Is the work you are doing authorized by God? If you do not know whether or not God has been leading you in the past, then there is no point in looking at the present. To become more than black and white in your thinking, to be able to reason through things that are a little more difficult than two plus two, you must learn to understand the providence of God and how it has led in certain movements up to this present time.
Do you understand how the providence of God has been working in the last 150 years to finish the mystery of godliness in this world? Have you studied it? At one time, Ellen White said, “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.
How is it with you today? Have you forgotten how God has led you in the past? If you have forgotten, you will be all mixed up about the present. You will not know what is what. If you have forgotten, I appeal to you to go to your own closet or wherever you do your studying, and say, “Lord, help me to understand what Your providence from past history shows me about where I am today and how I reached this point. Help me to understand where I should be and what I should be doing.”
Throughout His ministry, the Pharisees attempted to trick Jesus by asking Him impossible questions that no one could answer and about which they argued all the time. On one occasion, they were certain they had cornered Him. They were going to ask Him a question, and they figured that no matter how He answered it, they would have Him. They were going to get Him into trouble either with the Jewish people or with the Roman people.
The story is recorded in Matthew 22: “Then the Pharisees go into counsel how they might trap Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples, the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and the way of God You teach in truth, and it is not a concern to You concerning anyone, for You see not the face of man. Therefore, tell us, what do You think? Is it permitted to give tribute [pay taxes] to Caesar or not?’ ” Verses 15–17.
If Jesus answered, “Yes,” to this question, they immediately could discredit Him to the Jews, because Caesar was an idolater. In fact, the Roman Caesar was the personification of the sun god and was worshipped as the sun god. The rabbis believed that if you were supporting Caesar with your taxes, you were supporting idolatry. Surely, they reasoned with Jesus, “You know what happened to the Jews because of idolatry throughout the Old Testament. Are you not aware of all the warnings in the Scriptures against idolatry? Do you not know the second commandment? If you support this system, you are supporting idolatry.”
By the way, this was true. The pagan Roman government was a union of church and state. The church, of course, was an idolatrous, pagan church, so some of the taxes supported idolatrous worship. If you have studied the worship of idolatry, you know the awful things that were involved in such worship; more than the second commandment was broken.
The Pharisees believed that the Jews should not support a government that participated in idolatry. They reasoned that the head of the government was practicing and teaching idolatry; thus some of their taxes were supporting this idolatrous worship.
Many, many Christians were later martyred, on this account. The authorities would force the people to come into the town square where an altar had been placed. A fire would be burning on the altar, and beside it there would be a box of incense. The people were required to take just a pinch of incense, throw it on the fire, and say, “Caesar is Lord.” A Christian would not say this. We will never know until the Day of Judgment how many Christians lost their lives because they would not say, “Caesar is Lord.” They said, “Christ is Lord.”
If Jesus answered, “No, you should not support this idolatrous government by paying taxes,” immediately the Pharisees would report Him to the Romans, and He would be in trouble with the government. This is one of those black and white questions by people who are black and white in their thinking.
Peace and Harmony
The story continues, “And Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said, ‘Why do you tempt Me, hypocrites? Show Me the tribute money.’ And they brought to Him a denarius. And He said to them, ‘Whose is this image and this superscription?’ They say to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then He said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’ And hearing, they were astonished and left Him; they went away.” Verses 18–22.
How interesting! The question which none of the rabbis could answer, about which they were constantly arguing, Jesus answered in one sentence. He also gave to the world a profound truth, which has changed it entirely. It is one of the reasons for a country today that we call the United States of America.
Jesus taught, in this brief response, that people with diverse persuasions, who worshipped different gods in different temples, could still get along together in the marketplace. They could still live together in peace and harmony.
The early Christian evangelists did not go out and try to force the people in the various countries in which they lived to stop worshipping idols and begin worshipping the true God. This is not the way it happened. The Christian religion was introduced as leaven into society, and it worked to influence society, not to control society. The Christian religion is not a religion of control but rather a religion of influence, so people have a choice of whom they will worship and of what they will do.
Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” He drew a sharp line of distinction between that which is civil and that which is religious. Paul drew the line even sharper in Romans 13 and 14, showing that the state (he is speaking of the pagan state) has the authority from God to enforce the last six commandments in the law. He shows, in Romans 14, that the state does not have authority to enforce the first four commandments of the law, which is man’s relationship between himself and God.
Where do you suppose you would have been if you had been living back in that time? This black and white thinking, which the Pharisees repeatedly displayed, is not uncommon to the human race.
