THE HUMAN NATURE OF CHRIST--REVISITED
There are some subjects that people just don't like to talk about. Even when they are appropriate for discussion, they are carefully avoided. Often we are told that these subjects are not important to understand, that they really don't make any difference. During the last twenty-five years the human nature of Christ has been one of these subjects. How many speakers are willing to speak publicly about it? Yet, strangely, this subject seems to keep on appearing in our publications. A recent example of this comes from Ministry magazine.
Old Issues Ongoing
"While there is a profound fatigue within the Adventist soul when it comes to such discussions and the tensions and divisions they tend to bring, there is also a compelling significance to aspects of the dialogue. [The reason for the compelling significance is because the subject is so tightly intertwined with issues in the great controversy and the plan of salvation.] The publication of two articles in this journal have and will inevitably raise questions about these things among some of our readers.
"First, there is Roy Naden's doctrinal study, 'The Nature of Christ: Four Measures of a Mystery.' Then there is Woodrow Whidden's important article in this issue, reporting and commenting on the republication of the book Questions on Doctrine.
"Given these articles, we felt it would be both helpful and interesting to republish an insert...that Ministry first presented 33 years ago in its October 1970 issue.
"While volumes of water have passed under the theological bridge of our Church since 1970, we at Ministry find ourselves in basic agreement with the positions that were taken on the issues discussed by the three essayists in this insert....
"It is clear that Jesus was born and came to this earth under entirely unique circumstances, different from ours, and therefore received a one-of-a-kind nature....His nature is and was completely sinless." Ministry, August, 2003, p. 4, brackets supplied by present author
Evidently the editors felt that the issue of Christ's human nature was sufficiently important to dedicate several articles to prove that Christ's nature was substantially different from ours.
Four Basic Issues
The following statements are taken from Roy Naden's article. ( Ministry , June, 2003, pp. 8-11)
"Unlike us in our sinful state, Jesus had not the slightest inclination or desire to sin." The first point is that Christ had not the slightest inclination to selfishness, pride, impatience, doubt, discouragement, or avoiding of trials.
"He had accepted our humanity with the physical limitations which thousands of years of sinful disintegration had imposed, but He took human nature without in any way inheriting the sinfulness of being human. Mystery!" The second point is that Christ had a partial human inheritance, because He inherited no sinful inclinations. "He inherited our human nature, but not the sinfulness of this exceedingly sinful human heritage. Mystery!"
Eric Webster supported this viewpoint in a letter to the editor. ( Ministry , October, 2004, p. 30)
"In speaking of the birth of Seth, Ellen White writes: 'Seth...inherited from the nature of Adam no more natural goodness than did Cain. He was born in sin' ( Signs of the Times , Feb. 20, 1879)....If Christ possessed a sinful nature as Seth did He would have needed a Saviour." The third point is that a sinful nature is sin, and in need of forgiving grace.
"Was Christ like Adam before the Fall or after the Fall? I would say both. He was like Adam before the Fall in His sinlessness, purity, and holiness of mind and character. He was like Adam after the Fall in the frailties, infirmities, and weaknesses of the flesh. As Naden says, ' Jesus was affected by sin but not infected.'" Once again we are being told that Jesus accepted a partial heredity of the human race.
The following statements are taken from a "Supplement to THE MINISTRY," (October, 1970, reprinted August, 2003).
"Adam's posterity has ever come into the world inheriting fallen, sinful natures, evil propensities, and apart from the Saviour, condemnation to eternal death." (p. 7) It is of some interest that there is no mention of automatic condemnation in our official statement of belief #7. "Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil." ( Ministry , June, 2003, p. 8)
In the Ministry Supplement we are told that "Christ did not inherit at birth the fallen nature inherited by Adam's posterity....If Christ had inherited the evil nature earned by Adam's fall He too would have been born in sin, under condemnation, and, therefore, Himself in need of a Saviour....He did not have that within His nature that predisposed Him toward sinning. He did not possess the passions and inner promptings which we are daily obliged to subject by the grace of God."
