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Perfect In Christ

Helmut Ott

Chapter III

Christ's Mediation the Only Way to Saving Righteousness for All

Another concept clearly set forth in Ellen White's writings is that all fallen beings depend equally on Christ's mediation for a proper standing with God. No sinner has ever succeeded either in developing perfect righteousness of being or in living without sinning. Therefore all must avail themselves of Christ's atoning death, redemptive victory, and imputed righteousness for salvation.

1. Perfect Righteousness Never Achieved by Anyone Outside of Christ

The pen of inspiration, true to its task, tells us of the sins that overcame Noah, Lot, Moses, Abraham, David, and Solomon, and that even Elijah's strong spirit sank under temptation during his fearful trial. . . . The failings and infirmities of the prophets and apostles are all laid bare by the Holy Ghost, who lifts the veil from the human heart. There before us lie the lives of the believers, with all their faults and follies, which are intended as a lesson to all the generations following them. If they had been without foible they would have been more than human, and our sinful natures would despair of ever reaching such a point of excellence (Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 12).

He who bears with him a continual sense of the presence of Christ cannot indulge in self-confidence or self-righteousness. None of the prophets or apostles made proud boasts of holiness. The nearer they came to perfection of character, the less worthy and righteous they viewed themselves. But those who have the least sense of the perfection of Jesus, those whose eyes are least directed to Him, are the ones who make the strongest claim to perfection (Faith and Works, p. 54).

We may always be startled and indignant when we hear a poor, fallen mortal exclaiming, "I am holy; I am sinless!" Not one soul to whom God has granted the wonderful view of His greatness and majesty has ever uttered one word like this. On the contrary, they have felt like sinking down in the deepest humiliation of soul, as they have viewed the purity of God, and contrasted with it their own imperfections of life and character. . . . When the Spirit of Christ stirs the heart with its marvelous awakening power, there is a sense of deficiency in the soul, that leads to contrition of mind, and humiliation of self, rather than to proud boasting of what has been acquired (Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Oct. 16, 1888).

Those who experience the sanctification of the Bible will manifest a spirit of humility. Like Moses, they have had a view of the awful majesty of holiness, and they see their own unworthiness in contrast with the purity and exalted perfection of the Infinite One.

The prophet Daniel was an example of true sanctification. His long life was filled up with noble service for his Master. He was a man "greatly beloved" (Dan. 10:11) of Heaven. Yet instead of claiming to be pure and holy, this honored prophet identified himself with the really sinful of Israel as he pleaded before God in behalf of his people: "We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies." "We have sinned, we have done wickedly." He declares: "I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people." And when at a later time the Son of God appeared, to give him instruction, Daniel says: "My comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength" (Dan. 9:18, 15, 20; 10:8) (The Great Controversy, pp. 470, 471).

"If we," says John, not separating himself from his brethren, "say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8) (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 562). Enoch was a man of strong and highly cultivated mind and extensive knowledge; he was honored with special revelations from God; yet being in constant communion with Heaven, with a sense of the divine greatness and perfection ever before him, he was one of the humblest of men. The closer the connection with God, the deeper was the sense of his own weakness and imperfection (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 85).

No man can look within himself and find anything in his character that will recommend him to God, or make his acceptance sure. It is only through Jesus, whom the Father gave for the life of the world, that the sinner may find access to God. Jesus alone is our Redeemer, our Advocate and Mediator; in Him is our only hope for pardon, peace, and righteousness (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 332, 333).

The preceding statements describe the experience of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostlesthe spiritual giants of Scripturewho had a better chance than anyone else to develop flawless righteousness of being and to learn to live without sinning. Yet (1) none of them reached the goal of unblemished perfection on their own; (2) they all admitted being sinful, imperfect, and unworthy; and (3) they all depended on the imputed righteousness of Christ for salvation. Their admission of guilt and sinfulness did not result from a false sense of modesty or an inability to recognize their true spiritual standing. Instead, it rested on the fact that their unusually close relationship with God enabled them to acquire both the point of reference and the spiritual perception they needed to see themselves as they really were.

It would be difficult to argue convincingly that the apostles and prophets did not achieve the goal of sinlessness either because God did not give them sufficient divine power or because they did not try hard and long enough. On the contrary, we will see from The Acts of the Apostles that they were men "whom God . . . honored with divine light and power" and who "lived the nearest to God, men who would sacrifice life itself rather than knowingly commit a wrong act." So if anyone ever had the opportunity to achieve sinless perfection, they were the ones.

It is important to note that these spiritual giants recognized their total dependence on Christ for salvation, not so much because their obedience was deficient and they occasionally engaged in sinful behavior, but primarily because they had come to see the fallen condition in which they found themselves as individual persons. They knew that it was their spiritual imperfection, their defective character, their sinful nature, that made them unrighteous and rendered them unworthy.

