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Perfect In Christ

Helmut Ott

Chapter VI

Ellen G. White and a Deception Aimed Particularly at Adventists

Adventists believe that a major aspect of "our" message is to lift up Jesus before the world as the living Saviour who is personally completing man's redemption in the presence of the Father today. The irony is that, as the history of the movement shows, some Adventists have always found it difficult to keep their eyes fixed, and their assurance of salvation based, on Christ's mediatorial ministry in heaven. They have been more concerned about their own accomplishments—their character development and behavior modificationthan about their faith participation in the atoning death, redemptive victory, and all-sufficient righteousness of Christ.

According to Ellen White, one of the greatest deceptions with which the church contended in the past will make its inroads into Adventism again in the future (see Selected Messages, book 2, p. 36). It is an error that places undue emphasis onand has unrealistic expectations of—what the believer supposedly can accomplish in his present life with the help of the Spirit. Because of its one-sided emphasis, such "fanaticism" fails to attribute the right value both to the redemptive work Christ finished as the atoning sacrifice on the cross and to the mediatorial work He is presently carrying on as man's representative/advocate with the Father on the throne.

We can divide Ellen White's writings on this subject into three general parts: (1) what happened shortly after the 1844 disappointment, (2) what happened at the turn of the century, and (3) what she believed will happen again shortly before the return of Christ.

1. What Happened Shortly After the 1844 Disappointment

Ellen White reports that "in the period of disappointment after the passing of the time in 1844, fanaticism in various forms arose" (ibid., p. 34). The worst of them had three basic elements: First, some Adventists believed in total sanctification of being. "They declared that they were perfected, that body, soul, and spirit were holy" (ibid.). Second, they concluded that they cou1d live without sinning. They "claimed that they were sanctified, that they could not sin" (ibid., p. 27).

This second point we can understand in at least two ways: 1. Since their sanctification of being had been completed, they were now able to live in total harmony with God's entire will for humanitythey could obey the law flawlessly, and therefore were no longer dependent on the imputed righteousness of Christ for their standing with Him. 2. Because they were holy, whatever they did was right. Having transcended both their sinful natures and the requirements of the law, they were beyond the moral principles and ethical standards that regulated the lives of those who had not reached their level of supposed spiritual development.

Third, they taught that the attainment of such complete inner sanctification and total outward compliance with God's will was a requirement for salvation to those living at the time of the Second Advent. Those listening to their views "were pressed beyond measure to receive the message of error; it was represented to them that unless they did this they would be lost" (ibid., pp. 34, 35).

One of the greatest negative consequences of this deception was its disruption of the believer's faith relationship with Jesus Christ as the only way for a right standing with God, and the only source of saving righteousness. Notice:

We must have a knowledge of ourselves, a knowledge that will result in contrition, before we can find pardon and peace. . . . It is only he who knows himself to be a sinner that Christ can save (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 158; italics supplied). Our love to Christ will be in proportion to the depth of our conviction of sin (Faith and Works, p. 96). Apart from Christ we have no merit, no righteousness (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 333). When men see their own nothingness, they are prepared to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ (The Faith I Live By, p. 111). Righteousness without a blemish can be obtained only through the imputed righteousness of Christ (Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1901).

As long as the believer recognizes himself to be a fallen, imperfect, and unworthy sinner, he will focus his attention and base his hope of salvation on his participation in the righteousness of Christ. He will continue looking to Jesus as "the author and perfecter of [his] faith" (Heb. 12:2). However, when he assumes that he can satisfy God's standard of righteousness in his own life by achieving holiness of being and sinlessness of conduct, then he mistakenly makes his personal accomplishments, instead of Christ's merits, the ultimate basis of his acceptance with God. As a result, he rejects Christ as the only way for a fallen being to secure salvation and eternal life.

1. What Happened at the Turn of the Century

Judging by articles he wrote, Elder E. R. Jones's understanding of true conversion included at least the following two major aspects: First, "complete transformation of vile man into the image of Jesus Christ" (Review and Herald, July 9, 1889). That is, he believed that the truly converted person will transcend or totally neutralize his sinful nature—he achieves a state of complete sanctification—so that instead of being "vile" as before, he now reflects the image of Christ fully in his own person.

