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Dennis Priebe

When Error Surrounds Us

Occasionally one comes across an article revealing unusual prophetic insight. Recently I came across such a column in the Adventist Review of December 4, 1980. The piece was authored by Victor Christensen of Australia. He made several predictions of what would soon be taught in the Seventh-day Adventist Church which have found remarkable fulfillment in recent years. Following are some of these predictions.

Prediction and Fulfillment

The enormous distinction between God and human beings will be magnified, with great emphasis being placed upon the uncommunicable perfection of the character of God. A great gulf will be fixed between the moral excellence of the divine nature and the moral pollution of humans....It...will build its theology on the doctrine of human depravity.
In recent years we have watched the growing popularity of modified forms of the doctrine of original sin. We are told that because Adam sinned as the head of the human race, all men automatically became sinners because of his sin. This teaching holds that all men sin because they are already sinners by nature. The only thing we can do from birth to the new birth is to sin, which means that all babies are active sinners. We are told that inherited tendencies to selfishness are sin. Because of Adam's sin we are separated from God at birth. This belief is given support in the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, p. 265. "His (Adam's) sin resulted in the condition of estrangement from God in which every human being is born."

We are assured that since God is absolutely perfect and His law is absolutely perfect, this law requires absolute sinlessness and infinite righteousness, and anything short of that is sin. If this assertion is really true, then every angel in heaven would be a sinner, because they have fallen short of infinite righteousness. Approximately one-sixth of the angels changed from Lucifer's side to God's side before the war in heaven, and the two-thirds who remained loyal held some sympathy for Satan and his cause until the events of the cross. Currently popular beliefs hold that even though we may choose not to sin, because we have a sinful nature we are sinners by nature. Thus we are under condemnation by nature every moment of our lives, needing a constant forgiving umbrella. We are told that only when we are in heaven, with perfect natures, can we obey God's law perfectly.

We will be told that Jesus' human nature is different in kind from the humanity of people....Jesus will be presented as being like us in every respect except that which is most characteristic--absolute dependence on divine power to overcome evil. The sinlessness of Jesus will be attributed to the triumph of His divinity over His humanity....Because we cannot share in such an existence, the conclusion will be that neither can we share in Jesus' moral attainments....Great stress will be laid upon Jesus' sinlessness...but we will be told He was sinless because He was different, and not because His sinlessness is the difference....His victorious life will be represented as that for which He alone was peculiarly equipped.
Today we are assured that if Christ would have had a sinful nature, He could not have perfectly obeyed the law. The only way He could obey an infinitely perfect law was by His taking a perfectly sinless nature. We are told that no one with a sinful nature can perfectly obey the law or be sinless. Thus Christ did not inherit any tendencies to evil. This would mean that Christ was exempt from the most damaging aspects of fallen human heredity. It would then follow that Christ did not have to die daily to the natural influences of His sinful nature.

In the name of righteousness, sin will be condoned. We will be told that...God justifies even those who disobey Him. Some may be led to be more afraid of the work of God upon their hearts than they are of the work of the devil.
It is commonly asserted today that falling into sin after the new birth does not remove our justification, neither does it bring condemnation. The experience described in Romans 7, when we constantly do what we do not want to do, is held before us as the normal Christian experience. We cannot hope for anything better until we have sinless natures. Thus our obedience is always imperfect.

(They) will teach that salvation is solely the work of the transcendent God without. There will be a depreciation of the work of the Holy Spirit. Because the work of the Holy Spirit will be identified with legalism, it will be synonymous with what Paul describes as "the works of the law."
Today we hear that the most subtle form of legalism is that we are righteous because of the Holy Spirit's work in us. We are told that what the Holy Spirit does in us will never bring us salvation. The work that is done by the Holy Spirit in our heart is still evil and defiled because it is done in our fallen nature. Thus, it is said, our hope of salvation can never be centered on what happens within us. The righteousness that saves us always remains external to us, and the righteousness God produces in us has no saving value.

In light of these claims, it might be well to review two inspired statements right here. "Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought out by His Spirit working in and through us" (SC 63). "I call upon every one who claims to be a son of God, never to forget this great truth, that we need the Spirit of God within us in order to reach heaven, and the work of Christ without us in order to give us a title to the immortal inheritance" (TM 442). Is there any hint in these statements that the work of the Holy Spirit is less important in the saving process than the imputed righteousness of Christ?

Although the term sanctification may be retained as part of a theological vocabulary, and may even be greatly stressed, its meaning and import will be changed.
Today it is widely taught that sanctification, while very important, is only a fruit or result of salvation, never a cause of salvation. The imparted righteousness of Christ does not contribute in the slightest way to our qualification for heaven.

These predictions made over twenty years ago are finding remarkable fulfillments today. What is especially amazing is that these fulfillments are not coming from the fringes or extreme branches of Adventism, but are being taught in Adventism's mainstream. Our best authorities on righteousness by faith are espousing one or more of these errors, and they are becoming quite common in everyday Adventist thinking.

