It’s popular in some Christian circles these days to downplay the importance of studying theology in favor of focusing purely on Jesus, as if a pursuit of greater theological understanding stands in opposition to a simple relationship with Christ. Pursuit of greater theological understanding is seen as an empty intellectual exercise which undermines a personal “experience” with Jesus.
This is not a new development. In 1993, when asked about the trend to minimize theology in favor of “just Jesus”, Dr. R.C. Sproul gave this answer:
“My first question to people [who believe that] is, ‘Who is Jesus?’ As soon as you start to answer that question, you are into theology. The person who says to me, ‘I’m not interested in theology’ doesn’t realize that what he’s saying is that he’s not interested in God. Because if we have any understanding whatsoever of the character of God, that’s theology. ...to be against theology...is a denial of our own humanity, because we can’t even relate to God unless we know something about Him.” (source: Interview from 1993 on The White Horse Inn)
The great danger here is in reducing Jesus to a private experience to the exclusion of seeing him as an objective, historical truth. To the extent that Christians see Jesus through personal insights gained from private revelation (either from their own minds or through the minds of an extra-biblical prophet), they minimize the historical and objective reality of the Jesus of Scripture and they send the message that the “true Jesus” is anything we need him to be. Said another way, if all of us claim to know the “true Jesus” but we come to widely different conclusions about the meaning of his earthly ministry, some (or perhaps all) of us have missed the point.
Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The apostle John describes Jesus as the pre-existent Word (John 1:1) and the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Given this, we need to listen to what Jesus says about himself and what the Word says about him. We should not endeavor to minimize the importance of theology because in so doing, we reduce Jesus to a “feeling” or a self-help tool, rather than seeing him as the lamb of God who takes away our sin (John 1:29), through whom we have reconciliation to the Father (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).
Posted on 01/28/08 at 08:12 AM.
this article in the forum
How is it possible for a perfectly just and holy God to forgive sinners? This is the question that lies at the heart of the doctrine of justification, and is answered by the apostle Paul in Romans 3:21-26:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The apostle Paul uses a legal term–justification–to demonstrate how God is able to simultaneously be holy, just, and to have fellowship with sinners. God’s holiness prevents him from simply overlooking sin and he would be unjust if he did not bring judgment against it. Being rich in mercy, God provided a way for sin to be forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, securing fellowship with his sinful children while simultaneously preserving his holiness and justice.
But exactly which sins are forgiven–past sins or all sins (past, present and future)? Adventists have historically come down on the “past sins only” side of this argument, leading to a situation where future sins can disqualify the believer from salvation. This is the essence of the investigative judgment teaching which asserts that even one unconfessed sin will leave the sinner without salvation (for previous articles on this topic, please see The Experience of Salvation and The Gospel, 1844 and Judgment).
Adventists are not alone in teaching this, however.
In the baptismal examination of the American Methodist Church, the following question is found:
“Q. What is meant by justification?
R. Justification means to be made righteous.”
Notice in this answer that the sinner is “made righteous”. This language is imprecise and unfortunately leads to the false conclusion that righteousness is inherent to the justified Christian rather than being derived from Christ’s righteousness, which is external to the Christian. It is on this point that the Protestant Reformers disagreed with Roman Catholics who taught that the sinner was justified based on inherent (in the sinner) rather than imputed (outside the sinner and in Christ) righteousness. Taken further, If one believes righteousness is inherent in the Christian, salvation is a reward for being found righteous, whereas if righteousness is externally derived from Christ, salvation is a gift of God to sinners who do not deserve it.
Consider just one article from the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, where the main tenets of the Protestant Reformation were comprehensively denounced:
“If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.” (Canon XI)
From this statement we see that Catholics who hold to the sinner’s inherent righteousness necessarily consider salvation a reward rather than a unilateral and unmerited gift of God. What’s more, anyone who believes their justification comes solely from God’s unmerited favor has a curse (anathema) pronounced upon him! If by using the word “inherent”, Adventists and American Methodists mean the same thing as the Catholics in describing the sinner’s righteousness, they are necessarily moved into a position where their salvation is at least partly a reward for their good works and not completely a gift of God’s unmerited favor.