God's people are limited by "their inability to equal in a positive way the infinite character perfection of Christ because their natures, faculties, mental and moral powers or capacities are still imperfect and remain so until the second coming of Jesus....As long as we retain these imperfect faculties, as long as our powers are inferior, as long as our basic human natures show such evident results of the Fall, we cannot claim to be sinless."
"He did not inherit the type of nature that we inherit at birth. If this were so He inherited the type of human nature which...is to be the possession of God's people at the Second Advent." Again we are told that Christ did not inherit normal human nature, but received a special, created nature.
"It is not possible for them in this life to achieve perfect equality with the human nature of Christ because of their possession, until the Second Advent, of faculties, powers, and capacities which result from man's fall into sin." (pp. 7-16)
"To teach from the Bible uses of this word (perfect) that ultimate sinless perfection is possible to inherently sinful man here on earth is not supported by the Word of God, and is denied by the very nature of man himself." The fourth point is that as long as we possess fallen nature we can never be sinless.
"Salvation by grace and the merits of Christ's atonement still avails for the saints after probation closes." Saving grace is "available at any time in the Christian life until the day of our Lord's coming....Sinners are the only persons with whom saving grace is concerned....There is no evidence anywhere in Scripture or in the Spirit of Prophecy that indicates the slightest change in salvation by grace ministered daily to the saints." We need to grasp "the Biblical doctrine of salvation by grace beyond the close of probation....If he is under grace, then it is because he is not yet sinless." (pp. 18-22) If we will always be sinners and never sinless, then we will always need saving or forgiving grace until Jesus comes.
"Note the results of Adam's sin insofar as it pertains to us: we were made sinners,...we are born in a state of guilt inherited from Adam....We inherit guilt from Adam so that even a baby that dies a day after birth needs a Saviour though the child never committed a sin of its own." (p. 27)
Those who believe that Christ did not take our fallen nature hold these four points as central to their position. It is precisely these four points that are at issue in any discussion of Christ's human nature, and it is for these reasons that the issue of Christ's nature is not likely to go away any time soon.
Some Recent History
In the early 1980's there were rather lengthy debates in our church papers over these very issues. Norman Gulley wrote about the pre-Fall and post-Fall views that "both views are found within Scripture and in the writings of Ellen White....Jesus came from the hands of the Creator Holy Spirit--'that Holy thing'--just as much the result of the creative work of God as was the first Adam." This means that Christ's human nature was created, not inherited. "He was like the first Adam, or like that which the redeemed will be when changed at the Second Advent....He took that weakened, deteriorated sin-affected nature--but, without taking its propensities or taint of sin, predisposing to a leaning to sin....He had a pre-Fall and a post-Fall human nature combined in a unique way....Sin is not so much a breaking of the law as it is a broken relationship that leads to lawbreaking. Did Christ have a broken relationship with either God or man in coming into history?" ( Adventist Review , June 30, 1983, pp. 4-8)
"The Bible opposes a sinless birth for all humans. It indicates that all men are 'constituted sinners by Adam's transgression.'...Only the two Adams entered Planet Earth sinless. All others are born sinners....The entire human race is born in that land of estrangement from God." ( Ministry , August, 1985, p. 11)
Now these strongly expressed positions on the nature of Christ, both recent and two decades ago, did not go unnoticed by the readers of our papers. Following are some excerpts from letters to the editors responding to these issues.
"The author has Jesus speaking to Satan: 'I stand here like the first Adam before you tempted him. I, too, have never sinned. And I have a sinless nature like the first Adam at his creation.'...Christ was born a descendent of Abraham. What nature did Abraham and Isaac and Jacob have? A sinful nature, a fallen nature. Jesus took on the nature of man as it was after the Fall....The only nature we have is a sinful nature. It was the only nature available to Jesus when He clad Himself in humanity....It is not the sinful nature that condemns us, but sin. We are all born with a sinful nature. But we are not sinners at birth."
