rags by Isaiah, somehow matters in securing my salvation. The moment, we give in to this temptation, we minimize the sacrifice of Christ and become legalistic. 

The parable of the wedding feast reminds us that both good and evil people were invited to the feast suggesting the importance of the King’s desire but not the individual behavior that qualified each one to the feast. One who refused to put on the wedding garment but thought that his garment was good enough was thrown away into the outer darkness. Such is the judgment for those who give into the temptation of reliance on human effort. 

In John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

The beauty of the gospel is found in its simplicity. Salvation is a gift given to those who believe in Christ’s sacrifice for their sins. Although character development and obedience are significant outcomes of salvation, they are not the path to achieving it. 

In the end, the different perspectives within Adventism regarding salvation, along with their nuanced distinctions, should not weaken the central message of being saved by grace through faith in Christ but rather deepen our gratitude for God’s love and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.

Next week, I want to discuss how one must view moral law based on this new understanding of Grace. But for today:

  • What do you think of the diversity of thought among the protestant denominations and even among the Adventists regarding the view of Salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone? 
  • How do you feel that even within the remnant Church that prides itself in the oracles of God, we have four different interpretations of salvation? 
  • How can we overcome the cognitive dissonance and accept Grace? 
  • Does the notion that our behavior, piety, and observance of unique SDA doctrines like Sabbath, health reform, etc. do not matter for salvation make you feel unsettled? 

C-J: I have to say, God always makes me smile. In this last month, I’ve visited three different churches. Before this, I hadn’t been to church in years. I was invited to these churches, and one of them was the church I attended 50 years ago, this month. It has changed so much—rooms repurposed, walls knocked out, colors changed, and a much younger congregation, though I was young back then too, at 23. Interestingly, the church has moved away from a defined religious identity.

While watching a documentary on Moses, featuring historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists, a phrase caught my attention: “cultural Christianity.” This ties into what Kiran discussed. Cultural Christianity comes in many flavors. I visited two Black churches; one was my student’s church involved in street ministry. I could clearly see the Nigerian culture’s pagan influences in the church’s customs and music. Then, I visited another church, invited by a veteran, which was very Pentecostal, complete with a bishop and pastor, and also mixed traditional praise and worship with very rhythmic music.

With regard to “cultural Christianity,” I realized it’s not about the culture of the Christian faith but about what God is doing in the body of Christ. Considering the street ministry of the first church, they focused on outreach to the most vulnerable. The second, my childhood church, emphasized praise, worship, and community outreach, living as ambassadors of Christ rather than preaching directly. The third church was deeply involved in mission work abroad, spreading God’s word in predominantly non-Christian regions.

At the last church, I was a hot mess. Being the only white person there, I introduced myself and showed respect, especially to the elders. Lonnie, who had invited me, was late because he was picking up people without transportation. When the bishop approached me, I was overwhelmed by the loud environment, as I’ve always been sensitive to sound. I stepped out of the sanctuary, crying and shaking, until the bishop prayed over me, bringing a sense of release. Despite my emotional turmoil, Lonnie’s presence and support were comforting.

Reflecting on my experience, especially after living through riots and dealing with constant fireworks, I realized how much impact those events had on me. The ministry of that church helped me address those buried feelings. What we do as cultural Christians aligns with the church we identify with, but God meets us in unexpected and extraordinary ways. This journey has reignited a joy in me, prompting me to question my place and the reasons I walked away from churches in the past. God’s message to me was clear: it’s not about what I need, but what He is preparing me for. Everything in my life, including this healing, is part of His plan, promising peace, wholeness, joy, and life. That’s the essence of the body of Christ; the rest is cultural Christianity. Thank you for your time and for listening to my testimony.

Donald: Thank you, C-J, for sharing such a broad perspective. Your journey across different churches provided much food for thought, contrasting significantly with the more narrow story I’m about to share. Kiran touched on the Adventist church this morning, and my experiences have been somewhat aligned, though focused through a narrower lens. Living for two years in an Adventist community has perhaps given me a unique perspective on the visibility and perception of Adventism.

Last Sabbath, we visited one of the approximately eight to ten Adventist churches in our area. It was a shock to see how it had changed since our last visit years ago. I’ve often told people I’m proud of our corporate church for its tolerance, a word suggesting acceptance of a spectrum of thought, which was echoed in C-J’s reflections about the diversity within a context.

This church, with around 1,500 attendees at the second service, has made a name for itself, especially since COVID, for its stance on vaccination and its vibrant community engagement in mission and health work. The children wearing shawls reminded me of Shipshewana—almost Amish, highlighting a divergence of perspectives within our community.

I had breakfast this week with a lifelong friend and member of that church who holds a narrow interpretation of faith, emphasizing behavior as critical to salvation. This conversation reinforced the diversity of thought within our church community, from the conservative to the more broad-minded.

I dislike labeling these perspectives as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ because it simplifies complex beliefs. It’s more about the breadth of view, with the village church having a narrower focus compared to the university church’s broader perspective. Yet, all congregations believe they’re following the right path, which underscores the diversity within our Adventist community.