Moving on to the next question of the Catechism for American Methodists, we find:
“Q. How are we made righteous?
R. On two counts: we are forgiven for past sins through the blood of Christ; and we are empowered for holy living through Christ, in his Church, by the Holy Spirit; that is, we are pardoned and born again.”
The identical concern we wrote about previously regarding the Adventist understanding of justification is applicable here: “The implication that the sinner requires continual justification is at odds with what the Bible says in describing justification as a one-time event (Rom. 3:21-28, Rom. 5:1, Rom. 8:30. Rom. 10:4, Gal. 2:16, Gal. 3:24). ... The historic teaching of Protestant Christianity–that we are declared righteous by receiving Christ’s imputed righteousness–is thus clouded....”
The Protestant Reformers recorded their understanding of justification and imputation in the Westminster Larger Catechism as follows:
“Q70: What is justification?
A70: Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
1. Romans 3:22, Romans 3:24-25; Romans 4; Romans 5
2. 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21; Romans 3:22-25, Romans 3:27-28
3. Titus 3:5, 7; Ephesians 1:7
4. Romans 4:6-8; Romans 5:17-19
5. Acts 10:43; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9
Q71: How is justification an act of God’s free grace?
A71: Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.
1. Romans 5:8-10, Romans 5:19
2. 2 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 10:10; Matthew 20:28; Daniel 9:24, 26; Isaiah 53:4-6, Isaiah 53:10-12; Romans 8:32; 1 Peter 1:18-19
3. 2 Corinthians 5:21
4. Romans 3:24-25
5. Ephesians 2:8
6. Ephesians 1:7”
The distinction between inherent and imputed righteousness is probably the greatest difference between Protestants who are true to their Reformation heritage and those who have unwittingly endorsed a Roman Catholic view. The concern here is not so much that Protestants have joined Catholics (which many of these Protestants would be surprised to learn), but that so many have given up the precious truths recovered through conviction, bloodshed and sometimes death at the Protestant Reformation. While seeing themselves as the inheritors of the Reformation, many Adventists and non-Adventist Protestants have taken leave of the very truth that lies at the center of their right standing with God. If we neglect the precious truth of justification by faith alone, we must admit that we can never really know whether we are saved (because we could fall into sin at any time–sin which may not be covered by God’s future forgiveness), and we find ourselves in agreement with Ellen White, who said, “Those who accept the Savior, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or feel that they are saved” (Christ’s Object lessons, p. 155).
Instead of being uncertain and merely hopeful about what lies ahead in the Christian life, let us make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). May our faith be in Jesus Christ, who is the source of our imputed righteousness and who is able to complete the work he began in us (Philippians 1:6).
Posted on 11/01/07 at 06:00 AM.
this article in the forum
What does it mean to be in union with Christ and what are the repercussions of this somewhat mystical concept? As a new Christian, I heard others talk of being “joined to Christ” or in “union” with Christ, but I didn’t really understand what they meant.
My idea of this union became more fully developed when I considered my relationship with my wife. It seems obvious, but before our wedding, we did not enjoy the full benefits of the marriage relationship. For example, we were “on our own” when it came to most of the duties of daily life, including caring for ourselves, preparing meals, and keeping our living spaces clean. We were not able to enjoy uninterrupted companionship throughout the day and at night. Much of the “effort” of living was duplicated in parallel, while the trajectories of our lives were growing closer together until they would meet on the day of our wedding.
Prior to being married, it was difficult to imagine what was ahead of us, but this did not stop us from becoming lost in our imagination about what the future held. I distinctly remember thinking how wonderful it would be to not be forced to say “Goodbye” at the end of the day but instead, enjoy uninterrupted companionship throughout the night.
