Do We Have an Adventist Gospel?

DO WE HAVE AN ADVENTIST GOSPEL?

Dennis Priebe

Dale Ratzlaff, a prominent ex-Adventist minister, has written: “Does the SDA doctrine of the cleansing of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment distort, undermine, or contradict the one and only new covenant gospel of grace?” (The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists, p. 319)

Exactly why has there been such opposition to the teaching of the investigative judgment? Less than two years following 1980, former Adventist professor Smuts van Rooyen was asked in an interview, “What do you see as being wrong with the Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment?” He replied:

Letme answer that by reading a statement from Ellen White. She wrote this in the book The Great Controversy. “Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil.  While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven…there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth.”

What the investigative judgment boils down to in practice is this: When John Doe confesses the sin of impatience, that sin is not cancelled, but recorded. The blood of Jesus has simply transferred the sin from John to the sanctuary. In the judgment John must face that sin again. If by that time he has not overcome the sin, it remains against him. This then makes it imperative that John overcome every sin he has ever confessed. He must, in fact, reach perfection….Now perfectionism is a terrible thing and it leads to devastating insecurity in one’s Christian experience, but perfectionism is an integral part of Mrs. White’s investigative judgment doctrine. (“Interview with Smuts van Rooyen,”Evangelica, May, 1982, p. 14)

So the real issue is not 1844, but righteousness by faith, specifically the teaching of victory over all sin before Jesus comes. Some years later, Morris Venden wrote: “The dialogue concerning the investigative judgment…within our church today seems primarily an attempt to settle on our beliefs concerning sin and righteousness and salvation.” (Never Without an Intercessor, pp. 7-8)

In his most recent book, Desmond Ford wrote the following: “I would also strongly recommend Woodrow W. Whidden’s book Ellen White on Salvation.” Ford’s wife Gillian was very explicit: “It was Ford’s emphasis on righteousness by faith that led him to see the necessity for reinterpretation of the SDA scheme of prophecy.” (For the Sake of the Gospel, pp. 85, 153)

It is very clear that all discussion of the investigative judgment and the final atonement and the most holy place is really about the gospel and the method of salvation. For Ford and others who hold to this salvation theology, the following are their key points:

  1. Involuntary sin—the belief that all become sinners simply by being born.
  2. The unfallen nature of Christ—the belief that the humanity that Christ took upon Himself was the sinless nature of Adam as it was before the fall [or that He had a hybrid nature, partly fallen and partly unfallen].
  3. Salvation by justification alone—the belief that the ground of the Christian’s salvation includes justifying righteousness only, as distinct from thetransforming, empowering righteousness of regeneration and sanctification [which are only results of salvation].
  4. Justification as exclusively declarative and not transformative—the belief that justifying righteousness only declares a believer righteous, as distinct fromactually making him righteous.
  5. Imperfectability of Christian character—the belief that even through imparted divine strength, perfect obedience to the divine law remains impossible for the Christian in this life. (Kevin D. Paulson, “Righteousness By Faith and the Sanctuary Doctrine,” Adventists Affirm, Summer, 2009, pp.18-19)

There is also the question of whether the atoning ministry of Christ was finished on the cross. The “finished work of Christ” concept here considered goes beyond the simple truth that Jesus died for the whole world and brought an end to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Here are some sample statements: “Jesus Christ took away your sins…two thousand years ago.” (Desmond Ford quoted in Conflicting Concepts of Righteousness By Faith, p. 82) “God forgave us 2,000 years ago….And with His death, it is finished.’” (Steve Marshall, Blessed Assurance, p. 21)

Logically, this theory leads to the belief that all our sins—past, present, and future—have already been forgiven, and that once a person accepts Christ, future sins are forgiven just as surely as past ones. Adventist advocates of this teaching have used such terms as “overarching forgiveness,” “the umbrella of eternal grace,” and have illustrated the concept by a man wearing a black suit with a white umbrella overhead. One author believes salvation to be based on justification alone, declaring the “the righteousness God produces in us…has no saving value.” (Jack Sequeira, Beyond Belief, p. 170)

Ford insists that the final blotting out of believers’ sins takes place when one accepts Christ, without any need for a a future blotting out of recorded sins in a heavenly judgment. Because objectors to the sanctuary doctrine tend to believe our sins have already been removed by Christ on the cross, and thus need not be removed either from the heavenly sanctuary or the Christian’s earthly life, sanctification is thus reduced to an unspecified, never-completed work which functions only as proof that a person has been justified.