Second, "complete cleansing from the power that compelled us to transgress" the law of God (ibid., Mar. 12, 1889). The idea is that since the power that used to move him to sin is now cleansed, the truly converted believer no longer has sinful inclinations or evil desires. As a result, he can now live without sinning. Notice that Jones used the word complete with reference to both the inner transformation of being and the outward change in conduct.

After quoting 2 Corinthians 5:21, Jones stated: "To be made the righteousness of God in Him is to be made right as Christ is right; 'and in Him is no sin' (1 John 3:5, KJV)" (ibid., July 9, 1889). Notice the subtle yet significant change that has taken place here. Paul is saying that God makes us righteous through Christ—we are righteous in Christ. That is, we participate in Christ's righteousness by faith, and are accounted righteous by virtue of the fact that His merits are imputed to us. The following passage expresses Paul's concept clearly:

The only way in which [the sinner] can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ. . . . Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure, and God. . . treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son. This is how faith is accounted righteousness (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367; italics supplied).

Elder Jones, on the other hand, was suggesting something radically different. He believed that we are "made right as Christ is right." Since "in him is no sin," it follows that we must have no sin in us either—we must be sinless, just like Jesus. The implication is that we must become righteous in ourselves as Jesus was in Himself. We must develop a righteousness that measures up to the perfect righteousness of Christ in all respectsa righteousness on the basis of which we can stand faultless before God.

Jones's articles contain hardly any reference to Christ as our representative on the cross to remove our guilt and cancel our death sentence. Nor do they say much about His mediatorial work in heaven, where He presently applies His atoning death, His redemptive victory, and His saving righteousness to those who accept Him as their personal Saviour. Jones concentrated exclusively on what the believer himself experiences in his present life.

His view represents a radical departure from the biblical gospel in at least three significant ways: First, it introduces a change in Christ's role as the Saviour of the world. While in theory he recognized Jesus as Saviour—particularly in the sense that He initially reconciles us to Godin practice he reduced Him to being an objective standard of holiness we must achieve, a model whose perfection we must duplicate in our personal lives, following the exact method that made victory possible for Him. As a result, Christ's role changes from that of One who saves lost sinners through His redemptive work on their behalf to that of One who simply shows lost sinners how to save themselves by becoming as righteous, holy, and sinless as He is.

Second, Jones's view minimizes the significance of Christ's role as mediator between God and man. At best, it reduces His mediatorial role to that of granting the believers forgiveness for past sins and supplying them with divine power to enable them to overcome sin and develop perfect righteousness in their own personal lives. At worst, Jones's theology bypasses or neutralizes the mediatorial ministry of Christ altogether. He introduces a method by which the believer can be as righteous—and consequently as worthy—as Jesus Himself.

Because Jesus was totally sinless, righteous, and holy, He needed no one to mediate between Him and the Father. He lived in direct and unhindered spiritual union with the other two Persons of the Godhead. Therefore, if the believer is indeed able to become sinlessly perfect like Christ—as Jones claimed—then it logically follows that whenever he reaches that goal, he also outgrows his need of Jesus as his personal advocate with the Father. Because he now is as righteous as Christ, he no longer needs a mediator to intercede on his behalf and keep him in a right relationship with God.

Third, Jones's view causes the believer to shift the focus of his attention and the basis of his assurance from Christ and His redemptive work to his own character development and behavior modification. Paul's example indicates that in order to be right with God the believer must surrender what he is, what he has, and what he does so that he may gain Christ (see Phil. 3:7, 8). Only then will he not have a righteousness of his own, but the righteousness of Christ "that comes from God and is by faith" (verse 9). In contrast, Jones's view encourages the believer to keep what he has, work on it until it is as good as what Christ has to offer, and then literally secure God's final verdict of approval on the basis of the righteousness he developed in his own life.

