WHAT IS THE FINAL ATONEMENT?
Out in the wilderness of Sinai God began a unique program with a band of freed slaves. It was called the sanctuary system, and it was designed to teach Israel how God deals with sin and sinners. However, this sanctuary was but a children's model compared to the real sanctuary in heaven. The book of Hebrews gives us a little glimpse into the real thing in heaven. Hebrews 9:23,24 drives the point home. "It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."
The earthly sanctuary was purified from sin by the blood of specified animals, but the heavenly sanctuary was purified by the atonement of Christ. Christ's work for sinners centered in the real sanctuary, in heaven itself. What we need to do is to look at what is happening in the real sanctuary and how it affects us today. I don't think that any of us has any concept of what that heavenly sanctuary is really like, with all the angels ministering before the King of the universe. The earthly sanctuary was just a teaching illustration of how God is dealing with sin and sinners in the real sanctuary. It is not an exaggeration to say that everything important that pertains to our earth's history and our future is centered in this sanctuary. It is just as true that the reasons for the existence of Adventism--what makes Adventism unique and gives it a legitimate role in this earth's history--is centered in this sanctuary.
The Final Atonement
In Patriarchs and Prophets, pages 357-358, is a significant statement. "The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel the sin; it would stand on record in the sanctuary until the final atonement." Most Christians believe that sin is cancelled at the moment of forgiveness, but the sanctuary teaches us that while the sinner is freed from guilt and condemnation immediately, the record of sin is only transferred to the sanctuary, where it remains until something called the "final atonement." While the sinner stands free and clear, there is something about the sin itself that cannot be disposed of so quickly. In essence, Jesus has taken the responsibility for our sin. There has been a transgression of God's holy law, and even though Jesus died for the breaking of that law, that didn't finish dealing with the problem of sin.
"Then by virtue of the atoning blood of Christ, the sins of all the truly penitent will be blotted from the books of heaven. Thus the sanctuary will be freed, or cleansed, from the record of sin, in the type, this great work of atonement, or blotting out of sins, was represented by the services of the Day of Atonement--the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary, which was accomplished by the removal, by virtue of the blood of the sin offering, of the sins by which it had been polluted."
I am very, very grateful for the sacrificial atonement that took place 2,000 years ago. Without that, there would be no possibility of forgiveness or salvation or eternal life. But the sacrificial atonement was not the end of the atonement process. There was something yet to be done which the Old Testament calls the Day of Atonement and Ellen White calls the final atonement. If we do not understand these concepts clearly, we can have no understanding of why the Seventh-day Adventist Church exists. You see, the sacrificial atonement was in place and taught throughout the world for 1800 years before there ever was a Seventh-day Adventist. Adventism was called into existence because the final atonement was beginning, and this needed to be understood and taught throughout the world just as the sacrificial atonement had been. It is very tempting to join with the Christian world in focusing exclusively on the sacrificial atonement, while we lose sight of the final atonement. But without the final atonement, the sacrificial atonement cannot be brought to completion in dealing with sin and sinners. These two phases of the atonement of Christ are equally vital to the final removal of sin from the universe.
The final atonement is about the blotting out of all sins from the records of heaven. This is when sin and sins go out of existence. They must stay on record until something very important takes place during the final atonement. Once each year, during the Day of Atonement, Israel looked forward to the closing events of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, when the universe would he eternally purified from sin and sinners. We are now at that point 'in earth's history--the time for the final eradication of sin.
Ellen White tried to direct our minds to what is transpiring in the heavenly sanctuary. "The minds of all who embrace this message are directed to the most holy place, where Jesus stands before the ark, making His final intercession for all those for whom mercy still lingers." (EW 254) "Now Christ is in the heavenly sanctuary. And what is He doing? Making atonement for us, cleansing the sanctuary from the sins of the people. Then we must enter by faith into the sanctuary with Him, we must commence the work in the sanctuary of our souls." (Manuscript 8, 1888) Christ's final intercessory work is called "making atonement," and it involves the final purification of the sanctuary from all sin. Note that our relation to this final atonement involves a cleansing work in our own souls.
"All need to become more intelligent in regard to the work of the atonement, which is going on in the sanctuary above. When this grand truth is seen and understood, those who hold it will work in harmony with Christ to prepare a people to stand in the great day of God, and their efforts will be successful." (5T 575) Up to this date our best efforts have not been successful, so it might be well for us to take a good look at the "grand truth" of the final atonement, since that is the only way to success in finishing the great controversy.
