FACING THE CRISISWITH A SURRENDERED WILL AND LOVING PEOPLEA Sermon by: Elder Lawrence Nelson
Let me begin with a true story told by Pastor Kenneth Oster who was in charge of our mission work in Ethiopia during the time when the communists invaded and overthrew the government. They were determined to destroy Christianity. Elder Oster tells how the native pastor of the church in Addis Ababa was faced with tremendous problems as he tried to shepherd his flock. Little did he realize the hatred of the communist invaders toward Christianity and their determination to crush every person's belief in God. One day, as the pastor prepared to visit his members, he heard a loud knock. As he opened the door he faced two Soviet police who commanded him to go with them to the KGB headquarters.
When they reached the building he was locked in a room for some four hours. Then a KGB officer, together with a medical doctor who carried a small bag and was leading a dog, entered the room. The doctor opened the bag and took out a Bible. Then he asked the pastor, "Do you believe this to be God's Book?"
The pastor answered, "I surely do."
Then he commanded him to read the sixteenth chapter of Saint Mark out loud. When he got to verse nine which reads, "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week," the doctor said, "Stop!" And then asked him, "Do you really believe that Jesus who was crucified, who died and was buried, was resurrected and is alive today?"
The pastor answered, "Most assuredly I do." Then he was commanded to read on. When he read verse seventeen and eighteen, which reads, "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them."
"Stop!" cried the doctor. "Do you actually believe what you just read?"
"Yes, I do," he replied.
Then the doctor opened the bag again and took out a small vial. Calling the dog to him he then sprinkled several drops of the fluid from the bottle on the dog's tongue. Then he opened the door and told the dog to get out. But before the dog reached the door, it fell over dead.
Now the doctor turned to the pastor and continued, "Tell me, do you actually believe that your God can save you from this deadly poison that I just gave the dog?"
"Yes," the pastor replied, "if God wills."
Now the doctor took a teaspoon and filled it to the brim and commanded the pastor to open his mouth and he thrust the spoon filled with the deadly poison into the pastor's mouth. Both the doctor and the KGB officer watched to see the pastor die immediately. Five seconds passed. Ten seconds. And then the doctor took out his watch. …One minute…two minutes…five minutes. In amazement the doctor turned to the KGB officer, took out his communist membership card and tore it to bits and said, "I no longer believe in communism. I now believe in Jesus Christ." Oh, what a victory in the power of Christ! What a God we serve!
Let us pray. Oh, Father, You may not see fit to give us such a test, but Father, we know that each of us is to be tested in this coming end-time crisis. As we discuss how to obtain such victory, we pray that we may, with Thy Holy Spirit, be able to obtain such an overwhelming faith, and a daily victory over sin, that we may be worthy to receive Thy approval with the Latter Rain to give the Loud Cry. This we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.
I have been reading a new book just printed entitled Seven Conditions for Receiving the Latter Rain. The author has graciously granted me permission to share some of this information with you. Let us begin with a most important question – What is God's will for us? Both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy teach that it is possible, by God's grace, to be totally committed and Spirit-filled Christians so we may overcome sin completely in this life. What a glorious design! God's will for us is that we sin not.
Reading in 1 John 2:1 we are told, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Only those Christians who receive wholeheartedly the straight testimony of Jesus contained in Revelation 3:14-22, and overcome every besetting sin, reflecting the image of Jesus fully, will receive the Latter Rain. I quote, "Those who come up to every point, and stand every test, and overcome be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 1, p. 187. Did you notice the counsel of the True Witness? – First, come up to every point; second, stand every test; third, overcome every sin be the price what it may.
Of course this is not all the straight testimony and the counsel of the True Witness. We need to remember there is also the gold of faith and love, the white raiment, the robe of Christ's righteous character, and the eyesalve and the spiritual discernment of the Holy Spirit. The straight testimony calls sin by its right name, and appeals to God's people to repent and to forsake all sin, and to come up to the standard.