" I was disappointed and bewildered over the confusion that exists because of this and other articles that have come during the last 50 years. When God is leading us out onto a platform of eternal truth, how come we have to step off the one He gave us during the first 100 years? Why do we as a church support teachings which come from those who have not been blessed with the light from the throne of God? Our aim, since the books Questions on Doctrine and Movement of Destiny came out, seems to be to try to satisfy the fears of those who want to follow the papacy's teachings. At the 1901 General Conference, Dr. Waggoner said, 'Do you not see that the idea that the flesh of Jesus was not like ours (because we know ours is sinful) necessarily involves the idea of the immaculate conception of the virgin Mary?' George Knight says, 'Christ's nature created no controversy in the Adventism of the 1890's. It was a generally accepted theological nonissue.'...Why did it in the 1950's? We sought the fame of not being called a 'sect' at the expense of compromising the truth." ( Ministry , June, 2004, p. 3)
"If sin is a state of being inherent within our natures,...
then Christ could not have been born with our nature or He would have been a sinner, and He could not be our example except idealistically (unless He is going to give us unfallen natures too), and therefore we cannot overcome as He did and must continue sinning, and therefore Jesus' primary ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is to administer justification."
"SDA theology does not present two alternative views concerning the human nature of Jesus our Lord....It's as if we as a people have decided to believe that Sundaykeeping and Sabbathkeeping are justified in the eyes of God. Obviously, there has been a change in our historic position."
"Is every baby born with the sentence of the second death hanging over it? Does God ascribe guilt to the newborn baby, making it worthy of the second death even before it has a chance to commit any personal sins?...No one will be cast into the lake of fire because of Adam's sin, but only because of his or her own personal sins....He not only confuses sin with the effects of sin, but moves into the area of making a sinful nature equivalent to sin itself....Since the fallen nature is the same as guilt and sin, every baby born is in need of redemption before it can think or speak or act. This means that Jesus would be guilty by just being born, unless His nature was different from all other babies....How did he establish this inherited 'broken relationship' for infants? By recounting Eve's visit to the tree and speculating that she sinned in her mind by doubting God even before she took the fruit. So the relationship was broken before any act of sin was committed. On this basis, he claims that every baby is born with a broken relationship and in a lost condition, without committing any act of sin. We can only assume that he believes Eve would have been lost whether she ate the fruit or not....
"Please take note that there is a big difference between 'separation from God' and 'the result of separation from God.' Adam's children did not inherit 'separation from God.'...They inherited only the 'result' of Adam's separation from God, which involved a weakened, fallen nature, and the inevitability of the first death....In the same way that he confuses sin with the sinful nature, the results of sin with sin itself, and separation from God with the fallen nature, the author confuses evil propensities with natural propensities....I don't know a single person who believes that Jesus sinned or was born a sinner. Neither do I know anyone who believes that Jesus had 'sinful propensities.' But I do know many who believe that He had 'natural propensities,' just as all of us do, as a result of being born like us, with a fallen nature. Evil propensities are those leanings toward sin that have been cultivated and strengthened by indulgence in sin. Natural propensities are those leanings that have been inherited. Guilt is involved in one, but not the other. It is not sinful unless one yields to the propensity."
"The question of the nature of Christ is not a debate over certain theological fine points....Either the cleansing of the sanctuary that began in 1844 is to purify and perfect a people to stand without sin or our denomination is the result of the inability of a group of disoriented fanatics to admit that their prophetic understandings of Daniel were wrong. The real issue is upon the point of overcoming sin. If Jesus could not enter the conflict and overcome in our flesh, then we cannot."
The author "claims that the Bible gives two definitions of sin--behavior and relationship. Contrary to his assertion, there is only one Biblical definition. First John 3:4 is that one....And further, it has not been proved that a broken relationship with God comes before the act of sinful choice. Isaiah 59:2 states unequivocally that active sin separates man from God. Any discussion to the contrary takes us out of the arena of Biblical exegesis into the quagmire of interpretive philosophy." ( Ministry , December, 1985, pp. 26-27)
It is readily apparent that the reactions to the pre-Fall view of Christ's human nature were very strong, both recently and two decades ago. This issue is not going away or dying down, because the surrounding conclusions are so vital to the mission of the Adventist Church. I will close this section on our recent history with some thoughts from Herbert Douglass, a prominent participant in the debates of the 1980's.