It is significant that the word "atonement" comes from words put together that really mean at-one-ment." It means putting back together what has been separated, restoring unity between those who have been estranged. What Jesus did on the cross was the basis for "at-one-ment," because without the cross, no reconciliation would have been possible. But there is yet something to be accomplished to bring full unity between a holy God and a fallen race.
We have become afraid of the term "final atonement" because some have accused us of detracting from the glory and finality of the cross. We must be very clear here. The final atonement does not mean a new sacrifice, or say that the sacrifice of Christ was not sufficient. Christ's sacrifice was sufficient, it was complete, and it will never be repeated in any way. But the atonement process, ratified at the cross, is not complete. Major issues in the great controversy have not been settled. Sins are still on record in the heavenly sanctuary. Full unity has not been accomplished.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that the final atonement is the only contribution that Adventists have made in Christian theology. All of our other teachings we have recovered from the past, where they had become buried under church traditions and error. Will we now become embarrassed with this unique teaching? Many now believe that God's people will not be sinless until the second coming of Christ. But this teaching results in throwing out the doctrine of a cleansed sanctuary in heaven, a rejection of the final atonement in the most holy place, and a de-emphasis on the special sealing to take place in the minds of the 144,000. The truth is that we need to focus our attention on the final atonement now more than we have ever done before.
A Voice From Our Past
During the first half of the nineteenth century M. L. Andreason wrote a number of books, one of which was titled The Sanctuary Service. All of the following references are from pages 299-321 of that book.
The final demonstration of what the gospel can do in and for humanity is still in the future. Christ showed the way. He took a human body, and in that body demonstrated the power of God. Men are to follow His example and prove that what God did in Christ, He can do in every human being who submits to Him. The world is awaiting this demonstration. (Romans 8:19) When it has been accomplished, the end will come. God will have fulfilled His plan. He will have shown Himself true and Satan a liar. His government will stand vindicated.
Right now God's government has not been fully vindicated, in spite of the magnificent accomplishment of the Incarnation. In Christ was seen the full power of the gospel, but that power has not yet been seen in sinful humanity. The power of the gospel has not been fully demonstrated. We have only seen glimpses of this power in the lives of faithful individuals and groups in Christian history. The universe has not yet seen the full power of God's grace in the hearts of human beings. When the gospel--the plan of redemption will be fully demonstrated, then and then only will God's government stand completely vindicated from Satan's charges.
The plan of salvation must of necessity include not only forgiveness of sin hut complete restoration. Salvation from sin is more than forgiveness of sin. Forgiveness presupposes sin and is conditioned upon breaking with it; sanctification is separation from sin and indicates deliverance from its power and victory over it. The first is a means to neutralize the effect of sin; the second is a restoration of power for complete victory.
Do we understand that forgiveness with all of its love and grace is only a way of dealing with the effects of our past sins? It removes our guilt and condemnation, and allows us to stand innocent in the sight of God. But does forgiveness change the fountain out of which our sins flow? Does it change our habits and lifestyle? Satan's great argument against God goes something like this: "Sure you can forgive sinners. You can say, 'I won't hold you responsible anymore. Jesus died in your place. You are no longer guilty.' What's fair about that? Why not forgive me, too? I wanted to be reinstated to my position in heaven once. If you've forgiven these sinners who have done all these horrible things and have accepted them into your family, then accept me too, so I can go back into heaven."
Satan’s argument cannot he brushed aside lightly. How can God just forgive and take people to heaven? Because salvation is more than forgiveness of sin. The old man with a rebellious heart must be changed into a new man with a giving, loving heart. Self-love must he exchanged for selflessness and love for others. Only then will God's mercy and justice be seen clearly. The gospel is about forgiveness and cleansing.
Thus it shall be with the last generation of men living on the earth. Through them God's final demonstration of what He can do with humanity will be given. He will take the weakest of the weak, those bearing the sins of their forefathers, and in them show the power of God. They will be subjected to every temptation, but they will not yield. They will demonstrate that it is possible to live without sin--the very demonstration for which the world has been looking and for which God has been preparing. It will become evident to all that the gospel really can save to the uttermost. God is found true in His sayings.