It’s crucial to recognize that everyone thinks they’re correct in their beliefs, which fosters a diversity of thought and practice within our faith. My contribution, albeit narrower than C-J’s, reflects on the varied perspectives within Adventism and the importance of acknowledging and understanding these differences. I hope this adds value to our discussion.

C-J: It all comes down to the body of Christ. It’s not about adhering strictly to rules or staying within a prescribed lane. It’s about recognizing God’s presence and movement, like the unseen currents beneath the waves. The size of a church or a list of detailed rules isn’t the core of our faith. Yes, we agree on the importance of having moral guardrails, and there’s undeniable beauty in the Ten Commandments. But our faith isn’t about being excluded for making a mistake, then struggling to work our way back to acceptance. This understanding embodies the essence of grace.

There are those who believe in predestination, who see faith as black or white—you’re either right or wrong. However, when I shifted my perspective, I understood that it’s not about the cultural practices of a particular church but about the body of Christ as a whole. That’s where true tolerance begins to flourish. I see God in you, I see God moving among us, I recognize the grace and heart within you, and I accept you just as Christ accepts all of us. This realization removes the burden of shame, guilt, and cognitive dissonance. Viewing our faith as God working within His collective body, rather than through isolated individuals, enriches us all.

David: I appreciated Donald’s metaphor about being in a lane. It led me to think that, in a way, all lanes—like all roads leading to Rome—eventually guide us to the same destination. The various perspectives that Kiran discussed, each distinct and valid in its own right, essentially converge towards the same goal. There’s no inherently “right” or “wrong” lane; rather, it’s about understanding that each lane, whether denominational or individual, represents a unique pathway towards the same end—towards God, or towards what some might call salvation.

The concept of “salvation” doesn’t quite resonate with me. Imagine if Jesus had not yet come and wasn’t expected for another 200 years. How, then, would salvation be understood? Was someone like Isaiah saved? The idea of salvation through Christ complicates things further. As Kiran suggested, while doctrine—or as I would frame it, scripture—appears straightforward, it is, in fact, layered with complexity. This plethora of perspectives, however, might just be scripture’s beauty. It unveils various lanes or pathways, all of which hold validity because they lead us to God.

Reinhard: I find a lot of truth in the emphasis on tolerance and diversity within the Christian faith, especially from my perspective within Seventh-day Adventism. When I’m in Indonesia, for instance, and visit churches, I’m struck by the similarities in worship patterns to those in the West, from the liturgy to the preaching. There’s a frequent mention of Ellen G. White in sermons there, which might not be as common elsewhere, but I believe that’s beside the point. The core of our faith, what the Bible teaches, remains constant across cultures.

Looking at the history of Christianity, from its inception after Jesus’ departure up to the present day, significant developments seem sparse until the explosion of Christian denominations in the 18th and 19th centuries, including the rise of Seventh-day Adventism. Key moments like the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and Martin Luther’s Reformation in the 16th century stand out. Yet, it’s arguably not until about 200 years ago that the doctrines of the Second Coming and salvation by faith and grace began to be emphasized more prominently.

Today, we find ourselves in an era enriched by knowledge and understanding, and this dialogue among different Christian denominations, particularly within the Seventh-day Adventist community, underscores the importance of tolerance. While we may not always agree with or accept the customs and practices of other denominations, especially those that differ from our own Western traditions, the capacity for acceptance is crucial. The essence of our gatherings, the preaching that directs us to God, is the fundamental point.

The key takeaway is that despite our differences, as long as we center Jesus in our beliefs and live out those beliefs, we are aligning with what God desires for us. This pursuit of salvation, underscored by a faith deeply rooted in grace, is what we all strive for. I believe that embracing this understanding and practicing tolerance is essential for our collective journey towards salvation.

Michael: I don’t see the value in discussing doctrine because I don’t believe that adherence to any specific doctrine is what will save us.

David: You might argue that any doctrine could save us as long as it’s accompanied by faith. The common thread across doctrines is the belief in God, which might be all that’s necessary. Jesus emphasized the commandments to love God and your neighbor. If you believe in God (a term I associate with Goodness), it’s difficult to imagine not loving God, or hating Him. Thus, all doctrines could be seen as simultaneously nonsensical and true. It doesn’t matter if you’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road; we’ll both reach Scotland eventually.

C-J: Based on my experiences with people whose faith blends elements of ancient paganism, I believe the outcomes of faith—the fruits—are important. Forgive my broad generalization, but consider individuals practicing voodoo for personal gain, utilizing rituals, herbs, chanting, and sacrifices. I view their actions through the lens of their limited revelation, hesitating to judge the morality of their practices based on their cultural context and intentions.

For those who intend harm, there are consequences, yet it’s not for me to decree eternal damnation. As a self-identifying Christian, my role is to demonstrate grace, trusting God to bring justice and healing where harm has been done.

In my neighborhood, there are practitioners of Santería. While some engage in rituals that seem dark to me, they do so not out of malice but in a plea for evil to leave them. It’s a complex cultural tradition beyond my place to judge. Who am I to consider someone evil for practices they were born into? Yes, I believe in dark spiritual forces, having witnessed their reality. Yet, engaging such forces requires divine commission and protection. It’s a realm fraught with danger, not to be entered lightly.

