No matter what Bible subjects we choose to study, there is one subject more important than any other. All of us run the risk of being wrong on Bible teachings because of the faultiness of human reasoning, but let us pray never to be wrong on the method of salvation. And yet, it is precisely on this subject that there is more confusion than any other. But this is really not surprising, because Satan knows well that this is the most important subject of all. So let us make a pledge never to become complacent in our study of salvation. We must not assume that we know how it works because someone taught us years ago. Are we really willing to risk our eternal life on the accuracy of a fellow mortal’s interpretation of the Bible? And it doesn’t make much difference if that person is a pastor or a layperson. If we can study only one subject thoroughly, let it be the method of salvation.
Some say that justification is the gospel and sanctification is the fruit of the gospel. This seems logical, especially when you hear it often enough. Why does it matter, anyway? The importance is simple. The gospel saves, but the fruits of the gospel are nice benefits of salvation. If sanctification is only a fruit of salvation, then we need to focus on justification and let sanctification take care of itself. But if sanctification is part of the gospel and part of the saving process, then we need to study it as carefully as justification.
It is really not that complicated, and it shouldn’t be confusing. Justification is God forgiving our past, giving us a fresh start, and treating us as innocent. But God never tells a lie. He does not just say we are clean while we are still dirty inside. If God is going to treat us as clean, it can only be because He has made us clean. Otherwise, He would be telling a lie. 1 John 1:9 is very clear. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." So justification has two parts. God declares us right and makes us right at the same time. We have a fresh start.
But the start is just the beginning of the journey. What God really wants to do in the whole salvation process is to make us like Himself in character, so that we will enjoy the activities and conversations of heaven, where we will always be in the presence of God. What kind of heaven would it be if we were always uncomfortable around God and the angels? So God slowly begins to tell us what His laws and values are, and if our justification was real, we will be delighted to leave off the things which don’t fit into God’s plan, and replace them with God’s suggestions for happiness. If we are always complaining about God’s rules and values, isn’t that a sign that the heart was not really cleansed in justification? True obedience always flows from a heart that has been cleansed. Obedience isn’t the way to be cleansed.
So God treats us as holy, and then He goes to work on the hard job of changing our misunderstandings and misconceptions so that we will actually live holy lives. God teaches us new things and He enables us to put them into practice in our daily lives. That is sanctification. It is crucial to note that sanctification is just as much God’s work as justification, and is really the hardest part of God’s salvation process for us, because we’re all pretty slow learners. A very serious error here is that sanctification is part my work and part God’s work, which obviously makes sanctification a flawed process. This mistake makes sanctification just an added result or fruit of salvation, which is believed to be justification alone.
Justification and sanctification are just two parts of one saving process, and if either one is out of whack, the whole process disintegrates. The gospel is the justifying and sanctifying work of God to make sinners into saints. First God changes us, and then He brings our mind and character into harmony with His mind and character. Our job at each point is to say, "Yes, Lord," as we cooperate with His saving process. "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30) Righteousness and sanctification and redemption are all synonyms and mean the same thing. This is really a very simple truth that can be wrapped up in one sentence—Jesus came to save us from our sins, not in our sins.
Now every one of us can thank God that when this "making holy" process hits a bump in the road, and we fall into the old values of Satan and self, God is right there to forgive and cleanse again—that’s rejustification—and continue the work of making us like Him in character.
But there seems to be a contradiction to salvation being God’s work in Phil. 2:12, which says, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Here Paul is focusing on sanctification ever and always moving toward Christ-like character because of the prior work of God in justification. When people accept Jesus as their Savior (justification), it should have some real effect in their life. Being saved by God should affect our personalities, our characters, our traits, habits, and routines. In a world filled with indecent people, Christians should really be like Jesus: compassionate, caring, thoughtful, peace-loving, responsible, etc.
