The second thing to understand about justification by faith is found in Titus 3:5-7. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should he made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Look carefully at how God saves us. Does the washing of regeneration refer primarily to the waters of baptism? Or is this the washing of a renewed heart? Did not the thief on the cross experience this washing, even though he could not be baptized? This is a heart experience–a complete transformation. It happens in the mind. It changes my values and my attitudes. The Holy Spirit renews my mind. No longer am I self-centered; now I am Christ-centered and others-centered. Now I have the mind of Christ. When this washing and renewing have been accomplished by Christ and the Holy Spirit, then I am justified and have eternal life. Is there more to justification than being pardoned from past sins? This is justification experienced in the inward life. Notice that justification follows regeneration and renewing. Jesus put it very simply in John 3:3. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In its most basic expression, justification experienced is the new birth. The new birth does not follow justification; it is justification.
“God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.’ Psalm 51:10.” (MB 114) God’s forgiveness is declared, but it is more than that. It is reclaiming, transforming, and renewing. It is a clean heart created within us. This is not sanctification; it is part of forgiveness. Justification transforms at the same time it declares. Pardon is an inward transformation.
“In ourselves we are sinners; but in Christ we are righteous. Having made us righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ, God pronounces us just, and treats us as just… ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.'” (1SM 394) This statement is not in harmony with the current definitions of justification in the Christian world. It says that before God pronounces us just, He makes us righteous. Justification by faith is being made righteous. Current theology says that justification is being declared righteous, and making righteous comes later, in sanctification. Notice also that we are made righteous by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Imputed clearly means more than a legal declaration. Justification is making us righteous inwardly as well as declaring us righteous legally.
“As the sinner, drawn by the power of Christ, approaches the uplifted cross, and prostrates himself before it, there is a new creation. A new heart is given him. He becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus… God Himself is the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Rom. 3:26.” (COL 163) Justification is receiving a new heart from God, becoming a new creature. Right now there is a major attempt being made to separate the transforming power of the Holy Spirit from justification, to put it totally within the process of sanctification. But what we are finding in these inspired statements is that transformation and making righteous part of the justifying process, after which God declares us righteous. Justification is simply another name for the new birth, the new creation, the new heart.
“By receiving His imputed righteousness, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we become like Him.” (6BC 1098) Notice that imputed righteousness comes through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Some today want to say that we are justified by Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Nowhere does inspiration support this separation of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Both are involved in both justification and sanctification. Thus it is clear that imputed means more than accounting and crediting.
“To be pardoned in the way that Christ pardons is not only to be forgiven, but to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. The Lord says, ‘A new heart will I give unto thee.’ The image of Christ is to be stamped upon the very mind, heart, and soul.” (RH 8-19-1890) To pardon means to renew. It is as simple and clear as that.
The first part of justification is to pardoned–forgiven of my sins. The second part of justification -is to be transformed in the new birth experience. Justification is both declarative and experiential. The most current understanding of justification is that it is the first part only. The second part–new birth–is part of sanctification. This means that we can be justified and saved before the new birth happens. And even if the new birth experience is not changing my life as fully as it should, I am still justified and saved. This unbiblical separation between declaring righteous and making righteous is doing more than any other teaching to encourage Christians to tolerate sin in their lives, since they believe that they are justified even when open, unforgiven sin is active in their lives.
During the 1890’s, a special message came to the Adventist Church through two young messengers. “The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the surety; it invited people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God… All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure. (TM 91-92) The message was justification by faith, which is imparting Christ’s righteousness to us. Further, this is the everlasting gospel which must be given to the world in the three angels’ messages. Imparting is always sharing and giving; it is more than crediting and accounting. So justification is imparting Christ’s righteousness.
- J. Waggoner put it very simply in his book Christ and His Righteousness, pages 51 and 57. “To justify means to make righteous, or to show one to be righteous… Let us first have an object lesson on justification, or the imparting of righteousness.” The 1888 Message was out of harmony with the current understanding of justification. Could it be that we are dealing with two different gospels, both competing for our allegiance? Satan’s counterfeit of the gospel is no less real and destructive than his counterfeit of God’s day of worship.
Conditional or Unconditional?
We often hear comments similar to the following: “I thank God that I am unconditionally justified.” “The grace of God is God’s unconditional acceptance.” “Conditional justification is legalism.” Let us compare these statements with inspiration.