As we strive to attain such an achievement let us ever keep in mind that victory over sin is to come first, then the gifts of the Spirit and the outpouring of the Latter Rain come after. This matter has been made very plain in Inspiration. "I was shown that if God's people make no efforts on their part, but wait for the refreshing to come upon them and remove their wrongs and correct their errors; if they depend upon that to cleanse them from filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and fit them to engage in the loud cry of the third angel, they will be found wanting. The refreshing or power of God comes only on those who have prepared themselves for it by doing the work which God bids them, namely, cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 1, p. 619.
Did you catch the words "we are to perfect holiness"? Please do not be alarmed. You will be surprised to discover there is a secret to obtaining holiness. Such a victory comes by the continual surrender of the will to Christ. Such surrender of the will is a continual, deepening of self-denying. A surrender today is not adequate for tomorrow. The surrender of the soul to God must go deeper and deeper until we come to the point that, like Christ, we will say, "Not my will, but Thine be done" – even to the point of death.
Often we will have to fall upon our knees in despair saying, "Father, help my unbelief and make me willing." Christ, our example, knew the meaning of total surrender. Many of God's children who love the Lord have not learned the lesson of continual, deepening surrender that is to be renewed day by day. They will discover that they do not know victory. "Some who come to God by repentance and confession, and even believe that their sins are forgiven, still fail of claiming, as they should, the promises of God. They do not see that Jesus is an ever-present Saviour; and they are not ready to commit the keeping of their souls to Him, relying upon Him to perfect the work of grace begun in their hearts. While they think they are committing themselves to God, there is a great deal of self-dependence. There are conscientious souls that trust partly to God, and partly to themselves. They do not look to God, to be kept by His power, but depend upon watchfulness against temptation, and the performance of certain duties for acceptance with Him. There are no victories in this kind of faith. Such persons toil to no purpose; their souls are in continual bondage, and they find no rest until their burdens are laid at the feet of Jesus." Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 353.
Today, God is raising up a remnant "that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." Revelation 14:12. But have we succumbed to the deceptions of the adversary? Do we, like the great majority of professed Christians today, believe Satan's lie that we cannot overcome? Beware, it's being preached from some of our pulpits today. It is the father of lies who says that we cannot overcome for beloved, we can overcome and we can overcome entirely through the merits of Him "who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Corinthians 5:21.
God has the power to give us victory. "Exact obedience is required, and those who say that it is not possible to live a perfect life throw upon God the imputation of injustice and untruth." Manuscript Releases, Volume 1, p. 369. If we believe that we cannot overcome we are echoing the voice of the adversary. Christianity is to be a life of overcoming. To many, the thought of victory is as a rope of sand - intellectually accepted, but never experienced. If we do not believe in victory and have never seen a clear demonstration of God's power to save, then I'm sorry to say, we won't be able to receive the Latter Rain.
Some of God's people believe that at Christ's Second Coming He will miraculously give us the victory over sin. This very week, as I prepared this tape, a pastor of one of our large, near-by churches preached that God would change our characters when He comes, so that we will never sin again. Beloved, this is a false belief. This is a lie. The miracle of victory over sin is for today and every day that we might be a spectacle to men and to angels. "Satan is also watching his chances to lead astray. He will present attractions that will lead our minds from God. But shall we not watch his devices and be constantly seeking the aid of God to keep us from Satan's allurements? …We must not lay off the armor for one moment. You will hear the cry 'Only believe.' Satan believed and trembled. We must have a faith that works by love and purifies the heart. The idea prevails that Christ has done all for us, and that we can go on transgressing the commandments and will not be held accountable for it. This is the greatest deception that the enemy ever devised. We must take our position that we will not violate the commandments at any cost, and be in that spiritual condition that we can educate others in spiritual things." Manuscript Releases, Volume 3, p. 97.