Don: I believe the context of today’s discussion might become clearer with next week’s topic on the role of the Ten Commandments and obedience in salvation. The notion that salvation depends on having the ‘right’ beliefs is peculiar. What beliefs are we talking about? Which ideas do we deem worth living or dying for? The idea that we must formulate a correct understanding of God or any concept seems at odds with the notion of grace. Grace suggests that salvation isn’t about what we think but rather what God does, liberating us from the burden of ensuring our beliefs align perfectly with divine truth.

David: Consider the Garden of Eden as an example of grace. Imagine Adam and Eve as children in a garden, cared for and protected by their father, enjoying freedom to play and having minimal responsibilities aside from a few chores and one rule. This scenario underscores a state of grace where they could essentially live without worry. Did they need to develop doctrines about their father, or was it enough to simply live in his grace?

Michael: The story of Adam and Eve often misses the point that they represent psychological children. Viewing their expulsion from Eden as a necessary developmental step from childhood suggests that longing to return to Eden is akin to desiring a return to childhood—a concept Freud explored. The challenge is understanding how to embrace the essence of Eden as adults, maintaining innocence or a childlike perspective while achieving spiritual maturity.

Don: Jesus’s call to become like children introduces a paradox: spiritual maturity involves embracing a form of childlike innocence or simplicity. This suggests a profound truth about our spiritual journey, underscoring the importance of maintaining a pure, trusting approach to faith as we grow and mature.

C-J: The essence of childlike faith, I believe, lies in trust and obedience. When we are told something isn’t good for us, we accept it without needing exhaustive explanations, trusting in the wisdom of those who guide us. This simplicity is often lost as we grow, especially among well-educated adults, who might scrutinize and analyze based on their personal truths, experiences, or interpretations of texts.

God’s principle of “to whom much is given, much is required” is a recurring theme in the Bible. Take Moses, for example. Despite his vast knowledge and experience, educated among the elite and familiar with complex matters like warfare and multiple languages, his time in the desert stripped him of all but humility. He learned to tend to sheep, dealing with their less appealing aspects, which contrasts sharply with commanding obedience from people.

Moses’s journey from leadership to humble shepherding, living amongst a community regarded as lowly, eating the same food daily, and braving the elements, emphasizes a powerful transformation. This story illustrates that often, the most difficult individuals to bring to their knees in humility are the highly educated or those with extensive religious access. They might question the rationality of faith, yet, I firmly believe in these divine mysteries.

I’m continually astonished by God’s wisdom in orchestrating encounters, delivering messages, and utilizing humble vessels for His purpose. Jesus’s ministry among the uneducated highlighted this, as He walked with those open to receiving His teachings, contrasting with the educated Jews of His time, who, despite being God’s chosen people, were often too entrenched in their knowledge to accept His message.

Anonymous: In the beginning, God gave a single command during creation week: observe the Sabbath. From that point to the issuance of the Ten Commandments at Mount Horeb, it seems God’s primary expectation was for people to recognize Him as the Creator through this one command, largely overlooking their ways of living—even when sin, like Cain killing Abel, was rampant.

As sin flourished, God felt compelled to clarify the path of righteousness, hence the Ten Commandments. I imagine there was resistance from the people, accustomed to their ways of life, questioning the sudden imposition of rules against adultery, lying, idolatry, etc., with the dire consequence of death for disobedience. In this narrative, Jesus’s arrival marks a pivotal moment: He reassures that past sins are forgiven and urges adherence to a new way of life. Yet, despite this new covenant, human failure persists.

Jesus introduces a revolutionary solution: He will bear the consequences of our sins. All that’s asked of us is to believe in His sacrifice, signifying a new covenant focused not on our actions but on faith. This doesn’t mean we cease to sin, but it highlights God’s ongoing work in sanctification, individually tailoring His guidance, wisdom, and experiences to each person in ways beyond our comprehension.

Belief in Jesus initiates a transformation process, the mechanics of which remain a mystery. How God will restore us to Edenic purity or perfect us for eternal life is unknown, but faith in His grace is paramount.

Jesus perceives us as children—limited, naïve, and incapable of grasping the entirety of His plan. This doesn’t diminish our value but emphasizes our reliance on His grace and the futility of trying to earn salvation through our understanding or deeds. Our role is simply to believe, to trust in Jesus’s sacrifice as the cornerstone of our covenant with God, acknowledging our limited perspective in the vastness of His work.

In essence, our journey is not about attaining perfection through knowledge or deeds but about submitting to the transformative power of faith and grace, embracing our role in God’s grand design.

* * *

Objections to Grace

Don: I’d like to read from the book of Romans before I turn things over to Kiran. This is the central theme of what we’ve been discussing:

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?… (Romans 8:33) 

This is a rhetorical question, of course. Paul then goes on to say:

…God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, but rather, was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or trouble, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?Just as it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We were regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Roman 8:33-39)

And that’s what grace is all about. 

Kiran: Today I am attempting to address the question: What are the great objections to Grace that exist among Christians today?  

I am going to discuss three objections to Grace and why one might have such objections.  

