PETER had a problem. Peter, the disciple of Jesus, that is. Peter frequently had problems, but this particular one had to do with forgiveness. How many times should one forgive a person who has wronged him? Some believe the rabbis limited it to three. But Peter had had enough to do with Jesus to know He would go beyond that. Considering the question, the disciple concluded that his Master would probably go to the perfect number seven. He decided to check out his idea.
"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" he asked (Matt. 18:21, R.S.V.).
Jesus' answer must have chagrined Peter. "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven."
What Jesus was saying, in essence, was, There must be no end to the number of times you are willing to forgive. God's willingness to forgive knows no limits; yours must know no limits.
This we all understand. This is marvelous! But it brings to mind another problem.
Here are two friends, George and Jim. One day Jim comes to George and says, "George, I owe you an apology. Yesterday, when we were discussing that problem about overtime work, I sort of lost my temper. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"
And George generously forgives.
A few days later Jim comes to George again. "Say, George, it was stupid of me to take the attitude I did last night. And on top of it I lost my cool. I'm sorry. Please forgive me."
In about a week another situation arises in which Jim gets heated up, and afterward feels it necessary to ask George's forgiveness. A few days later something else happens, and Jim, very shamefacedly, must apologize once more and ask forgiveness.
And so it goes. Every little while Jim loses his temper with George. Then, because he is basically a decent fellow, and because he wants to retain George's friendship, and because he is trying to be a Christian, he apologizes and asks forgiveness. And always, without any reservation, kindhearted George happily forgives, and puts the whole thing from his mind. Fine!
But how about Jim? What is his problem doing with his morale, his self-respect, for example? Doesn't it go down a notch every time he has to apologize? Doesn't he begin to feel very weak, morally?
The Effects of Defeat
Chronic defeat is a terribly demoralizing thing. The most optimistic, the most courageous, the most tenacious, can't go on forever being defeated. There has to be meaningful victory sometimes.
And consider how Jim gets to feel as time after time he is constrained to go to George and ask forgiveness. Embarrassed? In fact, after a time he certainly begins to avoid George, because he can't put up with having to keep asking for his forgiveness.
In some respects our illustration may be overdrawn. In other ways it is not. For while God will freely forgive seventy times seven and seven hundred times seven, there is the factor of shame, defeatism, and other attitudes that must dog the sincere Christian who keeps failing on the score of a particular weakness year after year, as was suggested in chapter eight.
In fact, there is something lacking if we continue to need to go to God year after year, seeking pardon for the same particular sin. His pardon "is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin" (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p.I14).
In the Review and Herald of April 21, 1891, Ellen White asks in a sermon, in a way that suggests a situation that ought not to be, "Are there those here who have been sinning [the same sins] and repenting, sinning and repenting, and will they continue to do so till Christ shall come?"
This book is about Christian victory. In most of the chapters we have endeavored to describe as clearly as we know how, ways by which we may gain the victory over sin and Satan. But in this chapter we want to focus on, and fortify, the idea of Christian victory.
There is surely great significance in the fact that, in His messages to the seven churches (Revelation 3, 4), Christ's rewards are only for him "that overcometh." In the case of everyone of the churches this proviso is made. In the Bible there is no provision made for defeat. Only victors will stand on the sea of glass, partake of the tree of life, and live eternally with Christ.
Defeat Is Unnecessary
No allowance is made for defeat, because there is no necessity for defeat.
We can overcome. Yes; fully, entirely. Jesus died to make a way of escape for us, that we might overcome every evil temper, every sin, every temptation, and sit down at last with Him. - Testimonies, vol. I, p. 144.
Every provision has been made for us to receive divine power, which will enable us to overcome temptation. -General Conference Bulletin, 1899, p. 99.
The life that Christ lived in this world, men and women can live through His power and under His instruction. In their conflict with Satan they may have all the help that He had. -Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 21, 22.