"The view that Jesus assumed Adam's pre-Fall nature appeared only recently within our church. This position emerged in the 1950's during a series of events that saw basic Adventist concepts reformulated. The consequences of these changes have had much to do with the trauma and theological divisions the church has experienced....The study of our Lord's humanity is not 'merely academic hairsplitting.'...Why Jesus became man...can be understood only from the standpoint of the great controversy--a perspective largely missing in 'orthodox' Protestantism as well as in Catholicism....There were several issues, but none more important than Satan's charge that sons and daughters of Adam could not keep God's laws, that such laws were unrealistic and not in the best interest of created beings. Such primary issues determined the kind of humanity our Lord would assume in order to satisfy justice and silence Satan." ( Ministry , August, 1985, pp.
No Inclination to Sin
The first of the four major issues surrounding the human nature of Christ is whether Christ had any normal human inclinations toward sinning. In the Ministry editorial of August, 2003, it is stated that Jesus faced "all the temptations common to humans." Right here we need to consider two New Testament texts together. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Christ "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." James 1:14 tells us that "every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." Was Jesus really tempted like "every man is tempted," or not? The word "lust" certainly includes every man's desire for pleasure, profit, and honor. Were not the wilderness temptations of Christ designed by Satan to fulfill these basic human desires or lusts?
But we are being told today that Jesus had not the slightest desire or inclination to pride, impatience, doubt, or discouragement. If we are tempted when our inclinations or desires draw us to these things, and Jesus did not have these inclinations, then Jesus was not tempted in any of these areas as "every man is tempted."
It is often said that Christ's temptations were to use His divine powers or to abandon His mission of saving man. This is very true, but is this a sufficient reason for ignoring Hebrews 4:15? Was Jesus really tempted like we are tempted ?
Let us check some inspired evidence here. In John 5:30 Jesus said, "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." Why did Jesus say that He did not seek His own will? "The human will of Christ would not have led him to the wilderness of temptation....It would not have led him to endure humiliation, scorn, reproach, suffering, and death. His human nature shrank from all these things as decidedly as ours shrinks from them." ( Signs of the Times , October 29, 1894) If Christ would have followed the natural desires of His human will He would have abandoned His mission and God's plan for Him. In other words, His human will would have disobeyed God, and He had to deny His own will to do the will of His Father. Isn't this exactly like our situation? Our will and desires are naturally in opposition to the will of God, and we must surrender the exercise of our own will in order to obey God.
One inspired sentence has a wealth of meaning in it. "By experiencing in Himself the strength of Satan's temptation." ( Review and Herald , March 18, 1875) Now just where does the strength of Satan's temptations reside? "His (our) strongest temptations will come from within, for he must battle against the inclinations of the natural heart." ( Christ Tempted As We Are , p. 11) If our strongest temptations come from our battle against the inclinations of the natural heart, and if Christ experienced within Himself the strength of Satan's temptations, then obviously those inclinations were within Christ also. "If we had to bear anything which Jesus did not endure, then upon this point Satan would represent the power of God as insufficient for us....He endured every trial to which we are subject." ( Desire of Ages , p. 24) Is the power of God really sufficient to overcome the inclinations of the natural heart? If Jesus did not have these inclinations, then Satan's accusations have never been answered, and our salvation is very uncertain.
"Even doubts assailed the dying Son of God." ( Testimonies , vol. 2, 209) Christ was tempted by His own thoughts not to believe His Father's promises.
"He blessed children that were possessed of passions like His own." ( Signs of the Times , April 9, 1896) Do all children have inherited desires toward selfishness? Christ had the same "passions."