Will God be found true when He forgives sinner's, or when He shows that His forgiveness leads to victory over sin? It is when God shows--with the weakest of the weak--that His forgiveness has been given correctly, because it leads to victory over sin, that God's demonstration will be effective. We are clearly the weakest of the weak--garden variety Christians--with few heroes of faith among us.
It is in the last generation of men living on the earth that God's power unto sanctification will stand fully revealed. The demonstration of that power is God's vindication. It clears Him of any and all charges which Satan has placed against Him. In the last generation God is vindicated and Satan defeated.
Now we are coming to the focal point of the final atonement. Satan has argued that if God is so loving that He is willing to forgive sinners, then He has negated His law, because He has admitted that His law cannot be kept, so He will just forgive sinners for continually breaking His law. Satan says, "God, You can either have a law and then no one goes to heaven, or You can have grace and everyone goes to heaven, including me. You can't have it both ways. Grace and law are incompatible. You can have one or the other, but not both at the same time." It is God's difficult task to prove that grace and law are compatible, that justice and mercy can kiss each other and can work together in a safe and harmonious universe for all eternity. It is vital for us to understand that this is not easy for God to prove. How can He convince a watching universe that forgiveness and grace will protect the universe against someone, somewhere, trying the sin experiment all over again? Will He have to forgive again, perhaps a thousand times in the future, when His created beings do the same things all over again?
But if God can show that His forgiveness inevitably leads to victory over that which needed forgiveness, and that the gospel provides not only removal of guilt but removal of sin, then God is on the way to disproving Satan's charges. If He can change the hearts of rebels to loyal citizens, who will willingly give up their lives rather than transgress God's law in the smallest detail, then God has proved something about the connection between grace and law.
God's forgiveness, in and of itself, will never vindicate His character, because all it really proves is that God is loving. Forgiveness is just a halfway house, to get us out of slavery to sin, so that freedom is a genuine possibility. If God can show that forgiving grace can be completely replaced by enabling grace--grace for victory--so that the time will come when forgiving grace isn't even necessary anymore and can be dispensed with, because enabling grace has removed the need for forgiving grace, then God will have proved that He is not only able to love sinners but also able to transform them completely. When they are totally transformed, they will be safe to allow into a sinless universe with no threat that they will ever try the experiment of sin again.
The reality is that God has put Himself at great risk by forgiving sinners, because when we do the same things over and over again, and God has to forgive us countless tunes, it looks very much like obedience to God's law really is impossible, and the universe can never be completely safe from the deadly infection of sin. But if it can ever be demonstrated, not by angels in a perfect environment, and not just by Enoch or Jesus or John or Paul, but by a host of garden variety sinners who must live in Satan's world, harassed by a fallen nature and a lifetime of sinful habits, that forgiving grace leads directly to enabling grace, which removes the need for forgiving grace, then God will have proved Satan wrong, when he says, "God, You can forgive their sins, but You can't do anything about their sinning. They will always disobey You."
When grace and law are shown to be compatible, and when mercy and justice are shown to work together, then God's government and His plan of salvation will stand vindicated. The essential point here is that there must come a time when the entire universe can see clearly that forgiving grace has ended forever and has been totally replaced by enabling grace--and God's plan of salvation still works. The only way it can be clearly seen what happens when God's enabling grace has taken total control of God's people is by setting aside a period of time after the close of probation in which the rules change. No longer is forgiving grace available. The whole universe will watch as our High Priest steps out of His role of Forgiver. They will see Him cast down the censer of forgiveness to end that phase of His High Priestly ministry. Then they will see what will happen when only enabling grace will be offered from heaven.
This demonstration must be just this dramatic and universally understood, if God is to safely end the experiment of sin. Today we are still living during the time when forgiving grace and enabling grace work together, with some successes and some failures. But this epoch must come to an end. A demonstration must be made, and that is what the final atonement is all about.
The demonstration which God intends to make with the last generation on earth means much, both to the people and to God. Can God's law really be kept? That is a vital question. Many deny that it can be done; others glibly say it can. When the whole question of commandment keeping is considered, the problem assumes large proportions. God's law is exceedingly broad; it takes cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It judges motives as well as acts, thoughts as well as words. Commandment keeping means entire sanctification, a holy life, unswerving allegiance to right, entire separation from sin, and victory over it. Well may mortal man cry out, Who is sufficient for these things! Yet, to produce a people that will keep the law is the task which God has set Himself and which He expects to accomplish. When the statement and challenge are issued by Satan: "No one can keep the law. It is impossible. If there be any that can do it or that have done it, show them to me. Where are they that keep the commandments?" God will quietly answer, Here they are. "Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." Revelation 14:12.