“Let none say that there are no conditions to salvation. There are decided conditions… At the peril of our souls must know the prescribed conditions given by Him who has given His own life to save us from ruin.” (13MR 22) “Obedience is the first price of eternal life.” (1888 Materials 1477) “His (Christ’s) righteousness is imputed only to the obedient.” (6BC 1072) “Implicit obedience is the condition of salvation.” (ST 11-15-1899) “… the righteousness of God in justifying the believer in Jesus, condition of his future obedience to the statutes of God’s government in heaven and earth.” (RH 4-24-1888) “From Genesis to Revelation, the conditions upon which eternal life is promised, are made plain… Keep my commandments and live, is the requirement of God.” (4RH 331) “The gospel that is to be preached to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people presents the truth in clear lines, showing that obedience is the condition of gaining eternal life.” (7BC 972) “Christ died to evidence to the sinner that there was no hope for him while he continued in sin. Obedience to all God’s requirements is his only hope for pardon through the blood of Christ.” (UL 189) “By perfect obedience to the requirements of the law, man is justified. Only through faith in Christ is such obedience possible.” (IHP 146) “God’s promises are all made upon conditions… While we earnestly endeavor to be obedient, God will hear our petitions; but He will not bless us in disobedience.” (ST 6-16-1890)
These statements are so clear that little explanation is needed. Obedience is clearly a condition of salvation, and this is the gospel which is to go to the whole world. Do we dare to speak of unconditional justification and acceptance with God in light of these statements?
Over one hundred years ago, A.T. Jones was foremost among us in speaking about justification by faith. In his enthusiasm about Christ’s free gift of salvation, he was beginning to say some things that Ellen White had to warn him about. In Letter 4, 1893 (April 9), written from New Zealand, she said, “I was attending a meeting, and a large congregation were present. In my dream you were presenting the subject of faith and the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith. You repeated several times that works amounted to nothing, that there were no conditions. The matter was presented in that light that I knew minds would be confused, and would not receive the correct impression in reference to faith and works, and I decided to write to you. You state this matter too strongly. There are conditions to our receiving justification and sanctification, and the righteousness of Christ. I know your meaning, but you leave a wrong impression upon many minds. While good works will not save even one soul, yet it is impossible for even one soul to be saved without good works… Then when you say there are no conditions, and some expressions are made quite broad, you burden the minds, and some cannot see consistency in your expressions. They cannot see how they can harmonize these expressions with the plain statements of the Word of God. Please guard these points. These strong assertions in regard to works, never make our position any stronger, for there are many who will consider you an extremist, and will lose the rich lessons upon the very subjects they need to know.
People desperately need to know about the free gift of Christ’s righteousness. But if we present the gospel gift without, at the same time, addressing the conditions upon which that gospel can be received, we will distort the gospel and lead our hearers to a false assurance of salvation. The necessary balance is well stated in another inspired statement.
“But while God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, no man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ’s righteousness while practicing known sins, or neglecting known duties. God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.” (1SM 366) The entire surrender of the heart is clearly a condition of justification. The whole heart must he yielded to God, with nothing held hack. We must decide not to continue in disobedience any longer. Then, to remain in a justified state, the next condition is obedience. But notice that this obedience is not by my efforts alone, it comes through faith in God’s power to purify my soul. The decision to obey is always my decision. The two conditions to receiving and keeping justification are surrender and obedience. Without these conditions being met, there is no justification, no matter how much we may claim it. We are in serious danger of false presumption, which is the counterfeit of genuine faith.
But isn’t this a subtle form of legalism, making obedience a part of justification? Does this mean that we are saved by faith and works? Picture yourself at Cape Canaveral, watching a space shuttle launch. What is the basic cause of the shuttle going into space? It is the firing of the mighty engines supporting the shuttle. No matter how careful the preparations for launch, nothing will happen if those engines don’t fire properly. If they do fire properly, the shuttle will be lifted into space with or without anyone aboard. Now if the astronauts desire to participate in this launch, they must do several things. They must don cumbersome suits, get into the gantry elevator which will lift them to the shuttle entrance, then walk carefully over the catwalk to the doorway, and finally get into the specially prepared seats. Will any of these things cause the astronauts to go into space? They can sit in those seats for three months and never leave the launching pad, if the rocket engines don’t fire. The various things that the astronauts must do to go into space are not causes of space flight, but conditions of space flight. They must comply exactly with all the conditions if they hope to travel in space. What if the astronauts decide that all the things they must do are legalistic, that they would rather go to space in the comfort of the control bunkers? It is rather obvious that space flight involves both cause and conditions if it is going to happen. The astronaut simply fulfills the conditions for getting to the place where the power is. We must clearly understand the difference between cause and condition.
