1) I read in Rev 14:1-5 of 144,000 saints "who follow the Lamb wherever He goes, . . .And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God." Do you believe the church can indeed reach that perfect standard?
Answer: Some have difficulty with that. But if the church fails to reach perfection, God's plan of salvation will be a failure. For when He gave His Son as a ransom for our race, He paid an infinite price. If He obtains a faulty church in return, not only will He be grieved, but all creation will remain under the curse of sin. Please read Romans 8:19 to 22.
2) "For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now." Does the "creation" here refer only to this earth, or does it include all created worlds?
Answer: In Like 15:10 Jesus says, "I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Conversely, there must be sorrow among the angels of God over sinners who reject His mercy. So this is the Bible basis for the remark by Ellen White in Education, p. 263, that "All heaven suffered in Christ's agony." So "the earnest expectation of the creation" would include the angels and inhabitants of other worlds.
The "revealing of the sons of God" in Rom. 8:19 refers to the finally perfected sons of God. 1 John 3:1 says, "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! . . . . Now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." This is the "revealing of the sons of God."
In Eph 3:10 we learn that God demonstrates His salvation to all other worlds. It says: "To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in heavenly places." Col. 1:19,20 says, "For it pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross."
3) I know that God would reconcile sinners to Himself. But how is it that beings in heaven also need to be reconciled?
Answer: Although most beings in heaven have not rebelled against God, yet Satan has left his contagion of doubt in the minds of other angels. He has uttered lies, such as, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" (Job 1:9-11) This challenge polluted the minds of the angels who heard it. So God responded to Satan's challenge and let him ruin Job to test his fidelity. The final outcome proved Job true. Satan's charges were proved false.
The same issue of the motives of God and man exists today. God must let the war between Christ and Satan continue to full fruition, so that the on-looking universe will be satisfied that God is truly good, and Satan is evil.
The ultimate focus is on the church. Her members were once sinners, but are now washed in the blood of the Lamb. They must not rest satisfied that their sins are forgiven, but they must have the image of their Maker restored in their characters to the point of following the Lamb wherever He goes. The perfect character of Jesus the Son of man must be fully reflected in them. Only thus can God be vindicated before the on-looking universe. It is not a contest of physical might, but of moral power. Heaven and earth are to witness this showdown between right and wrong, to dispel all doubts of God's love and justice. When the redeemed "sons of God" are thus fully revealed, all creation will be reconciled to Him, and "groan and labor" no more.
4) So you believe that the success of God's plan requires the church of Christ to reach character perfection in Him?
Answer: Yes. Eph. 5:25-27says, "Christ . . . loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish." Note the emphasis on perfection. If Christ gave His life for sinners to remain in sin, and His church is still defective when He comes, Satan will triumph and say, "This proves that God's law cannot be kept, and my rebellion is justified!"
5) Paul's epistles teach righteousness by faith, yet also tell believers to strive for perfection. How do we harmonize the two?
Answer: Faith and works go hand in hand, just as James 2:17 says, "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
In 2 Cor. 13:9,11(KJV) Paul twice exhorts believers to be perfect, saying, "And this also we wish, even your perfection . . . Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace." In Phil. 2:12 he says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." And speaking of himself he says, "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself become disqualified." 1 Cor 9:27. These texts are like the words of John about purifying one's self as He is pure. They have to do with the cooperation required of every believer in God's plan of redemption. The power to obey is furnished by God, but the decision to obey Him rests with us. We must choose to obey, and God gives us unlimited power.
6) I once heard a preacher say that all we have to do is believe, because God has already done everything for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. The Bible says that eternal life is a free gift bought for us with Christ's blood, and not earned by us. They say that obedience is trying to be saved by works, so we should not preach obedience, but only righteousness by faith alone.
Answer: That is an extreme position, contrary to Bible teaching. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." John 14:15. "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." John 14:23. This love of the Father and the Son for one who practices the word of truth is not the general love of God for all sinners alike. It is a favor bestowed on one who shows his love for God by practicing His teachings. We should strive to please God and realize the favor of His presence promised to every one who obeys Him. All who don't teach obedience to God and are satisfied in doing nothing but believing in Him, is a deceiver sent by Satan to give us a false sense of security.
7) It makes me think of Luke 11:27,28 (NIV): "A certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the mother who gave You birth and nursed You. 'He replied, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!'" And in Rom. 2:13 Paul adds, "Not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified." Why is it some only teach justification by faith and do not teach Christian obedience?
Answer: Because obedience involves the Sabbath, which they themselves don't keep, so they can't teach it to others. The texts you just read reveal that both Jesus and Paul consistently taught obedience as the Christian way of life. The woman who envied the mother of Jesus is characteristic of all who place a wrong emphasis on the sole privilege of Mary. To call her blessed is well, but only one woman in all creation could have this privilege. Christ draws our attention to a state of blessedness that is open to all God's children---to hear God's word and obey it.
8) So in order to obey, we must hear or read God's word. Our first priority then is to know what God has said and obey it.
Answer: It is a fact that most Christians who profess to wait for the Lord's return do not really make the word of God their first priority. They are too busy with other things, and neither read nor think about what is written in the Bible. The crisis will break like a storm over their heads, and they will realize that they are not prepared to meet Christ. So we all need to form a regular habit of repeating the important passages of Scripture and meditate on them through the day during moments when we are free from daily business and chores. Make first things first; and the one thing that will decide our eternal destinies is the Word of God. If it is not in our hearts, we will not be molded after Christ's image, and will not be ready to spend eternity with Him.