The definitions we give for sin, justification, sanctification, the basis of salvation, and God’s ultimate requirements for His people, exert tremendous logical force on our conclusions concerning such key Adventist doctrines as the sanctuary, the Sabbath, the remnant-church theology, and much more. If one accepts the evangelical gospel, with its “justification-alone” salvation and belief in the imperfectability of Christian character, the notion of a heavenly tribunal investigating the thoughts and deeds of professed Christians is both needless and noxious. Salvation has been completed at the cross, and all that is necessary for the Christian is to accept this finished reality.

Those seeking to blend key features of the evangelical gospel with the classic Adventist sanctuary doctrine must of necessity compromise features of both systems in order to achieve such a synthesis. [This is what has been happening over the past twenty years by the most respected pastors and teachers in the church, in a desperate attempt to blend two incompatible belief systems, so that we can avoid being labeled a cult.] But neither
Scripture, the writings of Ellen White, nor simple logic allow for such harmony. The consequences of such efforts will continue to be tension, inconsistent assumptions, and a precariously brokered peace. [What we are calling “unity in diversity” in actuality is “disunity in disagreement,” with much suspicion on both sides.] And in the end…such efforts must fail. (Kevin Paulson, pp. 27, 37,38)

What Is Sin?

Since the basis for opposite gospels is the meaning of sin, let us refresh our memories about what is at stake here. Ellen White stated, “Our only definition of sin is that given in the word of God; it is ‘the transgression of the law.’” (The Great Controversy, p. 493)  When Ellen White made that statement, was she making a theological statement, or was she simply being devotional? When it comes to theological issues like sin and salvation, some interpreters have already decided that since Ellen White was not a trained systematic theologian, the statements in her books merely constitute a devotional description.

The Bible tells us that Jesus came to save us from our sins, which means that our understanding of sin is interrelated to other issues like justification, sanctification, and the high priestly ministry of Christ in the holy and most holy places. The interpretation of sin touches in practical issues like the nature of temptation and the possibility of developing a perfect character in this sin-filled world.

We are going to look at “paradigms” for a little while. A paradigm is a pattern of thinking to explain observed data. It is usually based on unproved but reasonable assumptions. One paradigm says that the earth is the center of the universe, while another paradigm says that the earth is on the edge of one galaxy.

The Ptolemaic paradigm did not morph into the Copernican paradigm by the accumulation of adjustments to itself. Rather, it was replaced by a paradigm that was diametrically opposed to it and completely incompatible with it.  As Leonard Brand…stated, “Putting the sun in the middle of the universe is one option, and putting the earth in the middle is another. One can’t make a compromise between them; we must choose one or the other.” How does this relate to the issue of the interpretation of sin? The correct understanding of sin…must be placed in the correct paradigm. If this does not take place, then one cannot come to the correct understanding….

The early church fathers…were heavily dependent on Greek philosophy for their understanding of the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, and…the doctrine of sin….Augustine [says]…”God sovereignly predestines everything that happens, including both sin and evil…and salvation and righteousness.”…The magisterial Reformers like Luther and Calvin tended to accept Augustine’s views on this matter. Also some Adventists tend to base their view of sin, justification, and sanctification on the view of the Reformers.

[How did this paradigm influence the meaning of sin?] “The newborn infant as well as the middle-aged person…is corrupt and guilty because of the connection with Adam.” Augustine stated that…after the fall “people are free to sin but not free not to sin.” Thus sin, righteousness, salvation, and damnation are all the results of God’s decision, not yours. If you cooperated with God and are saved, it’s because He decided, and if you are lost, you had nothing to do with it. The doctrine of original sin has its basis in the doctrine of predestination as interpreted by Greek philosophy….Under the Greek philosophical paradigm expressed by Augustine, freedom not to sin does not exist. Moreover, if that is the case, then to define sin as transgression and hold a person accountable for it makes absolutely no sense if the person was merely carrying out the irresistible will of an omnipotent God. (Karl Tsaltabasidis, “What Is Sin?” Adventists Affirm, Summer, 2009, pp. 43-45)

Now let us look at an inspired analysis, from the writings of Ellen White. “It is Satan’s constant effort to misrepresent the character of God, the nature of sin, and the real issues at stake in the great controversy. His sophistry lessens the obligation of the divine law and gives men license to sin.” (The Great Controversy, pp. 568,569) Thus, the enemy’s mission statement includes misrepresenting the nature of sin because he knows that the end result will be a lessening regarding the obligation of the divine law.