"The Son of God in His humanity wrestled with the very same fierce, apparently overwhelming temptations that assail man--temptations to indulgence of appetite, to presumptuous venturing where God has not led them, and to the worship of the god of this world, to sacrifice an eternity of bliss for the fascinating pleasures of this life." ( Selected Messages , vol. 1, p. 95) Are we not drawn to these things by our own desires? What makes them fierce and overwhelming is our desire for them, and here we are clearly told that Christ had the same temptations.
"He knows how strong are the inclinations of the natural heart." ( Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 177) Just how does He know this? "He knows by experience...where lies the strength of our temptations." ( Ministry of Healing , p. 71) Without question, Jesus has experienced the strength of the inclinations of the natural heart.
In Gethsemane "His depression and discouragement left Him." ( Desire of Ages , p. 694) Was not Jesus drawn to discouragement by His own thoughts and natural inclinations?
"He had the same nature as the sinner." ( Manuscript Releases , vol. 10, p. 176) The question must be addressed
--Was Adam in Eden a sinner? Is a nature partly like Adam and partly like us the same nature as sinners? The reality is that all sinners have fallen natures and are drawn strongly by them.
The difference between Christ and us is not in His being exempt from natural fallen inclinations to sin. The difference is that He did not cherish these inclinations and incorporate them into His character as we do. The temptations of the natural heart were as strong for Christ as they are for us.
No matter what words are used by pre-Fall advocates, if Christ had no natural inclinations to sin, He could not be tempted like us , and one of the major links of Christ with the fallen human race has been destroyed.
The second issue at stake in considering Christ's humanity is the nature of His inheritance, through Mary, of human nature. The only way that Jesus could take human nature without inheriting the "sinfulness of our sinful human heritage" is by His being exempted from some aspects of human heredity. The Holy Spirit would have to block some human genes from reaching Jesus in the normal way. In other words, Mary's genetic deficiencies were altered by the Holy Spirit so that she would pass on a totally unique heredity to Christ, completely unlike the heredity we receive from our parents.
In Romans 1:3 Paul says that Jesus "was made of the seed of David according to the flesh." But we are being told that Christ was made partially but not completely of the seed of David. Ellen White is even more specific. "Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity." ( Desire of Ages , p. 49)
One of Christ's ancestors was Seth. "Seth, like Cain, inherited the fallen nature of his parents." ( Patriarchs and Prophets , p. 80) Whatever Seth received through heredity, Jesus received through heredity. This is the only possible conclusion that can be reached from these passages, and it is due only to a preconceived assumption about the nature of sin that these statements are not accepted at face value.
Harry Johnson, in his book The Humanity of the Saviour , says it most simply and pointedly. "There is no evidence to suggest that the chain of heredity was broken between Mary and Jesus." (London, The Epworth Press, 1962, p. 44)
Protestants have historically rejected the doctrine of the immaculate conception on the basis that it is not found in Scripture. But today many Adventists teach that in the womb of Mary a special miracle was performed so that no sinful tendencies or drives would be passed from Mary to Jesus. We as a church profess to repudiate the doctrine of the immaculate conception, but at the most critical point we fall back on its explanation for Jesus' birth. While we reject Mary's sinlessness, and we reject the teaching that Mary passed nothing on to Jesus through heredity, we eagerly accept a partial blockage of the hereditary line when it comes to desires and tendencies. This is simply a modified and more subtle version of the immaculate conception. Are we really sure that we are out of the Church of Rome? Our current teaching is a direct descendant in the theological line of the immaculate conception.
Sinful Nature Equals Sin
The third issue is the real problem at the heart of all discussions of the human nature of Christ. Does having a sinful nature make one a sinner and in need of a Saviour? If this issue could be resolved, we would have no more disagreements over the humanity of Christ.