9) Can you give a practical way for the average Christian to make the word of God first and foremost in his life?
Answer: The first step is to recognize that human mortals like all of us can attain to the ideal of walking with God. For many people say that Jesus was perfect because He was the Son of God born of the Holy Spirit by a virgin; and we are different. To this we have seen in past studies that the purpose of Christ's incarnation was to show us that we fallen human beings can partake of the divine nature by being born again. Thus we can overcome temptation by the power of the Holy Spirit in us in the same way as the Son of God partook of fallen human nature and overcame by the power of the Holy Spirit. Read 2 Pet. 1:4. The next step is to see that human mortals like all of us have attained to the ideal of walking with God. Enoch and Noah's lives prove it. James 5:17 says, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours," and like Enoch, was translated without seeing death. If any one argues that these are rare exceptions, and God cannot produce a whole church of Enochs and Elijahs, He will meet the challenge by producing a last generation of 144,000 saints. It will be in accordance with the principle of 2 Cor. 10:6: "being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled." The third step is to develop a habit of putting every spare moment to use by repeating Bible verses. The purpose is to transform the character by transforming the thoughts. On the one hand we must actively reject worldly thoughts and worries, and cultivate holy thoughts and affections, thereby implanting and strengthening the divine nature born in us by the Holy Spirit. This requires daily, conscious application. In addition to Scripture, hymns of praise and thanksgiving also contribute to Christian character building. Col 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." This is an effective way to keep our minds on heavenly themes.
10) Yes! Since God has given us our emotions, we should exercise our ability to sing of our salvation as well as to talk of it.
Answer: If we truly plan to spend eternity with God and the angels, we do well to sing with them before we arrive there. Zeph. 3:17 tells us that God Himself will sing when He sees the people ransomed by the blood of His Son: "The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, . . . He will rejoice over you with singing."
Rev. 5:9 says that many heavenly beings "sang a new song, saying, 'You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals. For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.' "
Rev 14:1-3 says, "Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. And they sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth."
This scene is worth pondering over. It helps us visualize the heavenly society after the redeemed have arrived in heaven. Their highest enjoyment is to sing the praises of the Lamb that was slain for them. It may be incomprehensible to all that have not known the peace and joy that comes with forgiveness. But the redeemed had tasted of the Lord's goodness before they entered heaven, and now with all the limitations of mortality removed, they sing a new song, because they experience anew the goodness of God and the mystery of redeeming love. In The Great Controversy, p. 651, Ellen White writes,
"The cross of Christ will be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity. In Christ glorified they will behold Christ crucified. Never will it be forgotten that He whose power created and upheld the unnumbered worlds through the vast realms of space, the Beloved of God, the Majesty of heaven, He whom cherub and shining seraph delight to adore---humbled Himself to uplift fallen man; that He bore the guilt and shame of sin, and the hiding of His Father's face, till the woes of a lost world broke His heart and crushed out His life on Calvary's cross. That the Maker of all worlds, the Arbiter of all destinies, should lay aside His glory and humiliate Himself from love to man will ever excite the wonder and admiration of the universe. As the nations of the saved look upon their Redeemer and behold the eternal glory of the Father shining in His countenance; as they behold His throne, which is from everlasting to everlasting, and know that His kingdom is to have no end, they break forth in rapturous song: 'Worthy, worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His own precious blood!' "
11) It taxes my mind to think that through all eternity the redeemed of earth will never forget the scenes of Calvary and how much Christ suffered for them. In our way of thinking, past events grow dim with the years, and we think less of them.
Answer: To every man and woman who yields to the Holy Spirit, there is a mysterious attraction in the scenes of Christ crucified. Rom 1:16 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes." This power of God is here today to convert sinners, and will ever be present to inspire the saints in the new earth to sing songs of praise that will never grow stale. Because their increasing spiritual sensibilities will deepen and expand their capacity to appreciate the infinite price in sufferings of death that their Savior paid for them. The scenes of Calvary will not grow dim with the passing years; on the contrary, they will shine with greater luster as the eons of eternity roll. The saved of earth will never forget that the unending bliss they enjoy were purchased with the precious blood of the Lamb of God. And it is our privilege now to begin singing our praises to Him for a foretaste of heaven.
12) Yes! Now I can see that God wants us to enjoy the peace and happiness that is ours in Christ before we enter His kingdom. I begin to appreciate the many hymns of thanksgiving that are in fact a precious legacy from past generations of Christians who expressed their rejoicing in Christ in songs of praise.
Answer: You are right. Let me again quote a passage from The Great Controversy, p. 678:
"And the years of eternity, as they roll, will bring richer and still more glorious revelations of God and of Christ. As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character. As Jesus opens before them the riches of redemption and the amazing achievements in the great controversy with Satan, the hearts of the ransomed thrill with more fervent devotion, and with more rapturous joy they sweep the harps of gold; and ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of voices unite to swell the mighty chorus of praise.
"'And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.' " Rev. 5:13
We invite every one of our friends to have a part in this most joyful experience of Christian praise and thanksgiving.