The Answer is Written in the Heart
Alan J. Reinach
A battle has been raging over the law of God. It is not surprising really. Seventh-day Adventists have known for more than a century that it would eventually come down to this. The battle is just beginning, even though it is at least ten years old, but it can be expected to rage for a while to come, indeed, until Jesus comes.
About ten years ago, an obscure Alabama lawyer was elected to be a circuit judge, and decided to hang a hand carved plaque of the Ten Commandments in his court room. It caused a bit of a stir, and led eventually to a legal challenge from the ACLU. A few years later, this same judge was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, catapulted to fame and high political position by his stand for the Ten Commandments plaque. Roy Moore became Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and decided to install a two and a half ton monument of the Ten Commandments in the center of the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court. In 2003, a Federal Court ordered this monument removed. Hundreds of Christians gathered at the court house to protest the removal of this icon. They stayed there day after day, awaiting the day of reckoning, praying, crying, giving speeches, passing out literature, and protesting the Federal court decision. Night after night, the scene was replayed on the evening news, across the nation.
A year later, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving the public display of the Ten Commandments, arising in Kentucky and Texas. Eventually, the court ruled that the Texas monument was o.k., but said the Ten Commandment plaques in Kentucky had to go.
The current zeal among some Christians for the law of God is full of irony. More than a hundred and fifty years ago, the longest time prophecy in all the Bible was fulfilled, when the time came for the 2300 evenings and mornings of Daniel 8:14 terminated in 1844. At that time, Christ entered the holy of holies of the heavenly sanctuary, and began a new phase of his high priestly ministry. Revelation 11:19 records that at this time, the temple was open in heaven, and the ark of his testament was scene. On earth, there was a heavenly light shining from the sanctuary, revealing the sacredness of God’s law. Protestant reformers knew that the seventh day was the Sabbath, but they made no moves to change the day of public worship. Roman Catholics knew that the seventh day was the Sabbath, but they were unwilling to set aside the authority of the church to return to the teaching of the Bible. So God revealed to a small group of praying American young people that the law of God was still binding, including the seventh day Sabbath. This group of young believers began to grasp the truth that Christ was entering the judgment phase of his ministry, and that we are all judged according to God’s law. They understood that if the law had been set aside or changed, then Christ would not have had to die, but disobedience could have been excused. Instead, because the law could not be changed, as Jesus said, not one jot or tittle, the Son of God came to this earth, came to where we are as one of us, and as a human being, lived a righteous life and died an atoning death. Now, the Son of God offers His righteousness in place of our own unrighteousness, his sinless life as a substitute for our sinful life.
They excitedly began to teach and to preach and to urge the necessity of honoring the entire law of God, including the Sabbath, which they found to be a delight! The Protestant Churches did not share their excitement, and rejected the light shining from the sanctuary. Protestant America refused to enter by faith into the heavenly sanctuary, and refused to accept the Sabbath truth. In their defense, they began to preach that the law of God was nailed to the cross, that believers are no longer under obligation to keep God’s law, because they are under grace, not under law.
This argument has always been silly. Luke tells the story of a lawyer who came to Jesus and asked him “what must I do to be saved.” Jesus replied by asking him his opinion. The lawyer answered: love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Even this lawyer understood that the essence of the law of God was to love God and to love your neighbor. Has any preacher ever declared that believers are free from the obligation to love God, or to love their neighbor? So you see, the idea that God’s law was nailed to the cross has always been silliness.
The irony, today, is that after nailing God’s law to the cross for these past 150 years, now Protestant America is taking God’s law down off the cross, and nailing it up in courthouses and other public buildings.
Yet, in the same breath, they accuse Adventists of being legalists because we actually try to do what the law requires.
It is critical that we understand what is at stake in this battle for the law of God, because it is nothing less than the gospel and our freedom. Freedom and the gospel live or die together, and in America today, both freedom and the gospel are fighting for their lives.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, Paul writes, there is Liberty. Liberty and the gospel are inseparable, in theology as well as in history.
Let’s just take a snapshot look at American history. A generation before the American revolution, there was a spiritual revival known as the First Great Awakening. Preachers like Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley stirred the soul. The Methodist Church arose at this time, and in America, this revival also sparked the growth of the Baptist and Presbyterian churches. This revival kindled the sparks of freedom that led to American Independence.