These principles are exactly the same in justification by faith. What is the cause of my justification? Is it surrender, or obedience, or even faith? We can obey perfectly for the next fifty years, and we will not be one inch closer to eternal life. The only cause of justification is God’s grace expressed in Christ’s atoning death on the cross. That is the place of salvation. But if I do not comply with the conditions of salvation—surrender and obedience–I refuse to place myself where salvation happens, at the cross, and salvation (of others) will happen without me. The death of Christ is the meritorious cause of salvation, while surrender and obedience have no merit but make it possible for the cause to save me. Salvation is caused by grace, not by obedience, but obedience places me where the power of the cross can launch me into eternal life.
It is not correct to say that first we are justified and saved, and then obedience will naturally follow along. What if the astronauts would decide to delay obedience to the conditions of space flight until the rocket engines fire properly? If I want to be justified, then I must coordinate properly the cause and the conditions of salvation. Both are essential, each in its proper function.
A more familiar aspect of sanctification is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, 3. “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and… For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” Sanctification is also a growing experience, in which we understand more and more of God’s will, and our character grows correspondingly.
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) As we spend time with God, we see more and more of His glory, and we become more and more like Him in character. Our lives reflect more of His holiness as we spend more time in His presence.
Just as there are two parts to justification, being declared forgiven and being transformed, there are two parts to sanctification, being declared holy and growing in holiness. The first part is declaration; the second part is experience. It is incorrect to say that justification is the all-important part of salvation because that is when God declares me to be righteous, while sanctification is secondary because is my work.
“At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God’s purpose for us is fulfilled, there will be continual advancement.” (COL 65) “Sanctification is a state of holiness, without and within, being holy and without reserve the Lord’s, not in form, but in truth. Every impurity of thought, every lustful passion, separates the soul from God; for Christ can never put His robe of righteousness upon a sinner, to hide his deformity.” (OHC 214) I think it is important to note that we do not grow into sanctification, we grow in sanctification. From the sanctified state in which we are placed at conversion, we advance continually in maturity. As long as we do not allow sin to separate us from God, we continue to grow in holiness.
“Paul’s sanctification was a constant conflict with self. Said he: “I die daily.” His will and his desires every day conflicted with duty and the will of God. Instead of following inclination, he did the will of God, however unpleasant and crucifying to his nature.” (4T 299) The fallen nature does not disappear at conversion, and the sanctification experience is putting that nature, with its selfish desires and inclinations, to death every day. Perhaps it is important to note here that natural desires and inclinations are temptations, not sins, even though they remain with us from birth to death. There is a simple bottom line to being saved-we must die daily to our natural desires and inclinations. Then we will have the assurance of salvation, even if the theology of it all may not be fully understood. Every day our selfish nature must be crucified, in a new commitment with the Lord. Disobedience and selfish acts are never a part of sanctification, and they must be rejected daily in order to maintain a sanctified experience.
“Christ alone can help us and give us the victory. Christ must be all in all to us. He must dwell in the heart, His life must circulate through us as the blood circulates through the veins. His Spirit must be a vitalizing power that will cause us to influence others to become Christ like and holy.” (58C 1144) It is absolutely critical to understand that sanctification is not our good works or partly our works combined with God’s grace. Sanctification is God’s work from beginning to end. It is His grace, His power, His righteousness, all imparted to the willing disciple. Our part is to place our will on God’s side and do the things which allow His grace to continue to flow through us.
In justification, our part is to believe God, to choose to serve Him, to surrender everything to His control, and to confess our sins. It is God’s part to forgive us, to count us righteous, to cleanse us from the filthy garments which we have accumulated over the years, and to create a new person with completely different values and desires from the “old man.” In sanctification, our part is to choose to obey God’s commands, to surrender our weak fallen natures to Him daily, and to carry out whatever God makes possible in our lives. It is God’s part to count us holy, to dwell within us constantly, to empower our wills to carry out what we have chosen, and to give us the ability and strength to obey Him in all of the areas in which He requires obedience. What God commands, He always enables. The bottom line is: Sanctification is by faith alone, just as justification, not by faith plus works.