“The teachings of the heathen philosophers…exerted an influence in the church. Many who professed conversion still clung to the tenets of their pagan philosophy….Serious errors were thus introduced into the Christian faith. Prominent among these was the belief in man’s natural immortality and his consciousness in death.” (The Great Controversy, p. 58) On account of the body/soul dichotomy, the experience of salvation takes place in the timeless soul that has no causal connection with the body. Furthermore, the body is where original sin reigns. Within this paradigm, condemnation is the result of having sinful flesh, which includes impulses, tendencies, and desires.

The immortality of the soul, as it is considered within the paradigm of Platonic philosophy, assumes the absolute sovereignty of God and the total depravity of man. While in this totally depraved state, man’s condition is hopeless. He is born into this world already guilty and condemned for Adam’s sin. The only freedom he possesses is the freedom to sin. He is incapable of even choosing not to sin. Augustine taught that God chooses some out of the human mass of perdition to receive the gift of faith by grace and leaves others to their deserved damnation.

The implication is clear, that sin has nothing to do with the transgression of the law. If God has decreed you to be righteous, then you cannot resist His will. The concepts of freedom, choice, and sin must be interpreted within the Greek philosophical framework, and when that is done, one is either saved or lost by God’s eternal decrees. Sin is forever divorced from choice and character development has already been fixed by God.

“To many minds the origin of sin and the reason for its existence are a source of great perplexity….There are those who, in their inquiries concerning the existence of sin, endeavor to search into that which God has never revealed….Others, however, fail of asatisfactory understanding of the great problem of evil, from the fact that tradition and misinterpretation have obscured the teaching of the Bible concerning the character of God, the nature of His government, and the principles of His dealings with sin.” (The Great Controversy, p. 492)

In the predestination paradigm, “the salvation of heaven depends upon nothing which we can do in this life; neither upon a present change of heart, nor upon present belief, or a present profession of religion.” (The Great Controversy, p. 538) The immortality of the soul, original sin, and total depravity lead directly to the conclusion that sin has nothing to do with choice. Thus, the root cause of the notion that sin is divorced from choice lies in the doctrines of the immortality of the soul and divine decrees that spring from the Greek philosophical paradigm. The consequences for Christology and lifestyle issues are enormous. The data can only be interpreted by either one system or the other but not by a blending of the two.

The great controversy paradigm is very different from the predestination paradigm. It opens to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious. “The sanctuary in heaven is the very center of Christ’s work in behalf of man….It opens to view the plan of redemption….It is of the utmost importance that all should thoroughly investigate these subjects.” (The Great Controversy, pp. 488,489) If the plan of redemption itself must be interpreted from within the sanctuary doctrine, then by logical consistency, the doctrine of sin must also be understood from the same paradigm.

“Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator….Their characters must be purified from sin….Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven…there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon earth.” (The Great Controversy, p. 425)

This passage is clearly in opposition to several areas already discussed under the Greek philosophical paradigm…In the previous paradigm, guilt and Condemnation arise from simply having sinful flesh which includes tendencies.  These have been received by inheritance and are not eliminated by conversion….If sin is to be put away by “the grace of God and their own diligent effort” then human beings must have freedom to sin as well as not to sin. This means that the biblical paradigm does not support the idea of total depravity and the bondage of the will….This definition of temptation and sin can only make sense in light of the great controversy theme where individuals have complete freedom. (Tsaltabasidis, pp. 52,53)

The following statement has great implications for sin, temptation, victory, and Christology. “Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation….This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble. It is in this life that we are to separate sin from us.” (The Great Controversy, p. 623) This passage indicates that sin as transgression is the only definition that will work.

