Several sporting activities carried out in our time involve nets. In such sports, points are scored when a ball (or something similar) crosses a fixed boundary line into a net. The boundary line, whether physical or logical, is the mark that all players aim for. Examples include basketball, cricket, and soccer (commonly known as football). Each of these sports has predefined rules of the game and have associations or committees that coordinate and regulate their practice. In this article, we explore and learn from the experiences of one famous football team that did the unthinkable! Very recently, the entire world was engrossed in witnessing the 2018 football World-Cup in which France emerged victorious as the world champions. However, our story is not about any of the teams involved in the World Cup, but about a small country called Zamunda.
Zamunda was a small country with a land area of about 150 square km and a population of about five hundred thousand people (no need to look that up on Google, just focus on the story). Everyone in this little country loved football, and as is custom in many other countries cherishing this sport, each year they held a football tournament in which they crowned national champions for that particular year. Zamunda had one particular team that was considered everyone’s favourite because they had won the tournament several times. In one fateful year, however, this team did not perform quite as expected. In their first group game, this favourite team had so many chances of scoring but their strikers kept hitting the ball behind the net, instead of into the net. For those who may have watched football at some point in time, you might be aware that sometimes when a ball hits behind the net, it may have an appearance of being inside the net for some viewers. Because of their repeated failure to score, this team decided that they would persuade everyone to accept that even if the ball hit behind the net, it should be counted as a goal and awarded points.
It started with one striker celebrating vigorously even when he well knew the ball was behind the net. At first the spectators laughed at him, thinking that he was not aware of the referee’s decision not to award him a point. But, another striker did the same: after brilliantly dribbling his way through the defense of the opposing team, his efforts were worse than wasted as his strike landed the ball behind the net. So, he decided he would go ahead and celebrate his failure as a goal. He performed backflips and ran around the pitch while raising his hands to solicit support from the jeering crowd. Despite their efforts, they lost the first match. In their second and last group match, this team continued with their drama as they saw that their hopes of going beyond the group stage would be shattered.
Strikers of the favourite team who kept hitting the ball behind the net increased their efforts to persuade the crowd to believe that a ball behind the net was a goal. Well, never underestimate the power of persuasion. While this was a very unusual and unthinkable circumstance, their efforts paid off at last; a small group of the crowd began to cheer and whistle whenever a striker from this team missed and hit behind the net, but still celebrated. Another portion of the crowd joined in cheering, and a third, and soon the whole stadium filled with supporters of this famous team began to cheer and to demand that the referees award points to the strikers. The jeers turned into cheers. The referees feared for their popularity with the crowd; though feeling very uneasy at first, they loved the approval of the crowd more than their integrity and so decided to award points to this favourite team.
What started out as a small matter in one group match later gained the support of all of this favourite team’s football fans in Zamunda at the time of the last group match. That is how they qualified for the next round. The other contending teams, however, objected to this popularly accepted new standard, so they appealed to the football authority of Zamunda for a ruling on the matter. A day was appointed in which a ruling was to be made. On that day a large crowd of football fans from all over Zamunda gathered in the country’s largest stadium—the place appointed for the ruling. Almost everyone was cheering and whistling for the “favourite team” in a bid to sway the football authority. The opposing teams and their supporters were a tiny minority in comparison to the proponents of this new standard. Would the football authority, just like the referees, adopt the new standard for the sake of the majority?
When the officers from the football authority commenced their procession, the president of the authority stood up and waved a little book in his hand to the crowd. The crowd began to wonder why he couldn’t just wave with his bare hands as a greeting gesture but instead waved a little book in his right hand. He soon began to speak and started by thanking all fans for their love of and support for the sport of football. The crowd couldn’t be more excited! He then continued and said, “this little book in my hand contains all rules pertaining to the principles and practice of the sport of football in Zamunda. It clearly indicates how goals are scored, and what behaviour is expected of both the players and referees. Which part of this book did you read and how did you read it for you to arrive at the position you hold today and be comfortable in what you practice?” The cheering and whistling was hushed! Everyone was speechless! It was as if they had all instantly fallen into a trance! But, no, it was not a trance, it was a sure realization of how fascinatingly deluded and terribly deceived they had been! None of the referees, football players, coaches, or even members of the gathered crowd, that adopted the new standard, could answer that question. What happened to the “favourite team”? Well, what do you expect? They lost! Shamefully!