What about Effort?
Some suggest that no human effort is involved in justification, while much human effort is involved in sanctification. For this reason only justification has saving value, while sanctification is a combination of God’s grace and human works, and can only be a fruit of salvation. The reality is that exactly the same kind of human effort is involved ‘in both justification and sanctification.
“The battle which we have to fight-the greatest battle that was ever fought by man-is the surrender of self to the will of God, the yielding of the heart to the sovereignty of love… The victory is not won without much earnest prayer and humbling of self at every step. Our will is not to be forced into cooperation with divine agencies, but it must be voluntarily submitted.” (MB 141-142) The resistance of the natural heart to surrender means that an intense struggle will take place before we submit our will to God. This struggle will take place before our justification and new birth. There is an internal conflict when we want to leave the service of Satan for the service of Christ, and this involves painful effort. Both justification and sanctification involve a struggle against selfishness and pride. Both justification and sanctification are by faith alone, but neither are without effort.
“To renounce their own will, perhaps their chosen objects of affection or pursuit, requires an effort, at which many hesitate and falter and turn back. Yet this battle must he fought by every heart that is truly converted… We must gain the victory over self, crucify the affections and lusts; and then begins the union of the soul with Christ. After this union is formed, it can be preserved only by continual, earnest, painstaking effort.” (5T 47-48) Notice that this effort comes before we can begin our walk with Christ in the new birth, and more effort is needed to preserve our walk with Christ in the growing process. Surrender, whether in justification or sanctification, is a life and death struggle, because self does not want to die. The greatest effort involves the perennial struggle to subdue self-will. Human effort is a part of the saving process from beginning to end. It might even be argued that more effort is needed before justification can take place than in sanctification, when God has created a new heart within us in the new birth. The real struggle is to surrender the will to God. The greatest effort we will ever exert in this world is to be justified by faith. The danger in human effort comes when we try to earn our salvation by human rules, or when we try to do God’s part in the saving process with our human abilities.
Are We Saved While Sinning?
A recent book poses this crucial question: “Is it possible to sin and to know you are sinning and keep on doing what you’re doing wrong, and still be a Christian?” This is one of the most important questions that we as sinners in need of salvation could possibly ask. In answer, the book refers us back to the experience of the disciples and Christ. “The disciples continued their discussion along the road to Jerusalem, taking care of their unfinished business. But they knew what they were doing was wrong, because they lagged behind Jesus.” The unfinished business was their argument about who would be the greatest in Christ’s soon-coming kingdom. Now these disciples had been forgiven by Jesus, brought into a special relationship with Jesus, and set apart for a special work by Jesus. They had been justified, but their sanctification was not working very well at the moment. They were not experiencing holiness at the moment. “From this Scripture lesson we see that the disciples were guilty of sin. What sin? The sin of pride… Pride is one of the worst sins in God’s eyes… So the sin of which the disciples were guilty was not only sin, it was a bad sin. And they knew it was wrong, and they knew what they were doing, but they kept right on doing it… .That qualifies in my definition as known sin, continuing sin, habitual sin, cherished sin, persistent sin… On the basis of this Bible story, we can conclude that it is possible to have a relationship with God going on and to have a known sin going on in your life at the same time.” (Morris Venden, How Jesus Treated People. pp. 43-46)
The concept here is that since the disciples had been justified, and since they were following after Christ, the fact that they were willfully sinning did not invalidate their relationship with Christ. In this gospel, the only way one can lose his or her salvation is to reject Christ and justification. As long as one is professedly following Christ and has been justified, the state of one’s sanctification is irrelevant to one’s saved status. Since the disciples had not denied Christ or justification, they were just not exhibiting the fruits of salvation very well. The absence of a sanctified heart, with pride and jealousy controlling the life, did not disqualify them for heaven. (Do we remember that Lucifer was cast out of heaven for holding pride and jealousy in his heart?) This is the result of the gospel teaching that says that only justification is necessary for salvation, while sanctification comes along later as the fruit of salvation.