About a year after the publication of his articles, Ellen White wrote Elder Jones a lengthy and rather pointed letter. In it she cautioned him about his unbalanced mind, rebuked him for his improper use of both the Scriptures and her writings, and pointed out his extreme ideas. Among other things, she stated:

It is not essential for you to know and tell others all the whys and wherefores as to what constitutes the new heart, or as to the position they can and must reach so as never to sin. You have no such work to do. . . . You will take passages in the Testimonies that speak of the close of probation, of the shaking among God's people, and you will talk of a coming out from this people of a purer, holier people that will arise (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 177-179).

When we combine Elder Jones's assertions and this statement from Ellen White's writings, a clear scenario begins to emerge. Jones was teaching that before the close of probation God's people can and must develop a personal righteousness that is as radical and complete—and consequently as meritorious—as that of Christ. In other words, they must be as pure, sinless, and holy as Christ was and learn to live without sinning, as He lived.

Ellen White did not endorse his teachings. On the contrary, she called them "extreme ideas," and advised him not to take a course that would "create dissension" (ibid., p. 179). Notice the following warning she gave Jones:

Should many accept the views you advance, and talk and act upon them, we would see one of the greatest fanatical excitements that has ever been witnessed among Seventh-day Adventists. This is what Satan wants (ibid.).

Ten years after Ellen White penned this warningor was it a prediction?it became true. The so-called holy flesh doctrine became prevalent in Indiana. And, according to her own account, it had all the ingredients of the fanaticism she had met and condemned before (ibid., book 2, pp. 33, 34), namely the desire (1) to achieve total sanctfication of beingto outgrow or completely neutralize one's sinful nature and develop flawless righteousness in one's own person; (2) to have the ability to live in perfect harmony with all the requirements of the law—to earn to live without sinning; and (3) to make the attainment of this superior level of spiritual development and moral behavior a requirement for those who will be alive when Jesus comes.

According to this view, those who do not achieve such a sinless state can still be saved, but they will die first (see R. W. Schwarz, Light Bearers to the Remnant [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1979], p. 447). The concept teaches that God requires a higher degree of righteousness of those who will be alive at the second coming of Christ than of all previous generations of believers. Those who will die before the end of probation can be righteous by faith in Christ in spite of the fact that they are still sinful, imperfect, and unworthy in themselves. They can avail themselves of God's forgiveness to make up for their faulty behavior, and of Christ's imputed righteousness to compensate for their imperfection of being. In contrast, those alive when Jesus returns must reach a state of sinless perfection. The righteousness of both their character and their conduct must be total, complete. In fact, they must be just as flawless, holy, and worthy as Jesus Himself.

Those who support such a view argue basically as follows: First, while Christ mediates for His people, the believers have access to both God's forgiveness and Christ's imputed righteousness to cover their sin and make up for their personal shortcomings. During this time God ultimately decides their destiny on the basis of whether or not they avail themselves of His provision mediated through Christ. God grants them eternal life on the basis that they were made blameless, holy, and worthy through the Saviour's merits imputed to them by faith.

Second, once probation closes and Christ's mediation ends, the believers' eternal destiny becomes totally dependent upon the perfection of their own righteousness and the flawlessness of their personal conduct. If they have developed a flawless righteousness of being and have learned to live without sinning—just like Jesus—then they will inherit eternal life. However, should their personal righteousness somehow fail to measure up to God's standard of perfection, or should they so much as entertain a single evil thought during this time, they would be irremediably lost.

From this we can see that, according to this view, humanity has only two ways to be sure of eternal life: (1) to die while Jesus is still mediating before the Father, or (2) to achieve complete spiritual wholeness and learn to live in absolute obedience to God's total will for man before the world's probation comes to an end.