Looking back through the lens of over 10 years of marriage has given me perspective on what the marriage union entails. The benefits of this union are far greater than what I imagined they would be, and reflecting on them provides insight into what Christians mean when we say we are united to Christ.
Our marriage has come with great benefits, and along with this, great responsibilities. Soon after becoming married, it became obvious that in addition to the joys of uninterrupted companionship, the marriage relationship required effort to maintain. While not always the case but more often than not, the “work” required to maintain a happy marriage flows naturally out of the love my wife and I have for each other.
As a bachelor, it was easy to leave my apartment in an unkempt state, since I was the only one who had to live there. Books, clothes, laundry, papers, etc. were often left strewn about the floor. In my mind, I knew that it was “good” to have a clean apartment, but this knowledge did not always translate into practice. After being married (and with a little help from my wife), this “head knowledge” has not remained locked inside my (thick) skull! Because I share a home with my wife, and more importantly, because I love her, I keep my dirty clothes off the floor!
I recall a story my father told along these lines. When he was a bachelor, he did not care whether his socks were “inside out” or “right side out” when he put them into the laundry. My mother, on the other hand, preferred all of the socks to be “right side out”. When they were married, my father learned of her preference and from that day forward, he never put an “inside out” sock into the laundry again! Was he motivated to do this because of my mother laid down the “law” with him? No, he was motivated to do this because he loved her and wanted to please her, driven by her love and desire to please him.
And so it is with our union with Christ. The marriage analogy is not perfect, since a marriage is a union of equals, but it is perhaps the closest metaphor we have to describe our response to the blessings we receive in being united to Jesus. Seeing things from his perspective, perhaps a better analogy is that of a parent-child relationship. The parent has unrestrained love for the child and does things for the child without any expectation of reward. So too, Jesus bestows on his children the gift of salvation, of union to himself and adoption into his family. Fittingly, the Bible describes our union with Christ in language that encompasses both parent/child and husband/wife relationships.
A child does not ask to be born to receive the blessings of his parents, and similarly, we do not ask to be born again in Christ. The Bible tells us that God’s children were chosen “from the foundation of the earth” in Jesus. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV)
It is important to notice here what God expects of those whom he chooses–"that we should be holy and blameless before him”. No earthly parent can expect this kind of response from their children and no husband or wife will see such a high degree of devotion. It is only because of Christ that God can have such expectations. As a result of the forgivness for sin and work of justification that is accomplished by Christ, God’s children are indeed holy and blameless. When God sees his children, he doesn’t see filthy sin-stained human garments, he sees the righteous, sin-free clothing of Jesus.
What is our response to all of this? Returning to our marriage analogy, the response can be nothing but obedience out of gratitude. Just as I no longer leave my dirty clothes on the floor and just as my father made certain that his socks were turned the right way around, we look to our heavenly “spouse” for guidance in the way we conduct our Christian lives. Just as I desire to conform my will to my wife’s needs, so do I desire to conform my will to Christ’s.
Looking at this from another perspective, consider a sailboat. The boat will not go far in the water unless there is wind to propel it. So too, the Christian will be “dead in the water” without something from God to move us. Our union with Christ and the good news he brings is the “wind” we need to move the boat that is our Christian life. Without this wind, all the self-help books on how to live our “best life now” or attain a “purpose-driven life” will be meaningless, because they will be counciling us on how to steer the boat without actually providing the force we need to get there.
The theologian Robert Reymond reflects on the meaning of our union with Christ in his ”New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith”.