In the following passage Mrs. White stated that contamination and defilement come only when a person is free not to sin. Christ’s “victories make it possible for us to conquer….No man without his own consent can be overcome by Satan. The tempter has no power to control the will or to force the soul to sin. He may distress, but he cannot contaminate.” (The Great Controversy, p. 510) “Willfully violating one of God’s requirements…silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit and separates the soul from God. ‘Sin is the transgression of the law.’” (The Great Controversy, p. 472)

Once the sanctuary/great controversy theme is discerned as the paradigm, the only definition of sin that works is transgression….Putting away sin does not refer to the sinful flesh but to the deeds of the flesh. Inheriting a sinful nature from Adam does not contaminate our character, neither does it make us guilty; it’s transgression that does that. Also, inheriting sinful flesh does not destroy a person’s ability to choose to be free from sin….Ellen White’s insistence that “our only definition of sin” is “the transgression of the law” is in fact a theological statement….She rejected the Greek philosophical paradigm that produced natural immortality, total depravity, and the doctrine of divine decrees which sees sin as totally divorced from choice, and when she referred to putting away sin by cooperating with the grace of God…her statements assume that human beings possess genuine freedom to choose whom they will serve….Judgment only makes sense if sin is defined as transgression…. It is no more possible to blend the two paradigms than it is to use the earth and the sun as models at the same time in order to explain planetary motion. Just like the correct definition of sin, one must choose in which paradigm to work. (Tsaltabasidis, pp. 55,56)

The great controversy theme must be the foundation and guide to our reasoning. It is very strange but very true that an irreconcilable division between two vastly different and opposite claims still remains in the great controversy theme as interpreted by some Adventist teachers. In the true great controversy paradigm sin has fundamentally two components: 1) the weakening effect of Adam’s transgression, passed down to us through the law of heredity in a fallen, sinful, sin-prone human nature, of which none are guilty, and 2) our own sinful choices and acts, for which we are responsible and liable. The only thing we inherited from the fall of Adam, and as a consequence of his fall, is a weakened human nature, the fallen sinful flesh. However, in no way do we receive any guilt or condemnation from, or deserve any punishment for, Adam’s sin. To believe this would necessitate accepting the Roman Catholic, as well as the Protestant, teaching of the dogma of “original sin.” Subsequently, we would be compelled to believe in and practice the error of infant baptism.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that we are born sinners, and that “original sin…is universal. Every child is therefore defiled at its birth with the taint of Adam’s disobedience….Hence baptism, which washes away original sin, is as essential for the infant as for the full grown man, in order to attain the kingdom of heaven.” (Cardinal James Gibbons, Faith of our Fathers, p. 311) The Augsburg Confession of Protestant Princes reads, “Since the fall of Adam, all men…are born in sin, which places under condemnation and brings eternal death to all who are not born again by baptism and the Holy Ghost.” (J.A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, part 1, p. 597)

The Nature of Christ

The teaching of “original sin,” stemmed from Greek paganism, and was further channeled by…Augustine…into the Roman Catholic Church and held by the majority of Protestants…It is the false belief in “original sin”…that logically requires that Christ assume the human nature of man before the fall, to ostensibly free Him from the presumed guilt of “original sin.” The next logical step, of course, is accepting the false belief of the immaculate conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus, so that He could receive a sinless human nature….False belief about the nature of sin leads to false belief about the nature of salvation….Whatever conclusion is reached regarding the effect of the fall of Adam, (and the nature of the sin transmitted in that fall), will also logically determine our conclusions on the human nature of Jesus Christ….Norman Gulley wrote that the two conflicting understandings of the human nature of Christ “spring from two different understandings of what constitutes sin.”…

He became one of us in that He took on, at His incarnation…the same weakened, fallen, human raw material…that we have as a result of the fall. Sinless human nature before the fall could not die, but sinful human flesh after the fall could die….At His incarnation, Christ took on the fallen weakened nature of humanity, the “sinful flesh,” the same humanity of the men and women He came to save.  That was the whole point of Him condescending to become a man….Jesus took on the same “sinful flesh” of the fallen human nature to which we are subjected and defeated the power of sin in that same fallen, human, sinful flesh. As Jesus relied on and received God’s strength to do all that He did, so we can, in complete surrender to Christ, experience victory and salvation from sin.