The first part of this argument is in full harmony with Scripture and consistent with what we have seen earlier in Ellen White's writings. However, when we examine the dynamics created by the second part of this view, we soon realize that it not only departs radically from the biblical gospel but also contradicts the scenario portrayed in Ellen White's writings. It is therefore not surprising that this "fanaticism," this "message of error," as Ellen White calls it, had some definitely negative results. Notice:

These things bring a reproach upon the cause of truth, and hinder the proclamation of the last message of mercy to the world.... Those who have entered into and sustained this fanaticism might far better be engaged in secular labor; for by their inconsistent course of action they are dishonoring the Lord and imperiling His people. . . .

By this, unbelievers are led to think that Seventh-day Adventists are a set of fanatics. Thus prejudice is created that prevents souls from receiving the message for this time (Selected Messages, book 2, pp. 35, 36).

It was represented to them [certain people] that unless they did this [reached a state of total sanctification of being and sinlessness of behavior] they would be lost; and as the result their mind was unbalanced, and some became insane (ibid., pp. 34, 35).

We will touch on five points brought out in her statements: 1. Such teachings do not constitute the message God has for the world at this timethey are not something Adventists are to believe and teach. 2. Instead, these teachings bring reproach upon Adventism and hinder the final proclamation of mercy to the world. 3. God's last message for the world—the one He invites Adventists to accept, believe, and proclaim—is a "message of mercy," with all that such an expression implies.

4. Those who entered into and sustained the fanaticism dishonored the Lord and imperiled His people. The fanatics were not fit to teach religious subjects and would have been much better off in secular labor. 5. The fanaticism created such psychological pressure on some people that they lost their reason and became insane.

Many of the meetings that presented these extreme ideas exhibited a high pitch of emotionalism. People shouted, played music, even indulged in some forms of dancing. Speaking of such activities, Ellen White wrote:

This is an invention of Satan to cover up his ingenious methods for making of none effect the pure, sincere, elevating, ennobling, sanctifying truth for this time (ibid., p. 36).

It is important that we distinguish between what constitutes the deception itself and what was merely part of the atmosphere created to predispose people to accept it. The high level of emotionalism, the music, the shouting, and other such practices that Ellen White called "a bedlam of noise" (ibid.) were not the theological distortion itself. They were "an invention of Satan to cover up" the real aberration. The deception itself was theological and had to do with three points already discussed earlier in this chapter: being flawlessly righteous, living without sinning, and attaining this state shortly before Christ comes.

Ellen White's reaction to such teachings leaves no question as to where she stood. First, she labeled them an error, a fallacy, fanaticism, fanciful and forbidden schemes, man-made tests, a delusion, an infatuation, an invention of Satan. Such are but some of the terms she used in her testimonies against them. Second, she expressed her own understanding of the issue enough to show that it disagrees with all three of the points advocated by the holy flesh people (ibid., pp. 32-35).

Many Adventists are aware that a similar deception appeared again in the late 1950s. For more than a decade Robert Brinsmead and his followers advocated ideas that closely resembled those we have been considering. Schwarz rightly states that "Brinsmead's beliefs were an intellectual counterpart to the holy flesh movement of 60 years earlier" (Light Bearers to the Remnant, p. 458). And, as did their predecessors, Brinsmead and his brother "felt compelled to make them [their extreme views] normative for the entire church" (ibid.). With a dedication and a zeal worthy of a better cause, they spared no effort in their aggressive campaign to persuade the entire Adventist community that theirs was the only right position and that all other views were a departure from traditional Adventism.

In summary, the teaching Ellen White so decidedly opposed as a message of error has three major parts:

The first one refers to the believer's person, his being or character—who he is. The claim is made that he must become sinless in character. In fact, he achieves a state of holiness and develops a righteousness as flawless and as meritorious as that of Christ.

The second part involves the believer's performance, his behavior—what he does. According to the holy flesh concept, he can outgrow or neutralize his sinful nature so effectively that he is able to live as though he were no longer sinful, rendering perfect obedience to God's will. In other words, he learns to live without sinning.

The third part establishes the deadlineit marks the end of the time during which the believer must bring these two objectives to their full realization. That is, he must develop a flawless personal righteousness and learn to live without sinning before probation ends if he is to be among the redeemed who will be alive when Jesus comes. Should he fail to achieve his double goal, he has either to die before probation ends or else be lost for eternity.

