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The Mediation of Christ the Only Way to Saving Righteousness to the Very End
The writings of Ellen White also express the idea that all believers must have the righteousness of Christ for a right standing with God to the very end. The expression "to the very end" has a double application: It means, first, that those who die before the close of probation continue to rely on the mediation of Christ for salvation to the close of their lives. And second, that the last generation of believersthose living at the time when the world's probation closes, and consequently must face the pre-Advent judgment during their lifetimeneed Christ's mediation, to secure God's final verdict of acceptance, as much as all the generations that preceded them.
Common sense would seem to indicate that the longer a believer continues in the process of Christian growth, the closer he should find himself to achieving the goal of sinless perfection, and consequently the less he should need Christ's mediation for him. The consciousness of his sinfulness, imperfection, and unworthiness should decrease in somewhat direct proportion to his spiritual maturation, character development, and behavioral modification. Strange as it may seem, however, Ellen White rejects such a notion. Notice particularly that an individual's perception of his own spiritual conditionwhether he sees himself as righteous and good or imperfect and sinfulis said to be determined by his relative spiritual closeness to Jesus and by the adequacy of his view of the perfection of Christ.
These Ellen White statements describe the theological views, spiritual insights, and personal experiences of two radically different kinds of religious people. Those of the first group do not have a close and enlightened faith relationship with Jesus and consequently lack both the point of reference and the spiritual eyesight that would enable them to see their true predicament as fallen beings. They are religious moralists obviously concerned about achieving a sinless condition. Unfortunately they underestimate their sinfulness and overestimate their potential. As a result they do not sense that their total acceptance with God comes through Christ. They apparently view His mediation as a temporary arrangement intended to assist them until they achieve a state of flawlessness and learn to live without sinning.
Ellen White mentions several negative characteristics of this group: 1. They live at a great spiritual distance from Christapparently without realizing it. 2. Controlled by Satan's delusion of self-righteousness, they have not let the vivifying influence of the Holy Spirit arouse them. 3. Not having a clear view of Jesus' purity and loveliness, they believe that they can match His righteousness in their own personal lives. 4. Without a true conception of the divine requirements, they think they can fully satisfy them.
5. An inadequate conception of what they must become in order to be in harmony with the character of God causes them to underestimate how short they really fall of the divine standard.
6. They do not discern the frailty and sinfulness of humanitywhich blinds them to the true depth of their spiritual wretchedness. 7. And they have a simplistic definition of sin, an inadequate understanding of its true malignity, which blinds them to the fact that only Christ can give them a right standing with God.
The second group consists of "the true followers of Christ," who live in a close and enlightened faith relationship with Him and are therefore spiritually sensitive. Having had a view of the purity and excellence of Jesus, they see their "own weakness and poverty and defects as they really are." That is why they repudiate their own righteousness, see themselves as incomplete, their repentance insufficient, their strongest faith as feebleness, and recognize that "their only hope is in the merit of a crucified and risen Saviour."
Those belonging to the second group exhibit at least the following traits: 1. They have come to appreciate the beauty of Christ's holy character. 2. They have a clear understanding of the far-reaching nature of God's requirements, of what they must become in order to meet the standard He has established. 3. They have an adequate conception of the terribleness of sin and of the frailty and sinfulness of humanity. 4. They recognize their personal sinfulness, inadequacy, and unworthiness. 5. They live in a state of "continual repentance and faith in the blood of Christ," fully aware that their salvation depends, not on their own goodness, but on God's infinite grace.
We can therefore say that the block of Ellen White passages quoted earlier in this chapter leads to at least four conclusions: First, the believer who maintains a healthy and growing faith relationship with Jesus Christ comes increasingly closer to the Saviour. Second, the closer he approaches Jesus, the more clearly he sees his own imperfection, sinfulness, and unworthiness. Third, his realization does not arise from either a false sense of modesty or a poor spiritual discernment. Instead, it is based (1) on his growing spiritual capacity to see himself as he really isas God views him independently of the imputed righteousness of Christand (2) on his increasing perception of the absolute perfection of Christ. Fourth, the believer's progressive realization of his true spiritual inadequacy leads him to depend more and more on Christ until the end of his life.
2. The Experience of the Remnant Church
According to Ellen White, all true believers will continue living in a state of constant repentance on account of their sin, and faith in Jesus Christ for saving righteousness, to the very end of time. The following passage describes the experience of the last generation of believers as they face God's final judgment at the time when the world's probation comes to its conclusion. Among other things, it shows the decisive role Jesus plays as mediator.