It may be surprising to many that the most eminent Protestant theologians of the second half of the twentieth century…have openly declared Christ’s human nature to be that of man after the fall….During 100 years, 1852-1952, Adventists taught the post-fall human nature of Christ as the undisputed…Adventist position….Today, a majority of Protestants, and increasingly (for the most part, unwittingly) in the SDA church today, have accepted that Christ took the human nature of Christ before the fall. (Daniel Ferraz.“The Humanity of the Son of God Is Everything to Us,” Adventists Affirm, Summer, 2009, pp. 68-74)

A few Ellen White comments are relevant here. “The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us. This is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God. This is to be our study….And the study of the incarnation of Christ is a fruitful field, which will repay the searcher who digs deep for present truth.” (Youth’s Instructor, Oct. 13, 1898) “The great work of redemption could be carried out only by the redeemer taking the place of fallen Adam.” (Review and Herald, Feb. 24, 1874)

To shift the Seventh-day Adventist Church from its consistently held…position from 1852-1952 on the fallen human nature of Christ represented a formidable task…One of the strongest and most active proponents of this…new anti-Adventist interpretation, proposing the pre-fall human nature of Christ, was LeRoy Edwin Froom….When Barnhouse and Martin discussed with the QOD trio “the problem of the Incarnation,”…they were assured that “the majority of the denomination have always taught the humanity of Christ to be without sin, holy and perfect, despite the fact that certain of their authors have on occasion, succeeded into getting into print, opinions completely contrary and repugnant to the majority of the church.”…

Apparently, QOD did not significantly improve Barnhouse’s perception of Seventh-day Adventists. He is reported to have said: “All I am saying is that the Adventists are Christians. I still think their doctrines are about the screwiest of any group of Christians in the
world.”…

[In summary], the Bible teaches that we inherited the effect, and not the guilt of, Adam’s sin. Adam transmitted…a weakened, fallen, human nature, with an inclination to sin….We have fundamentally, two basic theological systems upon which to build. There is the Roman Catholic/Calvinistic/Evangelical grid, whose predominant claims are: the Augustinian sovereignty of God, we are all born sinners, need infant baptism, will continue sinning until the Lord returns….Romans 7 describes a converted man,…Jesus was born with a sinless human nature like Adam’s before the fall, His human nature was not like ours.  Therefore, the crucial descriptions of salvation, the “new birth,”…being a “new creation,”…having Christ “dwell” in us,…are incapable of being rightly understood….

Then there is the Adventist form of Arminianism, which maintains that we were all born with a endency toward sin; however, if we live completely surrendered and dependent on God as Christ was, we can experience salvation “from” our sins now….”Christ in you, the hope of glory.”…Jesus is our substitute and our example of victorious living….Jesus was born with a fallen human nature like Adam’s after the fall, His human nature was like ours….Thus, crucial descriptions of conversion can be rightly understood….

Attempting to resolve the debate over Christ’s human nature cannot be done by amalgamation of the pre-fall and post-fall interpretations. It is a question of one or the other. QOD was the ultimate Trojan horse that “officially” opened the floodgates of Catholic and Calvinistic theology into the divinely established Seventh-day Adventist belief system. This book effectively seeks to reverse a hundred years of…Adventist teaching on the fallen human nature of Christ….This part of our church history…will help us understand the internal disunity regarding our Christian standards, our remnant identity,…the reasons for the delay of Christ’s second coming. (Ferraz, pp.77-87)

The stakes are extremely high as Jean Zurcher pointed out in Touched With Our Feelings.  “If we are mistaken about the human nature of Jesus, we risk being mistaken about every aspect of the plan of salvation. We may fail to understand the redemptive reality of the grace bestowed upon humans by Jesus to set humanity free from the power of sin.”

Ellen White warns us, “In our conclusions, we make many mistakes because of our erroneous views of the human nature of our Lord. When we give to His human nature a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts with Satan, we destroy the completeness of His humanity.” (Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 929)

Why, then, do some strategically placed conservative Adventists…persist in holding to the pre-fall view?...1) Respect for authority….What is assumed and taught through the church’s established channels—especially if its promoters appear gracious, deeply spiritual, and otherwise faithful to classic Adventist teachings—is easy to accept and take for granted. Such persons often ask themselves, silently if not vocally, “How can so many good, intelligent, obviously committed Seventh-day Adventist Christians be mistaken?”…

2)Negative associations with the post-fall view….The assumption has been widely promoted…that belief in post-fall Christology is a trademark of critical, anti-denominational malcontents more interested in throwing rocks at the church than in doing God’s work….