The evidence shows that both Elder E. R. Jones and the holy flesh people employed certain "passages in the Testimonies" as the basis of their extreme views. They quoted some statements from Ellen White's writings that appeared to support their teachings. It is therefore extremely important to note that when they used her writings to support the idea that before probation ends God's people can and must become sinless, pure, and holy like Jesus, she opposed them with a determination seldom seen in her long ministry for the church.

Her reaction leads to at least the following conclusions: 1. We must recognize a radical difference between (a) being able to produce a few isolated passages from the Testimonies in support of a particular view and (b) developing a position that is indeed a reliable representation of Ellen White's teachings on a given subject. 2. If not rightly understood and properly applied some statements in the Testimonies can indeed lead someone to develop erroneous views such as those advocated by Elder E. R. Jones and his followers. The fact that they used her writings to authenticate their teachings bears this out.

3. Most of Ellen White's writings are short piecessuch as letters, articles, and manuscripts—written to particular audiences, within definite historical contexts, and with specific objectives in mind. It should therefore come as no surprise that when we compare them with one another we sometimes find certain ideological tensions not always easy to resolve. It is particularly a problem when we either ignore the conceptual and historical contexts or do not take the specific intent of particular passages into consideration.

Here, however, we are dealing with some specific teachings with which Ellen White was familiar, and that she condemned in unmistakable terms. To argue that Ellen White's writings endorse the very same views she so forcefully rejected as error, man-made tests, fallacy, and so forth, would be an absurd proposition indeed. We can therefore rest assured that whenever someone uses her writings to support views like those held by Elder E. R. Jones and his followers, they are falsely interpreting, improperly using, and incorrectly applying the Testimonies.

4. Every individual has the right to decide for himself whether to accept or to reject the teachings presented by Elder Jones and his followers. However, in view of what we have seen, no one has the right to claim that such teachings represent either Ellen White's view or the position of the Adventist Church.

2. What Will Happen Shortly Before the Return of Christ

Besides condemning the teachings advocated by Elder Jones and rebuking him for misusing both Scripture and her writings, Ellen White also predicted that similar concepts would seek to infiltrate the Adventist Church again in the future. She said:

I have been shown that deceptions like those we were called to meet in the early experiences of the message would be repeated, and that we shall have to meet them again in the closing days of the work (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 28). The things you have described as taking place in Indiana [the geographic center of the holy flesh movement], the Lord has shown me would take place just before the close of probation (ibid., p. 36).

According to her, then, the deception that will attempt to corrupt God's message of mercy to the world, frustrate the mission of Adventism, and unsettle the religious experience of many of its members is not an overemphasis on the redemptive work finished on the cross—the event on the basis of which the believer now stands before the Father perfectly righteous in Christ by faith. As we have already seen, Ellen White places great emphasis upon Christ's role both as atoning sacrifice on the cross, where He absolved man's condemnation, and as representative advocate in the presence of the Father, where "He ceases not to present His people moment by moment, complete in Himself' (Faith and Works, p. 107).

The deception that no doubt will cause many to remain in their Laodicean condition is, rather, a repeat of the fanaticism that took place shortly after the 1844 disappointments appeared again at the turn of the century, and revived in a more sophisticated form in the late 1950s. Since Satan is the master deceiver, we can anticipate that he will modify the most offensive aspects of this heresy and better disguise its most obvious features. But if Ellen White is correct, as we believe she is, its emphasis on the believer and his accomplishments—his personal righteousness and flawless obedienceas opposed to what the believer is in Christ by faith and what Christ does for him as his advocate with the Father, will be its most distinctive characteristic.

