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Leading Question: “The garment of Christ’s righteousness: How much does it cost?”

Theme: Issues in sanctification and righteousness by faith

Key Biblical Passages: Isa 64, Rom 4:1-7; Rom 3:21-31; Rom 6:1-13; Phil 3:3-16

When believers discuss questions of salvation, a recurring and on-going issue involves the problem of “righteousness”: ours or His? This week’s lesson explores that question.

1. Isaiah’s filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6 declares that “all our righteous deeds are a filthy cloth” (NRSV). Does that match the feelings and perception of those who seek to be faithful to God? How does one balance the tension between a sense of our unworthiness and our sense of acceptance? Two well-known passages from Ellen White highlight that tension:

 

The closer to Jesus, the more faulty we appear in our own eyes

The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature. This is evidence that Satan’s delusions have lost their [64/65] power; that the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God is arousing you. {SC 64.2}

No deep-seated love for Jesus can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness. The soul that is transformed by the grace of Christ will admire His divine character; but if we do not see our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence that we have not had a view of the beauty and excellence of Christ. {SC 65.1}

The less we see to esteem in ourselves, the more we shall see to esteem in the infinite purity and loveliness of our Saviour. A view of our sinfulness drives us to Him who can pardon; and when the soul, realizing its helplessness, reaches out after Christ, He will reveal Himself in power. The more our sense of need drives us to Him and to the word of God, the more exalted views we shall have of His character, and the more fully we shall reflect His image. {SC 65.2}

 

Perfectly reproducing the character of Christ

When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. {COL 69.1}

Question: Can the tension be resolved by thinking of the “perfect” character of Christ as being reflected in a community of believers rather than in a single person? With such an approach, believers can be keenly aware of their own shortcomings, but still revel in the strengths and graces that they see in their fellow believers.

2. A sense of forgiveness. Romans 4:7 declares: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” Does the conviction that we have been forgiven allow us to retain a keen sense of our unworthiness while also enjoying the sense of acceptance by God?

Question: The returning prodigal was still protesting his unworthiness when his father called for the best robe to cover his bedraggled son (Luke 15:21-22). Will some forgiven sinners feel full acceptance – as the publican did after he confessed his sin (Luke 18:14 “this man went down to his home justified”), while others still struggle with flashbacks of unworthiness – as the prodigal did? Might this quotation from Ellen White allow us to live with such differences in experience?

Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing. – MH 483

3. Arrogance and humility. Both in Philippians 3:3-16 and in 2 Corinthians 11:16-30Paul slips into a rather spunky narrative of all the trials he had endured and overcome. How can we share with each other both our failures and our victories in ways that are helpful and inspiring rather than in ways that lead to discouragement or envy? Is it possible to avoid an arrogant humility?

Suggestion for sharing and discussion: Share stories of believers we have known who have somehow been able to witness to their faith in helpful ways, ways that inspire and encourage rather than discourage and depress.

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