When the servant of God is permitted to behold the glory of the God of heaven, as He is unveiled to humanity, and realizes to a slight degree the purity of the Holy One of Israel, he will make startling confessions of the pollution of his soul, rather than proud boasts of his holiness. . . . One ray of the glory of God, one gleam of the purity of Christ, penetrating the soul, makes every spot of defilement painfully distinct, and lays bare the deformity and defects of the human character (Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Oct. 16, 1888; italics supplied).

None of the apostles and prophets ever claimed to be without sin. Men who have lived the nearest to God, men who would sacrifice life itself rather than knowingly commit a wrong act, men whom God has honored with divine light and power, have confessed the sinfulness of their nature. They have put no confidence in the flesh, have claimed no righteousness of their own, but have trusted wholly in the righteousness of Christ (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 561; italics supplied).

Ellen White gives great emphasis and significance to the fact that the believer's soul is polluted and his human nature sinful. One could even say that she considered it the single most important reason no fallen being is able to either render perfect obedience to the law or develop a righteousness God can accept. It also clarifies further why all fallen beings are equally dependent on Christ's mediation as their representative and substitute. The following passage explains this quite forcefully:

The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God's right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ's propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable. Then gracious answers are returned.

Oh, that all may see that everything in obedience, in penitence, in praise and thanksgiving, must be placed upon the glowing fire of the righteousness of Christ. The fragrance of this righteousness ascends like a cloud around the mercy seat (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 344; italics supplied).

When we realize the far-reaching implications of the concepts expressed here, we begin to see that this passage holds the key to a correct understanding of at least two essential ideas that otherwise remain vague and ambiguous. That is, 1. That sinful beings cannot offer perfect obedience to God's will and therefore are unable to develop a righteous character on their own. 2. And that perfect obedience is only possible by partaking of the redemptive merits of Christ, by faith.

It was possible for Adam, before the fall, to form a righteous character by obedience to God's law. But he failed to do this, and because of his sin our natures are fallen and we cannot make ourselves righteous. Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law. We have no righteousness of our own with which to meet the claims of the law of God (Steps to Christ, p. 62; italics supplied). The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367). It [the law] could not justify man, because in his sinful nature he could not keep the law (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 373; italics supplied).

If the law extended to the outward conduct only, men would not be guilty in their wrong thoughts, desires, and designs. But the law requires that the soul itself be pure and the mind holy, that the thoughts and feelings may be in accordance with the standard of love and righteousness (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 211; italics supplied). Man cannot meet the demands of that holy law without exercising repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Faith and Works, p. 29).

We should notice several points here: 1. Man cannot perfectly obey the law because he is sinfulhis sinful nature makes it impossible. Again, the issue is perfect obedience, an obedience God can accept on its own merit, without Christ's mediation. 2. Man does not havenor is he able to developa personal righteousness capable of meeting the claims of the holy law. 3. The law covers not just what a person does but also what he isit "requires that the soul itself be pure." That is, the law demands nothing less than total sinlessness of being and perfect righteousness of conduct.

The passage quoted from page 62 of Steps to Christ clearly indicates a radical difference between the initial possibilities of Adam and those of his fallen descendants. Notice again:

It was possible for Adam, before the fall, to form a righteous character by obedience to God's law. But . . . our natures are fallen and we cannot make ourselves righteous. . . . We cannot perfectly obey the holy law.

If we take the passage literallyand there is no reason we should notthen we must conclude that, according to Ellen White, Adam could do at least two things that we, his fallen descendants cannot: First, he could render perfect obedience to God's law. And second, he could develop a righteous character by perfectly obeying God's law.

The cause-effect relationship that undergirds this argument actually has three basic parts, and we must consider all three if we are to properly understand it. 1. As a being created in God's image, Adam began his life with a nature that was righteous, holy, and good, and consequently he enjoyed God's absolute approval without the need of a mediator. 2. Since his nature was pure and sin-free and he lived in unhindered spiritual union with Goda branch perfectly connected to the Vinehe could live in complete harmony with God's will at all times and in every single respect. 3. Since he was righteous in himself, by nature, and consequently could offer perfect obedience, he could also develop a righteous charactera character that, because of its flawless quality, could receive God's full approval based on its own intrinsic merits.

Our situation is quite different, however. "Because of [Adam's] sin our natures are fallen. . . . Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law." And since a righteous character can be formed only through perfect obedience, it logically follows that we cannot develop a righteous character as Adam could have—a character so intrinsically good, holy, and perfect that it would earn God's verdict of acceptance without the mediation of Christ.