Up to this point God has not been able to give this answer to Satan. He will not be able to say it until the final atonement has done its complete work. Only then will there be an entire generation who will keep God's commandments all of the time, and not just when it is convenient to do so. It is also crucial to understand what commandment keeping really involves. It involves the whole heart, including motives and feelings. The task is totally impossible for human beings with fallen natures and weakened wills to accomplish. This is God's task and He only can accomplish it. What is necessary for us is to be willing partners in this great demonstration. We must erect no barriers or rationalizations to prevent God from carrying out His task.
When God commands men to keep His law, it does not serve the purpose He has in mind to have only a few men keep it, just enough to show it can be done. It is not in line with God's character to pick outstanding men of strong purpose and superb training, and demonstrate through them what He can do. It is much more in harmony with His plan to make His requirement such that even the weakest need not fail, so that none can ever say that God demands that which can be done by only a few. It is for this reason that God has reserved His greatest demonstration for the last generation. This generation bears the results of accumulated sins. If any are weak, they are. If any suffer from inherited tendencies, they do. If any have an excuse because of weakness of any kind, they have. If, therefore, these can keep the commandments, there is no excuse for anyone in any other generation not doing so also.
We think that we are very intelligent and sophisticated because of our technology, but if we will dig just a bit beneath the outer veneer of civilized society, we will have to face a very unpleasant reality. There is more anger and violence and greed and cynicism and hedonism and immorality and just plain selfishness than ever before in human history. Our minds are more clouded with deceptions of all kinds than in the darkest of Dark Ages. We are definitely the weakest of the weak, and God is ready to face the ultimate challenge. Can He take this extremely unpromising generation and prove His case with them? God always delights in the seemingly impossible, and this generation is His ultimate challenge.
God is ready for the challenge. He has bided His time. The supreme exhibition has been reserved until the final contest. Out of the last generation God will select His chosen ones. Not the strong or the mighty, not the honored or rich, not the wise or the learned, but common, ordinary people will God take, and through and by them make His demonstration. Satan has claimed that those who in the past have served God have done so from mercenary motives, that God has pampered them, and that he, Satan, has not had free access to them. If he were given full permission to press his case, they also would be won over. But he charges that God is afraid to let him do this. "Give me a fair chance," Satan says, "and I will win out." And so, to silence forever Satan's charges; to make it evident that his people are serving Him from motives of loyalty and right without reference to reward; to clear His own name and character of the charges of injustice and arbitrariness; and to show to angels and men that His law can he kept by the weakest of men under the most discouraging and most untoward circumstances, God permits Satan in the last generation to try His people to the utmost. They will be threatened, tortured, persecuted. They will stand face to face with death in the issuance of the decree to worship the beast and his image. (Revelation 13:15) But they will not yield. They are willing to die rather than to sin.
Are we coming near to the place where we are obedient to God not because we want a place in heaven, but because God's character is important to us? That is the song of Moses and the Lamb. Moses and Christ served and obeyed God because they loved Him and were more concerned with His victory in the great controversy than with their own futures. Nothing mattered to them except God's good name. We need to learn that song, that we are serving God without reference to reward. We are obedient, not to earn a place in heaven, but to clear God's name and character of the charges of injustice and arbitrariness that have been brought against Him. This is why God permits Satan to turn loose his most persuasive deceptions on them, and to bring his most powerful pressure to bear on them. Satan will never again be able to claim that God restrained him unfairly. He will have exhausted every avenue of deception and coercion to prove that God cannot keep His promises.
Will they stand the test? To human eyes it seems impossible. If only God would come to their rescue, all would be well. They are determined to resist the evil one. If need be they will die, but they will not sin. Satan has no power--and never has had--to make any man sin. He can tempt, he can seduce, he can threaten; but he cannot compel. And now God demonstrates through the weakest of the weak that there is no excuse, and never has been any, for sinning. If men in the last generation can successfully repel Satan's attack; if they can do this with all the odds against them and the sanctuary closed, what excuse is there for men's ever sinning?
This is why the forgiving ministry of Christ from the heavenly sanctuary must come to an end before the end of earth's history. Satan's most powerful attacks must be matched up against God's enabling grace at a time when forgiveness is not an option. Does the gospel really work? Is God's grace more powerful than Satan's deceptions? Will the future be safe from another rebellion?