We find similar teachings in the book Beyond Belief. “Many sincere Christians are trapped in a subtle form of legalism, living in fear and insecurity. Every time we fall or sin we become unjustified. This is another common misunderstanding about justification. It is a monstrous teaching that has no support from the Word of God… If we believe that we lose our justification in Christ each time we sin, we completely invalidate the truth of justification by faith.” (p. 104) “Stumbling under grace, falling into sin, does not deprive us of justification. Neither does it bring condemnation.” (p. 166)
In this gospel, the disciples were just stumbling under grace, so they remained justified and saved while the spirit of Satan was controlling their hearts. This is the result of teaching that only justification qualifies one for salvation, while sanctification is an add-on experience once one’s saved status has already been secured. Is there any wonder that we are having a hard time with lifestyle issues in Adventism today? If jewelry and immoral movies and rock music are only add-ons to salvation, then why make such a fuss about them? Especially our young people are hearing this message very clearly. Our reasoning about being a good witness or a mature person or a better example are very weak and ineffectual against the glamour of sinful activities. If they hear constantly that you are still in Christ and saved while participating in sin, then sin is not nearly so ugly anymore. They are asking a bottom line question: “What is absolutely necessary for me to be saved?” And the answer we are giving them is “Justification alone.” Sanctification and maturity and obedience will all come along later, maybe years down the road, as good fruits gradually appear on the tree. Focus on being justified, and obedience will take care of itself. Of course, our lifestyle problems are not limited to young people. We are having church-wide problems with Sabbath keeping, alcohol use, divorce and remarriage, immorality, and a host of other “sanctification” issues. As long as we continue to teach that sanctification does not qualify us for heaven, but is a fruit of salvation, our lifestyle problems will only increase.
Now we are going to look at some very clear statements from the Spirit of Prophecy. As you read them, compare each one carefully with the statements quoted above. “The willful commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit, and separates the soul from God. Whatever may be the ecstasies of religious feeling, Jesus cannot abide in the heart that disregards the divine law….We cannot for one moment separate ourselves from Christ with safety.” (MYP 114-115) “But the commission of any known sin, the neglect of known duties, at home or abroad, will destroy faith, and disconnect the soul from God.” (FLB 138) “Wrong feelings have been cherished, and there have been pride, self-sufficiency, impatience, and murmurings. All these separate us from God.” (GAG 139) “He (Satan) exults when we are overcome and the spirit of impatience and faultfinding is indulged… This grieves the Spirit of God and separates us from our Strength.” (UL 35) “Any sin in them separates them from God.” (5T 661) “Every impurity of thought, every lustful passion, separates the soul from God, for Christ can never put His robe of righteousness upon a sinner to hide his deformity.” (OHC 214) “Well may the question be asked with earnest, anxious heart, ‘Is envy cherished, is jealousy permitted to find a place in my heart?’ If so, Christ is not there.” (Letter 55, 1886) “Just as soon as we separate ourselves from God by sin, which is the transgression of the law, Satan takes control of our minds.” (RH July 12, 1887) “The least regard for iniquity cherished in the heart will sever us from the communion and help of Heaven.” (RH March 27, 1888) “When we give way to impatience, we drive the Spirit of God out of the heart, and give place to the attributes of Satan.” (2SM 236) “Sin is from beneath; and when it is indulged, Satan is enshrined in the soul, there to kindle the very fires of hell.” (41 345) “If we give him (Satan) the least encouragement.. .he will take possession of the mind, and then, although we may even think that we are being wonderfully led by the Lord, we shall be deceived.” (RH July 9, 1908)
It is too clear for any possible misunderstanding. Sin separates us from God. When sin is cherished, Satan takes control of the heart, and the Spirit of God is driven out. How could we possibly think that we are in a saved condition while sinning? We are even warned that we might experience ecstasies of religious feelings and think that the Lord is leading us while we are in this condition. Self-delusion and rationalization are major components of Satan’s attempts to deceive us into a false sense of security.
There are some equally clear statements about our justified status while sinning. “It is by continual surrender of the will, by continual obedience, that the blessing of justification is retained.” (1SM 397) “No one who truly loves and fears God will continue to transgress the law in any particular. Whatever his profession may be he is not justified, which means pardoned.” (MLT 250) “In order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience.” (1SM 366) “We should not be satisfied until every known sin is confessed, then it is our privilege and duty to believe that God accepts us.” (RH Sept. 4, 1883) “Every transgression brings the soul into condemnation and provokes the divine displeasure.’ (4T 623)
It is crystal clear that the justified state and obedience are as closely linked as are hydrogen and oxygen in water. Where obedience is missing, there is no justification. Only when our sins are confessed, which is not while we are participating in them, are we accepted by God. Every sin we choose to commit carries with it the penalty of condemnation. No matter how ingenious the interpretive devices, the Evangelical gospel cannot he supported from the Spirit of Prophecy. While the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them, while their hearts were filled with pride and jealousy, they were in an unsanctified, unjustified, unsaved state. Only upon repentance and confession could their salvation be restored. The disciples simply did not maintain a steady relationship with Christ until after Pentecost.