One of the hardest bible verses to understand can be found in Matthew 5:48 in which Jesus said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect”. Many interpret the word “perfect” to be “Holy” or “sinless”. Therefore, the command of Jesus is “You, therefore, must be sinless as your Father in Heaven is sinless”. Most Christians believe this is what Jesus was asking His followers. But others argue perfect here refers to the agape love that the Father is. Some argue perfect here refers to being spiritually mature in our sphere as Father in Heaven is spiritually mature in His sphere.  

The reason I am talking about this verse is that for us to understand the objections to grace, it is important to understand the mindset of a nominal Christian. Nominal here refers to Christians without the understanding of Grace. When the goal of a nominal Christian is to be sinless as the Father in Heaven is, then their life becomes a constant struggle to measure up to God’s ideal and repeated failures to live up to that ideal. This constant cycle of trying and failing is very painful. For such nominal Christians, grace-believing real Christians are offensive.  

Cheap Grace:  

The first objection to Grace is Cheap Grace or a low view of Grace. In this view, one believes that the people who seek Grace are looking for a license to sin. Meaning they are seeking a way to continue living their sinful lives without facing consequences. Their argument goes this way. Since God’s grace covers all our sins, why not indulge in what we desire and occasionally invoke grace to escape consequences? It’s grace without true discipleship, grace without the cross, and grace without Jesus Christ. Essentially, it’s seeking Jesus as a savior but not as our Lord.  

The Bible discredits this concept.  

Paul in Romans 5 and 6 said:

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So, use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.” 

Paul here gave us an accurate view of God’s Grace. Accepting Grace means instead of using our body as an instrument of evil, we now use it as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Be put it plainly, living a self-centered life brings glory to Satan who first conceived the idea of self-centeredness. Once we accept Grace, we are now committed to living a self-sacrificing life that brings glory to God.  

The reason nominal Christians have this objection is that they fear their capacity to do evil or to live extremely self-centered lives. They view their efforts to gain salvation through their works as a safeguard that prevents them from exploding with self-centeredness. In essence, they are in stage 2 of the stages of faith. If they leave their fortress of self-righteousness, surely there is nothing that would stop them from going to the ends of their self-centeredness.  

If we understand this fear of nominal Christians, we will not judge them. We would understand where they are and would do our best to help them feel secure.  

Another reason these nominal Christians have this view is because they have a wrong understanding of the Gospel. We will discuss that in our next class.  

Cheap Law:  

The second objection to Grace is having a low view of God’s moral law.  Nominal Christians would think that people seeking Grace are lowering the standard set by Jesus from “be perfect” to “do your best”.  Instead of wholeheartedly loving God, they think that grace-seeking people settled for merely loving God more than money or sports.   

Cheap law weakens God’s demand for perfection. This is a popular misconception and many think that God simply lowered the bar so that we all get in.  

Jesus discredited this view. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  

Jesus took it further in His sermon on the Mount saying, 

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5: 27-28)

Here Jesus made it clear that the law demands obedience even in our desires.  

Cheap Sin:  

The third objection to grace is cheap sin or having a low view of sin. When we think of sin, we often think of deliberate violation of God’s law either in deeds or in thoughts as Jesus expanded. Turns out this is only 1/3rd of the SIN problem.  

When we look at Psalm 51 authored by David, we see a much fuller picture of sin.  

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 
3 For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me. 
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. 
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 
9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 

There is a reason David used sin, transgression, and iniquity to describe SIN. Turns out the Bible used several words to describe sin. The Old Testament defined sin with 12 different Hebrew words whereas the New Testament defined sin with 5 different Greek words. These words explain three aspects of SIN. 

  1. Iniquity. This does not primarily refer to an act of sin, but to a condition of sinfulness; by nature, we are spiritually “bent”  
  • Psalm 51:5  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 
  • Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 
  • Isaiah 64:6  All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 
  1. Sin. Literally, “to miss the mark.” This refers to our failures to measure up to God’s ideal.  
  • Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
  • Romans 7:15-24 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 
  • Isaiah 1:4-6 
  1. Transgression. This is a deliberate violation of God’s law, a willful act of disobedience.  
  • 1 John 3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness
  • Romans 7:7-13  

If we focus only on the deliberate violation of the law, we will have a low view of the law.  

What happens when we have such a view? Such a view tempts us to think that we can with our willpower avoid transgression. Somehow with discipline and dedication, we can overcome transgression in deeds and thoughts and thus be qualified to be in heaven. Such a view turns a person so self-centered that they miss the point of God’s kingdom that operates on the self-sacrificing love principle.  

But this is only 1/3rd of the problem. How are we going to change our crooked spiritual state? If we accurately understand Sin in its three forms, we will never say I am going to work for my salvation. We understand deep within our hearts that there is nothing in this world that can save us from all forms of sin. Only through the merits of Jesus Christ alone, will we be saved.  

Jay: The objections to grace are intriguing. It appears they are primarily associated with Christians, though I’m not entirely sure of that. There’s a general suspicion towards it, making us hesitant to discuss it openly. This suspicion itself is fascinating to consider. What specifically troubles us so much about grace? 