Ellen White described Phariseeism as the religion of human nature: “Christ ever rebuked the Pharisees for their self-righteousness. They extolled themselves. They came forth from their religious services, not humbled with a sense of their own weakness, not feeling gratitude for the great privileges that God had given them. They were exalted to heaven in point of opportunity, in having the Scriptures, in knowing the true God, but their hearts were not filled with thankfulness to God for his great goodness toward them. They came forth filled with spiritual pride, and their theme was self—‘myself, my feelings, my knowledge, my ways.’ Their own attainments became the standard by which they measured others. Putting on the robes of self-dignity, they mounted the judgment seat to criticise and to condemn. But no human being has been authorized of God to do this work. It is the very essence of Phariseeism. It is gathering about the soul the very shadows of darkness so that the light of life cannot penetrate the darkness. Satan deluded the Jews with a natural or legal religion, which was full of selfishness and hypocrisy, and thus were light and knowledge perverted; but this exalting of self, this self-righteousness, is nothing short of deception and self-destruction.” The Signs of the Times, December 17, 1894.
We could look at several more examples in the Bible of attempts to entrap Jesus. There is the question, in Matthew 22:23–33, about the resurrection that the Sadducees posed. Then, in John 8, is the story of a woman who was taken in the very act of adultery. This, again, was a trick case; the trick was simply this: When the scribes and Pharisees brought this woman in, they planned to defend what they thought Jesus would answer by appealing to Moses. They said, “Moses taught that such a person should be stoned; what do you say about it?” Verse 5. This was a trick.
If Jesus would say, “This woman should be stoned,” immediately they could get Him into trouble with the Romans, because the Romans had made a very strict law that people of other nations, such as the Jewish nation, were not allowed to practice capital punishment. The Jewish leaders were not going to bribe the Romans to keep Jesus out of trouble. They were going to have Him arrested by the Romans.
But if Jesus should say, “This woman should not be stoned,” if He was going to exercise mercy upon her, then they were going to say to the Jews, “This man does not believe in the law of Moses.” They were going to discredit Him in front of all the Jews.
This was a black and white situation. Either way Jesus answered the question could get Him into trouble. He responded, “The one that is without sin among you, let him first pick up a stone and cast it.” Verse 7. Then He began to write on the ground, and when they looked at what He was writing, they left, which was what He had in mind.
There are only three recorded events in the Bible when God wrote something. The first was the Ten Commandments; He wrote it on tables of stone. The second is given in Daniel 5, when a bloodless hand appeared and wrote Hebrew characters—mene, mene, tekel, upharsin—on the wall. Any time God writes something, it is very significant.
This situation is the third time that God wrote. The difference between this time and the others is that we do not know specifically what He wrote. We know from the writings of Ellen White that the people who brought this woman to Jesus were the ones responsible for getting her into the situation so they could trap her and, ultimately, trick Jesus. It was a setup from beginning to end. (See The Ministry of Healing, 86–89.)
Someday you are going to see the verdict that God has written by your name through the recording angel. When you see the secrets of your life revealed, are you going to want to stand there before the Lord, or will you want to slink away? These men left.
Continuing in John 8:11, we read, “Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, no longer sin.’ ” This was the beginning of one of the most vehement controversies between Jesus and the Pharisees that is recorded in the gospels.
Who is Your Father?
Let us look at one last example of the Pharisees’ black and white thinking as this controversy proceeded. The controversy is over who is the father of the Jews, and in verse 37, the situation really becomes heated. The Jews say, “Abraham is our father.” This is equivalent to saying, “I am a Seventh-day Adventist, and I belong to a conference church.” If you could say that Abraham was your father, that was equivalent to having all the qualifications of God’s people.
In the conversation with Jesus, the Jews declared, in verse 33, “We are Abraham’s descendants.” Jesus denied this. He told them that they were Abraham’s descendants according to the flesh, but, He continued, “If Abraham was your father, then you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill me, a man that has told you the truth, which I have heard from God. Abraham did not do anything like this.” Verses 39, 40. Jesus denied that Abraham was their spiritual father.
It would be amusing, if it were not so serious. Have you ever heard people argue about whether or not an individual is a Seventh-day Adventist? Yes, he or she is a Seventh-day Adventist; no, he or she is not, because if they were, they would not be doing . . . . God has a book up in heaven in which He keeps records. In God’s record book in heaven, are you a Seventh-day Adventist, or what are you?
These people could not stand being told that Abraham was not their father, just as people today cannot stand it if they are told, “If you truly were a Seventh-day Adventist, you would not be doing this and this and this.” They cannot stand it if you tell them that! This is what Jesus was saying.
