Justification and sanctification are terms to describe two parts of the process of salvation. It is critically important to understand their relationship to each other and to the status of the one who wishes to be saved by the atoning death of Jesus Christ. What part does sanctification play in the saving process? Two different gospels arise from the answer to this question. Let us first examine the inspired evidence regarding sanctification and then we will examine some of the issues currently being raised in Adventism.
1 Corinthians 6:11 tells us something about sanctification that is not often considered. “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” The person who is washed from sin, who has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, who stands justified and pardoned in the sight of God, is also sanctified in that very act. One of the meanings of the word "sanctify" is to set someone or something apart for a holy use. When we are justified and washed, we are set apart for use by God. God looked at us, not in our filthy garments of sin, but now clothed with the pure righteousness of Christ. We are declared to be sanctified, or set apart for holiness, just as we are declared to be justified, or pardoned from our sins. In this way the thief on the cross was both justified and sanctified, because he had been set apart for holiness.
In Acts 26:18, Jesus speaks to Paul on the road to Damascus. “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” The mission God gave Paul was to bring the Gentiles to forgiveness of sins and salvation. If the Gentiles would turn from Satan to God, they would be called sanctified by faith in Christ.
Just as justification is declared by God at the moment of conversion, so sanctification is declared by God at the same moment. We are set apart for holiness, and God views us through the holy character of Jesus Christ. In this way we can have complete assurance of salvation. It is often said that this gospel deprives us of assurance, but this is totally false. When the heart is surrendered and we wear the robe of Christ's righteousness, we have perfect peace and assurance, as we continue to grow in Christ.
A more familiar aspect of sanctification is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:1,3. “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and… For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” Sanctification is also a growing experience, in which we understand more and more of God’s will, and our character grows correspondingly.
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) As we spend time with God, we see more and more of His glory, and we become more and more like Him in character. Our lives reflect more of His holiness as we spend more time in His presence.
Just as there are two parts to justification, being declared forgiven and being transformed, there are two parts to sanctification, being declared holy and growing in holiness. The first part is declaration; the second part is experience. It is incorrect to say that justification is the all-important part of salvation because that is when God declares me to be righteous, while sanctification is secondary because is is my work.
“At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God’s purpose for us is fulfilled, there will be continual advancement.” (COL 65) “Sanctification is a state of holiness, without and within, being holy and without reserve the Lord’s, not in form, but in truth. Every impurity of thought, every lustful passion, separates the soul from God; for Christ can never put His robe of righteousness upon a sinner, to hide his deformity.” (OHC 214) I think it is important to note that we do not grow into sanctification, we grow in sanctification. From the sanctified state in which we are placed at conversion, we advance continually in maturity. As long as we do not allow sin to separate us from God, we continue to grow in holiness.
“Paul’s sanctification was a constant conflict with self. Said he: “I die daily.” His will and his desires every day conflicted with duty and the will of God. Instead of following inclination, he did the will of God, however unpleasant and crucifying to his nature.” (4T 299) The fallen nature does not disappear at conversion, and the sanctification experience is putting that nature, with its selfish desires and inclinations, to death every day. Perhaps it is important to note here that natural desires and inclinations are temptations, not sins, even though they remain with us from birth to death. There is a simple bottom line to being saved-we must die daily to our natural desires and inclinations. Then we will have the assurance of salvation, even if the theology of it all may not be fully understood. Every day our selfish nature must be crucified, in a new commitment with the Lord. Disobedience and selfish acts are never a part of sanctification, and they must be rejected daily in order to maintain a sanctified experience.
“Christ alone can help us and give us the victory. Christ must be all in all to us. He must dwell in the heart, His life must circulate through us as the blood circulates through the veins. His Spirit must be a vitalizing power that will cause us to influence others to become Christ like and holy.” (58C 1144) It is absolutely critical to understand that sanctification is not our good works or partly our works combined with God’s grace. Sanctification is God’s work from beginning to end. It is His grace, His power, His righteousness, all imparted to the willing disciple. Our part is to place our will on God’s side and do the things which allow His grace to continue to flow through us.
In justification, our part is to believe God, to choose to serve Him, to surrender everything to His control, and to confess our sins. It is God’s part to forgive us, to count us righteous, to cleanse us from the filthy garments which we have accumulated over the years, and to create a new person with completely different values and desires from the “old man.” In sanctification, our part is to choose to obey God’s commands, to surrender our weak fallen natures to Him daily, and to carry out whatever God makes possible in our lives. It is God’s part to count us holy, to dwell within us constantly, to empower our wills to carry out what we have chosen, and to give us the ability and strength to obey Him in all of the areas in which He requires obedience. What God commands, He always enables. The bottom line is: Sanctification is by faith alone, just as justification, not by faith plus works.