One issue, as you mentioned, is the notion of a “free pass” — the idea that one can act as one pleases and still receive forgiveness in the end. This challenges our human concept of fairness, which is deeply ingrained. This leads to another discussion: the distinction between fairness and equity. Despite often being used interchangeably, I’m not convinced they are synonymous. The idea of grace as a “free pass” doesn’t align with our sense of justice, yet grace is often described as a free gift, underscoring our complex relationship with the concept. 

Another point of contention is how grace interacts with the Christian concept of judgment. This difficulty in reconciling grace with judgment adds to our reluctance to fully embrace the idea of grace. Personally, I’ve reached a point where ambiguity is acceptable, but I recognize that many find comfort in clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil.

David: Judgment is closely linked to salvation. Kiran talked about his transition from being “lost” to being “saved.” It seems to me there’s a fundamental contradiction in believing in both grace and the possibility of not being saved.

Jay: The cognitive dissonance surrounding grace and salvation is significant. In my theological background, grace and the concept of being lost or saved coexist, yet they are rarely discussed together. This separation creates confusion; how can grace and judgment coexist logically? The dissonance is substantial, leading to the rejection of one concept or the other, or to the acceptance of an overlap that either escapes our understanding or is entirely overlooked.

David: Alternatively, one might argue that grace supersedes judgment, suggesting that while judgment and grace co-exist, grace ultimately prevails.

C-J: Across all cultures and societies, including small nomadic tribes from thousands of years ago, there’s been an idea of separating the governing rules of a community (state) and spiritual or divine mandates (church). This separation addresses our human limitations, such as controlling our desires or understanding complex concepts, through a metaphorical ‘mandate of heaven.’ 

My father taught me a valuable lesson by having me reflect on my actions, not just to understand why I was disciplined but to grasp the broader impact of my choices on others and the importance of established rules. Similarly, my relationship with God is about seeking understanding when I’m stuck or need patience, not about passing or failing a test. I believe God meets us where we are, acknowledging our dynamic lives and societies. 

Religion often seeks to control, but divine rules give authority to our societal norms, attributing their origin to something beyond human creation. This doesn’t mean we escape the consequences of our actions; instead, it’s about understanding our place within a larger, divinely ordered system. I see God as interested in our growth and understanding, much like a parent encourages a child to ask questions and learn.

Carolyn: The Bible mentions, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” which embodies both grace and judgment. However, considering we are inherently sinful and will continue to sin until we reach heaven, where does judgment fit in?

C-J: When a child lies to protect themselves, I don’t see it as a sin but as a survival tactic. It’s crucial to look beyond the action to the child’s intent and circumstances. Similarly, if a child steals a loaf of bread to feed their family, I don’t consider it a sin. It’s about understanding the deeper context and recognizing the humanity and needs behind actions, rather than strictly categorizing them as sin.

Kiran: Judgment seems inherent to our existence; from conception, we are judged to face death, owing to our inherently flawed nature, as highlighted by David. This is not about earthly justice but a spiritual condition. In the Book of Judges, the Israelites viewed judges not as punishers but as liberators. Similarly, Jesus’s role as a judge offers liberation through faith. 

Another layer of judgment discussed by Jesus pertains to how those who have received grace utilize it. Ultimately, our actions alone cannot exempt us from this fundamental judgment; redemption is through Christ alone.

C-J: Considering life through the lens of quantum physics, our existence barely registers on a universal scale. I believe the divine essence is more about energy and organic, intuitive connection than we can fully grasp. Society’s rules are designed to protect the collective, ensuring survival. Focusing too much on defining our lives through judgment or grace is like being stuck in quicksand. Our understanding is limited by our human capacities. 

My relationship with God transcends these concerns. It’s not about punishment for physical ailments or accidents but about a deeper connection beyond our worldly existence. God’s interest lies in our personal relationship with the divine, guiding us through life’s questions and anxieties. We’re encouraged to seek understanding and purpose in our circumstances, not to get lost in the quest for control or fear of judgment. True peace comes from focusing on God, realizing our limited control, and trusting in God’s plan for us, rather than worrying about our worthiness or judgment. 

Reinhard: I believe we each have our unique approach to aligning with God’s word, striving to live by biblical principles because ultimately, we seek eligibility for the kingdom of heaven. This quest enhances our understanding of God’s love. I view grace as God’s love manifested within us, a continuous blessing enriching our lives as we grow closer to God. With God’s word as our guide, concerns about judgment diminish. 

The fact of David’s sin with Bathsheba highlights that even the faithful can err, impacting others significantly. Yet, David, like Moses and Abraham, remained beloved by God, illustrating grace extends to all, believers and non-believers alike. Despite inevitable mistakes, our pursuit of goodness, guided by the Holy Spirit, propels us forward. 

This class serves as a reminder and tune-up of our faith, helping us draw nearer to God as we contemplate our salvation and strive to align with His will.

Don: The story of the woman caught in adultery, as recounted in John 8, mirrors our spiritual transgressions. Jesus’s directive to “go and sin no more,” following his refusal to condemn her, symbolizes not a command but a promise of being viewed sinless through divine grace. This narrative extends to us all, emphasizing that sinlessness is not about our actions but how God perceives us, justified rather than condemned. This challenges the notion that we must meet a specific standard to be accepted by God, highlighting Jesus’s mission to correct such spiritual misconceptions.

