"And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched,and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." (Luke 12:39,40)
But how can Seventh-day Adventists experience the thief in the night at Christ's second advent? Would they not expectHis return after the Sunday law, death decree, and plagues? Surely they will not be surprised. But what if the thief inthe night experience takes place before the second advent? What if it takes place at the coming of the latter rain?
There are two comings of the God in the end time: the coming of the latter rain, and the coming of Christ. Just as Christcomes a second time, the coming Pentecost is the second coming of the Holy Spirit. Preparation for the coming of theHoly Spirit is the most important need for us today. We must be ready to be sealed by the Holy Spirit in order to be ready for Christ's second advent. For us, the most importantconcern is being sealed in our minds and characters, not the coming of Christ.
Purpose of the Remnant
So how can we avoid the "thief in the night" crisis? Christ spoke of ten virgins, representing those who believed in thesecond coming. The foolish virgins were unprepared. For some time they were satisfied with their state. After all, theywere virgins waiting for the bridegroom. But they were satisfied with only a little of God's oil when they really neededmuch. They were not candidates for the sealing. Christ speaks of the end-time church as Laodicea, which thinks itneeds nothing, but really needs everything that counts for salvation. They are defeated by the crisis of self-satisfaction.
Here are two sobering quotations. "Had the church of Christ done her appointed work...the Lord Jesus would havecome to our earth in power and great glory." (DA 634) "It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration and strifeamong the Lord's professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years." (Ev 696) Wehave been failing in the purpose God has set for His people.
Ellen White defines the sealing as "a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved." (FLB 287) Without the seal, or without the latter rain of the Holy Spirit, no one can survive the times of trouble that arecoming. The reason for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to prepare a people to receive the seal ofGod.
Revelation 7 tells of four angels who are holding back the winds of destruction for one reason. "And I saw anotherangel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, towhom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we havesealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." (vs. 2,3) Only when God's people are sealed will it be possible forJesus to return. Yet this simple truth is currently one of the most opposed truths within Adventism.
Sample of Opposition
Following is a typical example of this kind of opposition. "We drift to believing we influence the determined time of thereturn of Christ, believing we have delayed His return or can hasten His return. We believe that we may become, by ourown efforts, the last generation. We determine within ourselves to be a people of a special quality, a distinct people likethe world has never before known, fit for the return of Christ. Ellen White does not call for a supposed higher spiritualnature of God's people, and there is no reference to the human moral condition being determinative. Believing webecome the last generation by our own spiritual performance produces a focus on ourselves. Inevitably, such a focus leads us to moralism and perfectionism as ends in themselves and as substitutes for faith and humble proclamation ofthe grace of God."
I would suggest nine points of response to these ideas:
- It refers to a determined time of the return of Christ, as if nothing can change that.
- It says that it is wrong to believe that we have delayed His return. But did not DA 634 and Ev 696 say exactlythat?
- It says that it is wrong to believe that we may become by our own efforts the last generation. Who has ever said that we can do this by our own efforts?
- It refers to a special quality, a distinct people. But isn't that exactly what it will take to live after the close of probationwithout a Mediator?
- It refers to a supposed higher spiritual nature. We could fill the rest of this paper with inspired statements whichrefer to a higher spiritual condition of the last generation.
- It refers to our own spiritual performance. This makes it sound like some kind of spiritual show instead of adeeper dependence on the power of God.
- It refers to a focus on ourselves. This makes it all sound like self-righteousness and Phariseeism.
- It refers to moralism and perfectionism. It is so easy to label character perfection as perfectionism, to make it appearas negative as possible.
- It says these are substitutes for faith, as if believing in victory over sin through God's grace is the opposite of faith.
For years there has been a determined attack on the primary mission of the remnant church, which is a) to prepare apeople who are ready to receive the seal of God and the latter rain, and b) to give the final warning message to theworld, and c) to overcome all sin by God's grace and Christ's power, and d) to live without any sin during the seven lastplagues, and e) to vindicate God's promise that there will be a people who will actually keep His commandments 100%of the time.
How Can This Be Done?
If we are willing to reject, as we definitely should, this Satan-inspired attempt to discredit the divinely- given mission andmessage of the remnant; if we will choose to believe that God did not make a mistake when He made promises to Hischosen people that are higher than the highest human thought can reach, then the only question left to ask is How. Howcan we be part of such an impossible dream? The answer is found in the midst of a storm on Galilee. "And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master,we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm. And he said unto them, Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:24,25) Today the question for us is, Where is our faith? Will wespend the rest of our lives in pious apology for failing to do what He says we can do? Will we continue to refuse tobelieve that all His biddings are enablings?
