The sixth installment of our Proof-texts in Context series will focus on SDA Fundamental #11—Growing in Christ. This is the most recent addendum to our corporate codification of biblical understanding. For those who would like a more detailed synopsis of why we are publishing this series, please refer to the introduction to the first installment. Without further ado, let’s proceed to our study.
Psalm 119:9, 11—“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. … Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” A contextual conversation of Psalm 119, no matter how long or short it is, should include its literary structure. It is split into twenty-two stanzas, each one capped by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It’s pretty clear that the writer (likely David) holds God’s word and law in high regard. Besides its wonder and lucidity, he knew his life depended on it.
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Luke 9:23—“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” This is a fraction of Jesus’ solemn sermonette that was flanked by His miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and the transfiguration. In the milieu of a fallen world, death begets life, and this is chief among the paradoxes that constitute the gospel. Walking with Him means sacrifice—of preferences, comforts, wealth, etc.—but these all pale in comparison to what He surrendered.
1 Corinthians 15:56–57—“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When the Lord saves us, He saves us from death, and this is both very figurative/spiritual and very literal/physical. The entire chapter is more or less about the resurrection. Earlier, Paul emphatically stated that if the resurrection isn’t real, then we might as well live it up while we’re here. The bottom line is that if Christ can pluck us from the grave, then He can pluck our selfishness and wickedness from our hearts.
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2 Corinthians 3:18—“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.” The veil in this verse somewhat refers to the one Moses wore to protect the Israelites from the faint, residual glory of God that he bore, though overall, Paul was being metaphoric. This chapter is fraught with contrasts, many of which involve the law. Paul never belittled the law but admitted its limitations. It cannot provoke transformation. That is only possible through beholding Christ.
Galatians 5:24—“Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” There is some obvious commonality between the back half of Galatians 5 and Romans 8. The two verses that precede this one are among the most popular. Paul’s theology was very consistent. Belonging to Christ, vicariously participating in His death, burial, and resurrection, and walking in the Spirit all go hand in hand, and this leads to exhibiting merits that honor Him and validate our fitness for His kingdom.
Philippians 3:13–14—“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul waxed humanistic for a moment, but simply to make a point. He highlighted his impressive pedigree as a prominent Jew, then turned on a dime and affirmed that it became worthless after uniting with the Savior. My deduction is that what helped him endure was the realization that what Jesus offers to humanity and each individual is head, shoulders, knees, and toes above the prizes of earthly life.
Colossians 2:15—“When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” Words that struck me as I surveyed the chapter include “stability” (v. 5), “firmly rooted,” and “established” (v. 7). Paul pressed these upon his readers so that they wouldn’t be vulnerable to counterfeit and dangerous principles. The power to remain stable emanates from Christ’s victory over and humiliation of the enemy.
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2 Timothy 3:16–17—“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Paul did not pull any punches. He issued a heavy warning of how difficult life would be, especially as earth’s clock flirts with midnight. Myriads of miscreants would manifest intense enmity against God’s people. One will only stand strong against this nearly overwhelming opposition by remaining entrenched in the Word of God. This corresponds to what we found in our aforementioned assessment of Psalm 119.
Hebrews 4:15—“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Much of chapter 4 is a continuation of chapter 3 and the account of Israel’s post-exodus shortcomings. We can experience the rest that God intended for us, but not if we repeat their lack of faith. The faith we need to exercise is fostered by Jesus administering His life, which He lived in our shoes, to us.
James 2:17—“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” For a while, Martin Luther believed that James didn’t belong in the Holy Canon, but thankfully he changed his mind. This section of chapter 2 is the primary reason why. In giving us righteousness and everlasting life as a gift, God doesn’t just seek to get us off the hook for the wrongs we have committed. His objective is to transform us, and evidence is necessary to confirm that the transformation is moving forward.
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In my recent column on Romans 7, I proposed the concept that, when it comes to inheriting eternal life, there is only one non-negotiable requirement; yet there is also one essential request. These are purity and maturity, respectively. To reiterate, classifying the latter as a global requirement is not fully warranted, considering examples like the thief on the cross.
Nevertheless, since it is probable that almost all of us have more years ahead of us than the thief did, for all intents and purposes, maturity is required and not just requested. Why? Because stagnancy in maturity is forfeiture of purity.
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If we don’t grow, we die. Paradoxically, to grow, we have to die. Christ’s defeat of Satan is a major component of this particular fundamental. For that universal victory to become an individual reality—overcoming sin and living according to God’s will—one must, as Paul asserted in Romans 6, vicariously experience Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, as well as His resurrection that sealed the victory.
I have determined to highlight the relevance of each topic that we have surveyed so far to our spiritual pilgrimages, especially within an Adventist framework. In the next installment, the applicability could not be any more apparent. Please stay tuned to part 7 of our series.