Anonymous: I’ve appreciated the discussions on struggle and grace. Struggling is not unusual for those seeking to walk with God; it’s the starting point. Growing into an understanding and experience of grace is essential. Without this process, we can’t fully grasp what grace means, as our efforts alone lead to self-condemnation. 

This reminds me of two passages from Romans. One speaks about having faith privately before God and the blessing of not condemning oneself. Initially, in our spiritual journey, we often judge ourselves harshly as we strive for righteousness on our own. 

Another passage highlights Jesus’s role not just as a judge but as an intercessor, advocating on our behalf, which eliminates judgment against us. Jesus mentioned that non-believers are already condemned, suggesting that acceptance of grace and faith in God shields us from judgment. 

Thus, walking in grace frees us from self-judgment, whereas reliance on our deeds for righteousness leads to self-condemnation.

Michael: The weekly reminders of grace are appreciated, yet there’s an underlying current of judgment, which seems easier to accept. The question is, where does this sense of judgment, which we may not fully recognize, originate?

Don: I believe it originates from the church.

Michael: It feels deeper than that, more intuitive.

Don: Absolutely, it’s more complex. Our natural inclination towards cause and effect leads us to expect that every action has a consequence. Grace challenges this notion, embodying the ultimate rejection of cause and effect. Jesus used parables, stories, and teachings to convey that He represents grace, not cause and effect, emphasizing the transformative power of grace over judgment.

Don: I want to note that class will break for two weeks. Perhaps the break might intensify our yearning for more understanding of grace. Kiran will continue discussing grace when class resumes in two weeks. I am thankful for everyone’s contributions during this time. Hearing diverse perspectives has been enlightening for me and reinforces our shared devotion to a gracious God.

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Grace Upon Grace Already Given

Michael: We will continue our study of the trinity from the perspective of Grace. As we have discussed before, several bible passages declare that God is love and grace. David has proposed that the love of God, agape in Greek, is the same, or a synonym of Grace while Jason has suggested that the triune God has different manifestations or qualities of the Grace. To put it in other words, although the triune God as one is Grace, the father, the son and the holy spirit carry different qualities or aspects of this grace. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul seems to provide a blueprint for us to dive into the different aspects of the triune God. At the end of his letter, Paul is giving his benediction and farewell to the Corinthians. He ends his letter with the following blessing:

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

An internet source (https://www.agodman.com/grace-is-manifestation-triune-god-embodiment-father-son-spirit/) provides this explanation: “Paul’s benediction seems to suggest that God the father is the source of love, while God the son is grace as the expression of God’s love, and God the Spirit is fellowship, the flow, the transmission of the love of God with the grace of Jesus Christ.”

The purpose of our study is to better our understanding of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. How did Jesus establish this new covenant, what was the role of grace, and what happened to the grace when Jesus died?

For now, let’s start with God the father. We’ve had several questions as to whether grace existed before Jesus. And the bible clearly answers yes.

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. (John 1:16)

This verse clearly indicates that we were given grace even before Jesus came into Earth. But perhaps the manifestation of this grace was different, which is why we may have missed it. One of the best methods to spot grace is to look for instances when God has complete provision on our salvation—whether physical or spiritual—that thwarts and nullifies any of our efforts. If you do, you can find many manifestations of Grace. I will describe a few.

  • Abraham was willing to kill his only son as a sacrifice to God. However, God stops him and tells him to sacrifice a ram caught in the thicket instead. The ram caught in the thicket is Grace. There was no work involved, it was a gift from God.
  • The mana that the Israelites received from the sky during their journey in the desert is God’s grace.
  • Dr. Weaver gave a study on how there was never a shortage of olive oil in the Old Testament, another example of grace.
  • The three Hebrew worthies were standing in the middle of a fire that didn’t burn them, similar to the fire that Moses encountered. A fire that does not consume is grace.
  • More recently, we talked about the trees in the garden of Eden, and how the tree of life, the tree that gives life, was there from the very start, even before sin existed. A primary example of the importance of grace not as a band aid to cover our sins, but as a powerful expression of the identity of God. 
  • But what about the expression of God’s love as the grace in Jesus?

    If Grace was there before Jesus, as the bible clearly suggests, then what was different with Jesus? If you notice the previous manifestations of grace, they encompassed inanimate objects (fire, olive oil, mana, a bronze serpent), animals (a ram caught in the thicket) and plants (the tree of life, Jonah and the palm tree). The verse that we read before says:

    Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.(John 1:16)

    With Jesus, God goes all out on his grace. This is his fullness, his totality, the manifestation of grace as a whole. Unlike all the other manifestations, this is the incarnation of grace. Grace as a whole becoming human. A momentous moment in our spiritual history. 

    Unlike the previous manifestations of God’s grace, the fullness of God’s grace gets incarnated as a human. The bible describes how humans were the last creations of God’s work before he rested for the sabbath. Human beings are God’s most beloved creation, and his best. And that’s why the expression of grace at its fullness took human form. This is the analysis that I thought of initially, but I think I got it backwards.