“Union with Christ is the fountainhead from which flows the Christian’s every spiritual blessing–repentance and faith, pardon, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. Chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, and in the divine mind united with Christ in his death and resurrection, the elect, in response to God’s effectual call, are through God’s gift of faith actually united to Christ. Their union with Christ is in no sense the effect of human causation. ‘The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband’ (Larger Catechism, Question 66). By virtue of his actual union with Christ the Husband in his death and resurrection, the Christian, as Christ’s ‘bride,’ is forgiven of his sin and liberated from the law—his previous ‘husband’–and made capable of doing that which he could never do before, namely, ‘bear holy fruit to God’ (Rom. 7:4-5). To the degree that the Christian ‘reckons himself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 6:11), that is to say, to the degree that the Christian takes seriously the reality of his Spirit-wrought union with Christ, to that degree he will find his definitive sanctification coming to actual expression in his experiential or progressive sanctification. The holiness of the Christian’s daily walk directly depends upon his union with the Savior.”
As Reynolds notes, we are in union to the law prior to being united to Christ. The apostle Paul described the law as a “schoolmaster” whose job it was to bring us to Christ. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24 KJV)
How does the law act as our schoolmaster? By revealing sin. Without the “mirror” of the law, we cannot possibly know the depth of our sin problem and our need for a Savior. The law gives us the “bad news” that we have fallen short of its demands, and it places us in the vulnerable place where our sins must be dealt with. Thankfully, the law does not leave us hanging, but fulfills its function of driving us to Christ. In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul goes on to say that after we are in union with Christ, we are “no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:25 KJV). The law has finished one of its primary tasks in bringing us to the only person who can remove the sin it revealed–Jesus Christ.
Having been freed by the promise of the gospel from the bondage of the “bad news” of the law, we are now free–for the first time–to obey God from right motivation. Just as I was free to obey my wife from the motive of love, I am free to obey my Creator because of the gratitude that comes from being united to Christ. The “wind” that is needed to propel the boat of my life is now blowing with full force, allowing me to move toward my destination and to live the Christian life.
What does this have to do with Adventism?
Simply put, the Adventist church has missed a primary function of the law–to drive sinners to Christ. While much effort is expended in holding up the ten commandments as the revelation of God’s character and a standard of holiness, virtually no effort is made to show that everyone–including Adventists–fails to meet the law’s demands. Having relegated the law to merely a code book for how to live a good life, the law is emptied of its power to deliver the “bad news” and drive the sinner to his Savior. And being primarily a code book, the law is either trivialized into something able to be “kept”, or it becomes a heavier and heavier weight that cannot be lightened other than through more “spiritual exercise”.
If the law can be softened in any way so that it can be perfectly “kept”, the Adventist church has a legitimate claim of being one of the only churches to actually keep all of the commandments. Much is made about observance of the fourth commandment, but the “keeping of the day” does not resemble what was commanded to the Israelites upon pain of death (for more information, see here). What’s more, the Sabbath is fitted with additional man-made requirements governing everything from personal amusements to sexual activity (or lack thereof). Instead of pointing to the Savior and finding its fulfillment in him as described in Hebrews 4, the Sabbath becomes a convenient way to measure whether someone is part of God’s remnant church.
Let me suggest that one can spend their entire lifetime faithfully observing the Sabbath, but if done from the motivation of trying to meet the law’s demands rather than from love for the Savior and his finished work on our behalf, it will amount to nothing. Nobody will be able to say to God on Judgment Day, “Lord, look at my Sabbath-keeping” and expect to be found not guilty. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and as such, we are all guilty. Unless the law shows us our guilt and leads us to the Savior who can acquit us, we’re still guilty and we’re still in our sins. Unless we have felt the weight of the law and our absolute guilt in the eyes of a Holy God, we are still facing eternity apart from him, even if we spend the rest of our lives in faithful church attendance and Sabbath-keeping.
What does this have to do with “former Adventism”?
Some have left the Adventist church and embraced their newfound freedom in Christ but have unwittingly created a false dichotomy in their minds between union with Christ and faithful obedience to him. Before objecting to this statement out of hand, consider that it is God who authored the law, and that the law is part of his revealed will for his children. We do ourselves a disservice when we try to divorce our union with Christ from obedience to Christ’s revealed will that is contained in his law. The law is not the end of God’s will, but neither is it merely a “warm-up” to the Christian life. God did not give the law to the Israelites for the sole purpose of leading them to Christ, only to later nullify it in a “bait and switch” procedure.