The editor of the Adventist Review , William Johnsson , expressed his view very clearly. "Some arguments go on and on because the antagonists never get to the real issue--the underlying concern behind the surface debate....The issue behind the issue is the concept of sin. Those who want to understand more clearly Jesus' human nature would get further if they stopped debating whether Jesus came in humanity's pre-Fall or post-Fall nature and spent time looking at what the Bible says about sin itself....Not only are our acts sinful; our very nature is at war with God. Did Jesus have such a nature? No. If He had, He would Himself need a Saviour. He had...no warping of His moral nature that predisposed Him to temptation." (August 26, 1993, p. 4)
Richard Taylor put it very well in his book, A Right Conception of Sin . "One who does not have correct views of sin is not apt to have correct views of any other fundamental question. This will especially be manifest in regard to his theory of the atonement and God's method of redeeming man." (Beacon Hill Press, 1945, pp. 9-11)
The doctrine of original sin, held by Johnsson and many others in Adventism, twists every aspect of the gospel and the atonement, so that nothing survives intact. It is gradually becoming the dominant view among Adventists, even among those faithful to the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. It is now believed by some who are trusted by loyal, careful Adventist laypeople.
One of the reasons that this subject has seemed so confusing is because of a lack of simple definitions. There is a crucial difference between the effects of sin and sin itself. Although the effects of sin are far-reaching and ultimately lethal, no one ascribes personal guilt or condemnation to the effects of sin. On the other hand, the concept of sin is associated with guilt, condemnation, separation from God, judgment, and the second death. Our focus, as we discuss righteousness by faith or the nature of Christ, must be on sin itself rather than the effects of sin. Our basic question here is simple. Is fallen nature part of sin itself, or is it one of the effects of sin? Our conclusions regarding the nature of Christ will be determined by the answer we give to this simple question.
To say that all babies need a Saviour has become one of the most misleading clichés in current thinking on righteousness by faith. Yes, a baby needs a Saviour, a suffering planet needs a Saviour, blind men and lame men need a Saviour, but not in the sense of personal forgiveness for personal sin and guilt. Once again, we are confusing the effects of sin and sin itself.
James 4:17 tells us that "to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." The clearest texts describing sin say nothing of fallen nature being an inevitable, ongoing state of sin. To say that sin is nature is to say that we are sinning even when we are choosing not to sin. Could it be that this understanding of sin as something inevitable and ongoing has greatly dulled our sensitivity to real sin (transgression of God's law) so that now we have come to accept specific transgressions as simply expressions of the greater sin of having a fallen nature? In other words, we have come to accept sinning as a normal part of life and even Christian life. We have even started calling fallen nature SIN and acts of sin "sins."
Isaiah 59:2 tells us that "your iniquities have separated between you and your God." It is sin that separates us from God, that breaks our relationship with Him, rather than the other way around. Yes, sin is indeed a state, but it follows the decision to sin against God, and it continues as long as the heart remains unrepentant.
Those who want to prove that fallen nature is sin itself rather than an effect of sin have simply not proved their case. Being born into this world means that we are subject to hunger and thirst, weariness and pain, suffering and death. It means that the planet we live on may try to destroy us. It means being born by sinful parents, receiving a sinful nature, and living in a sinful environment. But it does not mean being born guilty of sin or condemned. Although we receive all of the effects of sin, including a fallen nature, we are not automatically guilty of sin.
The conclusion that a man is a sinner by nature does not come from the Bible or Adventism. Its roots reach back to Augustine in the Roman Catholic Church, and it has been transmitted to mainline Protestantism through the writings of Luther and Calvin. Today evangelical Protestants champion this view of sin, and they have been quite eager to see this view become part of Adventism. The evangelical view of sin is accepted within the highest levels of Adventist scholarship today. One wonders, when will we go back to infant baptism, which is the only logical solution for being born in need of a Saviour?
The evangelical position on sin makes it impossible to accept the long-standing Adventist position that Christ took our very nature of sin, triumphing over sin in that dangerous nature. Because of the evangelical position on sin, we are being told that Christ could not be our Substitute if He really took our fallen nature from birth, and we are now forced to devise rather complicated devices to allow Christ to take part of human heredity while being exempted from certain hereditary traits.