But how can we be like this? Are we supposed to work harder? The answer is in Phil. 2:13. "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." God enables our will to make good choices, and then He provides the power to carry out those choices. Don’t miss the point that it is God’s Spirit working in us. Our work is to turn the initial justification of our salvation into a consistent pattern, a habit that grows each day in sanctification. His power changes us day by day. This work makes us easier to live with at home. This work makes us more pleasant in our jobs.
Ellen White summarizes nicely the balance needed in MH 487. "Not even God can make our characters noble or our lives useful, unless we become coworkers with Him." It is all about working together and allowing God to accomplish His will in us.
In the daily process of being saved, one question is always at the forefront of our thoughts. Am I sure that I am right with God today? A prisoner wrote, "I had begun to have doubts concerning my salvation. After serving more than 10 years for trespassing the laws of God and the law of man,...I began to allow my mind to entertain the ideas that, perhaps, I was not justified in God’s sight after all. Perhaps my salvation was not assured after all." All of us have had the same doubts at times. A pastor wrote, "Many Adventists and other Christians—possibly even pastors—are uncertain about their salvation."
While there are more important issues than our assurance of salvation, such as our vindication of God and the end of the great controversy, still we need to have peace in our hearts. Another pastor wrote, "Adventists need, and must have, assurance if their mission and message is to be truly effective in hastening the coming of Jesus. Assurance is being under the loving Lordship and saving grace of Jesus Christ in a relationship of confident commitment. If we have the Son of life we possess His life, and we know that our future is secure....It is only in assurance that we possess the peace that surpasses all understanding. From peace there is power: power to overcome our personal demons and power to offer grace to the lost we are in contact with every day."
If we want to find answers to our questions about salvation, there is no better place to look than God’s sanctuary—His object lesson about the process of salvation. "Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?" (Ps. 77:13) If you were a Hebrew during the wilderness wanderings, you would learn about the plan of salvation from the portable tabernacle, because through the sanctuary service the gospel was presented to Israel.
Suppose, though, that your understanding of the plan of salvation was limited only to the death of the animal; that is, you knew only the part of the service that centered around the sacrifice. If nothing else was explained to you about the ministry of the priesthood with the blood of the slain animals brought into the sanctuary, would you not have a more limited understanding of salvation than someone who understood not only the death of the animal but the ministry in the tabernacle with that animal’s blood, particularly the ministry on the Day of Atonement when the high priest once a year went into the Most Holy Place to perform the work of cleansing the sanctuary?
Who would have a larger grasp of salvation—the one whose focus, knowledge, and interest ended with the death of the animal (symbolic of the cross) or the one whose understanding encompassed the entire sanctuary ritual, starting with the death of the animals and culminating with the Day of Atonement, when the sanctuary itself was cleansed by the blood of that slain animal? The answer is obvious. Those whose understanding of the plan of salvation is limited only to the cross without all that happens afterward, including the judgment, have a truncated view of the cross. We can’t fully understand the death of the animal without understanding the service that followed it, just as we can’t fully understand the cross without understanding the ministry that follows it, which includes the judgment, as typified by the Day of Atonement ritual.
Here’s the question: Was there any tension, much less contradiction, between the death of the animals, which symbolized the cross, and the ministry of the high priest in the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement, which symbolized the judgment? Of course not. As two parts of the whole, both were crucial aspects of the plan of salvation. Unfortunately, many Adventists have struggled with the pre-Advent judgment, seeing it as something not just in tension with the cross but in contradiction to it. Yet how could it be, if both are parts of God’s one plan of salvation?
The answer can be found in the earthly type of the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16, symbolic of the judgment. Did the high priest enter into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement every year without blood? Of course not, for that would be death. In the earthly model of the Day of Atonement, everything happened with blood. We are in the Day of Atonement, and we can have assurance and peace because the blood of Christ is involved in every aspect of the day’s services. The grace of Christ is still very active during the judgment.