Such counsel helps us to see our tremendous need. "The work of overcoming is to be the study of every soul who enters the kingdom of God." Review and Herald August 1, 1893. God will never be satisfied with anything short of perfection. Man was created in the beginning, and God's plan of redemption is designed to restore His children to that original perfection in which they will once again reflect His image. This restoration which begins with the New Birth is a purifying, refining process that God can accomplish only when He has the confidence and the cooperation of the individual. It is possible to stop sinning but not without a surrendering and dying to self, which is the sinful nature. If we really long to be rid of every trace of sin we should welcome suffering if it is the necessary discipline God must use to set us free and make us perfect in Christ. "Let the recording angels write the history of the holy struggles and conflicts of the people of God; let them record their prayers and tears; but let not God be dishonored by the declaration from human lips, 'I am sinless; I am holy.' Sanctified lips will never give utterance to such presumptuous words." Acts of the Apostles p. 561, 562.
So beloved, never should we forget that God's way is the best, and the trusting Christian does not look upon suffering and sorrow with an attitude of self-pity or resentment. He faces life's conflicts as God's given opportunities to grow in grace. I am not suggesting here that Christian perfection may be obtained only through sorrow and suffering, but we came into the world with a fallen, sinful nature, and the process by which we are restored to an intimate fellowship with God requires the death of our very natures. We must never forget that a sinful nature cannot cease sinning. Consequently God's provision for victory over sin is a transformation of our nature. In order to possess the divine nature we are required to crucify the flesh, or in other words our sinful nature. Believe me, this is a more serious and painful process than many of us realize.
We need to recognize that trials are one of God's means in the perfection of our characters. These trials are also for God's glory, that He may show to others the power of the gospel as we respond to these trials with the same meekness and strength of Jesus. Remember the Ethiopian pastor who had such a faith experience with Christ that he believed in witnessing for God even when forced to drink deadly poison? He remembered that God promised it will not hurt you. "Conflicts and trials are the very means ordained …of God to perfect the Christian character unto eternal life." 1888 Materials p. 489.
If we would be ready for any test that God may send our way we must prepare for victory by shutting every door of temptation. "It is a law both of the intellectual and the spiritual nature that by beholding we become changed. The mind gradually adapts itself to the subjects upon which it is allowed to dwell. It becomes assimilated to that which it is accustomed to love and reverence. Man will never rise higher than his standard of purity or goodness or truth. If self is his loftiest ideal, he will never attain to anything more exalted. Rather, he will constantly sink lower and lower. The grace of God alone has power to exalt man. Left to himself, his course must inevitably be downward." Great Controversy p. 555. So you can see that it is an impossibility to live the life of an overcomer while we participate in watching, reading or listening to that which is contrary to the Word and the principles of God. Far too many Christians have a double standard and are considered by God to be double minded.
For complete victory we must rise up to a newness of life. Once we have done this then a work for us is to follow. We are to seek after God, setting our minds upon things of heavenly origin and not only our thoughts but also our lives are to be taken up with God and the work that He has for us to do. The admonition for God's people is that we are to experience victory over sin. But how? – By beholding "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29.
Here are the facts: Continual effort combined with Christ's power is the means of our victory. Let me try to make this clear. Inspiration declares that he who freely and fully abides in Christ does not sin. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither know[eth] him." 1 John 3:6. Again, "'Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not;' 1 John 3:6. Here is the true test." Steps to Christ p. 61. Keep in mind the words "sinneth not" has to do with a complete victory over sin. "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." 1 John 5:18.
Now notice carefully, "The Son of God came to our world in human form to show man that divinity and humanity combined can obtain the victory over sin. …'Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him.' God calls for complete consecration, and anything short of this He will not accept." Signs of the Times February 1, 1899. Such an experience will make us perfect in Christ. The word "perfect" means complete, whole, accomplished, finished, sound, upright or undefiled. "That ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." Colossians 4:12. "That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Timothy 3:17.
"The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought. The yielding of self, surrendering all to the will of God and being clothed with humility, possessing that love that is pure, peaceable, and easy to be entreated, full of gentleness and good fruit, is not an easy attainment. And yet it is his privilege and his duty to be a perfect overcomer here." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 3, p. 106, 107. This means we are to form characters free from sin. Note, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." Romans 6:6, 12.