What About Effort?
Some suggest that no human effort is involved in justification, while much human effort is involved in sanctification. For this reason only justification has saving value, while sanctification is a combination of God’s grace and human works, and can only be a fruit of salvation. The reality is that exactly the same kind of human effort is involved ‘in both justification and sanctification.
“The battle which we have to fight-the greatest battle that was ever fought by man-is the surrender of self to the will of God, the yielding of the heart to the sovereignty of love… The victory is not won without much earnest prayer and humbling of self at every step. Our will is not to be forced into cooperation with divine agencies, but it must be voluntarily submitted.” (MB 141-142) The resistance of the natural heart to surrender means that an intense struggle will take place before we submit our will to God. This struggle will take place before our justification and new birth. There is an internal conflict when we want to leave the service of Satan for the service of Christ, and this involves painful effort. Both justification and sanctification involve a struggle against selfishness and pride. Both justification and sanctification are by faith alone, but neither are without effort.
“To renounce their own will, perhaps their chosen objects of affection or pursuit, requires an effort, at which many hesitate and falter and turn back. Yet this battle must he fought by every heart that is truly converted... We must gain the victory over self, crucify the affections and lusts; and then begins the union of the soul with Christ. After this union is formed, it can be preserved only by continual, earnest, painstaking effort.” (5T 47-48) Notice that this effort comes before we can begin our walk with Christ in the new birth, and more effort is needed to preserve our walk with Christ in the growing process. Surrender, whether in justification or sanctification, is a life and death struggle, because self does not want to die. The greatest effort involves the perennial struggle to subdue self-will. Human effort is a part of the saving process from beginning to end. It might even be argued that more effort is needed before justification can take place than in sanctification, when God has created a new heart within us in the new birth. The real struggle is to surrender the will to God. The greatest effort we will ever exert in this world is to be justified by faith. The danger in human effort comes when we try to earn our salvation by human rules, or when we try to do God’s part in the saving process with our human abilities.
Is Sanctification a Result of Salvation?
It has become quite popular to say that sanctification is a fruit of the gospel. In other words, we have been saved by justification alone, and sanctification is the fruit or result of our being saved. Once our salvation has been accomplished “up front,” then the process of sanctification continues for the rest of our lives.
This perspective has been expressed well in a recent book, Beyond Belief, by Jack Sequeira. “The objective gospel (the imputed righteousness of Christ) is what qualifies us for heaven-both now and In the judgment. The subjective gospel (the imparted righteousness of Christ) does not contribute to our qualification for heaven; it gives evidence of the reality of Christ’s imputed righteousness in the life.” (p. 36) “Justification means all of Christ’s righteousness that He provided for us so that nothing more is required of us to qualify for heaven.” (p. 103) “The righteousness God obtained for all humanity in Christ (justification) is full of merit. It is this alone that qualifies us for heaven, now and in the judgment. The righteousness God produces in us, on the other hand, has no saving value.” (p. 170) “We describe the second aspect of salvation-the subjective gospel-as the imparted righteousness of Christ. This is what gives evidence of the reality of the imputed righteousness of Christ in the life. It does not contribute in the slightest way to our qualification for heaven; it witnesses, or demonstrates, what is already true of us in Christ. Imparted righteousness does not qualify us for heaven.” (p. 32) “The gospel of faith plus works, or justification plus sanctification, is at the heart of Roman Catholic theology. It is a subtle form of legalism.” (p. 25)
Here justification is equated with faith and sanctification is equated with works. Because of this, sanctification (imparted righteousness) can have no part in the saving process. It can only begin after our salvation has been accomplished in justification. Sanctification can only witness to salvation; it cannot be part of the saving process. In other words, it is a fruit of salvation, not a prerequisite to salvation.
Let us look first at 2 Thessalonians 2:13. “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Here nothing is even mentioned about being saved by justification. Sanctification and belief are the two prerequisites to salvation. We are saved through sanctification. 1 Peter 1:2 adds, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” How tragic it is that Christ’s atoning death and the Holy Spirit’s work have been divided, so that (as some claim) we are justified by Christ’s work and sanctified by the Holy Spirit’s work. The reality is that Christ’s work and the Holy Spirit’s work are involved in both justification and sanctification. One is not more essential than the other.
“Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in what is wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.” (SC 63) If the only hope we have is having imputed righteousness and inward righteousness, then we need both justification and sanctification as part of the saving process.
“Through faith in My name He will impart to you the sanctification and holiness which will fit you for His work in a world of sin, and qualify you for an immortal inheritance in His kingdom.” (ST June 18, 1896) Please notice the word “qualify.” Sanctification qualifies us for a place in heaven. Compare this with the statement quoted earlier that nothing more than justification is required to qualify us for heaven; that imparted righteousness does not contribute in the slightest way to our qualification for heaven. Clearly we have a contradiction here.
“Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the sanctification of the truth, the believer becomes fitted for the courts of heaven, for Christ works within us, and His righteousness is upon us. Without this no soul will be entitled to heaven. We would not enjoy heaven unless qualified for its holy atmosphere by the influence of the Spirit and the righteousness of Christ.” (1SM 395) “...no one will be entitled to the heavenly ‘inheritance who has not been purified, refined, ennobled, elevated, and wholly sanctified.” (ST May 2, 1892)
Sanctification, the inward work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, fits us for heaven, entitles us to heaven, and qualifies us for heaven. Without complete sanctification we are not entitled to heaven. How many more ways could it be said? Clearly sanctification is a part of the saving process, it is a causative factor in salvation, not just a result of salvation. To believe that sanctification is not a saving part of the gospel is to ignore some very clear inspired statements.
The question remains, Does it really matter so much whether we see sanctification as a part of the saving process or as a result-a fruit-of the saving process? Let us consider an apple tree. Not all of the apples will be of the best quality. Some apples might he wormy or small or lopsided, while most of the apples are large and juicy. Do we consider the tree to he unsatisfactory, so that we might consider cutting it down? Or do we just ignore the bad apples, realizing that they can he tolerated as long as the tree is producing consistently good apples? The tree is strong and healthy as long as nothing is blocking the nourishment transfer from the roots to the fruit. The future of the tree will be decided, not by a few bad apples, but by its inner vitality.
If justification is the root of salvation and sanctification is the fruit of salvation, what does this mean? It means that justification is the crucial thing in salvation, which determines whether a person is saved or lost. Sanctification is what appears in the life after salvation has been accomplished. It is inevitable that some of these fruits won’t be of the best quality. Perhaps we are still losing our temper frequently, or indulging in bouts of self-pity, or inclined to gossip a bit, or just plain selfish. These sanctification fruits are wormy and distasteful, but they have nothing to do with the overall health of the salvation tree. We can tolerate the bad fruits as long as justification is intact and operative. Perhaps the bad fruits-the sins-will disappear if we allow enough time. As long as we are justified, we are saved, even if a sanctified experience is spotty and seems to come and go, depending on the stresses of the day. If sanctification is only a fruit of the gospel, then it is not essential to salvation. it is nice to have, and it will come eventually, but it isn’t necessary to be saved. Very simply, justification saves, and sanctification does not save.
But if sanctification is a part of the saving process rather than a fruit of the saving process, then holiness is essential to salvation and to a saving relationship with God. Dying daily to self is not a hoped-for fruit of salvation, it is a necessary part of salvation. It doesn’t just come along at a later time.
Now there are fruits of salvation that are helpful to have in the life, but which have nothing to do with the status of salvation. Our emotions may not always be joyful and peaceful and hopeful. We may not enjoy speaking in public, or knocking on closed doors, or leading out in a group discussion. All of these are fruits or results of being saved. Our salvation is assured even if none of these fruits are seen in the life. If we allow God to continue His work in our lives, some or all of these fruits may develop in us, and we will be grateful. But they have nothing to do with our justified or saved state. If we are patient, fruits will develop. If the locomotive is running smoothly, the caboose will come along. We shouldn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the caboose. If our emotional feelings are not all that we desire, we can still know that we are justified and right with God.
But feelings and natural abilities are not the same as holiness in the life. While the former are not essential to salvation, the latter is absolutely necessary. Without holiness, we will not see God. Sanctification is holiness declared and holiness experienced. If we are not living a sanctified life, we are not saved. To think of sanctification as only a fruit of salvation means that it is an accessory to salvation. We can be saved without fully experiencing sanctification. This flies in the face of too many clear inspired statements. Sanctification is a necessary part of the saving process. Justification and sanctification are part of one process of salvation. To separate them and make one part more important to salvation is to do violence to the gospel of Christ. It is climbing up over the wall rather than going through the door of salvation.