Again, in the 19th century, in the 1840s, there was another revival, a Second Great Awakening. Our own church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church arose at this time.
In the 20th century, freedom and the gospel again went hand in hand, as preachers led the struggle for civil rights, leading eventually to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and many other laws. It is no accident that the civil rights movement was led by a preacher, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom and the gospel live and die together.
In prophecy, freedom and the gospel are said to die together. As the church loses its grip on the gospel, it loses the power of God, and reaches out for the help and support of the state. State aid for the church becomes oppressive. The mark of the beast is all about what happens when the church loses its grip on the gospel. Our freedom goes with it.
Look at our text, Romans 1:16 – 18.
1. The gospel is the power of God. Does the church need any other power to build up the kingdom of God? Is God’s power sufficient? How many promises can we think of:
My grace is sufficient for thee
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens Me
I have given you everything that pertains to life and godliness
My god will supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Do we need funding for Christian education? My god will supply all your need.
The gospel is the power of God, and the power of God is the power of the Holy Spirit.
The church in America today has lost the power of God, has lost the gospel.
2. The just shall live by faith. It doesn’t say that the just shall be saved by faith, and then they can go along pursuing their own selfish ambition. It says the just shall live by faith.
Christians have been taught for too long that if they will only believe, if they will only recite the sinners prayer, if they will only speak in tongues, if they are the elect, then they are “in,” and once they’re “in” they’re “in” for good, and cannot be lost. Performance is irrelevant, obedience is unnecessary, and guess what: this doctrine breeds carelessness. Adventist ministers and evangelists have often been confronted by this careless attitude among those who learned the Sabbath message. Those learning about the Sabbath too often declare: I don’t have to keep Sabbath, because I am already chosen by God, and it’s not that important. I can worship God every day. By the way, there is an Adventist version of this – some of us become careless thinking that because we know the truth, we’re in, and it doesn’t really matter if we live by faith, if we uphold the standards, if we allow God to change our lives. We’re the elect, we’re in, so we can indulge our sinful ways, a little sin never hurt anyone. After all, no one is perfect. That’s the attitude.
The gospel has never been about an act of faith, it has always been about a life of faith. The just shall LIVE by faith. Those who appreciate that Jesus died for your sins can no longer go on living for themselves, Paul writes to the Corinthians, because the love of Christ now controls them.
Today, as the Protestant world is recovering the law of God, and nailing it up in public places, there is a grave risk that the Battle for the Ten Commandments will not end until God’s law is enforced as the law of the land, until the mark of the beast is enacted, and until Jesus comes.
Seventh-day Adventists often ask me, when are the Sunday laws coming? Are they near? What will bring them about?
What will bring them about has already taken place – it is the loss of the gospel.
Let’s take a look at what I call gospel confusion in another way. Let’s look at the covenants, the old covenant and the new covenant.
In the old covenant, the law of God was written on stone. Where is the law of God in the new covenant? It is written in the heart and in the mind.
When God’s law is outside of us, it is, as Paul says in Romans 8, the law of sin and death. It condemns us. We are frustrated, because no matter how hard we try, we cannot keep from violating its precepts. The law teaches us what is wrong, but it offers no power to obey, and no release from condemnation when we fail.
The new covenant is based, Paul says in Hebrews 8, on better promises, on God’s promise. The law is no longer about our promise to obey God, the law is itself God’s promise to change our lives from the inside out. What does it mean to have the law of God written in the heart and in the mind? It means that our motives, our attitudes, our values, our desires, the things that matter most to us in life are changed.
If you see a television news report about a rescue, and the rescuer is interviewed, they will often deny that they are a hero. You will hear them say, “I just did what I had to do. I’m not a hero.” They may have risked their own lives, or done some extraordinary feat, but they don’t see themselves as a hero, they just saw someone in trouble, and they had to help.
When the law of God is in our hearts, we can’t help but do God’s will, because it is in our hearts. We are not more righteous or holy or better people, we are changed people. We just want to serve God.
Today, as Protestant America is rediscovering the law of God, are they coming back to God’s law in a new covenant or in an old covenant form? What we see them doing is erecting great stone monuments with the Ten Commandments, and putting up pictures of stone monuments, and even putting up cardboard signs on their lawns, picturing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Is this old or new covenant?
It is old covenant. A return to the law of God in an old covenant form has profound implications for the nation. It is a grave threat to the gospel and to our freedom.