Such considerations help us to draw at least two logical and significant conclusions: 1. Only sinless beingsthose who do not have a sinful nature to defile and pollute everything they are and docan live the type of lives and form the characters that will earn God's favorable verdict entirely on the basis of their own merits. 2. The only way in which any fallen being can satisfy God's standard of sinless perfection is through "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Only thus is his condemnation revoked and his sin removed. And only thus does he become a partaker of Christ's all-sufficient righteousnessthe only righteousness in the universe available to fallen beings that meets God's standard of flawless perfection in all respects.

This understanding reinforces the significance of other passages that indicate that it is only the imputed righteousness of ChristHis unblemished character accepted in place of our imperfectionthat qualifies us to stand pure and blameless in the presence of God. Notice:

You are powerless to do good, and cannot better your condition. Apart from Christ we have no merit, no righteousness. Our sinfulness, our weakness, our human imperfection make it impossible that we should appear before God unless we are clothed in Christ's spotless righteousness. We are to be found in Him not having our own righteousness, but the righteousness which is in Christ (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 333). Christ perfected a righteous character here upon the earth, not on His own account, for His character was pure and spotless, but for fallen man. His character He offers to man if he will accept it (Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 371).

Jesus says:

I will be your representative in heaven. The Father beholds not your faulty character, but He sees you as clothed in My perfection. I am the medium through which Heaven's blessings shall come to you. And everyone who confesses Me by sharing My sacrifice for the lost shall be confessed as a sharer in the glory and joy of the redeemed (The Desire of Ages, p. 357). Those who reject the gift of Christ's righteousness are rejecting the attributes of character which would constitute them the sons and daughters of God. They are rejecting that which alone could give them a fitness for a place at the marriage feast (Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 316, 317).

He lived a sinless life. He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned (Steps to Christ, p. 62). Christ imputes to us His sinless character, and presents us to the Father in His own purity (Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, July 12, 1892).

Some believe that a sinner can live a sinless life by properly using the power of the Holy Spirit. Apparently they fail to see that the idea of a sinful being living a sinless life is in itself a contradiction of terms. The passage from Selected Messages, book 1, page 344, quoted earlier clearly indicates that even if a fallen being were able to perform in harmony with what God has stipulatedin his worship and obedience to the lawthe "corrupt channels" of his sinful humanity would pollute all he does and render it unacceptable without Christ's mediation.

Because "our natures are fallen" and "we are sinful, unholy," even the good works we perform bear the incriminatory marks of our personal sinfulness. Our worship and praise, our obedience and service, and our character development and behavior modification are all the works of sinful beings, and nothing sinful beings render to God is acceptable on its own merits. It is only when we avail ourselves of Christ's mediation on our behalf, and He purifies and perfects all through the imputation of His personal merits, that our offering has access to the Father. The following passage underlines the fact that even the good works of man are worthless unless covered with Christ's merits:

Although the good works of man are of no more value without faith in Jesus than was the offering of Cain, yet covered with the merit of Christ, they testify [to] the worthiness of the doer to inherit eternal life (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 382).

A second concept the passage from Selected Messages, book 1, page 344, quoted earlier helps us to understand more fully is the idea that perfect obedience is possible through union with Christby partaking of the divine nature, by combining humanity with divinity. Notice how Mrs. White explains this concept elsewhere:

In order to meet the requirements of the law, our faith must grasp the righteousness of Christ, accepting it as our righteousness. Through union with Christ, through acceptance of His righteousness by faith, we may be qualified to work the works of God, to be colaborers with Christ (ibid., p. 374; italics supplied). Christ came not to destroy but to fulfill the law. Not one jot or tittle of God's moral standard could be changed to meet man in his fallen condition. Jesus died that He might ascribe unto the repenting sinner His own righteousness, and make it possible for man to keep the law (ibid., p. 312).

All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin; but that which is wrought through faith is acceptable to God. When we seek to gain heaven through the merits of Christ, the soul makes progress. "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith," we may go on from strength to strength, from victory to victory; for through Christ the grace of God has worked out our complete salvation (Faith and Works, p. 94).

Christ took upon Himself humanity for us. He clothed His divinity, and divinity and humanity were combined. He showed that the law which Satan declared could not be kept could be kept. Christ took humanity to stand here in our world, to show that Satan had lied. He took humanity upon Himself to demonstrate that with divinity and humanity combined, man could keep the law of Jehovah. Separate humanity from divinity, and you can try to work out your own righteousness from now till Christ comes, and it will be nothing but a failure (ibid., p. 71; italics supplied).