It might be well to note one point in regard to being born "in sin." In Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, page 60, Seth was "born in sin." When Ellen White developed this more fully in Patriarchs and Prophets , p. 80, Seth "inherited fallen nature." This parallel passage shows what Ellen White meant by being "born in sin."
No Sinless Perfection
The fourth issue may be the underlying motivation for all the emphasis in recent years on Christ's unfallen or partly fallen nature. In the Ministry editorial at the beginning of this paper are these thoughts. "The soul mate of the 'nature of Christ' issue...is the question, of course, of the role of Christ's imparted sinless perfection, worked out in the heart and behavior of the Christian believer by faith....These particular issues...are particularly potent in the Adventist mind and heart when coupled with the close of 'probation,' the final judgment, and the second coming of Christ." (August, 2003, p. 4)
We quoted statements earlier in this paper that sinless perfection is impossible because of our sinful nature, and that saving grace must be available until Jesus comes because we will never be sinless. Woodrow Whidden put it this way. "Will our nature and performance ever become so sinless this side of glorification (even after the close of probation) that we will cease to need the constant justifying merits of Jesus? Do we really take Ellen White seriously when she says the believers' 'unavoidable deficiencies' are made up for them by the 'imputed' righteousness of Christ and that 'Jesus loves His children, even if they err'?...Isn't perfection primarily an attitude rather than a performance?" ( Ministry , October, 1993)
Might it not be relevant right here to take another look at 1 Peter 2:21,22? "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth."
Ellen White presses home the same theme. "If he did not have man's nature, he could not be our example. If he was not a partaker of our nature, he could not have been tempted as man has been. If it were not possible for him to yield to temptation, he could not be our helper....His temptation and victory tell us that humanity must copy the Pattern." ( Review and Herald , February 18, 1890)
By accepting the evangelical doctrine that the atonement was completed at the cross and that Jesus was born with the sinless human nature of Adam before the Fall, most of our church pulpits no longer tell us that Jesus is our Example in overcoming all temptation and sin. Therefore, the sanctuary message is no longer relevant, and the warning message of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14 is no longer relevant to God's plan of salvation. We can then be saved in our sins, character development is no longer necessary, the commandments of God cannot be kept perfectly by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Prophecy is considered an irrelevant antique of the nineteenth century, and the seventh-day Sabbath is not kept according to Isaiah 58:13.
William Johnsson shared a powerful story in one of his editorials. "Dr. Paul Brand, who pioneered restorative surgery for lepers, tells of an epidemic of measles that struck Vellore in south India, where the Brand family was then living. The Brands had an infant daughter, Estelle, and because of her age she was exposed to high risk. The pediatrician explained that convalescent serum--serum from a person who had contracted measles and had overcome it--would protect the little girl. Word went around Vellore that the Brands needed the 'blood of an overcomer.' 'It was no use finding somebody who had conquered chicken pox or had recovered from a broken leg. Such people, albeit healthy, could not give the specific help we needed to overcome measles. We needed someone who had experienced measles and had defeated that disease,' writes Brand in his book In His image . The Brands located such a person, took out some of his blood, and injected their daughter with the convalescent serum. Armed with the 'borrowed' antibodies, their daughter fought off the invading disease. The injected serum gave her body time to manufacture her own antibodies. Estelle overcame measles--not by her own body's strength, but as the result of a battle that had taken place previously within someone else." ( Adventist Review , April 13, 1989)
I don't think that I have ever seen a better illustration of why Jesus had to come in our fallen nature. Because He has experienced fallen nature and defeated it, we can borrow His antibodies and defeat our fallen nature. And this from an editor who believes that Christ had an unfallen nature!!
Let us take a brief look at some of the inspired evidence that Christ's example proves that the final generation will actually live sinless lives, contrary to what our "experts" are telling us.