The answer to "how" always has been and always will be Faith. Faith kept Jesus from sinning. The faith of Jesusproduced the character of Jesus. "As the Son of God lived by faith in the Father, so are we to live by faith in Christ. Sofully was Jesus surrendered to the will of God that the Father alone appeared in His life." (DA 389)
God is not asking us to have the faith of Abraham or the faith of Moses, but the faith of Jesus. It will take the faith ofJesus to withstand the assaults of Satan in the last days. "Where is your faith?" is the question Jesus asks of the lastgeneration. Out of the large group who talk and sing about being ready for the return of Jesus, there will come asmaller group who will understand Jesus' question.
So what is the faith of Jesus. It is heart certainty that what God says is true and real, no matter how impossible itseems. Biblical faith knows that God's Word can be trusted. Faith is the whole person saying "Yes" to God andobeying whatever rules He sees fit to give us without complaining or quibbling. Faith in the opposite of sin. Faith ispower and vigor and living as Jesus did.
"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even ourfaith. (1 John 5:4) Faith, not knowledge or trying harder, overcomes Satan. Christ demonstrated that when faithconnects with divine power, men and women can live without sinning. Either sin is destroyed completely, or it willtriumph completely.
Only when His people reveal faith in His power will they be able to take the gospel to the world. They will show that faithis the difference-maker between nominal church members and genuine Christians. "He who has not sufficient faith inChrist to believe that He can keep Him from sinning, has not the faith that will give him an entrance into the kingdom ofGod." (RH March 10, 1904)
God is waiting for men and women of faith. Enoch and Elijah were men of faith, and their lives teach us that heaven willtranslate no one unless he or she has become an overcomer. "The godly character of [Enoch] represents the state ofholiness which must be attained by those who shall be 'redeemed from the earth' at the time of Christ's second advent." (PP 88,89) "For his faithful obedience to God he was translated. So, also, the faithful, who are alive and remain, willbe translated." (2T 122)
Some generation of church members will become God's faithful last generation. They will not only say "Yes" to everything He says, but they will demonstrate the quality of what happens to people who say "Yes" to God. Not a rebelexists among them--they are men and women of faith.
The Surrender of Self
Following are some excerpts from a Joe Crews Classic:
Every day with Jesus should be sweeter than the day before. Each moment should find us moving up in ourexperience with a deeper faith. This very moment He wants to lead us deeper into the waters of surrender andconsecration. There are still victories to be won, sins to be put away, and a drawing together that needs to beaccomplished by the Holy Spirit. Many are afraid of that word "perfect." They are fearful that God will ask them to do something they are not willing to do.
But now we come face to face with the basic weakness that has led millions into discouragement and defeat. They simply have not been reconciled to giving up the enjoyment of their sins. Until that choice is made andacted upon, there can be no real victory over sin. I am convinced that there are only two possible reasons for aperson holding back. Either he or she is not willing to give up the enjoyment of the sin or else does not believethat God can give deliverance from it.
Self is our greatest enemy. Once we have settled the score with that old man of the flesh who seeks to ruleover us, all the other victories will come in their course. God has given every one a powerful and personalweapon to use in combating the self. The will is our only natural reserve weapon; everything depends on theright action of this resource.
Many are not willing to admit the true cause behind the raging conflict. The truth is that God wants somethingthat self is not willing to give up. They love something more than they love God.
We also need to admit that we fight a spiritual enemy who is stronger than we are. In the weakness of our fleshthe harder we try the deeper we sink into the mire. We have no natural ability to keep our thoughts andimagination under control. Without the transforming grace of the new birth, "the carnal mind...is not subject tothe law of God, neither indeed can be." (Romans 8:7) The mind renewed by Jesus Christ holds the onlyanswer to true victory. (Inside Report, July-Sept., 2015)
Ellen White adds this remarkable statement: "Every faculty that we possess has been provided for us in Christ....A sparkof God's own life has been breathed into the human body, making man a living soul, the possessor of moralendowments, and a will to direct his own course of action." (ST Aug. 26,, 1897) This spark of God's own life is a conscience and a will to choose against self, and every man and woman has been given this spark.
When we choose God's way instead of our own selfish way, we will truly care about others. This means that carmechanics hasten the coming of Jesus by offering the best possible service at reasonable pricing to those whosevehicles are not performing well, thus blessing the owners. It means plumbers fix the leaky pipes of elderly widowscheerfully, and maybe at a reduced cost. It means that schoolteachers recognize that the troublesome student in theirclass is a child coping with severe family dysfunction and in urgent need of love and support. It means that the cityemployee, paid to collect rubbish, willingly picks up the scattered mess of a trashcan overturned by a carelessly backedcar.