Satan had claimed that it was impossible for man to obey God's commandments; and in our own strength it is true that we cannot obey them. But Christ came in the form of humanity, and by His perfect obedience He proved that humanity and divinity combined can obey every one of God's precepts (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 314; italics supplied).

We must center our hopes of heaven upon Christ alone, because He is our Substitute and Surety. We have transgressed the law of God, and by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified. The best efforts that man in his own strength can make are valueless to meet the holy and just law that he has transgressed; but through faith in Christ he may claim the righteousness of the Son of God as all-sufficient. Christ satisfied the demands of the law in His human nature. He bore the curse of the law for the sinner, made an atonement for him, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Genuine faith appropriates the righteousness of Christ, and the sinner is made an overcomer with Christ; for he is made a partaker of the divine nature, and thus divinity and humanity are combined (Faith and Works, pp. 93, 94; italics supplied).

God has plainly stated that He expects us to be perfect, and because He expects this, He has made provision for us to be partakers of the divine nature (Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Jan. 28, 1904). The gospel of Christ alone can free him [the transgressor] from the condemnation or the defilement of sin. He must exercise repentance toward God, whose law has been transgressed; and faith in Christ, his atoning sacrifice. Thus he obtains "remission of sins that are past" and becomes a partaker of the divine nature (The Great Controversy, p. 468; italics supplied).

A contextual examination of these statements clearly reveals that they do not refer to something belonging to the dimension of concrete physical reality. Instead, they speak of a spiritual phenomenon that is real only in the realm of faith. Consequently, we should not take expressions such as "union with Christ," "divinity and humanity combined," and "partaker of the divine nature" as references either to a pantheistic mixing of God and man or to a mystical blending of divine and human identities. The phrases are not suggesting a supernatural integration of human and divine natures, or some form of human deification. Instead, they speak about the believer becoming a faith participant in the Saviour's atoning death, redemptive victory, and all-sufficient righteousness.

"Union with Christ" takes place as our faith grasps "the righteousness of Christ, accepting it as our righteousness." "Divinity and humanity are combined" when "genuine faith appropriates the righteousness of Christ." The believer "becomes a partaker of the divine nature" whenand by reason of the fact thathe exercises "faith in Christ, his atoning sacrifice." Clearly, the righteousness of Christ is not a spiritual substance or a moral element that somehow gets infused into the believer. Instead, it is an intrinsic quality of Christ's own holy charactera merit, a value, a virtuethat He, as man's representative and substitute, can share with or impute to those who by faith accept Him as personal Saviour.

We therefore conclude that assertions such as "Humanity and divinity combined can obey every one of God's precepts" point to the same dynamics we studied earlier, namely that perfect obedience is possible only through Christ's mediation. When the believer does his best to live in harmony with what he knows of God's will for man and depends on Christ's redemptive work on his behalf for his standing with God, Christ imputes His personal righteousness to him and thus presents him and his performance perfectly acceptable to the Father.

2. How Christ Secures Eternal Salvation for Those Who Died Depending on God's Grace for Salvation.

We have seen that, according to Ellen White, none of the spiritual giants of biblical timeswhich really means absolutely no oneever reached a state of sinless perfection on their own. They were all sinful, imperfect, unworthy, and hence totally dependent on Christ's imputed righteousness. Also, we have seen that none of them of themselves rendered flawless obedience. Besides being sinful and imperfect, their life performance was defiled and rendered unacceptable by the polluting effect of their inherent sinful nature. All they were, all they had, and all they did bore the incriminatory marks of their fallen state and personal sinfulness. Therefore, we face two questions: 1. Since they achieved neither righteousness of being nor sinlessness of conduct, will they be saved? 2. And if so, on what basis?

The following passage from Ellen White's pen answers both questions in a direct, clear, and sufficiently comprehensive way. It is part of a discussion of what in Adventist terminology we refer to as the investigative judgment, a judgment that, for believers that are not alive when Christ returns, will take place after their death, when it is too late for them to do anything to affect God's decision. At this judgment God's final and irreversible verdict permanently seals each person's eternal destiny. Among other things, the passage shows why the mediation of Christ is so essential for those who died trusting in His redemptive work.

While Jesus is pleading for the subjects of His grace, Satan accuses them before God as transgressors. . . . He points to the record of their lives, to the defects of character, the unlikeness to Christ, which has dishonored their Redeemer, to all the sins that he has tempted them to commit, and because of these he claims them as his subjects. Jesus does not excuse their sins, but shows their penitence and faith, and, claiming for them forgiveness, He lifts His wounded hands before the Father and the holy angels, saying: I know them by name. I have graven them on the palms of My hands. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 51:17). And to the accuser of His people He declares: "The Lord rebuke thee, 0 Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" (Zech. 3:2). Christ will clothe His faithful ones with His own righteousness, that He may present them to His Father "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Eph. 5:27). Their names stand enrolled in the book of life, and concerning them it is written: "They shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy" (Rev.3:4).