"He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life." ( Desire of Ages , p. 49)
"He sent His Son to this world to bear the penalty of sin, and to show man how to live a sinless life." ( Reflecting Christ , p. 37)
"He came to this world and lived a sinless life, that in His power His people might also live lives of sinlessness." ( Review and Herald , April 1, 1902)
"He placed us on vantage ground, where we could live pure, sinless lives." ( Signs of the Times , June 17, 1903)
"Every one who by faith obeys God's commandments, will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression." ( Signs of the Times , July 23, 1902)
"Christ has left us a perfect, sinless example. His followers are to walk in His footsteps." ( Sons and Daughters of God , p. 294)
"Christ's life is a revelation of what fallen human beings may become through union and fellowship with the divine nature." ( Manuscript Releases , vol. 18, p. 331)
"The Saviour took upon Himself the infirmities of humanity and lived a sinless life, that men might have no fear that because of the weakness of human nature they could not overcome....His life declares that humanity, combined with divinity, does not commit sin." ( Ministry of Healing , p. 180)
"God did for us the very best thing that He could do when He sent from heaven a sinless Being to manifest to this world of sin what those who are saved must be in character--pure, holy, and undefiled." ( Manuscript Releases , vol. 9, p. 125)
"Christ came to the earth...to show in the controversy with Satan that man, as God created him, connected with the Father and the Son, could obey every divine requirement." ( Signs of the Times , June 9, 1898)
"Having taken our fallen nature, he showed what it might become." ( Selected Messages , vol. 3, p. 134)
"Brethren and sisters, we need the reformation that all who are redeemed must have, through the cleansing of mind and heart from every taint of sin." ( Counsels on Health , p. 633)
"We are cleansed from all sin, all defects of character. We need not retain one sinful propensity." ( Review and Herald , April 24, 1900)
"Every hereditary and cultivated tendency to sin must be seen, subdued, and cleansed." ( Signs of the Times , July 18, 1895)
"They will hate sin and iniquity, even as Christ hated sin." ( Faith and Works , p. 115)
"When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us." ( Desire of Ages , p. 668)
"They would hate sin with a perfect hatred." ( Fundamentals of Christian Education , p. 291)
The issue of Christ's human nature is not going away any time soon, because the whole plan of salvation is at stake. Hebrews 1:14, 15 tells us that "through death" Jesus would "destroy him that had the power of death" and would "deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Verse 17 tells us that the only way Christ could do this was "to be made like unto his brethren," not in some things but "in all things." Inspiration further tells us, "The great work of redemption could be carried out only by the Redeemer taking the place of fallen Adam." ( Review and Herald , February 24, 1874) It could not be accomplished if Christ took unfallen Adam's place, or if He took no one's place (partially like Adam and partially like us). To be our sinless Substitute, He had to overcome the liabilities of our fallen nature. What had become an irresistible force to man, Christ must make a conquered power.
Even though this statement from the SDA Bible Commentary is not inspired, it shows a deep understanding of Christ's redemptive act. "Christ met, overcame, and condemned sin in the sphere in which it had previously exercised its dominion and mastery. The flesh, the scene of sin's former triumphs, now became the scene of its defeat and expulsion." (Vol. 6, p. 562)
The issue of the Incarnation was, Could God really overcome sin in Satan's ultimate stronghold, the fallen human heart? If human weaknesses and desires could be subject to God's law, then Satan would lose his greatest battle, and the great controversy would be truly decided. But if God would exempt His Son from some human tendencies, then would the great controversy be any closer to its conclusion then when Satan was expelled from heaven?
When Jesus prevailed on the cross, a loud voice was heard in heaven proclaiming, "Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down." (Revelation 12:10) Do we really want to rob Jesus of His great victory under the guise of making Him our "sinless Substitute"? Will we continue to deny Him the full salvation that He wrought not only over acts of sin, but over fallen, weak, sinful human nature, in which Satan thought he reigned supreme since the fall of Adam? Let us allow Christ to be truly our sinless Substitute as well as our holy Example. Only the real Christ, providing a real atonement, can lead His church through to final victory.