The people said, “We are the children of Abraham. We are the true church.” But Jesus said, “No, you are not. If you were, you would be doing the works of Abraham; you would have a character like Abraham.” This, more than anything else, reveals their black and white thinking. They said, “We are not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” What they were saying was, “We know how You came into the world. We know that Your mother was not married until a short time before You were born. We know how babies come into the world. You do not have to tell us. We know how that works.”
Character, not Profession
This is what happens when you have black and white thinking. Because of your knowledge base, you know how something has to be. Black and white thinking is dangerous, friends, and when you read this story, you will come to understand that we are all guilty of it. We will never escape it except through the Holy Spirit.
The Jews thought that, from a human point of view, there was no other way a baby could come into the world. So they said, “We are not born of fornication ourselves; we have one Father, even God.” Jesus’ reply to this was: “If God was your Father, you would love Me. You would not be trying to kill Me, if God was your Father. If God was your Father, you would love Me, because I proceeded forth and came from God.” Verses 41, 42, first part. Notice that He again denies that God is their Father. He tells them from where He came; He did not come from fornication. “Neither did I come for Myself, but He sent Me. Why can you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to endure My word. You are of your father, the devil.” Verses 42–44.
These were the leaders of God’s professed people. Jesus said, “Not only are you not God’s people, not only are you not the true church, but you are of your father, the devil. The devil is your father. You belong to the synagogue of Satan.”
If you want to do an interesting study, and if you have access to an Ellen G. White CD-ROM, search on the phrase, “synagogue of Satan.” You will find some very interesting statements. This was not the last generation in which there were people who thought that God was their Father, that they were the children of God, and that they were the true church when, actually, they were part of the synagogue of Satan.
How did Jesus prove that these leaders were children of the devil? In verse 44, we read, “Because the lusts of your father you wish to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and did not remain in the truth. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own, because he is a liar and the father of it.” He is the father of lies, and he is also the father of murder.
In other words, it is your character and not your profession that determines whether or not you are a genuine Seventh-day Adventist. It is your character and not your profession that determines whether God is your Father or whether the devil is your father. In the great controversy, it is your character and not your profession that determines on whose side you are.
Black and White Conclusions
- A black and white thinker interprets Scripture in the context of his own culture, and this becomes for him absolute truth. This is dangerous, friend. Be careful that you do not read your own culture into what the Scripture says, and then say that it says a certain thing, when it actually does not say that at all. You are just putting your own cultural meaning into it.
- A black and white thinker interprets Scripture in the context of his own feelings and attitudes, and this becomes for him absolute truth. This is what the Pharisees did with the divorce issue. (Matthew 19:3, discussed in Part 1.) They were interpreting the Scripture in the context of their own emotions, attitudes, and feelings, and that became, for them, absolute truth, but it was wrong.
- A black and white thinker interprets Scripture according to his own knowledge base, and, for him, this becomes absolute truth. This is why the Pharisees said to Jesus, “We are not born according to fornication.” They interpreted events according to their total knowledge base, and they said, “It cannot be any other way but this.” Be careful, friend. This is why the Scripture says that the “natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God; they are foolishness to him,” because they are outside his knowledge base. 1 Corinthians 2:14. There is more involved than just your knowledge base. This is where faith should be applied.
- A black and white thinker uses the words of Scripture to support his preconceived opinions or ideas. Here is an issue over which Adventists have repeatedly stumbled. It is not the words of Scripture that were inspired, but the men who wrote the Scripture were inspired. Their thoughts were inspired, and they used the best human language at their command to convey these thoughts. For this very reason, if a person is going to understand Scripture, he must study it sufficiently, so he grasps the thought being conveyed that the prophet or apostle had in mind, and is not just depending on the interpretation, which he may be wresting from the words. It is for this very reason that it becomes essential to study how the words of Scripture were used by the people of that time. We need to know what the words meant to those people in the culture to which the apostle or prophet was speaking or writing and not simply read into them our own cultural meanings, which may make them say something completely opposite from what the apostle or prophet had in mind.
A powerful text, if you understand what it means, is 1 John 2:21: “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” Ellen White also wrote a comment on this idea: “All truth, whether in nature or in revelation, is consistent with itself in all its manifestations.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 114. The truth, whether in nature or revelation, is always consistent with itself. The truth never contradicts itself. If we think we know something, but there is even one text in Scripture that seems to say something different, we had better be careful. The truth is consistent with itself in all its manifestations. This is why we need to ask, whenever there are any new teachings, Do all the texts of Scripture and do all the Spirit of Prophecy statements point clearly, explicitly in this direction? If we do not do this, friend, we are liable to get into the same trap that the Pharisees got into.
I hope you will pray about what we have studied and say, “Lord, help me to study and search to find the weight of evidence and not just be a black and white thinker, as is so common today.”
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.