Thus will be realized the complete fulfillment of the new-covenant promise: "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found" (Jer. 31:34; 50:20) (The Great Controversy, pp. 484, 485).

Notice several significant details:

1. The passage describes a scene of judgment that forever establishes the eternal destiny of the subjects of Christ's gracethose who lived and died depending on God's grace for salvation.

2. The record of their lives shows that they did not achieve the goal of sinless perfection during their lifetimetheir "defects of character" and "unlikeness to Christ" make that obvious enough.

3. Jesus does not question the accuracy of Satan's many accusations, nor does He argue that the accused eventually developed righteous characters and learned to live without sinning.

4. In their defense, Jesus points to their repentance and faiththe only response deemed acceptableand which enables Christ to intercede actively in their behalf.

5. Lifting His wounded hands as a witness to His atoning death on their behalf, Jesus covers them with His own righteousness and thus presents them to the Father as a spotless, wrinkle-free, and glorious church.

6. Their names remain in the book of life, and God declares them to be worthy, not because of what they actually were or did during their lifetime, but because the merits of Christ cover them and make up for their deficiency. God pronounces them righteous in Christ, by faith, in spite of the fact that they still were sinful in themselves, by nature, and consequently failed to meet the standard of sinless perfection He requires.

7. Thus the gospel promise comes to full realization to those whom Paul so fittingly calls "the dead in Christ" (1 Thess. 4:16). That is, their destiny is sealed, their case is permanently closed. They will inherit eternal life, thanks to their faith in Christ's redemptive work on their behalf. Because they lived in a state of repentance and faith in Christ, their Mediator secured their forgiveness and covered them in His own imputed righteousness and thus made their salvation sure. When God will finally establish His eternal kingdom of glory, He will raise them back to life so that they may take their place among the redeemed of all ages.

This passage from The Great Controversy also helps us to see that Satan has his own conception of justice, his own standard by which a fallen being can become worthy of salvation, his own version of the gospel. According to this passage, Satan claims these people as his subjects for three basic reasons: their defective characters, their unlikeness to Christ, and their sinful behavior. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that if the record of their lives showed that they had developed flawless characters, that they had achieved Christlikeness, and that they had learned to live without sinning, Satan would yieldhe would recognize that they are worthy of salvation.

Note three details in Satan's theology of salvation:

1. His method centers on works, performance, or achievement. He wants every person to be rewarded according to what he deserves, based on his own accomplishments. The devil wants God to determine each individual's eternal destiny on the basis of his actual, objective life record.

2. Each person's relationship to sin is the decisive factor. If he somehow has been involved in sin, then God must execute the penalty—he is worthy of death, so death must be his fate.

3. Satan's method has no room for either grace or faith. It decides the destiny of sinners as though there were no Saviour. The atoning death, redemptive victory, and saving righteousness of Christ make no difference here. What Jesus did yesterday as our substitute throughout His earthly life, and particularly on the cross, and what He is doing for us today as our representative with the Father on the throne, play absolutely no role in Satan's plan. All that counts takes place in our present historical lives. Either we show we have a righteous character, like Jesus' character, and demonstrate we can live without sinning, like Jesus did, or else we are forever lost.

It should come as no surprise that Satan has incorporated some elements of God's plan of redemption into his own. Counterfeits always resemble the original to some degree, and deceptions never depart totally from the truth they distort. In both plans the law functions as the standard to evaluate a person's conduct. Both plans hold up Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of what it means to be truly righteous, good, and holyof what the Creator intended man should be. And each has a judgment that reviews a person's life and decides his eternal destiny.

When we examine the similarities and consider the differences, however, we soon discover that while Satan has incorporated what God demands of us, he has left out the provision God has made in Christ to meet those demands. Satan likes the law, not because it provides the basic standard by which we can distinguish what is true and good and loving from what is sinful, but because it condemns us all as transgressors.

Satan does not use the concept of Jesus as our example because He provides a revelation of what God's character is truly like, and of what maninitially created in the image of Godwould be like if sin had not perverted his spiritual wholeness and moral perfection. Rather, he stresses Jesus as the model because he knows that nothing will make our sinfulness, imperfection, and unworthiness more obvious and render our case more hopeless than an unmediated comparison between ourselves and Christ.

The enemy also welcomes the judgment, not because there God's grace finds its glory as Jesus absolves our condemnation and declares us righteous in Himself (see Rom. 3:21-26). Instead, he wants us to face the judgment because he knows we are guilty. If he could have us rewarded for what we are, what we have, and what we do, our condemnation would be assured.