The passage hardly needs any explanation. But in order to highlight its significance to the overall theme of our study, we will call attention to four points: First, the passage discusses the experience of "the acknowledged people of God," "the remnant church," at the time of the "closing up of the great day of atonement." That is to say, it sketches what will happen to the last generation of believers as God permanently and irreversibly decides their eternal destiny at the pre-Advent judgment.
Second, the passage clearly states that the remnant church does not reach sinless perfection of either being or conduct by the time probation ends. They are not supersaints who have fully attained and therefore stand in flawless righteousness before the tribunal of God. On the contrary, they are sinners who, save for Christ's righteousness, have nothing but "filthy garments" to wear. Painfully aware of "the sinfulness of their lives, . . . their weakness and unworthiness," "their defective characters," "their unlikeness to Christ," they "afflict their souls" in repentance before God "on account of their own transgressions," and plead for a "purity of heart" they obviously do not yet possess.
Third, if those believers alive when the pre-Advent judgment concludes had actually transcended their fallen condition, had developed flawless righteousness of being, had learned to live without sinning, then they would be able to answer Satan's charges against them. But that is most definitely not the case. The accused cannot answer his indictment because the charges against them are true. They are indeed guilty, imperfect, and sinful. That is precisely why "as they look upon themselves they are ready to despair." They have no basis for self-defense.
Should God determine their eternal destiny on the basis of their true spiritual condition and actual behavioral performance, their case would be hopeless. But then Jesus, the powerful mediator, makes an effectual plea on their behalf. He silences the accuser with arguments founded, not upon the believers' meritsfor they have nonebut upon His own. He credits, He applies, His merits to them on the basis of their faith in Him as their advocate before the Father.
Fourth, the final judgment of the remnant church comes to a permanent resolution when Jesus, the mediator, does two essential things on their behalf: 1. He commands that their filthy garments be removed from themHe causes their iniquity to pass from them and forgives their sin. 2. He covers them with the glorious robe of His own spotless righteousnessHe imputes His personal righteousness to them so that they may be complete in Christ by faith. As a result, their names remain in the Lamb's book of life, enrolled among the faithful of all ages, never to be removed. Their judgment is now over, their cases forever closed, their eternal destiny permanently sealed.
Clearly, then, the mediation of Christ is as vital as His death on the cross for the last generation because without His imputed righteousness the remnant church would have nothing with which to counter Satan's charges against them, no righteousness with which to meet the standard God requires for salvation. That is what makes the following statements so pertinent:
The requirements for salvation, and the way to achieve them, are the same from the beginning to the end of time. This means two things: First, the last generation must meet the same standard of perfection as all those who went before. Since God required total righteousness of being and flawless obedience to His will of all previous generations, that is precisely what He expects of the remnant churchthe standard neither raises nor lowers for them.
Second, the last generation will meet the standard and achieve the goal in the same way all previous generations did. All those who lived beforeincluding the giants of faith and the martyrs of all ageswere guilty, imperfect, and unworthy sinners, totally dependent on Christ for salvation. So it is with the true believers of the last days. God will save them, not on the basis of their unprecedented spiritual achievements, but because the Mediator removes their filthy garmentsthe partial and imperfect righteousness they developed in their own livesand covers them with the robe of His all-sufficient righteousness. Thus Christ presents them to the Father as perfectly righteous in Him by faith.
Obviously we can find some significant similarities between those still living by faith in Christ when they died and those living by faith in Christ when probation closes: 1. Both groups, Ellen White says, are unworthy, imperfect, and sinfulshe mentions their "unlikeness to Christ," their "defective characters." 2. Both groups stand guilty and helpless before Godthey cannot counter Satan's charges because these accurately reflect who they really are and what they have actually done. 3. The judgment makes the eternal salvation of both groups permanently secure, not because they have achieved perfect spiritual wholeness and learned to live without sinningfor such is not the casebut because the Saviour applies the benefits of His redemptive victory to them and presents them to the Father as being righteous, holy, and worthy in Christ by faith.
3. Some Scriptural Considerations
The New Testament writers believed they were living near the close of human history. As far as they were concerned, they were the last generation of believers. A sense of urgency permeated their writings precisely because they felt that the day of the Lord was at hand. Therefore, we can consider most of what they wrote with their contemporaries in mind, with slight adaptations, as directly applicable to those living at the end-time.