"Brethren and sisters, we need the reformation that all who are redeemed must have through the cleansing of mind and heart from every taint of sin….We are to form characters free from sin--characters made righteous in and by the grace of Christ. …Our hearts are to be cleansed from all impurity in the blood shed to take away sin." Counsels on Health p. 633, 634. This requires a personal decision. "It is better to die than to sin." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 4, p. 495. We must grow spiritually until we continually have the determination to cease to sin. Does not God's Word declare, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Romans 6:1,2. "As we behold Christ, pierced for our sins, we shall see that we cannot break the law of God and remain in His favor; we shall feel that as sinners we must lay hold of the merits of Christ and cease to sin." Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 312.
Now let me ask you a question - Why hasn't the Latter Rain fallen yet? – The reason is because we, the remnant people, are not ready. We haven't totally surrendered ourselves and forsaken all sin. "When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own." Christ Object Lessons p. 69. When will we as a people come to the place where we will believe the clear, explicit Bible and Spirit of Prophecy teaching concerning perfection and overcoming? When will we put aside our unbelief and lack of faith? When will we lay aside our half-hearted dedication and go all the way with God? How much longer is God going to wait for His people to become the victorious people so that He can pour out the Latter Rain? This we need to pray about, for such a glorious day for God's people will happen very, very soon. Then, and only then, will we receive the Latter Rain and arise to give the Loud Cry and finish the work. We must not take these things lightly, but repent with all of our hearts and seek most earnestly for the complete, unbroken victory over sin which it is our privilege to have. Soon, there will be a victorious people spreading the Loud Cry to every country of the world. Are you going to be one of them? I hope so. The Latter Rain will be poured out only upon a victorious people.
I trust that you have made your decision to be victorious over sin by surrendering your will to Divinity. The next step to be reached is to become a loving person, for God is love. The English word "love" is altogether inadequate to express the depth and meaning expressed by the Greek word "agape." Agape is true Christian love which is not merely an emotional experience that comes to us unbidden and unsought. It is a deliberate principle of the mind and a conquest and achievement of the will. It may be described as a love bringing into play the higher powers of the mind and intelligence. It is this kind of love that the Christian is to exercise even toward his enemies. That is, the Christian is to treat his enemies with proper respect. We are therefore bidden to love our enemies. Why? – In order that we should be like God.
What is the typical action of God that is sighted? – God sends His rain on the just and the unjust and on the evil and on the good. That is to say, no matter what a man is like God seeks nothing but his highest good. Agape is the spirit which says, "No matter what any man does to me, I will never seek to harm him. I will never set out for revenge. I will always seek nothing but his highest good." Now, to make such a commitment, it will take all of a man to achieve such Christian love. It takes not only his heart, it takes his mind and his will as well.
Today we are living in an age when the real meaning of love is no longer understood. The type of love that much of the human race displays is an emotional love based on selfishness, but true love is seen in good works. "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." John 14:21. This is the only true test of character. In doing the will of God we give the best evidence that we love God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. "The oft-repeated words of love for God are of no value unless that love is made manifest in the life practice. Love for God is not a mere sentiment; it is a living, working power. The man who does the will of his Father who is in heaven shows to the world that he loves God. The fruit of his love is seen in good works." Signs of the Times, May 19, 1898.
The real meaning of love is a faith that works and is seen in the fruits of a Christian life. God demonstrates such love for us, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16. God's great love for the world is beyond our comprehension. His love for us is so great that He gave His only Son for our redemption. Such a love is unsurpassed - love unexampled, unfathomable, immeasurable. The beloved disciple, John, tells us not to love the world (1 John 2:15) but he does tell us in the same chapter to walk even as He walked (verse six). If we follow closely His example we too must love the people of this present, evil world. Love them to such an extent and in such a way as to give ourselves for them as He did.
It was an unlovable people that Christ loved so much. They are no more lovable today than they were when Christ gave Himself for them. Who has not walked down skid-row of any major city and witnessed the drunkard and the derelict? Who has not seen these wrecks of humanity, degraded by drugs and drinking to a level below the brute with a complete loss of all moral and physical control? These wretched souls sit or lie in their own filth. The stench of alcohol and excrement poisoning the atmosphere around them – love them?! We naturally feel repelled and want to turn from them in disgust. We thank God, mainly, that we are not like other men, while at the same time we are void of the love that gives a helping hand.