The matter of greatest importance in the universe is not the salvation of men, important as that may seem. The most important thing is the clearing of God's name from the false accusations made by Satan. The controversy is drawing to a close. God is preparing His people for the last great conflict. Satan is also getting ready. The issue is before us and will be decided in the lives of God's people. God is depending upon us as He did upon Job. Is His confidence well placed? It is a wonderful privilege vouchsafed this people to help clear God's name by our testimony. It is wonderful that we are permitted to testify for Him. It must never be forgotten, however, that this testimony is a testimony of life, not merely of words. "In Him was life; and the life was the light of men." John 1:4. "The life was the light." It was so with Christ, it must also be so with us. Our life should he a light, as His life was. To give people the light is more than to hand them a tract. Our life is the light. As we live, we give light to others. Without life, without our living the light, our words abide alone. But as our life becomes light, our words become effective. It is our life that must testify for God.
The issue--the only issue of importance--in the last days is the name of God. This must be the motivating factor for us who live at the end of earthly time. Our commission is to bring Satan's lies to an everlasting end, and the only way we can do this is to surrender our lives completely to the power of God. It is the way we live that will show whether our words mean anything. When our words and our lives match up, then our witness will he effective.
All this is closely connected with the work of the Day of Atonement. On that day the people of Israel, having confessed their sins, were completely cleansed. They had already been forgiven; now sin was separated from them. They were holy and without blame. The camp of Israel was clean. We are now living in the great anti-typical day of the cleansing of the sanctuary. Every sin must be confessed and by faith be sent beforehand to judgment. As the high priest enters into the most holy, so God's people now are to stand face to face with God. They must know that every sin is confessed, that no stain of evil remains. The cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven is dependent upon the cleansing of God's people on earth. How important, then, that God's people be holy and without blame! In them every sin must be burned out, so that they will be able to stand in the sight of a holy God and live with the devouring fire.
During the last twenty years we have heard much about Christ's work in the heavenly sanctuary since 1844. We have reviewed the prophetic evidence upon which the confidence of our Adventist pioneers was based, and we have found it to be sound. But there has been a deafening silence about the cleansing work in our hearts corresponding to the cleansing work in heaven. Perhaps the most important sentence of Elder Andreason's appeal is this one: "The cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven is dependent upon the cleansing of God's people on earth." Dependent on? The heavenly sanctuary cannot be cleansed from sin until our hearts are cleansed from sin? Exactly! The great cleansing in God's heavenly sanctuary cannot be completed until the work of final atonement is completed in my heart and yours. As long as there is a fountain of sins flowing from my heart, needing forgiveness, to the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus remains there, in mercy, to continue ministering His forgiving grace. He tarries long, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But that means He must delay His replacing of forgiving grace with enabling grace until His people are ready for it.
It is only when the final atonement shows that God can stop the flow of sins from our hearts that God can justly remove our sins from the sanctuary above. Of what purpose would it be for God to wipe all the sins from the heavenly records and to say that that sanctuary is cleansed, when there is a constant flow of sins coming from my heart needing forgiveness? Satan would have proved his case that all God can really do is to forgive more sins, but He can't cleanse our hearts from all sin.
But if the heart sanctuary can be cleansed at the fountainhead so that rebellion and selfishness no longer flow from within, then the heavenly sanctuary can be legally and effectively cleansed also. The blotting out of sins in my life will be followed by the blotting out of sins in the heavenly sanctuary. Only in that way can Satan's charges be effectively answered. God will prove that enabling grace removes the need for forgiving grace, not because He arbitrarily does something in a sanctuary billions of miles from here, but because He does in the hearts of sinners saved by grace. Only in this way can there be a final end to the great controversy and full vindication of God's way of handling the sin problem. Ellen White puts it very succinctly. "There must be a purifying of the soul here upon the earth, in harmony with Christ's cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven." (Maranatha, p. 249)
So what is the final atonement? It is Christ's final ministry of grace in the heavenly sanctuary, as He replaces forgiving grace with enabling grace in my heart. It is His final process of at-one-ment. I am partly at-one now. I don't sin as often as I used to, but I still sin. I still interrupt the continuous connection I could have with the Holy Spirit. I am not totally at-one yet. The universe is not yet completely safe. Christ must demonstrate that the process of at-one-ment can be completed, so that even if He would leave us here on this sin-cursed earth for another hundred years, we would never sin once. Only then will the universe he totally safe from another attack of sin. God will demonstrate, not state, this incredible fact which Satan says can never happen. The final atonement is Christ ministering His blood, no longer in forgiveness, but in enabling power--power for victory over sin--and it will be seen in our lives.