The summary of all these statements can he found in MH 180. “His (Christ’s) life declares that humanity, combined with divinity, does not commit sin.” Isn’t it easy enough to understand that the divine-human connection in Christ made sin impossible as long as the connection was maintained? Then why would the divine-human connection in us be any different? Will the divine nature in us commit sin, when it did not in Christ? So when I am sinning, it is clear that I have broken the connection somehow, and my first priority should be to restore the connection. “Harshness, roughness in words or in manner, evil speaking, passionate words, cannot exist in the soul that is looking unto Jesus.” (YI Feb. 10, 1898) In other words, unchristlike behavior and a genuine relationship with Christ are incompatible. We can have one or the other, but not both at the same time.
Perhaps it is good for us to look at the bigger picture here. Sin is not just about me and my salvation. Sin is dishonoring God and proving that Satan is right in the great controversy when he says that God’s law cannot be obeyed, particularly by those who have fallen natures. How can God be vindicated when His people are proving Satan right a good share of the time? This is why the sins of believers are far more serious than the sins of unbelievers. They are showing that God’s law and His power are no match for the deceptions of Satan. Unless the divine-human connection shows that God’s grace has more power than Satan, what is the point of it all? Justification and sanctification are God’s way of revealing His power to transform and restore, not just to forgive and overlook.
Legalism has been a serious problem for Adventists, but now we face an even more serious problem. False assurance is going to destroy far more Adventists than legalism ever did. False assurance is presently our greatest enemy and Satan’s most successful deception. And false assurance feeds off of the Evangelical gospel that justification saves while sanctification is the fruit of salvation.
Now all of this could be very discouraging for us, except for one thing-God’s love. God is not looking for ways to reject us. He is the seeking God, the One who will not let us go, even when we are rebelling against Him. While He cannot save us in sin, He will continue to love us and draw us back to Him. When we fall into sin, there are two ways that we can deal with our sin. The human way-Satan’s way-is to justify our sin and excuse it. That is the way of separation from God, and there can be no salvation while separated from Him. The right way to deal with personal sin is to recognize it for what it is as soon as it happens within us. We see that once again we are dishonoring God and vindicating Satan, and we fall on our knees immediately in deep repentance. There is only one thing that should scare us in this mortal life, and that is watching our hand slip out of the hand of our heavenly Father. Immediately we ask God to reach down and grasp our sinking hand and pull us up to safety again. Nothing matters-not ego or reputation or image–except reconnecting with God. As long as the connection is maintained, we can have full assurance of salvation. This means that we have to deal with sin, not just assume that it will go away. We need to allow God to fix the sin problem in us. “Just as soon as you commit sin, you should flee right to the throne of grace, and tell Jesus all about it.” (ST Feb. 15, 1892)
But what about the person who sins and doesn’t have a chance to repent before he dies? Perhaps he loses his temper and is killed in an accident. We have come up with all kinds of theories to cover that hypothetical situation. Our favorite theory seems to be that God sees the general direction of his life and so ignores his loss of temper. Let us listen to God’s answer to this difficult problem. “Satan has sought to afflict and ruin you, and even to take your life; but your Saviour has shielded you again and again, lest you should be cut down when your heart was filled with a satanic frenzy, your tongue uttering words of bitterness and unbelief against the Bible and against the truth you once advocated.” (5T 338) “The angels never leave the tempted one a prey to the enemy who would destroy the souls of men if permitted to do so. As long as there is hope, until they resist the Holy Spirit to their eternal ruin, men are guarded by heavenly intelligences.” (OHC 23) “If they yield to the enemy, and make no effort to resist him, then the angels of God can do but little more than hold in check the host of Satan, that they shall not destroy, until further light be given those in peril, to move them to arouse and look to heaven for help.” (1T 345) The answer lies in God’s love, not in the Evangelical gospel. We are not saved while sinning, hut God will protect us as long as there is hope of repentance. God protected the disciples while they were sinning, He protected David while he was sinning, and He will do no less for us. The sincere person will have a chance to repent before death. That is God’s promise, and we should trust in that rather than in false gospels.