As we examine the apostolic writings in search of something that might apply to those alive when Jesus returns, we find that they have three major concerns: 1. They warn the believers against giving up their faith, because in so doing they would lose their participation in the gospel promises. "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you," says Paul. "Otherwise, you have believed in vain" (1 Cor. 15:2). 2. They encourage the believers to "live holy and godly lives" as they wait for the Advent (2 Peter 3:11, 12). 3. They urge them to continue in their faith "till the end" (Heb. 3:14) so that "the hope held out in the gospel" (Col. 1:23) may indeed become a reality to them.
Speaking about his own Christian experience, Paul said:
First, let us note that Paul based his assurance of a crown of righteousness" on the fact that he "fought the good fight," "finished the race," and "kept the faith."
Obviously he died as he had lived, depending not on his own merits and achievements but on "the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" in Christ (Phil. 3:9). Second, the apostle made no distinction between those alive at the second coming of Christ and those who died beforehand. God will award the crown of righteousness "to all who have longed for his appearing." Clearly his counsel to "continue to live in [Christ], rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught" (Col. 2:6, 7), holds the secret of a right standing with God for all believers alike to the end of time.
The teachings of Jesus reflect a similar concern. He counseled the disciples to be careful and watch in readiness so that the Second Advent would not take them by surprise. Our Saviour warned them against the false teachings and miracles that would "deceive even the electif that were possible" (Matt. 24:24). And He reminded them that only "he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matt. 10:22; cf. Mark 13:35, 36; Luke 21:34-36). Using the vine and the branches as an illustration, Jesus explained the need of abiding in Him, of remaining in His love (John 15:1-10). He seemed truly concerned about whether "the Son of Man . . . will . . . find faith on the earth" when He comes (Luke 18:8).
We therefore conclude: 1. According to the New Testament, all believers must have the merits of Christ for a right standing with God. Scripture focuses on the believer's faith relationship with the Saviour and stresses the absolute necessity to remain in Christ by faith until He returns. 2. Jesus and the apostolic writers give no indication that the last generation has to be specialthat it has to succeed where all previous ones failed. Jesus and the apostles reveal no concern that believers may fail to climb high enough on the ladder of their character development and behavior modification. Instead, they concentrate on the danger that some may renounce their faith and break their spiritual union with Christ and in so doing lose access to the hope held out in the gospel.
Perhaps the most specific scriptural passage to describe the experience of the last generation of believers is the message to the church in Laodicea, recorded in Revelation 3:14-21. Adventists have always believed that it describes the last religious movement specifically singled out in Scripture, and that it therefore applies with particular force to us as a church. It is therefore proper that we should examine the message to establish whether it describes (1) a superior church able to stand on its own flawless morality and spiritual wholeness, or (2) a church fully dependent on Christ's redemptive role for a right standing with God, as we have seen earlier.
According to the testimony of "the faithful and true witness" (verse 14), the Laodiceans find themselves in a terrible predicament, being totally deceived about their true spiritual condition. 1. They think they are rich and in need of nothing, when in reality they are spiritually bankrupt. 2. They are guilty of the sins of self-righteousness and arrogancesins contrary both to the law and to the gospel. 3. They live in a state of shameful spiritual nakedness, of pitifulness and blindness, of wretchedness and poverty. 4. They do not have either true faith or real love ("gold refined in the fire" (verse 18; cf. 1 Peter 1:7; Heb. 3:14; 11:7).
It is important to note that the Laodiceans' critical predicament is not a matter of sinful performance, but of sinful being. The fact that the Witness does not mention any specific sinful practices, such as idol worship, stealing, or adultery, suggests that they probably do not participate in many sinful behaviors practiced by those who do not care about God's moral standards. The Laodiceans are not openly rejecting the law of God. Nor are they, like the prodigal son, wasting their lives in sinful living. Instead, their condition is critical because they have not responded to the gospel in repentance and faith, and consequently they have no access to Christ's redemptive work.