So many are scared to death of the teaching that we will develop perfect characters in Christ's power. John Wesleybrought to the forefront the gospel's power to provide victory over temptation. John Wesley met much opposition. Oneof his greatest opponents was Count von Zinzendorf. In commenting upon von Zinzendorf's views Wesley wrote: "Thereis scarcely an expression in Holy Writ which has given more offense than this. The word perfect is what many cannotbear. The very sound of it is an abomination to them, and whosoever preaches perfection...that it is obtainable in thislife, runs great hazard of being counted by them, worse than a heathen man or a publican." Still speaking of Count von Zinzendorf,Wesley continued, "'No,' says the great man. 'This is an error of errors. I hate it from my heart. I pursue it through allthe world with fire and sword this idea that you can overcome sin.'" In response, Wesley said, "I say, why so vehement? Why are those who oppose salvation from sin...so eager? In God's name, why are you so fond of sin? What has it everdone for you? What good is it ever likely to do for you in this world, or in the world to come? And why are you so violentagainst those who hope for a deliverance from it?" (The Works of Wesley, vol. 6, p. 1)
The final generation of saints will reflect the character of Christ, not for human glorification, but for the glorification oftheir Lord. Any claims which deny that Christ has the power to give victory in the life of the wholly surrendered soul isan attack upon His character, His sacrifice, and His high priestly ministry.
But when our personal salvation is made central to the gospel, self-centeredness seems to dominate the thinking, andChrist and His glory tend to become secondary. When the most important question is, Am I assured of my salvation?, there is too much of I and me involved. Our focus needs to move away from me to Christ. Is my life glorifying Christ? Am I telling and living the truth about His character? Are His requests andHis commands a joy and a delight to follow?
Romans 7 is the chapter most often used to deny character perfection. The man of Romans 7 is not a hypocrite. He issincere and earnest, but he is not a genuinely converted man. Romans 7 describes the classic legalist. This mansincerely desires victory. He strives with all his human effort for victory, but meets with frequent failure. "For that whichI do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I....For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh)dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good thatI would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Romans 7:15,18,19)
Let us compare Romans 7 with Galatians 2. "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (Romans7:17) "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in theflesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) These are twoentirely different experiences.
Only total dependence upon Jesus can bring perfection of character. The legalist suffers with conflict and frustration. Some give up altogether and choose the pleasures of this world. Others continue with the false hope that someday inthe far future they will reach perfection. But the man of Romans 7 asked the correct question when he cried out for help,"Who shall deliver me?" The answer comes quickly in verse 25, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The man of Romans 7 declares himself to be "carnal, sold under sin." (Romans 7:14) Paul notes that "to be carnallyminded is death." (Romans 8:6) But in Romans 8 there is transformation because Christ has become the center of thisman's life. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans8:2)
Either we are under the law of sin and death, or we are under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The former arecarnally minded, the latter are spiritually minded. Nowhere in Scripture is the contrast between human effort alone onthe one hand, and human submission to the power of Christ on the other, more strongly contrasted. That is whyRomans 8 ends in such a triumphant proclamation. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril,or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay,in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, norlife, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any othercreature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus or Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)
One of the greatest fears about the doctrine of perfection is that it concentrates on behavior and does not provideassurance for God's people. It is true that those who have not surrendered their lives to Jesus have no basis forassurance; whereas those whose lives are hid in Him have no reason to doubt His saving grace. "Let us draw near witha true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed withpure water." (Hebrews 10:22)
God's loyal people, who have known sin and abomination in their lives, but have received of the power of the gospel andhave washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, all in His strength and His courage, face everycrisis, every difficulty, every test, every trial, and every barrier, with full assurance of the strength of Christ.
In recent times, with the doctrinal and lifestyle dissonance within our church, there have been strong cries for unity. Jesus showed the way to real unity. "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth....And for their sakes I sanctifymyself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." (John 17:17,19) Until God's people are sanctified, there will not be unity. Every other call is a call for a counterfeit unity. Frequently, these are calls to compromise, consensus, or the silencing of truth.
Ellen White wrote: "Unity is the sure result of Christian perfection." (SL 85) Unity is not a goal, as it is often presentedto be. It is the natural result of Christian perfection. "There is no sanctification aside from truth." (FCE 432) If we are toachieve that perfect unity necessary for the pouring out of the latter rain, God's people must hold the truth inviolate. Butmore than this, they must allow the truth to be translated into the very fabric of their lives, bringing the sanctifyingprinciple of God's love.
"Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measureof the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about withevery wind of doctrine, be the sleight of man, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speakingthe truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ." (Ephesians 4:13-15) There is noother way to hasten the coming of Jesus Christ. The sanctuary message is designed to lead to the justification andsanctification of God's people, the blotting out of their sins, and the uniting of the lives of men and women in God's truth, providing their title and fitness for heaven. There is no other way. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.