We ended chapter eight with a drawing of a heart with the name "Christ" inside, to represent the born-again person, the new life in which there are new motives, desires, inclinations, and attitudes.
Let us add something to this that clarifies why we may have victory:
"We know that no child of God is a [habitual] sinner; it is the Son of God who keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot touch him" (1 John 5: 18, N.E.B.).87
The soul that is yielded to Christ becomes His own fortress... in a revolted world, and He intends that no authority shall be known in it but His own. A soul thus kept in possession by the heavenly agencies is impregnable to the assaults of Satan.... The only defense against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith in His righteousness. -The Desire of Ages, p. 324.
By yielding up your will to Christ, your life will be hid with Christ in God and allied to the power which is above all principalities and powers. You will have strength from God that will hold you fast to His strength.... But your will must co-operate with God's will. -Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 514.
Victory, then, is a work of cooperation. But the responsibilities are not equal. In fact-
The part man is required to sustain is immeasurably small, yet in the plan of God it is just that part that is needed to make the work a success .... The co-operation of the human will and endeavor with divine energy is the link that binds men up with one another and with God.-Manuscript 113, Sept. 8, 1898. (Italics supplied.)
The work of the Holy Spirit is immeasurably great. -Review and Herald, Nov. 29, 1892.
There is great necessity for us to realize our dependence on God. Too much confidence is placed in man, too much reliance on human inventions. There is too little confidence in the power which God stands ready to give .... Immeasurably inferior is the part which the human agent sustains; but if he is linked with the divinity of Christ, he can do all things through the strength that Christ imparts. -Christ's Object Lessons, p. 82. (Italics supplied.)
In these statements is a vital key to Christian victory. Not by our own efforts, not in our own strength, not by our own knowledge or wisdom, is victory gained. The victory is won as moment by moment by faith we depend upon Christ's power. For, in the battle with sin, our strength, whatever we may think, is as a straw trying to control a hurricane.
Our Greatest Struggle
In the battle of life our greatest struggle will not be to overcome sin, but to surrender self.
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 are not ready to commit the keeping of their souls to Him [Jesus], 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.-Selected Messages, book I, p. 353. (Italics supplied.)
If we do not choose to give ourselves fully to God, then we are in darkness. When we make any reserve, we are leaving open a door [visualize the fortress around the heart] through which Satan can enter to lead us astray by his temptations. He knows that if he can obscure our vision, so that the eye of faith cannot see God, there will be no barrier against sin. -Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 92.
Now, be encouraged by these words: "Victory is sure when self is surrendered to God." -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Gen. 32:24, p. 1095.
Here is a great truth that every victorious Christian has firmly grasped. He is not like a beleaguered soldier standing on a knoll surrounded by enemies besetting him on every hand, and occasionally receiving help from Christ. Instead, he is a soldier inside the strong fortress of God's love and grace. His task is to use the strength Christ has given him to assure that no enemy enters the gates. The walls are kept by Christ, and no enemy can breach them. "We are secure, perfectly secure from the enemy's subtlety while we have unwavering trust in God." -Our High Calling, p. 22.
As we have been emphasizing throughout this book, the cornerstone of Christian victory is a perfect commitment to Christ-surrender. This surrender means giving over every area of life to God to be changed, purified, strengthened, as He wills.
Victories to Be Gained
It is not an easy matter to give up the rights of self in this way. But it is essential. This surrendering will mean a struggle with appetite for
The controlling power of appetite will prove the ruin of thousands, when, if they had conquered on this point, they would haw had moral power to gain the victory over every other temptation of Satan. But those who are slaves to appetite will fail in perfecting Christian character. -Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 491, 492.
We need to learn that indulged appetite is the greatest hindrance to mental improvement and soul sanctification. -Ibid., vol. 9. p. 156 .