You are probably thinking of going to Google, or some other favorite search engine of yours, to find out more about Zamunda and its delusional football fans. You might be wondering how, almost, an entire nation’s population could be deceived and assist each other in getting deceived into thinking that a ball behind the net is counted as a goal when the rules of the game were plain about what constituted a goal? Hold it right there! Don’t waste your time and effort; it’s not worth it. This is a parable I came up with to provoke thought.
Let’s pause for a moment of introspection and ask: isn’t the whole of humanity engaged in some kind of game of life? Oh yes, it is. As a matter of fact, the pen of inspiration tells us that, “Satan is delighted when he sees human beings using their physical and mental powers in that which does not educate, which is not useful, which does not help them to be a blessing to those who need their help. While the youth are becoming expert in games that are of no real value to themselves or to others, Satan is playing the game of life for their souls, taking from them the talents that God has given them, and placing in their stead his own evil attributes. It is his effort to lead men to ignore God. He seeks to engross and absorb the mind so completely that God will find no place in the thoughts. He does not wish people to have a knowledge of their Maker, and he is well pleased if he can set in operation games and theatrical performances that will so confuse the senses of the youth that God and heaven will be forgotten.” –Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 274
How does Satan score his points in this game? Well, he certainly uses many tactics, but the goal is the same—to make humans like himself, rebels against God’s government and law. He does this by engineering several ways of making humans forget God and be disobedient to His Law. Oh, it’s true! Whatever he does that makes a person ignore God’s appointed way and follow one’s own way, leads Satan to score a point in the game of life. Anything one does that is not approved by God’s word makes one more like Satan in character. The three temptations brought to Jesus in the wilderness reveal the main areas in which Satan traps men and scores points against them in this game: (1) lust and appetite; (2) pleasure seeking, worldly honor and riches; and (3) love of self, pride and presumption. For instance, in Counsels on Stewardship page 135 and 136, we are told that “Satan is playing the game of life for the souls of men…[He] is inventing everything that he can possibly devise in order to keep men thoroughly occupied, so that they shall have no time to consider the question, ‘How is it with my soul?’… The only satisfaction Satan takes in playing the game of life for the souls of men is the satisfaction he takes in hurting the heart of Christ. Though He was rich, for our sake Christ became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. Yet in view of this great fact, the majority of the world permit earthly possessions to eclipse heavenly attractions. They set their affections upon earthly things, and turn away from God.”
In his special strategy against Christians in general and Sabbath keepers in particular, Satan said to his angels, “Go, make the possessors of lands and money drunk with the cares of this life. Present the world before them in its most attractive light, that they may lay up their treasure here, and fix their affections upon earthly things. We must do our utmost to prevent those who labor in God’s cause from obtaining means to use against us. Keep the money in our own ranks. The more means they obtain, the more they will injure our kingdom by taking from us our subjects. Make them care more for money than for the upbuilding of Christ’s kingdom and the spread of the truths we hate, and we need not fear their influence; for we know that every selfish, covetous person will fall under our power, and will finally be separated from God’s people.” –Ibid., p. 154. He further added, “we must . . . ensnare those who honor the true Sabbath. We can separate many from Christ by worldliness, lust, and pride. They may think themselves safe because they believe the truth, but indulgence of appetite or the lower passions, which will confuse judgment and destroy discrimination, will cause their fall.” –Maranatha, p. 163 (emphasis supplied). This brings us back to Zamunda.
Considering this game of life that Satan is playing with the souls of men, is it any wonder that the majority of Christendom today is behaving in a manner similar to the inhabitants of Zamunda? Because many have failed to reach the standard that God has set forth for what constitutes righteousness, they have decided to set this standard aside and erect their own and then convince themselves that their own standards are just as good and acceptable to God as His standard. Human tradition, scientific theories, and popular opinion constitute men’s form of right doing. Many are looking to what the church says or what that religious leader says, but not to what God says. For some, their fellow human beings have become standards; they feel comfortable to act in a certain way because they see one brother or sister from church act the same way, and this they do without even consulting God’s word as to whether He would approve of such a course of action or not. Many are being made to believe that there is no absolute truth, that there is only relativism. That is to say, you cannot be absolutely certain of what is right but that you can fulfil some degree of righteousness, but not completely. Religion has been made mystical and Christianity minimal. Christians are not aiming for the highest standard of perfection but for the bare minimum they can do to profess the name of Christ.