3)Pious revulsion to the thought of Jesus experiencing fallen, fleshly temptations….The idea of our pure, spotless Saviour having anything that could be called “sinful” is abhorrent to certain ones….To think of wicked desires pulsing through the nerves and senses of their unblemished Lord, even if thoroughly resisted by a sanctified will, is deeply disturbing. Knowing their own penchant to yield to such urges,…they don’t want the incarnate Christ anywhere near such struggles. (Kevin D. Paulson, “Why Some Conservative Adventists Remain Confused About the Human Nature of Christ”)

Justification and Sanctification

What bearing do the issues of sin and the nature of Christ have on the daily experience of salvation, which we know as justification and sanctification? The following two letters were sent to Ministry, one from a Catholic priest and one from a Lutheran pastor. Both letters referred to the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. The priest commented, “It details a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Lutheran pastor said, “Roman Catholics and Lutherans now agree on the essence of justification by grace through faith.” He referred to “Benedict’s wonderful paper on justification which he gave last year.” (Ministry, May, 2010, p. 4)

Are the commonly held false views of sin and the nature of Christ blurring the lines between Catholicism and Protestantism on the practical issues of the gospel, like justification by faith? The truth is, the Adventist gospel is not the typical Catholic gospel or the typical Protestant gospel, which may be why it is not liked by either group. Ellen White states, “It is by continual surrender of the will, by continual obedience, that the blessing of justification is retained.” (1 SM 397) This theme is repeated throughout Scripture, and it places a major emphasis on sanctification in this gospel. The following letter is an example of the unique Adventist understanding of the gospel. “Here is where many Protestants and Catholics fail equally, substituting church traditions for the standard of God’s Word….Christians are fully justified from the first moment they believe, on the basis of Christ’s works and none of their own. Yet this free gift may be lost if we fail to appropriate the other blessings that come with it: conviction of God’s will and the power to carry it out.” (Ministry, May 2010, p. 4) In other words, justification without sanctification is a false gospel.

Johnny…loved sledding. One snow-white day Johnny climbed a hill behind his house that he had never sledded down before. It was steep, so he knew he’d really fly….His mom was out in the backyard and saw the sled bearing her son speeding down the hill. Then she saw the half-hidden, neck-high barbed-wire fence that he was speeding toward. “Lie down,” she screamed. Against the blinding white snow Johnny didn’t see the fence nor any reason to lie down.  ut he heard his mom’s command, and he did what he had always done: he obeyed. Lying back on the sled, he flashed under the fence and into his mom’s arms….

Johnny brings us face-to-face with a question in our relationship with God: Are we to obey God even when we don’t understand why?...Does a trust relationship with God ask for obedience even when we don’t understand God’s commands?...We all have one great pressing need in common: the need to base our faithfulness to God on His utter, unwavering, unfailing faithfulness toward us. Sometimes that means obeying without understanding; being willing to act before the fact. (Adventist Review, June 27, 2010, p. 23)

The truth that obedience comes before complete understanding because we trust God sets the Adventist gospel apart from all other versions of the gospel. Remember, righteousness is supposed to be by faith, and it is always connected with our response of total, unquestioning obedience. This is why only the Adventist gospel can honestly speak of true Christian perfection. True Christian perfection is seen most clearly in Christ. His pure attitude motivated His absolute obedience resulting in a complete oneness with the Father. Ellen White applies this to our experience. “This sacrifice was offered for the purpose of restoring man to his original perfection: yea more…to give him an entire transformation of character.” (Ms. 49, 1898)

The imparted righteousness of Christ is the work He does in us, of changing us into His image, a oneness with Him. This is what being perfect in our sphere truly means. It is to be perfectly one with Him. Our attitudes are changed, motivating obedience in us to reflect Him fully….We grab everything of Christ we can get a hold of, denying that which shadows His glory. By beholding we become like Him and are changed into His glory….

Scientists have recently discovered a way to make the first 100 percent completely flat and smooth surface on machined and highly polished glass. It is so flat and smooth that when two of these thick sheets of glass are slid one over the other, displacing all the air, the bond between the molecules becomes so great that it is near impossible to separate the two sheets of glass.  They are truly one….The righteousness that He wants to impart to us is the perfect oneness we can have through His Spirit’s leading. Obedience motivated by genuine love allows Him daily to grind and polish us until we are so absolutely bonded as one in Him that we will be nearly impossible to separate. (Adventist World, Dec. 2009, p. 31)

This unique and precious Adventist understanding makes it especially difficult to hear the previous editor of the Adventist Review say, “The issues frequently heard involve…Christ’s human nature and Christian perfection. A small but vociferous minority continue to urge the ideal of sinless perfection. They do not have the support of church leaders, however….If we are to speak of uniqueness concerning Adventist doctrine, then it is in the configuration of doctrines rather than in individual beliefs.”