What Can We Do?

Sometimes we are told that we should not point out errors or criticize the teachings of others, but should only talk about what is true and right. But this is directly contrary to the counsel we have been given. "Plain dealing with errors at the right time will prevent a vast amount of evil, and will be the means of saving souls from destruction." (RH April 24, 1888)

The reality is that Satan's deceptions have become so subtle, and we are hearing error from some of our most trusted friends, that it has become painfully necessary to point out the errors so that truth can be recognized for what it is. Truth and error have been mixed so thoroughly that even the best of us can often be caught saying "Amen" in all the wrong places.

What then can we do to avoid Satan's deadly traps? Let us look for help to the only One who can offer us the eyesalve from heaven to correct our impaired vision. "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;...If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;...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." (Colossians 1:9-10, 23, 27-28)

If we want to be grounded and settled in the faith, and not be moved away by sounds-like-truth theories, we must always come back to the cornerstone of a saving relationship--Christ in you, the hope of glory. If we would always keep this focus when thinking about the gospel or listening to presentations of the gospel, we would never stray far from essential truth.

In addition, we are given specific counsel on how to preserve the truth and avoid error in Review and Herald, June 4, 1889.

Many of us are content to stop our investigation when we have just begun to receive a little knowledge concerning Christ. When there begins to be a little unfolding of the divine purposes to the mind, and we begin to obtain a slight knowledge of the character of God, we become satisfied, and think that we have received about all the light that there is for us in the Word of God....With painstaking effort, weshould work in the mines of truth, discovering the precious jewels that have been hidden....He who desires the truth in his heart, who longs for the working of its power upon the life and character, will be sure to have it....Those who seek for more and still more of the Spirit of God, will not be disappointed. They will hold daily communion with God....

If you search the Scriptures with a meek and teachable spirit, your efforts will be richly rewarded....We should pray as did David, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law."... If we do not have His power it is because of our spiritual lethargy, our indifference, our indolence. Let us come out of this formality and deadness....We do not half realize what the Lord is willing to do for His people....We should not be satisfied with our present knowledge. Our petitions, mingled with faith and contrition, should go up to God, for an understanding of the mysteries that God would make known to His saints....We should not be satisfied with a superficial knowledge. We should search for the hidden treasure concealed beneath the surface....There are many who have not taxed their mental powers, and who have no experience in putting to the stretch their utmost ability to find out what is truth....You should realize that you are living upon the very borders of the eternal world, that Christ is coming very soon, and that all heaven is interested in the work that is in progress in fitting up a people for His coming. If ever there was a people that needed to heed the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodicean church to be zealous and to repent before God, it is the people who have had opened up before them the stupendous truths for this time, and who have not lived up to their high privileges and responsibilities....

There is nothing that will develop the intellect like wrestling with the great problems of truth revealed in God's Word. You may keep your mind in constant meditation and prayer, even when your hands are busy....Search the Scriptures; dig in the mines of truth until the precious jewels that have been hidden there for ages shall be brought out....It is our work to free the precious truths of God from superstition and error....Glorious truths have been buried out of sight, and have been made lusterless and unattractive by error and superstition....We are to read attentively, to hear understandingly, and to teach others also the things we have learned. We must be constantly hungering for the bread of life, constantly seeking for the living water and the snow of Lebanon, that we may be able to lead the people to the living, cooling waters of the Fountain of truth.
There is much divine counsel in these words, that if heeded would make error very easy to detect, even when hidden in beautiful truths. Every one of us has the capability to follow this counsel, and if we are deceived by error attractively presented, it will only be because we are unwilling or too lazy to follow God's advice. If we would remember that our eternal salvation is at stake here, we might be more motivated to follow this counsel.

Behold the Cross

There is something else that we should consider here. It is much more subjective, appealing more to emotions than to logic. I wonder if this will do more to protect us from error than all the reasoned evidences we can present. This is very intimate and personal, something that we can only do one by one, in the quietness of our own hearts.
If one could unravel all presuppositions and have a clear, unadulterated and undistorted view of the cross--what would they see? They would see the Creator of the universe...shrunk into human flesh and nailed to two pieces of wood, His life crushed out by all the pain, suffering, and anguish of a world that He with His creative syllables had crafted into existence....At the Cross, everything noisome and evil that ever rippled through our nerves rippled through His--at once. However much blood, sweat, and tears have spilled, dripped, and flowed, one ever ached more than he or she, individually, could withstand; the moment the threshold was crossed, death cracked it off. In contrast, at the Cross, the evils of the world, and all their doleful results, honed in on Him at once....All the planet's finite evils fell on Christ....

But more importantly, if Jesus "tasted death for everyone,"...if He died "for the sins of the whole world,"...if upon Him was placed the iniquity "of us all"...--then all of us are implicated in the Cross because all of our evil was there....It means that our lies, our greed, our envy, our lust, our pride, our cheating, our selfishness, our injustice, and all the nasty and dirty little things we have thought and done; all of them were there, at the Cross, borne by Christ, killing Christ so that when all the evil moments of our life are tallied and weighed, they don't have to ultimately, and forever, kill us....