Even though I have not yet come across any empirical study that indicates how many people believe whether or not it is possible to perfect Christian character by being 100% obedient to God’s law, still, prevailing trends of behaviour in Christian circles provide sufficient evidence to suggest that many Christians have generally come to believe that it is impossible to be 100% perfect and be obedient to every little detail of God’s law made known to man in each generation. Notice the emphasis supplied in the last phrase—we are required to be obedient to the revealed will of God, not to what has not been revealed to us. I present here a few real-life experiences to illustrate the attitude of many Christians towards perfection of character.
In 1999, a certain Adventist pastor was sent to conduct a public effort in one town located in the North-western province of Zambia. During one of his evening meetings, one attendee from a Sunday keeping church said to him, “you Seventh-day Adventists just trouble yourselves; no one can keep the whole law of God. You see, God is very merciful, so, when Jesus comes again, as He descends from the skies, He is going to look upon us. And as He looks upon us, He is going to have mercy on us, knowing that we are just human and, He is going to say, ‘children, children, I think you have all failed; let us just go to heaven!’”
The second example regards one of my favorite hymns, which is “Jesus loves me”, originally written in 1859 by Anna Bartlett Warner (1827–1915), who, interestingly, was born and died in the same year as Ellen G. White. In its altered version that appears in the International Hymnal as hymn number 151, the last stanza reads as follows in English: “Jesus take this heart of mine, Make it pure and wholly Thine; On the cross You died for me, I will love and live for Thee.” (Emphasis supplied). Beautiful words indeed, but not everyone agrees with them.
In 2014, while searching for Christian songs for children on YouTube, I came across some Sunday-keeping Christians who seemed not to agree with the statement that we can love and live for Christ absolutely. In one video I found, performed by a very famous Christian children’s choir, the last phrase of the last stanza was modified from “I will love and live for Thee” to “I will try to live for Thee”. If you are not an attentive listener, you might miss this while the children are singing because you would be charmed by
their lovely voices which were innocently inculcating a subtle and dangerous doctrine that we can only try to live for Christ. So here you notice that “I will try to live for Thee” is a relative phrase while “I will live for Thee” is absolute. In the former, you only try, that is, you only live for Christ to some extent (e.g. 50%), but don’t actually make it; where as in the latter, you wholly (100%) live for Christ.
In case you thought this attitude is limited to Sunday keepers, think again. In 2017 I was invited to conduct a Bible study with some group at one Seventh-day Adventist (not IMS) congregation in the European country in which I was residing. During the Sabbath school lesson discussion, I made one comment about God’s requirements for perfection and how He expects His people to be perfect in their sphere just as He is perfect in His sphere. The lesson coordinator then asked, in a manner that expressed doubt, “do you actually think it is possible for us to be perfect in every small detail of our lives?”
Later, during lunch hour, I asked about the lack of reverence for the Sabbath I had observed in some members on that day. In response, I was told a story of one Indian man who had suffered persecution in India because of Sabbath observance. When the man came to this same European country and congregated at this same church, he was surprised to see that some professed Sabbath keepers were cooking on the Sabbath in the church kitchen, and generally did not observe the Sabbath the way the Bible commands. When he inquired of the reason for this behaviour, he was told, “this is not India; this is Europe.” Startled, he asked, “so if it is acceptable to do these things on the Sabbath here in Europe, does God have different standards for each country? Why did I suffer in India, losing my job and got persecuted by my family because of my refusal to work on the Sabbath?” From that day the gentleman never stepped foot in that congregation again.
About three weeks later, I met one of the congregants from that church, in a supermarket store. He asked me why I had not been present for worship at church for the past weeks. I briefly explained to him that I was a member of the International Missionary Society of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Reform Movement, and that I had only attended services at his congregation because of the Bible study I was invited to conduct. He at first appeared to be curious to find out the difference between the SDA church and the Reform Movement. However, when I explained to him the separation of 1914 and how important it was for God’s people to stand in defense of God’s commandments by not supporting the war effort which would lead to transgression of the fourth and sixth commandments, he immediately interrupted me and said, “my brother, no man can keep the whole law of God. If God is expecting to find anyone 100% perfect when Jesus comes, then He is the biggest loser!” You can only imagine my shock at the utterance of such a statement by a professed Seventh-day Adventist. I tried to secure an appointment for a follow-up Bible study with the gentleman, but he simply walked away.