The Evangelical gospel is gaining more and more ‘influence throughout Adventism. A good example of this gospel was an article in Ministry (July--August 1995), by J. David Newman, who was then the editor. The following comments are representative: “It is easy to slip into the thinking that if you do not keep the seventh day as the Sabbath, you will be lost.... I am accepted by God totally because of the perfection of another Person, the obedience of another Person… Justification is not a transformation of inherent character; it does not impart righteousness… You are saved, not because you are righteous or even because you are converted... but because through faith you place your trust, your dependence, in Jesus Christ... God transforms you through the new birth experience (part of sanctification) so that you possess the will to live a holy life. The growth in Christ that begins here is the work of a lifetime, never fully realized in this life... The Christian will fall and stumble on his or her way to full perfection in Christ.... God views these sins as part of the maturing process, and the person does not come under condemnation… When God looked at David through the eyes of Jesus, He saw only a perfect person. David committed some awful sins… If David had been lost, it would not have been because of his adultery or committing of murder. He would be lost because he did not keep a faith-trust-dependent relationship with God… Justification is what Jesus did for me 2,000 years ago. It is complete, perfect, and imputed to me when I place my faith in Him. Sanctification is what Jesus does in me day by day, starting with the new birth experience. It is incomplete and is imparted to me as I grow in Him,”
These full-blown expressions of the Evangelical gospel lead to statements like this in the book Beyond Belief, referred to earlier. “In the carnal believer, who is born of the Spirit but is still walking after the flesh (the life of self) the mind may desire to do God’s will, but the body remains subject to the law of sin. Unaided by the Holy Spirit the mind cannot overcome the law of sin in our members. Such a life is therefore also marred by sin.” (p. 148) “Carnal Christians who have experienced the new birth, but who are still dominated by the life of the flesh.” (p. 150) How can we possibly be born of the Spirit and be unaided by the same Spirit? Is there any such thing as a carnal believer or a carnal Christian? This is like talking about square circles! We are either carnal, which is out of Christ and lost, or we are born again, which means we are not dominated by the life of the flesh. It is only the Evangelical gospel which separates justification and sanctification so that we can remain saved in Christ while we are not walking in Christ.
Are We Saved While Sinning?
A recent book poses this crucial question: “Is it possible to sin and to know you are sinning and keep on doing what you’re doing wrong, and still be a Christian?” This is one of the most important questions that we as sinners in need of salvation could possibly ask. In answer, the book refers us back to the experience of the disciples and Christ. “The disciples continued their discussion along the road to Jerusalem, taking care of their unfinished business. But they knew what they were doing was wrong, because they lagged behind Jesus.” The unfinished business was their argument about who would be the greatest in Christ’s soon-coming kingdom. Now these disciples had been forgiven by Jesus, brought into a special relationship with Jesus, and set apart for a special work by Jesus. They had been justified, but their sanctification was not working very well at the moment. They were not experiencing holiness at the moment. “From this Scripture lesson we see that the disciples were guilty of sin. What sin? The sin of pride... Pride is one of the worst sins in God’s eyes... So the sin of which the disciples were guilty was not only sin, it was a bad sin. And they knew it was wrong, and they knew what they were doing, but they kept right on doing it... .That qualifies in my definition as known sin, continuing sin, habitual sin, cherished sin, persistent sin… On the basis of this Bible story, we can conclude that it is possible to have a relationship with God going on and to have a known sin going on in your life at the same time.” (Morris Venden, How Jesus Treated People. pp. 43-46)
The concept here is that since the disciples had been justified, and since they were following after Christ, the fact that they were willfully sinning did not invalidate their relationship with Christ. In this gospel, the only way one can lose his or her salvation is to reject Christ and justification. As long as one is professedly following Christ and has been justified, the state of one’s sanctification is irrelevant to one’s saved status. Since the disciples had not denied Christ or justification, they were just not exhibiting the fruits of salvation very well. The absence of a sanctified heart, with pride and jealousy controlling the life, did not disqualify them for heaven. (Do we remember that Lucifer was cast out of heaven for holding pride and jealousy in his heart?) This is the result of the gospel teaching that says that only justification is necessary for salvation, while sanctification comes along later as the fruit of salvation.