    It is true that God’s grace in the Old Testament took many shapes while never taking the human form, while the fullness of grace in the New Testament, the grace of Jesus Christ, took the human form. However, God chose the human form not because it stands above all creation as I thought before. God choose the human form as the expression of his grace because the purpose of this grace is to condemn sin. You see, only humans are capable of sin; inanimate objects, animals, and plants are not. 

    Paul makes this clear:

    For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:3)

    Unlike the previous manifestations of grace, which extended grace to specific people in time and space, God’s plan with Jesus was to extend grace to everyone at all times. This is the ultimate grace, it is done once and for all. Grace on an unprecedented scale. So, what did this fullness of grace achieve?

    According to Paul, the apostle of grace, the sacrifice of Jesus has brought many things for us: Here I am providing a quick summary of several statements from Paul’s letters. (I provide the full bible verses later).

    1. Because sin was condemned in the flesh, there is now no condemnation for us.
    2. His grace has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality.
    3. We are not slaves and we don’t have to live in fear again, but have received adoption to God our Abba (father).
    4. The righteous requirement of the law is fully met in us, those who live according to the spirit.

    St. Augustine of Hippo, probably the most prominent church father, introduced the concept of original sin that every human carries because of the sin of Adam. The church teaches that every human still carries this sin, and only formal baptism can take it away. This is where I think the church is wrong, even going against what God did for us through Jesus. Yes, the church’s teachings effectively nullify everything we received from Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. Because, through the grace of Jesus, God replaced the original sin with the original grace. This is the remnant of God’s DNA in us. The grace of God, through the work of Jesus, never left the earth. Grace remained here, an integral part of who we are, ensuring an ever-present connection to our father. This is the formal adoption papers, signed and sealed by God. Our baptism is through the fire of grace. 

    How did Jesus establish this new covenant, what was the role of grace, and what happened to the grace when Jesus died? Was the grace of God in Jesus different from Grace received in the Old Testament in quality or quantity or both?

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

    He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

    The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ (Romans 8:15)

    David: If scripture spoke of grace before Christ, then the idea that Jesus introduced a new form of grace complicates (to me) the matter of how people before Jesus had a relationship with God without access to grace. I believe humanity has had access to God’s grace since the beginning. Did Jesus come to introduce a new form of grace, or did he come to remind his contemporaries of the grace already mentioned in their scriptures (the Christian Old Testament)?

    Ascribing to Jesus things that apply only to people who knew him or subscribed to Christianity since his death doesn’t align with the notion that God is the God of all mankind.

    Jay: The significant events, like the creation of the world, the sacrifice of Christ, or the giving of the Holy Spirit, don’t necessarily introduce a new form of grace but highlight appropriate examples for their times. 

    Viewing grace through the lens of the Trinity is intriguing. The grace from God the Father is life-giving, evident from the creation story. The grace represented by Jesus seems to address a loss of grace, emphasizing the freeness of the gift and the unworthiness of the receiver. Post-Christ, the focus shifts to the Holy Spirit, emphasizing fellowship and conversion. So, it’s not a new grace, but a reminder of aspects of grace at certain historical points that humanity might have lost sight of.

    Michael: It’s not just about losing sight; it’s about corruption too.

    Jay: Exactly, humanity’s corruption requires moments of realignment.

    David: China comprises nearly a quarter of the human race. A tiny percentage is Christian, but to me it’s clear (because I have lived among them) that God’s grace is there as much as anywhere else and was there (I think we can tell from the literature concerning their sages) that it was there even before Jesus was born in Palestine. This raises again the question of whether Jesus introduced a new form of grace or reminded us of the grace that has always been present.

    Jay: It’s essential to acknowledge that the example of Jesus is not the only form of demonstrating grace. It’s one among many, shaped by our cultural and personal perspectives. This does not diminish its significance but places it within a broader context of understanding grace across different cultures and times.

    C-J: The Trinity represents an organic and dynamic concept of grace, with Jesus’s teachings serving as a manifestation of the word in a largely illiterate society. The adaptability and fluidity in the expression of grace suggests a foundational, experiential aspect to our relationship with God that transcends cultural and religious boundaries, emphasizing the universal nature of grace.

    Michael: The church’s formal requirements, such as baptism, are not the sole means to grace. Everyone is graced by God, with the key difference being our awareness and acceptance of it. Jesus’s commandment to spread the good news is about informing people of the grace they already possess, not converting them to a new realization.

    Jay: The concept of awareness is crucial in understanding grace. It suggests that our recognition and operationalization of grace through different aspects of the Trinity enhance our comprehension and appreciation of this divine gift.

    C-J: I believe the metaphor of the breath of life, tracing back to creation, illustrates that without it, our capacity to recognize or understand anything ceases. This breath of life underpins our awareness, allowing us to perceive and navigate the world. Through storytelling, rituals, and social structures, we articulate and practice our belief systems. This process embodies the essence of grace and the breath of life. As Christians, we find truth in the experiential reality of this grace, using it as a guide in our spiritual journey. David’s insights highlight that this grace, inherent in creation, is indistinguishable and integral to our existence. The introduction of the Trinity was a revolutionary concept meant to unify disparate religious practices, yet Paul acknowledged the difficulty in reconciling diverse traditions such as circumcision or dietary laws. This illustrates grace’s transcendent nature, beyond the confines of culture or doctrine, evident when Jesus proclaimed forgiveness at the cross, emphasizing understanding over judgment. At life’s end, individuals often confront their beliefs in profound ways, suggesting a spiritual readiness that transcends cognitive understanding, guided by the Holy Spirit towards a deeper realization of grace.