The apostle Paul describes his own struggle with the law in Romans 7. He agonizes over his failure to meet the law’s demands, yet he does not back away from acknowledging his service to the law of God, even saying that he “delighted” in it (Romans 7:22). Paul was not speaking about some unknown law that was only revealed in Christ, he was speaking about the law that includes the commands delivered at Sinai (Romans 7:7-8).
How do we reconcile Paul’s assertion that he had to die to the law in order to live for Christ (Romans 7:4, Galatians 2:19-20)? A parallel sentiment is conveyed in Galatians 4:21-30 in Paul’s analogy of Hagar (the slave woman) and Sarah (the free woman). To reconcile all of these apparent contradictions, we must understand that Paul was speaking of dying to his attempts to obtain righteousness through the law. As long as Paul was still trying to gain heaven by living up to the law’s demands, he was “under the law”, in bondage to the schoolmaster, and a child of the slave woman (Galatians 4:24-25). But in dying to his attempts at works-righteousness, Paul was joined to Christ’s perfect righteousness, adopted into God’s family as a child of the free woman, and no longer under the care of the schoolmaster (Galatians 4:26, Galatians 3:25).
There is no contradiction in Paul’s condmenation of those who attempt to keep the law for salvation (Galatians 1:6-10, Galatians 2:11-21), while simultaneously proclaiming his “delight” in the law, since Paul’s motivation is not observance of the law to be saved, but as a result of having been saved. He even goes so far to say that those who are “in the flesh” (under the bondage of the law) cannot ever submit to it. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:7 ESV)
Just as I delight in serving my wife because of my love for her, so I delight in the law of my Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ (Psalm 1:2, Romans 7:22). It is because I am married that I obey (albeit imperfectly) my wife, and it is because of my union with Christ that I obey (albeit imperfectly) his commands. May it be done from right motivation and a justified heart, to the praise of his glory.
Posted on 10/30/07 at 06:00 AM.
this article in the forum
It is said that to be a born-again Christian is to be secure in Christ. But do Christians really believe they are secure, and if so, what is the practical meaning of this security? For example, is the new believer merely secure until he commits the first sin? Is his salvation contingent upon the ability to maintain a spotless sin-free record until he dies? Can the believer lose and regain his salvation multiple times over his lifetime and perhaps even multiple times in a single day? As we saw in part I, many Christians teach that salvation can be gained or lost in such a manner. This is particularly true in the Adventist church, where the doctrine of the investigative judgment greatly destabilizes the believer by teaching that nobody knows when their name will come up in the judgment. For some, this “pre-Advent judgment” may occur during their lifetime. Accordingly, the salvation of a professed Christ-follower is contingent upon the timing of this investigative judgment. For example, if the judgment were to occur today, the Christian would be exempted from God’s grace if even one unconfessed sin was found in the heavenly records, all without the Christian’s knowledge. He would be accused, tried, judged and sentenced in absentia, unaware that his eternal fate was already sealed.
In a defining statement on this doctrine, Ellen White wrote, “All sin unrepented of and unconfessed, will remain upon the books of record. It will not be blotted out, it will not go beforehand to Judgment, to be canceled by the atoning blood of Jesus.” (Review and Herald, March 27, 1888) According to this teaching, the blood of Jesus cannot cancel the sins of the Christian unless he specifically brings to memory each sin and confesses it individually. But does the Bible actually teach this? Proponents of the investigative judgment use Hebrews 6:4-6 for biblical support, believing that an “on-again off-again” view of salvation is presented there.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV)
In his sermon on this passage, John Piper argues that Hebrews 6:4-6 cannot be used to destabilize or disqualify true Christ-followers and he even sees this text as strengthening the believer’s security. In Piper’s understanding of the text, Christians will continue to persevere as evidence of their security. Many people turn this around to say that as long as Christians persevere, they will remain secure, but in believing this, they place the work of salvation upon their own shoulders.