The unlovely and the unlovable qualities of the world show up in many ways. It is found in religious belief, denominational affiliation, cultural differences. Family background and national disparity join the natural tendency to dislike those who are separate from us. But Christ was not unaware of the unlovely characteristics of the world into which He sent His disciples. He expressly had these conditions in mind when He commanded His followers, "Go your way: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves." Luke 10:3.
Our mission then is to love with agape love. As God loves us, we must love mankind. But to love the unlovable will take a miracle and only God can work that miracle in us. There must be an entire renunciation of self. Only Christ can accomplish this work for us with our consent. "Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee. Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristlike self. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul." Christ Object Lessons p. 159.
We must understand that God uses love to expel sin from the heart. According to the scriptures faith works by love to purify the soul. It is the love of Christ that constrains and moves the Christian to a life of self-denial, righteousness, and obedience to God's law. Ellen White explains this so beautifully. "Love is power. Intellectual and moral strength are involved in this principle, and cannot be separated from it. Love cannot live without action, and every act increases, strengthens, and extends it. Love will gain the victory." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 2, p. 135.
"There can be no perfection of Christian character without that faith that works by love, and purifies the soul." Review and Herald October 18, 1898. Now, this helps us to walk in love for it is love, and love alone finding satisfaction in God, that satisfies the soul's hunger and prevents all coveting. Love is really not a rule but a motive. Love does not tell the Christian what to do, but how to do it. Love must go to the law of God to learn the divine will. Love is a principle.
We are to become imitators of God as beloved children. That is to say, we are to walk in love just as also Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. The source of Christian love is the Holy Spirit. As His control and transforming action increases in the life the more clearly is the fruit of love discerned. The implanting of a loving attitude toward God and man by the indwelling of the Spirit is related to the believers hungering and thirsting to know God. "Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him." Desire of Ages p. 22.
This spectrum of love has many ingredients. As I quote from the Bible you will see patience - "Let patience have her perfect work." Kindness – "To godliness, brotherly kindness." Generosity – "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Humility – "Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up." Courtesy – "Does not behave itself unseemingly." Unselfishness – "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Good temper – "Is not easily provoked." Guilelessness – "Thinketh no evil." Sincerity – "Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth."
"The divine love emanating from Christ never destroys human love, but includes it. By it human love is refined and purified, elevated and ennobled. Human love can never bear its precious fruit until it is united with the divine nature and trained to grow heavenward." Adventist Home p. 99.
The power of the gospel is the cross, and the power of the cross is love. Herein is found another key to victory. As it is written, "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans 13:10. So you can see that God is ready to test our love for Him by the way we treat one another. Listen, "When the Latter Rain is poured out, the church will be clothed with power for its work; but the church as a whole will never receive this until its members shall put away from among them, envy, evil-surmisings, and evil-speaking. Those who cherish these sins know not the blessed experience of love; they are not awake to the fact that the Lord is testing and proving their love for him by the attitude they assume toward one another. Christ says to us, 'A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.'…When this commandment is obeyed, envy, evil-surmising and evil-thinking will not be indulged; they will have no part in the formation of character." Review and Herald October 6, 1896.
Such an experience will make the remnant people a loving people, filled with brotherly love and in full unity and harmony. "The Spirit can never be poured out while variance and bitterness toward one another are cherished by the members of the church. Envy, jealousy, evil-surmising, and evil-speaking are of Satan, and they effectually bar the way against the Holy Spirit's working." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6, p. 42. So, let us praise God that His remnant will be a surrendered and a loving people. To love Christ means to manifest unselfishness at all times and in all places by kind words and pleasant looks. These cost those who give them absolutely nothing, but they leave behind a fragrance that surrounds the soul. Their effect can never be estimated. Not only are they a blessing to the receiver, but to the giver for they react upon him. Genuine love is a precious attribute of heavenly origin which increases in fragrance in proportion as it is dispensed to others.
Let us pray. Dear Father, how we need Thy help to completely surrender our will to Thy will that we may become loving like Jesus to lead many souls to Thee. This is our prayer in Christ's name, Amen.