By Shayne Mason Vincent … Having been a devoted lover of metal music prior to my conversion, it was embarrassing to admit I was a Chris- tian. Most of my young life had been dedicated to anger and being hard. So, when I first came into the Adventist faith, I was relieved by the fact that I didn’t have to share the cheesy “Jesus loves you” line with everyone. Adventism was, thankfully, heady, not sappy.
I remember an experience during those times when I was donating plasma (my gas and cigarette fund). The fella next to me had his machine land on the number 666 and commented on it with a shudder. I saw it as the perfect opportunity to share the mark of the beast! But my captive audience, for some reason, wasn’t so excited (neither were my uncle, my friends, and basically almost everyone I talked with).
A few months passed and I was “witnessing” at a local park. An unwitting passerby had been trapped in my zealous, “fall of Babylon faith” spiel when we heard someone screaming. We looked over to the left where a young lady on rollerblades was rocketing down an embankment that ended abruptly at a solid stone wall. It didn’t end well. Feeling the prompting of the Spirit, I went down to help. But her family was fast on her heels and made it there first. And so, there I stood, clueless and gawking. After a minute or two when someone else walked up, the mother said with steely eyes, “Oh great, another spectator.” I was cut to the heart.
For the first time, it dawned on me how useless my pontificating was when someone was in actual need. It was at that moment that the Spirit sliced open a piece of my hard heart with a recent sermon I had heard, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10 NKJV). The preacher pressed his point home, “If the keeping of the law is love, then all our talk about the law, the law, the law, is clueless and blind, because righteousness is love!”
I walked away from the scene stunned as the meaning of his sermon hit home. Painfully, I realized my hypocrisy. It meant that my baptism, my knowledge, my condemnation of other denominations didn’t make me a Christian—only the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit could do that. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13:2 (CSB), “If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but
do not have love, I am nothing.” My faith was powerless because I had viewed the very nature of God as “cheesy.”
Since those days, I have asked congregations, “What is righteousness?” And their answers were always the same, “the keeping of the law.” My heart aches at the many times I have heard in Sabbath schools, “All Christians ever talk about is ‘love, love, love’; we need to get back to the ‘truth’!” But doctrine is cold comfort when you’re in a nursing home and no one visits you. Doctrine is cold comfort for a child who needs a father. Doctrine is cold comfort when your boss is a tyrant and your responsibilities to family give you no option but to stay.
People need more from life than platitudes. They need Jesus. If I truly loved the “law of God” as I claimed, then I should have also been obsessed with “love,” because that is what it means to keep the law. As it says in James 1:27 (TVB), Real, true religion from God the Father’s perspective is about caring for the orphans and widows who suffer needlessly … Needless suffering. Interesting word—needless. It means it doesn’t have to be that way.
I slowly came to realize that righteousness wasn’t something special, apart from normal life, above the “common.” Holiness had become an idol for me, as though it was the vehicle to God, rather than a gift from Him. The Truth I needed to “get back to” was Jesus. His life of love and sacrifice are the fulfillment of the truth! For He is the Truth (John 14:6).
Therefore, when a parent doesn’t yell and shame their kid when they mess up, they have performed a holy act. Instead, they come alongside their child, and with patient kindness, show them a better way. They are being like Jesus. The one who is closest to God is the mother that wakes up at 2 a.m. to lovingly feed her screaming child.
Or the parent who works a 50-hour week doing a job they hate so their kids are provided for. And then when they get home, they love on their children, instead of drinking their troubles away. That is what real righteousness and character look like because it is done in the Spirit’s fruit of love.
Need proof? Here is the biblical “here a little, there a little” formula:
God is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:3-4) and The law is righteous (Psalms 119:75-76)
God is love (1 John 4:7-8) and The fulfillment of law is love (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:13-14)
If God and the law are righteous, and God and the law are love, then Righteousness is Love!
Just imagine if Adventism was known for its love! If when people spoke of us, they didn’t automatically think, “Oh, the vegetarians,” or, “Oh, the Ellen G. White thing.” What would Adventism look like if the gospel were at the core of all our beliefs:
The Second Coming would be about God bringing hope to those living in a world that is falling apart.
The resurrection for the dead would be God giving hope for those who have lost the ones they love most.
Health would just be something that exponentially improves your life.
Sabbath would be known as an escape from the exhaustion of industrialization.
Church would be known as an experience of acceptance and supportive love and family for those lonely in an isolated world.
The judgment would be reserved for God putting an end to corruption and injustice in this world.
And salvation would be about knowing God and being grateful for what He freely gives us.
That day at the park completely changed the trajectory of my life. I began to love those who were right around me; and it was because I actually cared, not because it was expected, or in the pursuit of salvation. I learned to soften my heart, even with my enemies. And while there have been many ups and downs in my relationship with God, my soul is alive. My walls have come down. I even began tearing up watching Anne of Green Gables for the first time. Believe me, even being able to watch that show was a bigger miracle than quitting smoking!
And best of all, my “Mark of the Beast” evangelism has become a tongue-in-cheek part of my past. My friends and I now joke to the single guys, “Just tell her about the mark of the beast and she’ll be yours.” Or, for evangelism, “Just tell them about the mark of the beast and they’ll be ready for baptism this Sabbath!” Humor aside, there is, of course, a proper time and place for prophecies, especially in the times we live in.
But insofar as redemption itself is concerned, it is my hope that the Adventist church of the future will have finally accepted the implications of a true Pauline New Covenant gospel (without throwing the baby out with the bathwater). That they will come to understand that the fruit of the Spirit is the real antitypical fulfillment of the law. And that righteousness is love. After all, Jesus made it painfully clear what it means to be His follower, His “remnant”: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35 CSB).
–Shayne Mason Vincent is lead pastor, Casper Wyoming District. Email him at: [email protected]