At this point it is important to make the distinction between true and false converts. Many have used the term “once saved always saved” very loosely, as if making a one-time “decision for Christ” by their own initiative will secure eternal life. But the true convert is born again from above–by God’s initiative and not his own–resurrected to eternal life by God’s saving grace. As evidence of this continuing work, the born-again believer is adopted into God’s family and is sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14 NIV). The true convert will grow in the finished work of Christ throughout his lifetime, being maintained and sanctified by God’s ongoing work (Hebrews 10:14, Romans 8:26-30). This inward change is manifested in a life where outward works are demonstrated–not as a requirement for salvation, but as its consequence.
In his sermon on Hebrews 5:11-6:12, John Piper explores these profound truths. His observations are well worth reading and an excerpt from his sermon is found below.
The Doctrine of Perseverance: The Future of a Fruitless Field
From a sermon by John Piper on April 24, 1988
“Even though it was 17 years ago this month, I can remember the very class session almost as though it were yesterday. The class was called Unity of the Bible, Dr. Daniel Fuller was the teacher, and for the first time I was confronted with the biblical fact that one of the ways God causes us to persevere in faith and be saved is by warning us that we could make shipwreck of our faith and be lost.
Or to put it another way, I had never been shown from Scripture that God graciously warns us that we could drift away and be lost; and that he does this precisely in order to strengthen our assurance that we will not drift away and be lost. And if you are today like I was then, something inside you may be saying, ‘My assurance and hope are not particularly helped by being told that I might drift away from God and be lost.’
How Our Need for Hope and Strength Is Met
Do you see what is at issue here? We all come to the Bible with needs for hope and encouragement and strength. And the Bible stands ready to meet those needs. But we also come with a set of expectations—sometimes learned from our culture—as to how those needs are to be met. Like patients coming to the doctor with prescriptions already written in their pockets which we expect the doctor to sign for us.
If, then, the Bible takes a radically different approach to meeting our need for hope and encouragement and strength, we have to make a very crucial choice: will we reject the biblical prescription and go to another doctor who will endorse our prescription for hope? Or will we humbly admit that God knows us better than we know ourselves—loves us more than we love ourselves—and look patiently for the wisdom in his prescription and counsel?
That’s where I was, and that is where some of you are. Eager to attain the spiritual health of assurance and hope, but very skeptical that the prescription of Hebrews 6 is of any help. And my prayer this morning as we look at this text is not only that its meaning will become clear, but also that its precious and gracious usefulness in the fight of faith and in the perseverance of the saints will be felt by all of us.
I’ve told the story once before of the vulture who spotted the corpse of a fox on a big hunk of ice floating down the river toward Niagara Falls. He flies to the ice, lands, and begins to eat the fox. He watches the falls approaching and hears the warnings of danger, but he tells himself that he has wings and is free and does not need to pay attention to such warnings. He is destined for the sky. At the last minute he finishes his feast and spreads his wings but he can’t fly because his talons have frozen in the ice and he is dragged over the falls to his destruction.
And so it will be with people who have heard the warnings of Scripture to abandon their worldly lusts and pursue holiness, but who say, ‘I have wings, I am a Christian. I can fly anytime I want to.’ The day will come when they may try and will not be able to repent because they are so hardened and addicted to the world they can’t even feel one genuine spiritual affection (Hebrews 12:17).
The third question was, Can this happen to persons who are really born again, justified, adopted into God’s family, sealed by the Holy Spirit?
My answer is NO. It can’t.
There are many texts in the New Testament that would demonstrate that this is so—that those who are justified by faith will infallibly be glorified. But let me show you two texts from the book of Hebrews that teach this—once you belong to Christ you always belong to Christ.