According to the True Witness, the solution to the Laodiceans' almost desperate spiritual condition does not involve more and better works, nor is it an improved version of their own brand of garmentwhich is to say, of their personal righteousness, goodness, and merits. Instead, they can find the answer to their situation only in Christ and what He makes available to them. The Witness urges them to secure three specific things from Jesus (Rev. 3:18): (1) the "gold" of faith so that they may become rich by partaking of the abundance of Christ; (2) the "white clothes" of His saving righteousness to cover their shameful spiritual nakedness; and (3) the "salve" that will enable them to see their true spiritual condition, and move them to repent of their self-sufficiency so that God may forgive their sin and remove their guilt.
Christ also admonishes them to repent of their spiritual arrogance (see verse 19), and invites them to open the door to Him so He may have fellowship with them (verse 20). Those who heed the message and follow the urging of the Faithful Witness will be overcomersthey are the true believers who will sit with Jesus on His throne just as Jesus sat down with His Father on His throne (verse 21) after Jesus obtained His redemptive victory.
There is something rather peculiarand really disturbingabout the format of the message to Laodicea. While the message is addressed to the church corporately, the final invitation and promise go, not to the church at large, but to individual persons within it. The last exhortation to the church as a church is an appeal to repentance (verse 19). The message then shifts from the corporate to the personal. Jesus says:
The message to the Laodiceans suggests that this prophetic church faces the real danger of repeating the fatal mistake committed by so many in Israel at the time of Christ. As a corporate body, the Laodiceans apparently will never open the door to Christ as their only source of saving righteousness. They will probably continue in their religious pride, totally oblivious to their moral inadequacy and spiritual destitution. Apparently they will not answer the call of the gospel in repentance and faith. But if they do not, the True Witness will indeed spit them out of His mouth (verse 16). That is, God will have to reject them as a people, and they will lose their participation in God's covenant of grace. They will not be among the King's guests who will "eat" with Jesus (compare verse 20 with Matt. 22:2-10).
Commenting on the message to Laodicea, Ellen White says:
But the message also suggests that Laodicea will include a remnant made up of those who heed the counsel and avail themselves of the provision Christ has made for them. They will overcome their spiritual self-sufficiency and open the door to Him. Recognizing their sinfulness, they will repent and be forgiven. They will cover their shameful spiritual nakedness with the white robe of Christ's perfect righteousness, and some day be part of the redeemed of all ages as guests at "the wedding of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:7).
John the revelator saw a vision of the "great multitude" of the redeemed "standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes" (Rev. 7:9, RSV). When the apostle inquired about their identity, he learned that they had "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple" (verses 14, 15, RSV). Clearly, the church victorious, the redeemed of all ages and of all peoples, are those whoto use the biblical metaphorhave washed their robes and made them white in the blood of Christ.
The expression "therefore are they before the throne of God. . ." indicates that what has made it possible for them to live in God's holy presence, what has qualified them to serve Him in His temple, is the fact that they have been fully pardoned, that they are dressed in the garment of Christ's perfect righteousness. The last blessing of Scripture reinforces the importance of being washed clean in the blood of Christ. It reads: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city" (Rev. 22:14).
In one of his visions of heaven, John heard a great multitude shouting:
It is important to note that the bridewhich is God's true churchdid not develop, produce, or earn the "fine linen." This spiritual garment was "given her"a telling illustration showing that the righteousness in which the redeemed will be arrayed they receive as a gift from God, thanks to their faith relationship with Christ.
We can recognize a close similarity between the experience and destiny of the church and that of Israel. As Israel was totally dependent on the typical ministry of the earthly priesthood, so the church is totally dependent on the mediatorial ministry of Christ in the presence of God in heaven (1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Heb. 7:25). The redeemed will eventually participate in the wedding feast of the Lamb and partake of the eternal inheritance, not because they achieved sinless perfection and thus outgrew their need of Christ's mediation, but because His mediatorial work was fully realized on their behalf the moment He secured for them God's final and irreversible verdict of acceptance at the pre-Advent judgment.
Such considerations lead us to at least the following conclusions: 1. The Scriptures do not support the idea that the last generation of believers will achieve a state of perfect spiritual righteousness and learn to live without sinning before the end of probation. 2. The last religious movement singled out in Scripture is as sinful, imperfect, and unworthy as any previous generation of believers, and consequently as dependent as all others on the imputed righteousness of Christ. 3. Only those in Laodicea who individually recognize their true spiritual condition, repent to secure God's forgiveness, and cover themselves in the white clothes of the saving righteousness of Christ will inherit eternal life. They are part of the "remnant chosen by grace" (Rom. 11:5) who will be living by faith when Jesus returns.
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