If all the evil we have ever committed or will ever commit fell on Jesus to spare us from the punishment that justice demands, then the Cross has an absolute moral claim on us....If at the Cross Christ paid the penalty for every wrong thingwe have ever done, if He bore the brunt of our evil, if in His flesh He felt at once the painful consequences of our foul deeds, and if He did it in order to spare us from having to face divine judgment for all these things we have done and yet we reject the provision, what's left?...No matter what we have suffered, we have suffered only as individuals. No more. In contrast, God took on the form of humanity and died a death not only worse than the worst of the best of humanity but suffered a death worse than all of humanity (even the worst of it)--combined. And though that amazing death does not answer all the questions about evil and pain, it does put them in a perspective that could help us past our own anguish and that of others. (Clifford Goldstein, Ministry, May, 2002, pp. 8-11)

Could it be that a good, long look at the cross will be our best protection against believing error? There our best rationalizations and pretences are exposed as hollow, and our conscience comes fully awake, making sharply clear what sin and salvation are all about. Ellen White pointed us to the same remedy for spiritual blindness.

As He descended step-by-step from His throne, His divinity was veiled in humanity; but in His miracles, His doctrines, His sufferings, His betrayal, His mockery, His trial, His death by crucifixion, His grave among the rich, His resurrection, His forty days upon earth, His ascension, His triumph, His priesthood, are inexhaustible treasures of wisdom....The waters of life still flow in abundant streams of salvation. The mysteries of redemption, the blending of the divine and the human in Christ, His incarnation, sacrifice, mediation, will be sufficient to supply minds, hearts, tongues, and pens with themes for thought and expression for all time; and time will not be sufficient to exhaust the wonders of salvation, but through everlasting ages, Christ will be the science and the song of the redeemed soul....Let everyone who is striving for the precious boon of eternal life distrust his own strength, and, in much prayer, cast his helpless soul upon Christ....The larger number of those who profess to believe on Christ have only superficial ideas as to what constitutes Christian character....The thoughts of these superficial believers are not deep or strong enough to comprehend the work of the atonement, and the relation of that work to their own work and life. So terrible a deception has come upon many, so many false ideas have become inwrought in the character, that it seems necessary to tear the whole experience to pieces in order that self-dependence and self-sufficiency may be laid aside, and outward obedience deepened to inward piety and truth....

Do not fail to look upon Jesus lifted up upon the cross; and as you look, believe and live; for by faith in the atoning sacrifice you may be justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Believe that you are forgiven, that you are justified, not in transgression and disobedience, but in submission to the will of God. If through faith you lay hold of the righteousness of Christ, then be not careless of your thoughts, your words, your works. Study much, and pray that as Christ has shown you the way, He may by His grace keep you in the way....In order to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, it is essential that you meditate much upon the great themes of redemption....If thoughts of Christ, His work and character, are cherished, you will be led to sink deep the shaft of truth, and you will be enabled to come into possession of precious jewels of truth. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to you....We think that we are familiar with the character of Christ, and we do not realize how much is to be gained by the study of our glorious Pattern. We take it for granted that we know all about Him, and yet we do not comprehend His character or mission. If we neglect to search the Scriptures, which testify of Him, we shall be led from the truth into the error of the wicked one. (ST December 1, 1890)

No Place For Sin

If we are serious about not being contaminated by the errors surrounding us, and if we are willing to spend the time in the Word of God that is necessary, and if we will meditate much on the death of Christ in our place, then we will also quickly understand that there is no place for ongoing sin in the lives of those preparing to receive the seal of God. In 1915, E. K. Slade wrote these words.

The heart of every loyal subject is God's throne, where His law--which is the foundation of His throne--is the rule of action in all His subjects....The gospel, God's plan through Jesus Christ for rescuing His subjects and regaining His throne. "Christ in you, the hope of glory,"...the union wrought by the gospel, is but the enthroning of God in the hearts of His children, thus making them fit subjects for His kingdom....He has no place for sin....In the plan of God no place whatever is provided for sin....The cherished sin may seem to be innocent and harmless, but its presence in the heart, in that measure gives Satan a realm and a throne....The kingdom of God is soon to have its place in all the earth. In a very short time all rival rule is to be put down, and given no place in all the vast universe. Great intensity is crowded into every remaining moment as that event draws near. But a little longer can we have the opportunity to choose to let Him have His place and way in us. While He is preparing a place for us, He wants to prepare us for that place. This He can do only by being permitted to have His place in us. (Review and Herald, March 4, 1915)
"And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last....And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." (Revelation 22:12-13, 17) Today, as we are surrounded by error, we want pure water, not sugary sweet platitudes which have no nutritional value for the soul. We want living water, which will nourish us now and for all eternity. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.