We have become [note the tense of the verb!] partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning or our assurance [well-grounded assurance, not false assurance] firm until the end. (Hebrews 3:14 NASB)
Note carefully: it does not say that you will become a partaker of Christ if you persevere. It says you HAVE become a partaker if you persevere. The point is that persevering does not earn your participation in Christ; it verifies your participation in Christ. Perseverance is not a payment for getting into Christ. It is a proof that you are in Christ.
So the person who drifts along in sin and makes no business in life of holiness does not fall out of Christ. He was never in Christ.
For by a single offering [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified [literally: ‘those who are being sanctified’]. (Hebrews 10:14 NASB)
In other words, when Jesus died, he perfected a group of people forever. He has done this in the past. It does not say that his death will perfect them if they get sanctified. It says that his death HAS PERFECTED those who are being sanctified. It’s done and it is eternal. This is the same kind of thought we saw in Hebrews 3:14. The pursuit of holiness (sanctification) does not earn us this perfection that Jesus secured for us in the past; instead the process of sanctification simply shows that we are among that number who were eternally perfected by the death of Jesus.
So a person who drifts into sin and neglects the pursuit of sanctification and falls away from God is not a person who was once saved by the death of Jesus and then lost that salvation, because Hebrews 10:14 says that salvation is an everlasting accomplishment for a certain group of people. And our assurance of being part of that people is our perseverance in faith and the pursuit of holiness.
So I conclude, if someone drifts away from God and makes shipwreck of faith, they do not lose a salvation that they once had but show by their lack of perseverance that they never truly belonged to Christ, were never born again, justified, adopted, and sealed by the Holy Spirit.”
Posted on 06/30/07 at 06:00 AM.
this article in the forum
A recurring theme in Adventist teaching is the idea that a believer’s salvation can be lost. A person can make a profession of faith in Jesus, persist in the Christian life for a time, but then “fall away” or “apostasize”. While this idea is by no means limited to Adventism, many within the Adventist church take it one step further by linking Sabbath observance or regular attendance of an Adventist church with true Christian perseverance. As the reasoning goes, if a person is initially baptized into the Adventist church but then ultimately chooses to leave, he has apostasized from “the truth” and will face eternal consequences for doing so. By examining the historic teachings of the church, one might rightly conclude that a person who never came into contact with Adventism would be better off than one who walked away from its teachings, since the first person would not be held accountable for knowledge he never possessed while the second would be judged by it.
But what does the Bible say about the believer’s security in Christ? Is the observance of a particular day of worship or membership in a particular denomination the deciding factor in salvation? Can Christians who have been born again and who have placed their faith in Jesus have full assurance that they will be found “not guilty” on the day of judgment? These are the issues we will explore in this series. Setting the stage for the forthcoming articles, we will look at how some historic Adventist teachings have significantly undermined the confidence of Christian believers, effectively obscuring or destroying the precious promises of Scripture.
How can a person who has never come into contact with Adventism be better off than one who has, but has walked away from it? One need not look further than the teachings of Ellen White on this matter. In describing a scene from one of her visions, Mrs. White brought the issue of Sabbath observance into sharp focus as the dividing line between Christians who will be saved and those who will be lost:
“Then I was shown a company who were howling in agony. On their garments was written in large characters, ‘Thou art weighed in the balance, and found wanting.’ I asked who this company were. The angel said, ‘These are they who have once kept the Sabbath and have given it up.’ I heard them cry with a loud voice, ‘We have believed in Thy coming, and taught it with energy.’ And while they were speaking, their eyes would fall upon their garments and see the writing, and then they would wail aloud. I saw they had drunk of the deep waters, and fouled the residue with their feet – trodden the Sabbath underfoot – and that was why they were weighed in the balance and found wanting” (Early Writings, pg. 37).