We find similar teachings in the book Beyond Belief. “Many sincere Christians are trapped in a subtle form of legalism, living in fear and insecurity. Every time we fall or sin we become unjustified. This is another common misunderstanding about justification. It is a monstrous teaching that has no support from the Word of God... If we believe that we lose our justification in Christ each time we sin, we completely invalidate the truth of justification by faith.” (p. 104) “Stumbling under grace, falling into sin, does not deprive us of justification. Neither does it bring condemnation.” (p. 166)
In this gospel, the disciples were just stumbling under grace, so they remained justified and saved while the spirit of Satan was controlling their hearts. This is the result of teaching that only justification qualifies one for salvation, while sanctification is an add-on experience once one's saved status has already been secured. Is there any wonder that we are having a hard time with lifestyle issues in Adventism today? If jewelry and immoral movies and rock music are only add-ons to salvation, then why make such a fuss about them? Especially our young people are hearing this message very clearly. Our reasoning about being a good witness or a mature person or a better example are very weak and ineffectual against the glamour of sinful activities. If they hear constantly that you are still in Christ and saved while participating in sin, then sin is not nearly so ugly anymore. They are asking a bottom line question: “What is absolutely necessary for me to be saved?” And the answer we are giving them is “Justification alone.” Sanctification and maturity and obedience will all come along later, maybe years down the road, as good fruits gradually appear on the tree. Focus on being justified, and obedience will take care of itself. Of course, our lifestyle problems are not limited to young people. We are having church-wide problems with Sabbath keeping, alcohol use, divorce and remarriage, immorality, and a host of other “sanctification” issues. As long as we continue to teach that sanctification does not qualify us for heaven, but is a fruit of salvation, our lifestyle problems will only increase.
Now we are going to look at some very clear statements from the Spirit of Prophecy. As you read them, compare each one carefully with the statements quoted above. “The willful commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit, and separates the soul from God. Whatever may be the ecstasies of religious feeling, Jesus cannot abide in the heart that disregards the divine law....We cannot for one moment separate ourselves from Christ with safety.” (MYP 114-115) “But the commission of any known sin, the neglect of known duties, at home or abroad, will destroy faith, and disconnect the soul from God.” (FLB 138) “Wrong feelings have been cherished, and there have been pride, self-sufficiency, impatience, and murmurings. All these separate us from God.” (GAG 139) “He (Satan) exults when we are overcome and the spirit of impatience and faultfinding is indulged... This grieves the Spirit of God and separates us from our Strength.” (UL 35) “Any sin in them separates them from God.” (5T 661) “Every impurity of thought, every lustful passion, separates the soul from God, for Christ can never put His robe of righteousness upon a sinner to hide his deformity.” (OHC 214) “Well may the question be asked with earnest, anxious heart, ‘Is envy cherished, is jealousy permitted to find a place in my heart?’ If so, Christ is not there.” (Letter 55, 1886) “Just as soon as we separate ourselves from God by sin, which is the transgression of the law, Satan takes control of our minds.” (RH July 12, 1887) “The least regard for iniquity cherished in the heart will sever us from the communion and help of Heaven.” (RH March 27, 1888) “When we give way to impatience, we drive the Spirit of God out of the heart, and give place to the attributes of Satan.” (2SM 236) “Sin is from beneath; and when it is indulged, Satan is enshrined in the soul, there to kindle the very fires of hell.” (41 345) “If we give him (Satan) the least encouragement.. .he will take possession of the mind, and then, although we may even think that we are being wonderfully led by the Lord, we shall be deceived.” (RH July 9, 1908)
It is too clear for any possible misunderstanding. Sin separates us from God. When sin is cherished, Satan takes control of the heart, and the Spirit of God is driven out. How could we possibly think that we are in a saved condition while sinning? We are even warned that we might experience ecstasies of religious feelings and think that the Lord is leading us while we are in this condition. Self-delusion and rationalization are major components of Satan’s attempts to deceive us into a false sense of security.