The Day of Atonement
All of this was foreshadowed by the events during the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament. It was described in Leviticus 16:29-31. "And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that so journeth among you: For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.
Do we understand the full meaning of this day? It is called making "an atonement." There had been sacrifices of atonement--forgiveness--all year long. This is something different. It 1s a cleansing atonement, with the end result being "clean from all your sins before the Lord." It is also important to note that the attitude of the people during this unique day was affliction of their souls. This was not yet a celebration of victory. It was a very serious, solemn day for God's people.
What does this Old Testament day teach us about our lives today? "We are in the great day of atonement and the sacred work of Christ for the people of God that is going on at the present time in the heavenly sanctuary, should be our constant study. We should teach our children what the typical day of atonement signified, and that it was a special session of great humiliation and confession of sins before God. The antitypical day of atonement is to be of the same character." (5T 520) Our lives today are being lived in the Old Testament Day of Atonement. Are we teaching the importance of this day to our children? Often questions are asked like "Why do we do this? Why can't we do that? What's wrong with this?' And we try to find some convincing proof text for our practices. Do we ever say, "We do it this way because we live in the Day of Atonement"? We must never forget that this was a day of "great humiliation and confession of sins before God."
"Let the churches who claim to believe the truth, who are advocating the law of God, keep that law and depart from all iniquity. Let the individual members of the church resist the temptations to practice evils and indulge in sin. Let the church commence the work of purification before God by repentance, humiliation, deep heart searching, for we are in the antitypical day of atonement--solemn hour fraught with eternal results." (2SM 378) The Day of Atonement is about purification, and departing from all iniquity. We are talking here about the highest level of obedience and loyalty to God ever seen in God's professed people.
People sometimes wonder why Seventh--day Adventists advocate "higher" standards than those found in the Bible, such as vegetarianism, and abstinence from alcohol, dancing, and jewelry. Are we just being Victorian, and should we abandon some of these outdated standards? The truth is, if we examine the Bible carefully, we can find several things that God permitted because of His mercy and because of the blindness of men's eyes. In other words, God adapted His ideal will for mankind to the less than ideal cultures in which He found His people. To put it simply, He permitted things that we are not comfortable with today.
God permitted and even blessed the practice of polygamy in the Old Testament. In fact, the twelve tribes of the chosen nation came directly out of a polygamous marriage. God allowed and even gave laws regarding the practice of slavery in the Old Testament. Today we view slavery with great abhorrence as a moral evil, but the Israelites kept slaves on a regular basis. God permitted and even encouraged the armies of Israel to engage in bloody battles, sometimes commanding that they destroy the enemy completely, right down to the livestock. If we wanted to find proof texts allowing us to do all of these things, we could easily find them.
The only way we know that these things were not God's ideal will is by studying the principles in the whole Bible, particularly in the New Testament. We see that God took His people where they were, sometimes in primitive cultures, and led them on gradually toward His ideal will. He revealed and commanded things only as His people were able to understand and respond to new truths. It would be a terrible mistake for us to ignore later revelations of God's will and go back to doing things which He permitted because of the hardness of men's hearts. Therefore we would not think of practicing polygamy, slavery, and warfare today.
This is the reason that we can find evidence that God allowed meat-eating, drinking, dancing, and jewelry in certain instances in the Bible. In all of these cases, we can also find evidence that these were not God's ideal will, but this is often ignored when people want to do certain things which the church opposes. It is relatively easy to find texts which will allow the practice of all these things.
The most important principle which should govern our choice of lifestyle today is the Day of Atonement principle. On this most serious day, in which we live, are we going to ask what is allowable? Are we going to ask what the minimum requirement is for being a Christian? Are we going to go back to the times of ignorance and primitive beliefs to determine our way of life? Or will we focus on the maximums rather than the minimums? Will we seek to live as close as is humanly possible in a world of sin to the way of life in the rest of God's perfect universe? Are we willing to let God's grace save to the uttermost, to do the most possible in human lives scarred by sin and ignorance of God's will?