This truth says that professed believers will be judged by an all-seeing God, and ultimately either validated as sincere or exposed as phonies. This "scrutinizing of the saints" has been the most offending element of the sanctuary truth, but for those looking in from the outside, it provides a welcome reprieve from prevailing cheap grace. God is seen not as a doting sugardaddy playing favorites but as a loving Father governing all His children equitably. What is done in the darkness is seen and chronicled in the books of heaven to stand as objective testimony in heaven’s court. This tells those whose sense of justice is offended by man’s inhumanity to man that the Judge of the world can’t be bought off by pretended piety.
The psalmist saw this clearly. "For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked....Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end." (Ps. 73:3, 17) The poor man who trembles under the tyranny of the rich, the minority legally or socially enslaved by the powerful, the babies aborted for the sake of mindless pleasure, and the women forced to use their bodies as merchandise are seen and valued by a God who is no respecter of persons. The sanctuary doctrine reveals that we are significant to God, who notices the details of our lives sufficiently to record them all. He chronicles the spiritual journeys of His children in loving detail, and this is evidence that He broods over us like a compassionate, concerned mother.
The sanctuary is God’s tough love program—all the more desperately needed in today’s permissive climate. Sin is, after all, the cause of the damage in our lives. Why then do we reject a teaching because it’s tough on sin? Long before Dr. Phil, God designed a system of confrontation and accountability called the heavenly sanctuary. In God’s bidding to put away sin lies the promise that it is possible. The sanctuary doctrine speaks to our quest for holiness by showing us how sinful humans may, through the blood of Jesus, interface with a holy God. Of all the doctrines in our treasure chest, one stands out as the unique contribution we make to Christian theology. Other churches teach the biblical Sabbath, the health message, and conditional immortality. We alone teach the sanctuary truth. Will we cherish the treasure that makes us unique, or trash it as a useless relic?
Our subject is righteousness and holiness, and one of the greatest barriers to both is a word that begins with "I," and the best example comes from the first high priest of the sanctuary. "All and the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a golden calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord." (Ex. 32:3-5) Aaron simply tried to compromise and maintain the security of his position.
We, too, minimize or simply deny our complicity with the idolatries of our culture. Idolatry is the universal human tendency to value something or someone in a way that hinders the love and trust that we owe to God. It is an act of theft from God whereby we use some part of creation in a way that steals honor due to God. We commit idolatry when we have an eye to pleasing humans rather than God. Of course, we rationalize it by thinking of it in terms of "meeting people where they are" and reminding ourselves that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. We fail to see that what looks like honey is an offense to God and is deadly poison both to us and to those to whom we offer it.
John Calvin is famous for saying that the human heart is a factory for idols. We churn out new ones as quickly as we throw out old, and once we have made them, the desire to serve and worship them is almost irresistible. The only effective and lasting way to rid our lives of idolatry is by replacing it with something else. So we turn to our Lord, praying that the rediscovery of the glory of Christ’s love for us and ours for Him will render idols irrelevant and powerless. When your heart goes into the sanctuary of God, when you allow yourself to fall in love with Jesus all over again, you can say with the psalmist, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is nothing upon earth I desire beside thee." (Ps. 73:25) The fresh wind of the Spirit blows away the old idols, extinguishing their glow and allure. Idolatry? It starts with "I," but it can end through the power of Jesus Christ at work within us.
"When we fall, all helpless, suffering in consequence of our realization of the sinfulness of sin; when we humble ourselves before God, afflicting our souls by true repentance and contrition; when we offer our fervent prayers to God in the name of Christ, we shall as surely be received by the Father, as we sincerely make a complete surrender of our all to God." (Ye Shall Receive Power, p. 369)
For us living in the most dramatic and exciting period in human history—the cleansing of the sanctuary— justification and sanctification are not only about our assurance of salvation. All of the services of the sanctuary moved toward and found completion in the Day of Atonement, when for one glorious moment every heart and the whole nation stood spotless and clean before the all-seeing eye of God. Then almost immediately the whole process of sinning and repenting started over. In the real Day of Atonement God has something much better in mind, when the cleansing and spotlessness would not last for just one day, but would last for the rest of eternity. We will conclude our study of the method of salvation by looking higher than the highest human thought can reach. We will do some prophetic dreaming with God about what may be.
"Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (COL 69) What an incredible day, when Christ’s character will be the character of every true Christian.
"The blessing of grace is given to men that the heavenly universe and the fallen world may see as they could not otherwise, the perfection of Christ’s character. The Great Physician came to our world to show men and women that through His grace they may so live that in the great day of God they can receive the precious testimony, ‘Ye are complete in Him.’" (GAG 97) God’s grace—justification and sanctification—is given to us so that we can show the universe what the word "complete" means.
"There is a clean, pure mind. The soul and the body...is to be presented to God without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing....A clean thing is brought out of an unclean, restoring the image of God in man. The human agent is to go forward to reach the highest standard of perfection of character by beholding the character of Jesus Christ." (7MR 274) Is this higher than the highest human thought can reach?
"The whole universe is looking with inexpressible interest to see the closing of the work of the great controversy between Christ and Satan." (IHP 363) Is our interest in the same place, or is it diverted to many other subjects?
"In the unfolding of God’s plan we are to be restored to a state corresponding to the perfection of divinity." (7MR 326) Is this higher than our highest human thought?
"The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people." (DA 671) We see here that much more than my salvation is involved. It is the credibility of God’s promises which is at stake. Can He deliver what He promises? The same point is made again by Ellen White. "The honor of Christ must stand complete in the perfection of the character of His chosen people." (ST Nov. 25, 1897)
"The godly character of this prophet [Enoch] represents the state of holiness which must be attained by those who shall be ‘redeemed from the earth’ at the time of Christ’s second advent." (PP 88) This is the real point of any discussion of righteousness by faith.
"The truth must be brought into their hearts, sanctifying and cleansing them from all earthliness and sensuality in the most private life. The soul temple must be cleansed. Every secret act is as if we were in the presence of God and holy angels....The standard must be elevated, the imagination purified; the infatuation clustering around debasing practices must be given up." (1MCP 238, 239) Do we really think we can hide our actions from God? Purifying the imagination is one of the greatest miracles of God’s saving grace. We must pray for this miracle.
"Besetting sins are overcome; evil thoughts are not allowed in the mind; evil habits are purged from the soul temple....Wrong dispositions and feelings are rooted out. Holy tempers and sanctified emotions are now the fruit borne upon the Christian tree. An entire transformation has taken place." (YRP 50) Without this transformation, salvation and assurance are meaningless words.
"At every advanced point the heart is tested and tried a little closer....Some are willing to receive one point; but when God brings them to another testing point, they shrink from it and stand back, because they find that it strikes directly at some cherished idol. Here they have opportunity to see what is in their hearts that shuts out Jesus. They prize something higher than the truth, and their hearts are not prepared to receive Jesus. Individuals are tested and proved a length of time to see if they will sacrifice their idols and heed the counsel of the True Witness....Those who come up to every point, and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may,...will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation." (1T 187) Are we willing to be tested and give up our idols when they are revealed to us? Only this will bring us to the latter rain.
There is an interesting bit of logic from Hebrews 10. It starts with the declaration that the animal sacrifices did not make the Israelites perfect. Verse 2 states that if the worshippers would have been cleansed with no consciousness of sin, no more sacrifices would have needed to be offered. Verse 14 says that the purpose of the one-time sacrifice of Christ was to perfect for all time those who were being sanctified. Verses 16-18 tell us that when God’s law is obeyed from the heart, He will remember their sins no more, and where there is this final forgiveness, there is no more need for any sacrifice for sin. The point seems to be that total forgiveness and cleansing are made possible by the sacrifice of Christ, and His purpose is to perfect those who are being sanctified for all time, so that they will never need forgiveness again.