There are some equally clear statements about our justified status while sinning. “It is by continual surrender of the will, by continual obedience, that the blessing of justification is retained.” (1SM 397) “No one who truly loves and fears God will continue to transgress the law in any particular. Whatever his profession may be he is not justified, which means pardoned.” (MLT 250) “In order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience.” (1SM 366) “We should not be satisfied until every known sin is confessed, then it is our privilege and duty to believe that God accepts us.” (RH Sept. 4, 1883) “Every transgression brings the soul into condemnation and provokes the divine displeasure.’ (4T 623)
It is crystal clear that the justified state and obedience are as closely linked as are hydrogen and oxygen in water. Where obedience is missing, there is no justification. Only when our sins are confessed, which is not while we are participating in them, are we accepted by God. Every sin we choose to commit carries with it the penalty of condemnation. No matter how ingenious the interpretive devices, the Evangelical gospel cannot he supported from the Spirit of Prophecy. While the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them, while their hearts were filled with pride and jealousy, they were in an unsanctified, unjustified, unsaved state. Only upon repentance and confession could their salvation be restored. The disciples simply did not maintain a steady relationship with Christ until after Pentecost.
The summary of all these statements can he found in MH 180. “His (Christ’s) life declares that humanity, combined with divinity, does not commit sin.” Isn’t it easy enough to understand that the divine-human connection in Christ made sin impossible as long as the connection was maintained? Then why would the divine-human connection in us be any different? Will the divine nature in us commit sin, when it did not in Christ? So when I am sinning, it is clear that I have broken the connection somehow, and my first priority should be to restore the connection. “Harshness, roughness in words or in manner, evil speaking, passionate words, cannot exist in the soul that is looking unto Jesus.” (YI Feb. 10, 1898) In other words, unchristlike behavior and a genuine relationship with Christ are incompatible. We can have one or the other, but not both at the same time.
Perhaps it is good for us to look at the bigger picture here. Sin is not just about me and my salvation. Sin is dishonoring God and proving that Satan is right in the great controversy when he says that God’s law cannot be obeyed, particularly by those who have fallen natures. How can God be vindicated when His people are proving Satan right a good share of the time? This is why the sins of believers are far more serious than the sins of unbelievers. They are showing that God’s law and His power are no match for the deceptions of Satan. Unless the divine-human connection shows that God’s grace has more power than Satan, what is the point of it all? Justification and sanctification are God’s way of revealing His power to transform and restore, not just to forgive and overlook.
Legalism has been a serious problem for Adventists, but now we face an even more serious problem. False assurance is going to destroy far more Adventists than legalism ever did. False assurance is presently our greatest enemy and Satan’s most successful deception. And false assurance feeds off of the Evangelical gospel that justification saves while sanctification is the fruit of salvation.
Now all of this could be very discouraging for us, except for one thing-God’s love. God is not looking for ways to reject us. He is the seeking God, the One who will not let us go, even when we are rebelling against Him. While He cannot save us in sin, He will continue to love us and draw us back to Him. When we fall into sin, there are two ways that we can deal with our sin. The human way-Satan’s way-is to justify our sin and excuse it. That is the way of separation from God, and there can be no salvation while separated from Him. The right way to deal with personal sin is to recognize it for what it is as soon as it happens within us. We see that once again we are dishonoring God and vindicating Satan, and we fall on our knees immediately in deep repentance. There is only one thing that should scare us in this mortal life, and that is watching our hand slip out of the hand of our heavenly Father. Immediately we ask God to reach down and grasp our sinking hand and pull us up to safety again. Nothing matters-not ego or reputation or image--except reconnecting with God. As long as the connection is maintained, we can have full assurance of salvation. This means that we have to deal with sin, not just assume that it will go away. We need to allow God to fix the sin problem in us. “Just as soon as you commit sin, you should flee right to the throne of grace, and tell Jesus all about it.” (ST Feb. 15, 1892)
But what about the person who sins and doesn’t have a chance to repent before he dies? Perhaps he loses his temper and is killed in an accident. We have come up with all kinds of theories to cover that hypothetical situation. Our favorite theory seems to be that God sees the general direction of his life and so ignores his loss of temper. Let us listen to God’s answer to this difficult problem. “Satan has sought to afflict and ruin you, and even to take your life; but your Saviour has shielded you again and again, lest you should be cut down when your heart was filled with a satanic frenzy, your tongue uttering words of bitterness and unbelief against the Bible and against the truth you once advocated.” (5T 338) “The angels never leave the tempted one a prey to the enemy who would destroy the souls of men if permitted to do so. As long as there is hope, until they resist the Holy Spirit to their eternal ruin, men are guarded by heavenly intelligences.” (OHC 23) “If they yield to the enemy, and make no effort to resist him, then the angels of God can do but little more than hold in check the host of Satan, that they shall not destroy, until further light be given those in peril, to move them to arouse and look to heaven for help.” (1T 345) The answer lies in God’s love, not in the Evangelical gospel. We are not saved while sinning, hut God will protect us as long as there is hope of repentance. God protected the disciples while they were sinning, He protected David while he was sinning, and He will do no less for us. The sincere person will have a chance to repent before death. That is God’s promise, and we should trust in that rather than in false gospels.