    Don: Michael’s observation that baptism is not strictly necessary underscores the notion that grace is a divine gift, beyond human control or ritualistic actions. This concept is further exemplified in the story of Mary, where the divine and human converge to manifest grace in its fullest expression through Jesus Christ. His ministry, culminating in the crucifixion, serves as the ultimate testament to grace, entrusted by God to humanity. This narrative invites us to explore the profound interplay between divine intention and human experience, suggesting a complex yet fundamental relationship with grace that continues to evolve and deepen our understanding of the divine.

    Reinhard: It is evident from the creation story and the subsequent narrative of humanity that God’s plan always involved granting humans the freedom to choose, with the hope of establishing a righteous relationship. Despite humanity’s failures, God’s teachings through the law and Jesus’s life provided a blueprint for living in accordance with divine will. Jesus’s mission was not just about rectifying past transgressions but about restoring a direct connection with God, emphasizing love, trust, and surrender as the cornerstones of this renewed relationship. This connection, facilitated by grace, offers a pathway to true fulfillment and salvation, illustrating the comprehensive nature of God’s plan for humanity.

    Don: Michael’s insights, especially from 1 John about “grace upon grace,” offer a fascinating perspective. This concept suggests a foundational grace, akin to the light mentioned in Genesis, which is essential for life. Then, there’s an additional layer of grace represented by the Incarnation. This dual-layered grace, accessible to all, enriches our understanding of divine grace. David’s idea that grace is universally available aligns with this, urging followers to share the news of this compounded grace through the Incarnation.

    David: Considering the timing of Jesus’s arrival, one might ponder whether a later coming, perhaps in an era with the internet, would have been more opportune.

    Don: Leveraging modern technology for spreading his message? It raises questions about the timing of his earthly ministry.

    Carolyn: My curiosity is sparked by the contrast between the grace offered through Moses and the harsh judgments like the fall of Jericho. This dichotomy between the Old and New Covenants, and how grace is understood or experienced across different cultures and eras, especially in those narratives of divine judgment, leaves me with many questions about the nature of grace and covenant in the hearts of those long ago and in distant lands.

    Don: Carolyn, your reflections are poignant and open up crucial discussions about grace, judgment, and the transition from the Old to the New Covenant. Kiran will delve deeper into these themes next week, which should shed more light on these intricate aspects of our faith.

    Reinhard: From the outset of creation, God desired people to live rightly and worship Him. This desire led to instances where God expressed regret over mankind’s actions, such as the flood, sparing only Noah’s family. With the formation of Israel, God aimed to establish a community obedient to His will, distancing them from idolatry and moral corruption. This narrative persisted until the New Testament, where the depiction of God shifts towards a more compassionate and forgiving nature through Jesus’s teachings and sacrifice. Jesus’s declaration, “It is finished,” on the cross signifies the fulfillment of God’s salvation plan, offering grace to all humanity, a grace that transcends our earthly existence into the next. This overarching grace is God’s ultimate gift, allowing everyone the opportunity to connect with Him, irrespective of their past.

    Don: Carolyn’s observation about the Old Testament might reflect a perspective shaped by the victors, suggesting that the narratives could be biased towards the Israelite viewpoint. This perspective, where God is seen as directing or justifying certain actions, might not fully capture the essence of God’s intentions. Jesus’s teachings, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, challenge these interpretations, promoting a more inclusive understanding of grace. This suggests that the historical portrayals of divine judgment might need reevaluation in light of Jesus’s message of grace and forgiveness.

    C-J: The current events in the Middle East serve as a contemporary example of how historical patterns of conflict over power, land, and resources continue to affect humanity. Despite the complexity of these issues, the underlying problems stem from human nature and societal organization. The pursuit of peace and cooperation, ideals championed by organizations like NATO and the UN, requires a collective effort to transcend our historical tendencies towards conflict and domination. This effort involves acknowledging our shared humanity and the need for a sustainable approach to coexistence, one that values peace and mutual respect over territorial or economic dominance.

    Michael: The grace that Jesus represents, its manifestation, isn’t something commonly taught in the church. I’m curious about the exact nature of what transpired at Jesus’s death. We understand its significance, but how did it functionally occur? What mechanism facilitated this event?

    C-J: It’s clear what unfolded following Jesus’s death. The absence of Jesus forced individuals to seek a direct relationship with God. Despite Jesus discussing this and the existence of rituals for millennia, comprehending that one could approach God directly was a monumental shift. This realization prompted a reevaluation of spiritual relationships beyond traditional forms and rituals. It emphasized a departure from conventional thinking towards embracing a more personal, dynamic spiritual journey. This shift towards personal spirituality represents a move towards reclaiming the intimacy of the metaphorical garden, where the connection with the divine is direct and unmediated by traditional structures.

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