These few examples, deliberately given in chronological order to demonstrate how the love of many is waxing cold as the years go by, are real life experiences but are not meant to be and can never be generalized to all Christians. However, I tend to think that the sentiments expressed in these encounters are shared by many professed Christians, regardless of race, colour, nationality or denomination. If no one can be perfect, perfect in every way, what then is the goal of Christianity?
Satan scores his points in the game of life by making humans disobedient to God’s law, thereby making them like himself in character—rebels against God’s government! How then do humans score their points in this game?
In football, the goal or mark that players press towards is the boundary line connected to the net on the opponents’ side. The Apostle Paul states that he pressed “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14. What is this mark or high calling that we must press towards? There are several scriptures regarding this, but I present a few of them here. To understand what the high calling is, you can probably learn something when you know what the low calling is. You can only ask a fallen or sitting person to stand up. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” So, the low calling is transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4). You will recall that this is the goal of Satan in this game—to lure us into the low position of disobedience so that we may join him in his rebellion against God. By falling into transgression, man lost the character of God, also known as the image of God, or, sometimes, as the glory of God. Instead of God’s character, he received the imprint of Satan’s character and automatically became alienated in his mind towards God and His law (Colossians 1:21). John puts it plainly that, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8
To restore God’s image or character in man, the gospel of Jesus Christ was set in operation. In John 1:12, the Bible states that “as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” And in Romans 1:16–17, we are told what this power is: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to transform man and restore God’s image in him. Therefore, anything that men preach that does not lead to man’s transformation of character and restoration of God’s image in him, is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. With this gospel, God exemplifies His character in the life of Jesus and demonstrates both His justice and unselfish love for man by the death of His Son on the cross. When the gospel works on the hearts of men, they get transformed and reborn into newness of life with the mind of Christ (Romans 12:1–2; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:17). With this, the ultimate goal is achieved, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27. Thus, the goal of the Christian is to be Christlike in character; that’s what it literally means to be a Christian.
By this means, God sets into operation impulses in man’s mind that change his perception of God’s character and law, from perceiving it as a yoke of bondage, to bearing a testimony such as David bore: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.” Psalm 19:7–11
With this provision in place, Christ says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48); and Peter adds, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15–16. If you thought this was optional, think again. Hebrews 12:14 states, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” and 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7 adds, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification. . . . For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” “Holiness is an. . . entire surrender of the will to God; it is living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; it is doing the will of our heavenly Father; it is trusting God in trial, in darkness as well as in the light; it is walking by faith and not by sight; it is relying on God with unquestioning confidence, and resting in His love.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 51 (emphasis supplied)
So, again, the ultimate goal of the Christian is to become like Jesus in character. Whatever we do is either making us like Christ or like Satan, there is no neutral ground. This is why it is not enough for one to just read Exodus 20:1–17 and then claim that one has kept the whole law. This was the exact problem of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus desiring to know what he must do to gain eternal life. When Jesus referred him to the law of the Ten Commandments, he claimed to have kept all of them, but Christ showed him that he only legalistically kept the law but had no love for God and his fellow men in his heart (Matthew 19:16–20). What he “needed was not intellectual enlightenment, but spiritual renovation” –The Desire of Ages, p. 406
To be perfect he needed to keep the law in the light of the cross and with the faith of Jesus; so Jesus invited him to sell everything he had and then come and follow Him. He failed that test. Miserably so! It does not pay to just follow rules. This is why the apostle Paul declares in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” In other words, Christ is the goal of the law for righteousness. The law points us to the character of Christ. To know how to keep the law, we must behold Christ in His life, death and atonement (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Jesus stated the conditions of true friendship and discipleship in John 14:15 and John 15:14: “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” So where did people get the idea that they can love Jesus but still be disobedient to His words; or that they can be His friends but only obey a percentage of His commands, when He himself says we are only His friends if we obey whatsoever He commands us? This is indeed reminiscent of Zamunda’s delusional football team and fans. So, how can we hit this mark despite our many failed efforts that end up behind the net? Well, let us start with the training needed.
To be continued…
Brother Mukelabai Mukelabai