“We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and his teaching in our past history.”
Selected Messages, Book 3, 162
In 1844 when this great movement began, it was started with young people. At that time James White was 23, Ellen White was 17, J.N. Andrews was 15 and Uriah Smith was 12. At the age of 23, Uriah Smith became the editor of the Review and Herald. I praise the Lord that the generation that is alive before Jesus comes will not only be of older people or middle aged people, but of young people also. Ellen White tells us that before Jesus comes there will be a renaissance of primitive godliness that has been unsurpassed since the beginning of human history. With a generation of rightly trained youth, we will soon see the imminent return of Jesus.
We believe that these Ten Commandments are the golden standard for ethics and morality in this life and also for the life to come. I believe the Ten Commandments transcend culture, society and also any ethics that we present during the 21st century. There is a story titled, Of Two Thieves. In this story there were two brothers who were known about town to have decadent, immoral behavior. Through a series of events, one of the brothers suddenly died. The other brother went to the pastor and asked him to preside at the the funeral for his brother, but with one condition: “You can say anything you want under the eulogy, but sometime during the sermon I want you to call my brother a saint.”
The pastor thought for a little bit and said, “Listen, I could use that money because we need a new roof on our church. I tell you what; it is a deal. Somewhere during the eulogy I will call your brother a saint.” The day of the funeral came and the church was absolutely packed with individuals who knew the character of the man lying in that box. The pastor got up to speak. He said, “The man that you see lying in that box was the most debased, decadent person that we could ever think of because of every rotten, stinking thing he has done. But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”
If we use each other as our point of morality, that is exactly what will happen. Unless we have a transcendent, moral absolute for determining our moral ethics and behavior, we need something outside of us to show us where we stand in the moral landscape.
I praise the Lord for the Ten Commandments.
“Thou shalt not steal” [Exodus 20:15]. Stealing is defined as the illegal taking of another person’s property without that person’s freely giving consent. Have you ever wondered why stealing is a sin, because all we are dealing with is possessions? The difference between a gift and something that is stolen is that one is freely given while the other is taking without consent. When somebody steals from another, they dehumanize that individual and disregard their God-given freedom of choice. I believe everyone has in some way been affected by stealing and it causes something to happen within us.
I grew up in Washington D.C. and this is typical in every large city. One Friday night when we got home, all of the lights were on in our home and all of the doors were open. My dad turned to us and said, “Why don’t you stay in the car; I need to check this out.” Our house had been simply ransacked. Every valuable possession that we could think of had been taken. Another time we were ransacked, our television was stolen, which turned out to be a blessing. Once we came home and someone had taken a chain saw from our storage unit and sawed through a door, taking our possessions.
When you have been robbed or mugged, there is a feeling of not only anger, but a sense of having been violated. Something within you cries out that this is wrong and somebody has disregarded your freedom of choice and entered into your private space. Stealing in the 21st century has become more sophisticated with the advance of technology. There are now different types of stealing which include: embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, mugging, trespassing, shoplifting, intrusion, fraud and one that is huge right now, identity theft. This is where people take your social security number and your mother’s maiden name and then take out loans or even commit crimes in your name. Often this is not discovered until applying for a loan and being denied, then finding out that someone has done all of these things. It then sometimes takes years to clean up your record. Some individuals have had to change their name and their identity, rather than go through the hassle of cleaning up their past.
Stealing has also become more impersonalized, meaning that no longer are people just stealing from one another, but also from corporations as well as organizations.
I heard the story of a man visiting Florida from Brazil. While there, he received a parking ticket in Miami for $20. He took that ticket home to Brazil and returned the bill with $22 in cash and mailed it to the city of Miami. The clerk of the city of Miami realized that he had overpaid his bill by $2 and instead of returning that $2 in cash, he wrote a check for $2. When the man received that check in Brazil, he got a bright idea. He took that check and scanned it onto his computer, changing the $2 to $2 million dollars and deposited it into his bank account. The check cleared. He virtually swindled $2 million dollars from the city of Miami. Because there is no extraditing agreement between the United States and Brazil, he got away with it. This may be impersonal stealing, but from a biblical standpoint, whether stealing from an individual, a corporation or a city, stealing is still considered stealing.