In The Great Controversy, she further explains, “The Sabbath will be the great test of loyalty, for it is the point of truth especially controverted. When the final test shall be brought to bear upon men, then the line of distinction will be drawn between those who serve God and those who serve Him not. While the observance of the false Sabbath in compliance with the law of the state, contrary to the fourth commandment, will be an avowal of allegiance to a power that is in opposition to God, the keeping of the true Sabbath, in obedience to God’s law, is an evidence of loyalty to the Creator. While one class, by accepting the sign of submission to earthly powers, receive the mark of the beast, the other choosing the token of allegiance to divine authority, receive the seal of God” (The Great Controversy, pg. 605).
These words leave no middle ground. Either one hears and accepts the Sabbath truth, or they do not. Those who do not will, according to Mrs. White, meet a terrible fate in hell, spending the rest of their existence “howling in agony”.
It is no wonder that those who come face to face with Adventist teaching on the Sabbath and who take these quotes from Ellen White seriously have difficulty believing that anyone outside of Adventism can be saved, particularly those who have left the church.
But more specific to the idea of security in Christ, what does Ellen White say to Adventists who are keeping the Sabbath faithfully? Since these individuals have successfully passed the first test of true faith by carefully guarding the seventh day, aren’t their chances of salvation more secure and shouldn’t they have confidence in it?
Judging by Ellen White’s counsel in Christ Object Lessons, apparently not. “Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved. This is misleading. Every one should be taught to cherish hope and faith; but even when we give ourselves to Christ and know that He accepts us, we are not beyond the reach of temptation” (Christ Object Lessons, pg. 155).
This lack of confidence in the promises of God, particularly in the face of the judgment stems directly from the old doctrine of the investigative judgment, described by Ellen White in these searing terms:
“Great and small, high and low, rich and poor, are to be judged ‘out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.’ Day after day, passing into eternity, bears its burden of records for the books of Heaven. Words once spoken, deeds once done, can never be recalled. Angels of God have registered both the good and the evil. The mightiest conqueror upon the earth cannot call back the record of even a single day. Our acts, our words, even our most secret motives, all have their weight in deciding our destiny for weal or woe. Though they may be forgotten by us, they will bear their testimony to justify or condemn. They go before us to the Judgment. The use made of every talent will be scrutinized. Have we improved the capital intrusted us of God? Will the Lord at his coming receive his own with usury? No value is attached to the mere profession of faith in Christ; nothing is counted as genuine but that love which is shown by works” (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pg. 311).
In the official book on Adventist doctrine, Seventh-day Adventists Believe..., the insecurity of the professed Christ-follower is further reinforced, again by quoting from Ellen White:
“As long as life shall last, there is need of guarding the affections and the passions with a firm purpose. There is inward corruption, there are outward temptations, and wherever the work of God shall be advanced, Satan plans so to arrange circumstances that temptation shall come with overpowering force upon the soul. Not one moment can we be secure only as we are relying upon God, the life hid with Christ in God” (Ellen White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, pg. 1032, quoted in Seventh-day Adventists Believe..., pg. 130)
Certainly Christians must be mindful of living in a way that is consistent with their inward profession of faith. But with such a fearful picture as painted by the above quotes, it is a wonder that any amount of time can be spent in contemplation of anything other than the believer’s precarious eternal destiny. One false move, one mental lapse or a weakening of the grip on God and all is eternally lost.
Perhaps this is what was on the current General Conference president Jan Paulsen’s mind when he publicly asserted, “[W]e believe that being Seventh-day Adventists has direct bearing on our salvation; that while a believer can be saved as a Catholic, I would risk my whole spiritual life and salvation were I to leave what I am now and join any other community”.
In summary, we’ve seen that the concept of being secure in Christ is incompatible with the teachings of early Adventists–particularly when it comes to Sabbath observance and the investigative judgment–and leaving Adventism for any other denomination is equivalent to risking one’s eternal destiny. In our next installment, we’ll turn our attention away from Adventist doctrine and toward the Bible as we further explore whether believers can have confidence in the promises of God and in their eternal status with Him.
Posted on 04/29/07 at 06:00 AM.
this article in the forum