The passage from The Great Controversy shows that God's plan of redemption is different from Satan's theology in all three major areas just listed:

1. God's program of salvation is not achievement-centered but Christ-centered. According to God's plan, the believer has his destiny ultimately determined, not by how good he is, how much righteousness he has developed, or how many temptations he has successfully overcome, but by his faith-participation in Christ's redemptive work.

2. In God's system, what is decisive is not a person's involvement with sin, but his relationship to the Saviour. With God the real question is not "What have you done about sin?" but "What have you done with Jesus Christ and the salvation He provided for sinners just like you?" According to God's plan, the crucial issue is whether or not the sinner responded to the gospel in repentance and faith, and in so doing, obtained access to both God's forgiveness for his sin and Christ's imputed righteousness to make up for his spiritual inadequacy and moral imperfection.

3. Contrary to Satan's counterfeit, God's plan of redemption makes grace and faith central. By grace God provides for man's sin problem a solution that bestows forgiveness and saving righteousness through the redemptive work of Christ on man's behalf. And both forgiveness and righteousness are accessible to the sinner only through repentance and faith. God can forgive the repentant sinner only because Christ's redemptive work is both atoning and substitutionary. And the sinner can partake in the redemptive activity of Christhe can benefit from it, he can avail himself of itonly as his faith lays hold of Christ as his personal Saviour.

This comparison/contrast helps us see the radical difference between God's program of salvation and Satan's counterfeit. In the counterfeit everything revolves around the sinner and his personal accomplishments. His eternal destiny ultimately depends on what he is in himselfwhether he is spiritually perfect or imperfect. What he haswhether it is personal merit or guilt. And what he doeswhether it is morally righteous or sinful. Satan claims that all who have "defects of character," who show "unlikeness to Christ," and who have engaged in sinful behavior are "his subjects," and therefore deserve not everlasting life but eternal destruction.

In contrast, the gospel makes everything revolve around Christ and the sinner's response to Him. When it is time to decide the eternal destiny of "the subjects of His grace."

Jesus does not excuse their sins, but shows their penitence and faith, and, claiming for them forgiveness, He lifts His wounded hands before the Father. . . . Christ will clothe His faithful ones with His own righteousness, that He may present them to His Father "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Eph. 5:27). . . . Thus will be realized the complete fulfillment of the new covenant promise.

3. Some Scriptural Considerations

The fact that all believers equally depend on Christ's mediation for both forgiveness and saving righteousness is graphically illustrated by Israel's experience as God's people. Their special relationship with God began when He acted in their behalf by delivering them from captivity and granting them freedom. The basis on which God chose them as His people was not their own goodness, righteousness, or meritsfor they had nonebut the love and faithfulness of the covenant-keeping God (Deut. 9:5-7; 7:7-9).

Their participation in His redemptive act set them apart as His personal people to enjoy a special relationship with Him and to be holy unto Him. Shortly after their deliverance, God sealed their covenant relationship by giving them two separate yet interrelated institutions, namely the law and the sanctuary. The law's most obvious function consisted of prescribing the conduct of those God had redeemed and sanctified. The law regulated their relationship with Him, with one another, with other peoples, and with the inheritance God was going to give them to enjoy and to administer as His stewards.

Obedience to God's law was a blessing in itself. It enabled the Israelites to live peacefully and productively and made them a holy, happy, and healthy people. But God's law was more than an effective way to enrich their lives: it was a test of loyalty to their Redeemer, as well. For God's people, His commands and precepts were not optional, but mandatory. In fact, they constituted the standard that determined an Israelite's right to continue as a covenant member of God's people. Violations of God's law could result in being cut off from the community of Israel (Num. 15:30, 31), or even in death (Ex. 21:14).

The law's less obvious, yet equally significant, function was to serve as a continuous reminder to Israel that they had not earned the right to be God's people, and did not deserve the special status-relationship He had placed them in. Their constant failure to perfectly obey the law showed again and again that all they were and all to which they had access was, and would always be, not a right earned through a flawless observance of the law, but a gift of God's grace mediated through the sanctuary in the form of forgiveness.

When God gave them His law, the Israelites solemnly promised to be "careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God" (Deut. 6:25; cf. Ex. 19:8; 24:3, 7). And they meant it. We have no reason to believe that they were not honest in their resolve. After all, they had accepted God's redemption and were enjoying a privileged status/relationship with Him as His people. But God realized He could not make the perpetuation of His covenant dependent on their good intentions.