Anyone who assures you that there is safety in disobedience is teaching a false gospel, which is far more serious than a false day of worship. There will be many people in heaven who have never kept the Sabbath, but there will be no disobedient people there. This is why Satan is desperately trying to substitute a false gospel for the real one. He doesn’t have to destroy the Sabbath or soul-sleep or the second coming. All he has to do is to destroy the gospel of Adventism and he has sealed our doom, because there is simply no way for Adventism to complete its mission without the everlasting gospel. This is how he is attempting to deceive the “very elect” today. The elect are hearing those whom they have trusted and respected proclaim a false gospel, and it is very persuasive. May God help us in this emergency!
Some wonder how they can discern between truth and error when there are credible people teaching opposite things. The best way to judge a teacher’s work is not by what he or she says. The best practical way to determine truth and error is to watch the net effect of the message on those who believe it. Don’t focus on a few extremists who take the message into fanaticism, but look at what is happening generally among those who are accepting the message. The evangelical gospel has been having a strong impact on the Seventh-day Adventist Church for about twenty years, so it is appropriate to examine the results of this gospel in the lives of church members. A number of church analysts have warned that we are not passing on the torch very well to the next generation. We are teaching the next generation how to be Christians, but not the vital place of Adventism in the fulfillment of prophecy. We are blending into the mainstream of Christianity. As one person put it, we are becoming one more gray church in a sea of gray churches. Adventism has long been known for its high lifestyle standards, but we have become so afraid of legalism that we have been eliminating these standards one by one. We are allowing the values of popular culture to replace the values which Adventism has held for its first hundred years. In short, we are in serious danger of losing our identity-our reason for existence. The concepts of the final atonement and the vindication of God are not only ignored, but actively opposed. It is my opinion that these effects are the direct result of the popularity of the Evangelical gospel among us today. This gospel is producing its fruits. It teaches that doctrines and standards are not essential to salvation-all that is important is a “relationship with Christ.” If we allow this gospel to continue to invade Adventism, we are destined to preside over the slow death of a God-ordained movement of prophecy.
A Voice from the Past
In an Adventist Review article (August, 1996), Robert Folkenberg directed our attention to an individual who had no connection to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but who had something vitally important to tell us.
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him, come and die.”
These words become even more powerful when we realize that they were chiseled out by a young German theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by the Nazis in the late days of the Second World War. Though he could have enjoyed a safe, comfortable professorship at some American seminary, Bonhoeffer instead lost his life fighting a regime he viewed as antithetical to every principle of Jesus Christ. Arrested for his anti-Nazi activity, Bonhoeffer sat in a Gestapo prison for two years before he was hung by his neck in early April 1945, a week before the Allies liberated the camp. Better than most, Bonhoeffer understood the meaning of his own words “When Christ calls a man, He bids him, come and die.” In this statement Bonhoeffer captured the essence of Christian discipleship, which is death to self and complete surrender in faith and obedience to the will of God.
In his landmark book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer said some things which we in Adventism need very much to hear today. “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.” What exactly did he mean by “cheap grace”? “The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. But those who try to use this grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.”
Bonhoeffer focused especially on what had happened to the Christian Church because of cheap grace. “But do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang? The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost… Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church. This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. Instead of opening up the way to Christ it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. Perhaps we had once heard the gracious call to follow Him, and had at this command even taken the first few steps along the path of discipleship in the discipline of obedience, only to find ourselves confronted by the word of cheap grace. Was that not merciless and hard? The only effect that such a word could have on us was to bar our way to progress, and seduce us to the mediocre level of the world, quenching the joy of discipleship by telling us that we were following a way of our own choosing, that we were spending our strength and disciplining ourselves in vain-all of which was not merely useless, but extremely dangerous. After all, we were told, our salvation had already been accomplished by the grace of God. The smoking flax was mercilessly extinguished…. Having laid hold on cheap grace, they were barred forever from the knowledge of costly grace.” Do we not hear this same message in Adventism today? To talk about obedience is legalism. We must focus on love and acceptance. After all, everything about salvation has been accomplished on the cross.
“Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace-whereas they had in fact lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.” This is what makes cheap grace so dangerous. When one has a false assurance of salvation, he doesn’t want anything else, because he feels so good. Costly grace, involving surrender and obedience, is viewed as fanaticism. And how fascinating that fifty years ago, speaking in a completely different context to a different church, Bonhoeffer warned that cheap grace is far more destructive than legalism. Are we listening?
But what exactly is cheap grace? It is natural for us to say that we don’t believe in cheap grace. We don’t believe that Christ has done it all and we do nothing. Follow very carefully as Bonhoeffer explained how this works.
The idea of a situation in which faith is possible is only a way of stating the facts of a case in which the following two propositions hold good and are equally true: only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes. It is quite unbiblical to hold the first proposition without the second. We think we understand when we hear that obedience is possible only where there is faith. Does not obedience follow faith as good fruit grows on a good tree? First faith, then obedience. If by that we mean that it is faith that justifies, and not the act of obedience, all well and good, for that is the essential and unexceptionable presupposition of all that follows. If, however, we make a chronological distinction between faith and obedience, and make obedience subsequent to faith, we are divorcing the one from the other–and then we get the practical question, when must obedience begin? Obedience remains separated from faith. From the point of view of justification it is necessary thus to separate them, but we must never lose sight of their essential unity. For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith In the act of obedience. Since, then, we cannot adequately speak of obedience as the consequence of faith, and since we must never forget the indissoluble unity of the two, we must place the one proposition that only he who believes is obedient alongside the other, that only he who is obedient believes. In the one case faith is the condition of obedience, and in the other obedience the condition of faith…. In the end, the first step of obedience proves to be an act of faith in the word of Christ. But we should completely misunderstand the nature of grace if we were to suppose that there was no need to take the first step, because faith was already there. Against that we must boldly assert that the step of obedience must he taken before faith can be possible. Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe. (pp. 40..75)
Notice very carefully his point here. If we consider obedience to be a fruit of justifying faith, then we have divorced faith from obedience, because obedience is no longer essential to salvation. Obedience may logically begin ten years after justification, because it is not part of justification. Remember also that the heart of the Evangelical gospel is that obedience is not a sign of justification, but a fruit of justification. Bonhoeffer is here attacking the very core of the Evangelical gospel.
Exactly what is cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer? Teaching that obedience follows faith, as good fruit grows on a good tree. Teaching that obedience is the result of salvation, rather than the condition of salvation. This, he said, is destroying the church and causing the loss of more souls than legalism. Perhaps it is important to remember that his conclusions were based solely on the Biblical evidence. He saw clearly the unified relationship between faith and obedience. To separate them is to teach cheap grace. Based on this understanding, is not cheap grace being widely taught in the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
How important it is to remind ourselves again that faith is only real when there is obedience, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience. Obviously then, obedience is the condition of there being faith at all. The Bible is full of examples of this close relationship, from Abel to Noah to Abraham to David to our Saviour. It is only by artificially ripping apart the obvious evidence that we can construct an Evangelical gospel.
The Bible simply does not substitute love for holiness. True love and holiness go hand in hand, as we separate from all uncleanness and impurity. When we lose the desire for personal holiness, the doctrine of sanctification is gone. Inspiration reminds us that “holiness of heart and purity of life was the great subject of the teachings of Christ… Perfection, holiness, nothing short of this, would give them success in carrying out the principles He had given them.” (2T 445)
I would recommend the following practical suggestion about personal involvement in the justification-sanctification process. “It is for you to yield up your will to the will of Jesus Christ; and as you do this, God will immediately take possession, and work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. Your whole nature will then be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; and even your thoughts will be subject to Him. You cannot control your impulses, your emotions, as you may desire, but you can control the will, and you can make an entire change in your life. By yielding up your will to Christ, your life will be hid with Christ in God, and allied to the power which is above all principalities and powers.” (ST 514) Even if theological distinctions might he difficult to understand, we can do this. We can yield the will to Jesus. We can allow Him to take full possession of our lives. We can allow Him to do His good work in us. Only in this way will we have any power over our fallen natures and Satan. If we will only yield up the will daily to Jesus, we will have power beyond our ability to explain, and we will not have to rely on a false gospel to give us false assurance of salvation. God’s way is always better than human devisings. May the gospel of Abraham and Jesus and Paul be our gospel today.