Another area of our lives where many need to gain decided victories is in the area of amusements. Amusements have become almost the sum total of interest in the lives of multitudes, not a few of whom are professing Christians. But the Christian, whose goal is heaven and a character that will be fit for heaven, cannot permit himself to become immersed in the types of entertainment common to the world-sports, the movies and TV, and certain other pastimes that wean the mind from Jesus.
The powers of Satan are at work to keep minds diverted from eternal realities. The enemy has arranged matters to suit his own purposes. Worldly business, sports, the fashions of the day--these things occupy the minds of men and women. -Ibid .. p. 43.
The onlv safe amusements are such as will not banish serious and religious thoughts: the only safe places of resort are those to which we can take Jesus with us.-Our High Calling. p. 284.
Other areas may be mentioned:
Fashion is deteriorating the intellect and eating out the spirituality of our people ..... And [it] is doing more than any other power to separate our people from God. -Testimonies, vol. 4. p. 647.
To make real victory possible means making everything right with our fellow men, as well as with God. When the tax collector, Zacchaeus, said to Jesus, "Lord, ... if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold," Jesus said, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:8, 9, R.S.V.).
Alluding to Ezekiel 33: 15, which discusses restitution to ones
There is no evidence of genuine repentance, unless it works reformation. If he restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, confess his sins, and love God and his fellow men, the sinner may be sure that he has passed from death unto life. -Steps to Christ, p.59.
Additional to the requirement for making restitution is another vital aspect, a clear conscience. No person can have such a conscience before himself and God until he has made restitution for every known sin. And no person can have a buoyant, confident, victorious experience while he has an accusing conscience.
Too Many Gates to Watch?
The price of Christian victory may seem too hard, too all-encompassing, too detailed, too demanding, for many. There may seem to be too many things to remember, too many gates to watch, as it were. But the problem is in the seeming more than in actuality when one is fully, unreservedly committed to Jesus. "When the tree is dead, the leaves fall off."
The surrender of all our powers to God greatly simplifies the problem of life. It weakens and cuts short a thousand struggles with the passions of the natural heart. Religion is as a golden cord that binds the souls of both youth and aged to Christ. Through it the willing and obedient are brought safely through dark and intricate paths to the city of God. -My Life Today, p. 6.
There is another element absolutely vital to
Revelation 14: 12 is a text that Seventh-day Adventists feel has a message for them in a special way. It comes at the close of the three angels' messages, which allude to the fearful struggle God's people will have with the beast and his image. The King James Version translation is the most familiar one to those Adventists whose language is English: "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus."
The Greek term from which the word "patience" is translated is better rendered "steadfast endurance." The New American Standard Bible has, "Here is the perseverance of the saints."
Picture, then, a people who, under all the pressures of being accounted outlaws, of being cut off, from the human viewpoint, from every necessity of life, and finally of being sentenced to death, yet hold without wavering in their loyalty to God and His law.
The season of distress and anguish before us will require a faith that can endure weariness, delay, and hunger,-a faith that will not faint though severely tried. The period of probation is granted to all to prepare for that time. Jacob prevailed because he was persevering and determined. His victory is an evidence of the power of importunate prayer. All who will lay hold of God's promises, as he did, and be as earnest and persevering as he was, will succeed as he succeeded. -The Great Controversy, p. 621.
There is another attitude assumed by some professed Christians that, unless radically resisted, will keep them from the joys of victory and life eternal:
[Some] for a time are successful in the struggle against their selfish desire for pleasure and ease. They are sincere and earnest, but grow weary of protracted effort, of daily death, of ceaseless turmoil. Indolence seems inviting, death to self repulsive; and they close their drowsy eyes and fall under the power of temptation instead of resisting it. -The Acts of the Apostles, p. 565.
"So let us never tire of doing good, for if we do not slacken our efforts we shall in due time reap our harvest" (Gal. 6:9, N.E.B.). "His [the Lamb's] victory will be shared by his followers, called and chosen and faithful" (Rev. 17: 14, N.E.B.).