According to some statistics, four million people each year in America are caught stealing. For every one caught, thirty five go undetected. A hundred and forty million shoplifting incidents occur each year out of a population of three hundred million people. Furthermore, seventy percent of shoplifters are in the middle income bracket, twenty percent are in the high income bracket, and only ten percent are considered poor. Thirty percent of all business failures each year are the result of internal theft. Security officials estimate that nine percent of all employees steal on a regular basis and seventy five percent of those working in retail stores steal to some degree, taking three times as much as shoplifters. Hotel managers count that one out of three guests steals something. Frank Abignail, the former infamous con artist, stated that businesses lose four hundred billion dollars per year to fraud. That is twice the budget of the U.S. military. The amount is enough to pay off Social Security for the next hundred years. A third comes from employees stealing from their employers. Stealing has become so pervasive in western society resulting in low ethics. Honesty is not being taught and stealing is not even considered stealing anymore.
So what can I do if I have stolen in the past and how do I make things right with God as well as with our fellow man? I believe Jesus is coming very soon and there is going to come a time when there is no longer intercession in the heavenly sanctuary and all of those unconfessed sins will remain and the opportunity to make right with our brothers and sisters will be gone.
What is the solution? The first step in making things right with God and our brothers in relation to stealing is found in Acts 2:37. Peter had just been converted sometime previous to this and received the Holy Spirit and he preached this glorious sermon: “Now when they heard this [the sermon], they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’ ” Acts 2:37, 38.
Notice that the first word out of Peter’s mouth was repent. The Biblical definition of repentance is a sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. Have you ever committed a sin in your life that you have not felt an ounce of remorse for? I remember before I came to Christ, I would commit sins and I would enjoy them, not feeling an ounce of sorrow. What are we to do if we don’t feel any remorse for what we have done? I remember growing up and getting into heated debates or in arguments with my younger sibling. My parents would try to mediate, getting us together demanding that we would say sorry to each other. I would say, “I’m sorry.” But is that true repentance?
The Bible tells us that we are to repent, have a sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. Repentance is often a barrier that keeps us from coming to Christ, thinking that we must first feel that remorse. One of the misconceptions in relation to repentance really deals with our response to the law. Luke 19:1–5 tells about a man who was a professional thief. In his relationship to Jesus you will see how this mode of repentance exactly works. “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.” At this point Zacchaeus had not repented. Nor had Zacchaeus made full restitution. “The chief publican longed to look upon the face of Him whose words had brought hope to his heart.” The Desire of Ages, 553.
In one of my favorite books is the following statement: “Just here is a point on which many may err, and hence they fail of receiving the help that Christ desires to give them. They think that they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance prepares for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait till he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour?
“The Bible does not teach that the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ, ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28. It is the virtue that goes forth from Christ, that leads to genuine repentance.” Steps to Christ, 26.
Repentance is a gift. Without the Lord, we can’t even feel sorry on our own. I can tell you there have been instances in my life where I had to come to the Lord just the way I am and say, I love the sin, I enjoy the sin, I feel absolutely no remorse for the sin, help me to be sorry because I am not sorry. Give me the gift of repentance.
“Many are inquiring, ‘How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?’ You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin. Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you; but you need not despair. What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him.
“Desires for goodness and holiness are right as far as they go; but if you stop here, they will avail nothing. Many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christians. They do not come to the point of yielding the will to God. They do not now choose to be Christians.” Steps to Christ, 47, 48.
The first step is coming to Jesus just the way that we are. We may have stolen in our lives and may not even feel an ounce of remorse or repentance for what we have done, but we can come to Jesus just the way we are, give our wills to Him, believing that He will create within us a clean heart.
An illustration of how repentance works in relation to stealing is found in Luke 19:5–8: “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, that he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
After Jesus had come into Zacchaeus’ life and into his heart, he stands up and says, “I want to make amends for what I have done—to make restitution for the things I have stolen.” I praise the Lord that Jesus accepts us just the way we are, because He loves us too much to leave us in that sinful condition.
Stealing not only deals with the sin between us and God, but it also deals with the sin between us and our brothers and sisters whom we have wronged. In this illustration, once Jesus had changed Zacchaeus’ heart he made restitution, giving back what he had stolen.
Once, I got involved with a group of individuals and we would steal on a regular basis. It got to the point that stealing was so common that it would not even bother me. In the beginning my conscience bothered me a little, causing me not to sleep at night, but the more I stole, the less it bothered me. That is the way the conscience works: the more you sin, the more your conscience becomes seared.