God knew His people's "frame" and remembered that they were "dust," as David puts it (Ps. 103:14, RSV). He saw that "the spirit" of His children "is willing, but the flesh is weak," as Jesus said (Matt. 26:41, RSV). God understood their willingness, but He provided a covenant adapted to their great need and limited potential. And so He gave them the sanctuary, also. "Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them," He told Moses (Ex. 25:8).

The sanctuary was for Old Testament times what the gospel is for the New. The services that took place there symbolized Christ and His sacrificial-mediatorial ministrythe ministry through which He provides both forgiveness and righteousness for those who accept Him by faith. The sanctuary granted atonement to those who, in spite of their resolve to be faithful to God and the gracious covenant He had made with them, found themselves guilty of disloyalty; those who, although they had seriously attempted to obey the law of God, had violated it nevertheless; and those who, having recognized their unfaithfulness, repented of their sin and in faith brought to God the sacrifice He had stipulated.

The main features of the administration of justice through the sanctuary were as follows: Whenever someone violated God's law, he became "guilty. When he [was] made aware of the sin he committed" (Lev. 4:27, 28)through the convicting of the Spirit (John 16:7, 8)he had to "confess in what way he [had] sinned" and bring a "sin offering" to the sanctuary (Lev. 5:5). After he killed the sacrifice (Lev. 4:29), the priest made "atonement for him," and he was "forgiven" (verse 31).

The sanctuary provided forgiveness for the anointed priest," for the "leader" ("ruler," RSV) of the people, and for the common "member of the community" alike (verses 3, 22, 27). And all depended on this forgiveness for their continued participation in God's covenant with Israel. We cannot consider even the high priests an exception, for, according to Scripture, "every high priest" "is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people" (Heb. 5:1-3, RSV; cf. Lev. 16:3-6).

To be forgiven meant that the punishment God had pronounced on the transgressor of the law did not fall on the sinner. He was not cut off, but remained a member of God's people in good and regular standingjust as if he had not violated the law at all. True, he had sinned and was guilty of breaking his covenant with God, and yet God treated him just as if he had been faithfulas if he had kept the law with absolute flawlessnessthanks to the provision of forgiveness God had made available through the sanctuary.

Under this Old Testament arrangement, the sanctuary functioned as a courthouse, or judgment hall, where God decided whether or not a particular individual continued to belong to the community of His people. Since not one of them ever succeeded in rendering perfect obedience, the law rightfully condemned all Israelites as equally guilty and undeserving. But if they availed themselves of the atonement provided, the sanctuary overruled the condemnation of the law. It replaced the law's verdict of guilty, based on their personal works, with one of justified, or nonguilty, grounded on God's forgiving grace. Consequently it was an Israelite's relationship to the sanctuary that ultimately decided his fate, for it was the sanctuarynot the lawthat had the final word concerning his personal standing with God.

The provision of forgiveness through the sanctuary was essential for Israel's continued existence as God's people. Had He not planted the sanctuary in the middle of the camp, the Israelites would have lost their special covenant relationship with God long before they reached the borders of the Promised Land. And throughout their later history, at no time did their status-relationship as God's people not ultimately depend on the provision He had made available to them through the services that prefigured the redemptive role of Christ.

What was true for Israel as a people was also true for each one of its individual members. Nowhere does Scripture speak of someone in the nation's long and varied history who ever occupied his place among God's people on the basis of his perfect obedience to the law. As was the case with Paul, "the very commandment which promised life proved to be death" to them (Rom. 7:10, RSV), precisely because their obedience was at best partial and imperfect. That is why all of themkings and judges, prophets and priests, and rich and poor alikeretained their membership in the community of Israel, thanks only to God's grace expressed through the sanctuary.

The provision was so complete that the Israelites had no need ever to lose their special covenant relationship with God. And yet that is precisely what happened to them as a nation. Slowly they shifted the basis of their assurance from God's grace as mediated through the sanctuary to some of the traditions and outstanding personalities of their religious heritage. They came to believe that because at one time God had chosen them they would remain His special people forever.

Their dependence on obedience to the law for a right standing with God eventually became so all-inclusive that when Jesus came preaching repentance from sin and faith in His substitutionary death (see Mark 1:14, 15; Heb. 9:26-28; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; John 6:35), when He came to "save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21)to take away, to atone for, to remove through His vicarious death, "the sin of the world" (John 1:29)they passed Him by in favor of their own traditions.

The tragedy is that when they rejected the true atonement provided through the sacrifice of Jesus, on whom "the Lord has laid . . . the iniquity of us all," and who died as "an offering for sin" (Isa. 53:6, 10, RSV), God could do nothing more to retain them as His exclusive covenant people. Evidently the Israelites lost their special covenant relationship with God and fell away from grace, not through their failure to provide perfect obedience to the law—God had made provision for that—but rather through their failure to accept Christ's atoning sacrifice, previously symbolized by the sanctuary and its services.