Anyone who assures you that there is safety in disobedience is teaching a false gospel, which is far more serious than a false day of worship. There will be many people in heaven who have never kept the Sabbath, but there will be no disobedient people there. This is why Satan is desperately trying to substitute a false gospel for the real one. He doesn’t have to destroy the Sabbath or soul-sleep or the second coming. All he has to do is to destroy the gospel of Adventism and he has sealed our doom, because there is simply no way for Adventism to complete its mission without the everlasting gospel. This is how he is attempting to deceive the “very elect” today. The elect are hearing those whom they have trusted and respected proclaim a false gospel, and it is very persuasive. May God help us in this emergency!
Some wonder how they can discern between truth and error when there are credible people teaching opposite things. The best way to judge a teacher’s work is not by what he or she says. The best practical way to determine truth and error is to watch the net effect of the message on those who believe it. Don’t focus on a few extremists who take the message into fanaticism, but look at what is happening generally among those who are accepting the message. The evangelical gospel has been having a strong impact on the Seventh-day Adventist Church for about twenty years, so it is appropriate to examine the results of this gospel in the lives of church members. A number of church analysts have warned that we are not passing on the torch very well to the next generation. We are teaching the next generation how to be Christians, but not the vital place of Adventism in the fulfillment of prophecy. We are blending into the mainstream of Christianity. As one person put it, we are becoming one more gray church in a sea of gray churches. Adventism has long been known for its high lifestyle standards, but we have become so afraid of legalism that we have been eliminating these standards one by one. We are allowing the values of popular culture to replace the values which Adventism has held for its first hundred years. In short, we are in serious danger of losing our identity-our reason for existence. The concepts of the final atonement and the vindication of God are not only ignored, but actively opposed. It is my opinion that these effects are the direct result of the popularity of the Evangelical gospel among us today. This gospel is producing its fruits. It teaches that doctrines and standards are not essential to salvation-all that is important is a “relationship with Christ.” If we allow this gospel to continue to invade Adventism, we are destined to preside over the slow death of a God-ordained movement of prophecy.
A Voice From the Past
In an Adventist Review article (August, 1996), Robert Folkenberg directed our attention to an individual who had no connection to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, hut who had something vitally important to tell us.
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him, come and die.”
These words become even more powerful when we realize that they were chiseled out by a young German theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by the Nazis in the late days of the Second World War. Though he could have enjoyed a safe, comfortable professorship at some American seminary, Bonhoeffer instead lost his life fighting a regime he viewed as antithetical to every principle of Jesus Christ. Arrested for his anti-Nazi activity, Bonhoeffer sat in a Gestapo prison for two years before he was hung by his neck in early April 1945, a week before the Allies liberated the camp. Better than most, Bonhoeffer understood the meaning of his own words “When Christ calls a man, He bids him, come and die.” In this statement Bonhoeffer captured the essence of Christian discipleship, which is death to self and complete surrender in faith and obedience to the will of God.
In his landmark book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer said some things which we in Adventism need very much to hear today. “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.” What exactly did he mean by “cheap grace”? “The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. But those who try to use this grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.”
Bonhoeffer focused especially on what had happened to the Christian Church because of cheap grace. “But do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang? The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost… Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church. This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. Instead of opening up the way to Christ it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. Perhaps we had once heard the gracious call to follow Him, and had at this command even taken the first few steps along the path of discipleship in the discipline of obedience, only to find ourselves confronted by the word of cheap grace. Was that not merciless and hard? The only effect that such a word could have on us was to bar our way to progress, and seduce us to the mediocre level of the world, quenching the joy of discipleship by telling us that we were following a way of our own choosing, that we were spending our strength and disciplining ourselves in vain-all of which was not merely useless, but extremely dangerous. After all, we were told, our salvation had already been accomplished by the grace of God. The smoking flax was mercilessly extinguished.... Having laid hold on cheap grace, they were barred forever from the knowledge of costly grace.” Do we not hear this same message in Adventism today? To talk about obedience is legalism. We must focus on love and acceptance. After all, everything about salvation has been accomplished on the cross.
“Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace-whereas they had in fact lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.” This is what makes cheap grace so dangerous. When one has a false assurance of salvation, he doesn’t want anything else, because he feels so good. Costly grace, involving surrender and obedience, is viewed as fanaticism. And how fascinating that fifty years ago, speaking in a completely different context to a different church, Bonhoeffer warned that cheap grace is far more destructive than legalism. Are we listening?
But what exactly is cheap grace? It is natural for us to say that we don’t believe in cheap grace. We don’t believe that Christ has done it all and we do nothing. Follow very carefully as Bonhoeffer explained how this works.
The idea of a situation in which faith is possible is only a way of stating the facts of a case in which the following two propositions hold good and are equally true: only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes. It is quite unbiblical to hold the first proposition without the second. We think we understand when we hear that obedience is possible only where there is faith. Does not obedience follow faith as good fruit grows on a good tree? First faith, then obedience. If by that we mean that it is faith that justifies, and not the act of obedience, all well and good, for that is the essential and unexceptionable presupposition of all that follows. If, however, we make a chronological distinction between faith and obedience, and make obedience subsequent to faith, we are divorcing the one from the other--and then we get the practical question, when must obedience begin? Obedience remains separated from faith. From the point of view of justification it is necessary thus to separate them, but we must never lose sight of their essential unity. For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith In the act of obedience. Since, then, we cannot adequately speak of obedience as the consequence of faith, and since we must never forget the indissoluble unity of the two, we must place the one proposition that only he who believes is obedient alongside the other, that only he who is obedient believes. In the one case faith is the condition of obedience, and in the other obedience the condition of faith.... In the end, the first step of obedience proves to be an act of faith in the word of Christ. But we should completely misunderstand the nature of grace if we were to suppose that there was no need to take the first step, because faith was already there. Against that we must boldly assert that the step of obedience must he taken before faith can be possible. Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe. (pp. 40..75)
Notice very carefully his point here. If we consider obedience to be a fruit of justifying faith, then we have divorced faith from obedience, because obedience is no longer essential to salvation. Obedience may logically begin ten years after justification, because it is not part of justification. Remember also that the heart of the Evangelical gospel is that obedience is not a sign of justification, but a fruit of justification. Bonhoeffer is here attacking the very core of the Evangelical gospel.
Exactly what is cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer? Teaching that obedience follows faith, as good fruit grows on a good tree. Teaching that obedience is the result of salvation, rather than the condition of salvation. This, he said, is destroying the church and causing the loss of more souls than legalism. Perhaps it is important to remember that his conclusions were based solely on the Biblical evidence. He saw clearly the unified relationship between faith and obedience. To separate them is to teach cheap grace. Based on this understanding, is not cheap grace being widely taught in the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
How important it is to remind ourselves again that faith is only real when there is obedience, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience. Obviously then, obedience is the condition of there being faith at all. The Bible is full of examples of this close relationship, from Abel to Noah to Abraham to David to our Saviour. It is only by artificially ripping apart the obvious evidence that we can construct an Evangelical gospel.
The Bible simply does not substitute love for holiness. True love and holiness go hand in hand, as we separate from all uncleanness and impurity. When we lose the desire for personal holiness, the doctrine of sanctification is gone. Inspiration reminds us that “holiness of heart and purity of life was the great subject of the teachings of Christ... Perfection, holiness, nothing short of this, would give them success in carrying out the principles He had given them.” (2T 445)
I would recommend the following practical suggestion about personal involvement in the justification-sanctification process. "It is for you to yield up your will to the will of Jesus Christ; and as you do this, God will immediately take possession, and work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. Your whole nature will then be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; and even your thoughts will be subject to Him. You cannot control your impulses, your emotions, as you may desire, but you can control the will, and you can make an entire change in your life. By yielding up your will to Christ, your life will be hid with Christ in God, and allied to the power which is above all principalities and powers.” (ST 514) Even if theological distinctions might he difficult to understand, we can do this. We can yield the will to Jesus. We can allow Him to take full possession of our lives. We can allow Him to do His good work in us. Only in this way will we have any power over our fallen natures and Satan. If we will only yield up the will daily to Jesus, we will have power beyond our ability to explain, and we will not have to rely on a false gospel to give us false assurance of salvation. God’s way is always better than human devisings. May the gospel of Abraham and Jesus and Paul be our gospel today.