There is an important principle in Ecclesiastes 3:1-4. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to he born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance." In other words, things are not always wrong in and of themselves, but they are inappropriate at certain times. There was a time for killing and breaking down, but now is the time for healing and building up. The real question for us is, On the Day of Atonement, when everything is on the line for us and for Gods name and His government, is this the time for laughing and dancing? Or is the appropriate time for such behavior when the great controversy is over, and God has refuted all of the false charges brought by Satan? There will be abundant time to laugh and dance on the sea of glass, when the victory is won, but that is not today. The issue is, very simply, what is timely and proper for the Day of Atonement. We read earlier that the Day of Atonement was a time to afflict our souls, to confess our sins, and to walk humbly before God. Is not weeping and mourning more appropriate spiritual behavior right now than laughing and dancing?
We have delayed Christ's coming for over one hundred years. Is that something to rejoice about? We have continued the suffering history of this earth for a hundred more years than God wanted it to continue. By our Laodicean apathy, we have contributed to the deaths of millions of Jews in the death camps of Hitler. Is this really a time of celebrating? Should we he praising ourselves for the great work the Adventist Church is doing throughout the world? Should we look hack on our past history with pride of accomplishment? Or is this a time to weep before the Lord because of our shared responsibility in the delay of God's plans?
Our responsibility in these matters should not lead us to useless self-flagellation, but to positive remedies for this situation. This is the time for us to make sure that all sin is really cleansed from our hearts. This is the time for us to show the world how God's government really operates. I am not talking about being long-faced, but about being repentant. There is a world of difference between those concepts. If we are really contrite and humble before God, we will do certain things as Seventh-day Adventists which were not even requirements during earlier periods of earth's history. This is the Day of Atonement. We are part of God's final demonstration to the universe of His ideal will for mankind. Do we understand these issues and are we teaching them to our children and youth? The superficial answers are not working any more. Why not get right to the real issue--God's final victory in the great controversy?
Our Reason For Existence
The Day of Atonement and the final atonement is the reason for our existence as Seventh-day Adventists. God's name is in jeopardy until He can demonstrate that His grace can produce people who will love Him completely, all of the time, with no questions or reservations, and no quibbling or rationalizing. They just love Him, because He first loved them. And they will prove, once and for all, that love always produces obedience, and for once, this love and obedience will be continuous.
Satan constantly throws our disobedience in God's face as evidence of the impossibility of complete obedience, but this has got to come to an end. The final atonement is God's method of destroying Satan's lies. First He will cleanse our soul temples, and then He will cleanse the heavenly temple of all sin. When that is accomplished, Adventism will have "finished the work" and we can all go home.
Satan is fighting very hard to remove this concept from the mind of every Seventh--day Adventist, because if he can destroy this concept, he can nullify God's calling of this people 150 years ago, and he can delay the coming of Christ much longer. And we must admit, Satan has succeeded to a great extent. Will he be successful with your' mind? Will he erase it from your consciousness, or will you defy him and make the final atonement the focus of your study, and the unifying core of everything you do from now until the second coming of Christ?
Perhaps it would he fitting to conclude this study with the thoughts of one whom God called to help Him complete the final atonement one hundred year's ago--A. T. Jones.
"The finishing of this work... for the sanctuary was likewise the finishing of the work for the people... The cleansing of the sanctuary extended to the people, and included the people, as truly as it did the sanctuary itself... .The finishing of the mystery of God is the ending of the work of the gospel.. .the taking away of all vestige of sin and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness--Christ fully formed--within each believer, God alone manifest in the flesh of each believer in Jesus... In the sanctuary itself, transgression could not be finished, an end of sins and reconciliation for iniquity could not be made... until all this had been accomplished in each person who had a part in the service of the sanctuary.... The sanctuary itself could not be cleansed so long as, by the confessions of the people and the intercessions of the priests, there was pouring into the sanctuary a stream of iniquities, transgressions, and sins... This stream must be stopped at its fountain in the hearts and lives of the worshipers, before the sanctuary itself could possibly be cleansed. Therefore the very first work in the cleansing of the sanctuary was the cleansing of the people… The sacrifice, the priesthood, and the ministry of Christ in the true sanctuary does take away sins forever, does make the comers thereunto perfect, does perfect "forever them that are sanctified." (The Consecrated Way, pp. 113-19)