Another intriguing thought comes from Rev. 10:7. "But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets." What is this mystery which will one day be finished? "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." (Col. 1:27, 28) The mystery which will be finished is what Christ is able to accomplish in the lives of rebellious sinners.
"When God’s servants reach this point, they will be sealed in their foreheads. The recording angel will declare, ‘It is done.’ They will be complete in Him." (3SM 427) I want with all my heart to hear the angel say "It is done." This will be the greatest mystery of all time, that God can actually complete what He started in Eden.
"The grace of Christ must mold the entire being, and its triumph will not be complete until the heavenly universe shall witness habitual tenderness of feeling, Christlike love, and holy deeds in the deportment of the children of God." (GAG 235) The plan of salvation cannot triumph until Christ’s character is reproduced in every true Christian.
"He is effecting transformations so amazing that Satan...stands viewing them as a fortress impregnable to his sophistries and delusions. They are to him an incomprehensible mystery." (GAG 222) We can be part of the completed mystery when we are impregnable to Satan’s temptations. But how can this mystery happen?
"The Spirit of God...silences every other voice than that which comes from Him who is the truth and the life....When the heart receives this truth as a precious treasure, Christ is formed within, the hope of glory, while the whole heavenly universe exclaims, Amen and amen! We have absolute need of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit." (YRP 123) Can we pray for the Holy Spirit to silence every voice except the voice of Christ?
"Those who have trained the mind to delight in spiritual exercises are the ones who can be translated and not be overwhelmed with the purity and transcendent glory of heaven. You may have a good knowledge of the arts, you may have an acquaintance with the sciences, you may excel in music and in penmanship, your manners may please your associates, but what have these things to do with a preparation for heaven?" (2T 267) This is a penetrating question, which every parent must ponder carefully. Are we preparing our young people for the purity of heaven or success in adapting to human culture?
Some counsel from 1 John 3:1-3 seems appropriate here. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." The reality is that only those who are pure can see God and live.
"Wrestling with God—how few know what it is! How few have ever had their souls drawn out after God with intensity of desire until every power is on the stretch. When waves of despair which no language can express sweep over the suppliant, how few cling with unyielding faith to the promises of God." (GC 621) Let us determine to be one of the few who know what it is to wrestle with God, for this is the only possible way to experience the preceding promises.
"Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation....Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory....This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble." (GC 623) Is this higher than our highest thought can imagine?
There is one very important component to consider if we have any hope of realizing the incredible promises we have read. "Our very bodies are not our own, to treat as we please, to cripple by habits that lead to decay, making it impossible to render to God perfect service." (20MR 115, emphasis supplied)
"If ever there was a time when the diet should be of the most simple kind, it is now. Meat should not be placed before our children....Grains and fruits prepared free from grease, and in as natural a condition as possible, should be the food for the tables of all who claim to be preparing for translation to heaven." (CD 63)
"Those who have received instruction regarding the evils of the use of flesh foods, tea and coffee, and rich and unhealthful food preparations, and who are determined to make a covenant with God by sacrifice, will not continue to indulge their appetite for food that they know to be unhealthful. God demands that the appetites be cleansed....This is a work that will have to be done before His people can stand before Him a perfected people." (CD 36) This is one of those idols which must be placed on the altar of sacrifice if we have any hope of being translatable.
"Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat-eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet." (CD 380) How serious are we about preparing for translation? Are these empty words, or is everything surrendered to Christ?
God’s plan of salvation is incomprehensible to ordinary human thinking. It is almost unbelievable even for those who have faith in God’s Word. It is truly the mystery hidden from the foundation of the world. God says that He will take an entire generation of ordinary human beings and make them the wonder of the universe. All will see that justification and sanctification are not just a coverup for ongoing sinning, but a proven method for removing all sin from the life and making men and women safe candidates for living in the holy environment of heaven. To God be the glory, great things He will do.