It seems that to a large degree Israel's spiritual problem resulted fromand their destiny as a people was eventually determined bya two-sided theological misunderstanding of man's real predicament as a sinner. They thought that only conscious violations of the letter of the law were sinful. That is why many spiritual leaders felt that only robbers, criminals, adulterers, and the like needed repentance and forgiveness. Apparently it never occurred to them that in spite of their intense religiosity and zealous concern for the law, they were spiritually destitute and morally imperfect and consequently required a Saviour just as much as the despised tax collectors, prostitutes, and other such open sinners.

Jesus told the Jews, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). According to Scripture, "there is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10; cf. Ps. 14:1-3). Therefore we should not interpret Christ's statement to mean that only some people are "sick" and require spiritual healing, or worse, that some are actually "righteous" and therefore do not need Him as their personal Saviour.

Instead, Jesus is revealing the fact that only those who recognize themselves to be sinners, those who are aware of their spiritual imperfectionthe "poor in spirit," the ones who "mourn" on account of their sinfulness and seek God's "righteousness" (Matt. 5:3, 4; 6:33)feel their need of a Saviour and avail themselves of Christ's redemptive work. "It is only he who knows himself to be a sinner that Christ can save. . . . We must know our real condition, or we shall not feel our need of Christ's help" (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 158).

In contrast, those who consider themselves righteous remain unaware of their spiritual deficiencies and consequently do not depend on Christ's redemptive work for their standing with God. As a result, Christ's atonement and mediation have no efficacy for them. Elsewhere Jesus explains in more detail the difference between those who recognize their spiritual need and those who don't:

I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe (Matt. 21:31, 32).

Because the Jews defined sin only in terms of conscious acts that violated the letter of the law, they failed to see their personal sinfulness, which called for a Saviour. They did not realize that because they were imperfect and unworthy, they were as dependent on the merits of the atoning blood of Christ as were the tax collectors and the prostitutes, who lived in open sin. This misconception of the Jews eventually led them to personally reject Jesus as the "capstone" (verse 42) of their personal salvation. "Therefore," Jesus told them, "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you" (verse 43).

According to Jesus, then, such Jews did not lose their participation in God's kingdom of grace because they willfully neglected His law, consciously lived in open sin, or deliberately rebelled against God's rulershipfor such was not the case. They forfeited it, rather, because in their religious self-sufficiency they "did not repent and believe" in order to secure the forgiveness and saving righteousness God made available in Christ. Consequently, they had no part in Christ's kingdom of grace and no right to eternal life.

Not all Israelites lost their covenant relationship with God, however. Some of those who kept it were Christ's early followers and most of the early church, who were Jewish. And when God will finally bring the covenant promises to full realization as He establishes His eternal kingdom of glory at the second coming of Christ, many Israelites will receive everything to which their covenant relationship with God entitles them. Speaking of those who based their hope on the coming Messiah and "were still living by faith when they died" (Heb. 11:13), Scripture states:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (verses 39, 40).

Notice particularly two details here: 1. All the spiritual giants of the Old Testament of which this passage speaks accomplished great feats for Godthey all obtained a good reportbut none of them achieved sinless perfection during their lifetime. That is something that still awaits them in the future. 2. "None of them received what had been promised," but because they "were still living by faith when they died," they "gained approval through their faith" (NASB) and therefore will "be made perfect" together with all the redeemed of all times at the second coming of Jesus.

The experience of the Old Testament heroes of faith beautifully illustrates how God fulfills His redemptive word. The scriptural promise is that "whoever believes in [Jesus Christ] shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Jesus claimed to be the only way: "No one comes to the Father except through me," He said (John 14:6). According to the prophetic promise of John 3:16, all those who live by faith in God's plan for the redemption of sinners will have eternal life. By the same token, all who refuse to place their faith in Christ's redemptive work as the only way to the Father will perish.

On the basis of such considerations, we conclude that all humans alikefrom Abel, the first believer to die, to the last sinner to accept God's saving grace in Christ just before probation endsdepend equally on Christ's redemptive activity for salvation. Because all are sinful, imperfect, and unworthy, and God devised a plan of redemption according to which Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, all humans will either be saved by grace or not at all.

According to Scripture, "there is no one righteous, not even one. . . . All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:10-23). Therefore, either they must accept God's undeserved forgiveness, based on Christ's atoning death on their behalf, or they will stand guilty before the judgment bar of God. And either they accept the imputed righteousness of Christ, centered in the Saviour's substitutionary life, or they will remain in their state of lostness, spiritual destitution, and eventual death. Fallen man simply has no other options available.

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