At one time I was involved in bike racing with a friend. One day we looked out in the parking lot and there parked was a vintage girl’s bike, a racing model. We eyed it for a few weeks and the bike was still there. So, we figured that since the owner did not claim it, we would. We backed up my friend’s van and put it into the van and took it to the woods, stripped it of all the components that we desired and threw the frame out into the woods to rot. We just went on our way and it did not bother me at all. As my life went on, years went by and I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and Jesus accepted me just the way I was and I began my Christian walk with Him. A few days later when I got up to have my morning devotion, the Holy Spirit came to me and reminded me of the bicycle that I had stolen many years ago. He told me that I was forgiven for that, but He wanted me to go back, and as much as is humanly possible, make it right.
I said, Lord, you have got to be kidding; that was years ago. What about forgiveness and all of these things you promise in your Word? I must go back to make that thing right! How humiliating! I fought the Lord for days. During those days my devotional life went downhill because I was resisting the Holy Spirit. I knew I had to make it right if I wanted to progress in my Christian experience. I went home and found out the name of the individual from my friend and then got out the yearbook and looked her up. I went back home and found her telephone number and called her. My heart was beating very fast. When a lady answered I said, “Hello ma’am, is _____ home?” She said, “No, but she is my daughter; can I help you?” I asked her if her daughter owned a bicycle and she said, “Yes, she did and someone stole it and it was a horrible thing. Do you know where it is, or what happened to it?” I told her about my friend and me stealing it. She asked me if there was any way I could restore it because it had so much meaning to her. I told her it was impossible, but that whatever it would cost to restore that back into her home, I would pay it. When I got off that phone I felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted from my shoulders.
The Bible tells us that being justified by faith we have peace with God. God ultimately forgives us, but because it affects another individual we are called, as much as is humanly possible, to restore the loss and make that thing right.
“If we have injured others through any unjust business transaction, if we have overreached in trade, or defrauded any man, even though it be within the pale of the law, we should confess our wrong, and make restitution as far as lies in our power. It is right for us to restore not only that which we have taken, but all that it would have accumulated if put to a right and wise use during the time it has been in our possession.” The Desire of Ages, 556.
We are living at the very end of time. If God is convicting you about something in your life that you need to make right, then do not hesitate; make it right. Soon, Jesus will cease intercession in the heavenly sanctuary and by God’s grace I want to have a clear conscience on that day.
It is the goodness of God that motivates us and drives us to repentance, not guilt or fear of judgment.
In Asia, in times past, there used to be a custom called matchmaking. The families would take two individuals and unite them in holy matrimony irrespective of the individuals’ choice. There was a story of two families who were very close to each other and they decided that if one had a boy and the other a girl they would arrange to have them married so their families would be united through holy matrimony. As fate would have it, one had a girl and the other had a boy. True to the pact, before they moved far from each other they decided that they would go ahead with their plan. The day of the wedding came, and neither the boy nor the girl had ever met each other until the night of the wedding. After the ceremony the young man was curious to see what his bride looked like, as she had been covered by a veil throughout the ceremony. He reached over and anxiously pulled the veil from her and much to his sadness she was so unattractive that he ran out of the room in a rage, angry at God and at circumstances for putting him in this predicament. He now was compelled to live with the woman because they did not believe in divorce back then. Even though her outside appearance was not the most attractive, on the inside she was beautiful. He would come home in a rage, angry at God and the world and she would respond in the most Christlike manner. She did everything she could to make a pleasant home, showing her love toward him. They had a daughter, and as time passed they got older in age. One day as he was looking outside he noticed that he was losing his vision in one of his eyes. They were quite distraught and went to the hospital. The doctors told him that if he did not receive a cornea transplant in his eye he would lose total vision. So they looked all over the country for somebody who would donate a cornea. They just about gave up all hope of finding one when suddenly they got a phone call and there was a cornea for transplant and the surgery was a complete success. They came home for a celebration, all three of them. The wife had prepared his favorite meal and before they were about to sit down the daughter said to her mother, Why don’t you tell him? He said, tell me what? At that point he turned his wife toward him and he noticed that she had a patch over her right eye. She had given a part of herself for him. This woman, whom he had abused emotionally and mistreated for years, had given a part of herself for him, unconditionally.
Did her love change his behavior? Yes it did. The Bible says that it is the goodness of God that motivates us to repentance. When we see what Christ has done for us, it motivates us to change and to make things right, not only with our brothers and sisters, but with God. God is asking us to do this right here and now.
Jesus is about to come, but before He comes He will have a people who will keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17). We can truly thank God for the gift of His grace which leads us to repentance.
David Shin’s article was taken from the Ten Commandment Weekend, 2008 series aired on 3ABN. For more information contact www.3ABN.org.