This doesn’t square with inspired counsel, however. “There is as great difference in our faith and that of nominal professors as the heavens are higher than the earth.” (2 SG 300)  Raymond Cottrell wrote, “Were Seventh-day Adventists to yield their distinctive teachings in order to win and wear the robe of theological respectability, they would doubtless be accepted by other Christian bodies, but in so doing they would be traitor to the truths that have made them a people….They would no longer be Seventh-day Adventists.”(Review and Herald, May 15, 1958)

“Satan is now using every device in this sealing time to keep the minds of God’s people from the present truth and to cause them to waver. I saw a covering that God was drawing over His people to protect them in the time of trouble; and every soul that was decided on the truth and was pure in heart was to be covered with the covering of the Almighty.” (EW 43) “We need to be enlightened in regard to the plan of salvation.

There is not one in one hundred who understands for himself the Bible truth on this subject that is so necessary to our present and eternal welfare.” (RH Sept. 3, 1889)

The promise of the most holy place is the promise of perfection of character, a perfection from all sins, both known and unknown. By ignoring the two apartments and teaching only the blessing of the first apartment is in essence saying that there is no difference. It is marching back toward Egypt and back before 1844. It is attempting to close the open door and to open the closed door. “The enemies of the present truth have been trying to open the door of the holy place, that Jesus has shut, and to close the door of the most holy place, which He opened in 1844.” (EW 43)

The only special truth that Adventists have that is not taught by any other denomination is the message of the final atonement—the cleansing of the 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) “Everything that is imperfect in us will have been seen and put away. All envy and jealousy and evil surmising and every selfish plan will have been banished from the life.” (3 SM 427)

But why should all this be delayed until 1844? The only sensible reason is that God is seeking to prepare a people whose unqualified conquest of evil in their lives will forever demolish the charges of Satan against God’s government. The final atonement has been held off until the end of time because only then will God have a totally perfected people. God could use a man like Martin Luther in a previous era—one who drank beer and hated Jews—but He cannot accept such performance from believers at the close of the great controversy. Time has lingered through Inquisition and Holocaust, slavery and segregation, because God continues to wait for a generation whose unbroken triumph over sin will forever silence the charges of the adversary. What some have called “last generation theology” is, therefore, the logical and essential corollary of the 1844 ivestigative judgment doctrine.

STILL UNDER GRACE

Now all this is high theology, in fact, higher than the highest human thought can reach. I want to close with some encouraging thoughts.

God’s first statement to the fallen world was Genesis 3:15. Despite their sin, the Lord immediately gave to Adam and Eve the promise of redemption. It is worth noting that only after this promise was given, only after grace and salvation is revealed, does the Lord pronounce judgment on Adam and Eve. The promise of salvation came first, followed by judgment. Only against the promise of the gospel does judgment come.

The very concept of the gospel carries within itself the concept of condemnation—a condemnation we don’t have to face. That’s the “good news.” Though we have violated God’s law, and though God will judge those violations, in Christ Jesus we are spared the condemnation that this judgment would certainly bring. In Revelation 14 the “eternal gospel” comes first, followed by the announcement of judgment, just as in Genesis 3. Judgment is there, but not before the gospel. Thus, the foundation of our present truth message has to be grace, the good news that though we deserve condemnation, we stand pardoned, purified, and justified through Jesus.

From Israel there is more good news. To ancient Egyptians, a person’s name was a very real part of a person. Their houses, although primarily mud brick, were constructed with stone doorposts and lintels. On the doorpost was inscribed the name of the person who lived inside. Even if the house was destroyed, the chance of the name existing through the survival of the stone was very good.

When God required the Israelites to paint the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lintels, He was asking them to cover their names with the blood of the Lamb. Their names on stone did not ensure their future life; only the blood of the Lamb could do that. We need to learn the same lesson. It matters where our name is written.  The only important book is the Lamb’s Book of Life. To have our names written in that book we need to accept the Lamb’s blood, which takes the place of our own.

Of course, there is more to our walk with God than this, but it all starts here. The Israelites began their exodus out of Egypt by putting the blood of the Passover lamb over their names, and then they began their journey with God. It is the same for us. Our path may be long and hard, but we can begin our journey with our names covered with the blood of the Lamb.