Here’s the problem. Americans perceive that our public morals are in decline. We want to do something to make a difference, to improve our moral condition, to improve our spiritual condition. We want to recover God’s moral standard. Right now, we are battling to display this moral standard, the Ten Commandments, as a reminder of what we need to live by. But this display can never actually change our lives, or bring about the change in our moral behavior that we desire. A return to the law of God in an old covenant form, nailing it up on the walls, will no more solve our moral and spiritual crisis than a picture of a hamburger will fill an empty stomach. The end result of the old covenant is frustration.
The end result of the old covenant is to substitute state power for the power of God. God’s power is not in the old covenant. There is no gospel there. Today, the gospel that is preached is a false gospel, it is salvation from the penalty of sin, without any salvation from the power of sin. Go find a homeless heroin addict on the streets of Los Angeles and tell him that Christ died for his sins, and that he has been forgiven, and he will answer you: that’s great! I’m forgiven! Now can you tell me how to get out of the gutter, and get my life back? Can you tell me how to be free of heroin?
The gospel is that freedom. It is freedom from both the penalty and the power of sin. There is now no condemnation to those who are IN Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit… for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.
No condemnation! Does that sound good to you? No condemnation belongs to those who live by faith, who are IN Christ? To be in Christ means to have the Spirit of Christ living in you, it means to have the new covenant spirit.
In the old covenant, the law becomes the law of sin and death.
In the new covenant, the law becomes the law of the spirit of life IN Christ Jesus. The spirit of God brings the life of God into our lives. We have a new life, a new heart, a new spirit, and we become truly free, for where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Today, the Christian world is rediscovering God’s law, battling for God’s law in a sincere effort to combat moral and spiritual decline. Eventually, it won’t be enough simply to battle over the right to display the Ten Commandments in public, it will become necessary to legislate God’s law, to compel people to do right. We will take frustration only so long. After it is clear that displaying God’s law is not doing the trick, when this approach to moral reform fails, we will pursue a heavier hand, and legislate God’s law. This will lead to the mark of the beast.
The bottom line is that America needs the gospel. We often think that all Christians have the gospel, but they don’t. It is true that there are many genuine Christians in all churches, and that many people love Jesus, and are truly converted, but that doesn’t mean that they really understand the gospel. The gospel is freedom.
America really is in moral and spiritual decline, and the law of God really is the solution. Protestant America is on the right track, at least in part. The question is: where will the law be written. If we continue to push for public display of God’s law, and focus on the external display of the Ten Commandments, we are old covenant. This poses a grave risk to our freedom.
The answer is written in the heart. We need to experience the new covenant, the law written in the heart. What would happen if there were a genuine spiritual revival in America, and an explosion of the true gospel experience, and changed lives? There would be a rebirth of freedom. We would not need to enforce religion, because it would be in our hearts.
Friends, it is written that eventually, America will lose its grip on the gospel, and with it, we will lose our freedoms. We will lead the world in religious oppression, exercising both civil and religious power, and legislating religious beliefs and practices. But it is not written when this will take place. It is not written that it must take place in our generation, on our watch, it is not written that we must be the ones to lose our freedom.
Souls are hanging in the balance. This is a life and death issue for individuals, for the nation, and for the world. The answer is written in the heart. We need a revival of the genuine gospel experience, a revival of the new covenant experience. God has promised. It is by His grace. My grace is sufficient for you, he says. Will you accept His grace today, will you accept his Power in your life today, a new heart and a new spirit?
We have come to a crisis time in history. There are only two paths ahead. One is the path of spiritual decline and the loss of freedom. There is only one way to avoid that path – genuine spiritual revival and reformation. The new covenant experience of the law of God written in the heart is the only way to bring transformation to our families, to our churches, to our communities, to our nation. One heart at a time.
So make your choice, today, brothers and sisters. Choose ye this day which path you prefer. As Adventists, you may choose the path of lukewarm Laodicea, business as usual, or you may choose to get on your knees and pray for a new heart and a new spirit, a new fire to be lit by the Spirit of God, that will change your life, your family and your church.
Friends: we have been called to the kingdom for such a time as this. Let us faithfully live the gospel, live a new life in Christ, and preach it by word and deed. There is too much confusion in the world and in the church. Let us rededicate ourselves to God, now, today, as it is written: Today, if you will hear my voice, harden not your hearts.