4. The Essence and Significance of the "New" Deception

It is almost axiomatic that a deception is not a complete denial or a direct contradiction but a distortion of truth. Its appeal as well as its power to delude lie precisely in the fact that it contains elements of truth. We shall therefore examine this "new" deception from two overall perspectives: First we will compare and contrast it with the counterfeit introduced by the human system of priesthood prevalent in part of the Christian church. Then we will discuss it in light of man's fall in the Garden of Eden.

a. An Attempt to Displace Christ as the Only Way to the Father

Although the new deception differs in approach from the old one that was so widespread throughout Christendom for centuries, the new deception leads to basically the same negative results. They are both attempts to displace Christ, the divine high priest, by providing alternative ways to secure a right standing with God. Through its human system of priesthood, the old deception created a different access to the forgiveness and saving grace of God. As a result, not Jesus but the church became the saving link between the sinner and God. Through its theology of character development and behavior modification, the new deception, in turn, introduces another waya new method—by which to meet the standard of perfect righteousness that God requires for salvation.

We have seen that the only way for a fallen being to be righteous in God's sight this side of glorification is by his partaking of the saving merits of the Saviour. Because in himself he is sinful, imperfect, and unworthy, the believer can be righteous only by faith in Christ. Jesus is the basis of his standing with God. Also, we have observed that the believer's salvation becomes permanently secure and God declares him worthy of eternal life at the pre-Advent judgment only because he has accepted Christ's redemptive mediation on his behalf. Jesus will complete His mediatorial role—He will fully achieve the purpose of His high-priestly ministry—by securing for the living believer God's final and irreversible verdict of acceptance as the pre-Advent judgment concludes.

In contrast, the new deception teaches that the believer develops in his own life a righteousness that is just as perfect and consequently as meritorious as that belonging to the Saviour. Because he supposedly becomes as pure, holy, and worthy as Jesus, it follows that the believer no longer depends on the imputed righteousness of Christ for his standing with God. As a result, his assurance of salvation no longer rests on the redemptive work of Christ on his behalf, but on the spiritual perfection and moral flawlessness he himself has achieved in his own life.

According to the new deception, the last generation of believers will win such a radical victory over sin and develop such a perfect righteousness in their own lives that the fact that Jesus ceases to mediate for them at the end of probation will have no adverse effect on them whatsoever. Since their characters are as righteous as that of Christ and their obedience is as perfect as His, they will stand before God as positively sinless, righteous, and worthy in themselves as they did earlier when Christ was still imputing His righteousness to them. The proponents of this view would probably deny it, but the fact is that the moment the believer achieves such a supposed state of total sanctification, he also transcends his need of Christ either as Saviour or as Mediator. His equality to Christ in righteousness also makes him equal to Christ in personal standing with the Father.

The new deception confronting the Adventist Church is an integral part of Satan's ongoing war against Christ. When he failed to displace Christ in heaven Satan continued the battle here on the earth. Through the fall of Adam and Eve he gained temporary rulership over the world. But that came to an end, in principle, when Christ—the second Adam and new head of mankind—died an atoning death on man's behalf. By His death He also destroyed the power of death and established God's kingdom of grace on Planet Earth. Since then Satan is a defeated foe whose eventual destruction is assured. But he has not ceased from his attempts to defeat Christ. He lost in heaven, and he lost on earth. But he can still win in the human heart, for he can still displace Christ there. And that is precisely what he is endeavoring to do.

For the most part, Satan's strategy has not been direct confrontation, but subtle deception and counterfeit. For example, when God employed the sacrificial system to illustrate His work in Christ for the redemption of man, the devil did not attack the idea of reconciliation with God. Instead, Satan introduced a wide variety of different means and methods by which mankind supposedly can achieve such reconciliation, and he concentrated on leading sinners to attempt to find favor with God by means of his counterfeits instead of placing their faith in Christ.

Needless to say, in the lives of men Satan has been extremely successful in pushing Christ aside as the only channel to God. And he has been most successful with religious people by convincing them to continue trying to eliminate sin—the cause of their alienation from God—instead of availing themselves of the redemptive work of Christ. It really means that they approach their predicament as lost sinners as though there were no Saviour. They endeavor to solve their sin problem on their own instead of accepting the solution God has already provided in Christ.

The new deception appeals to religious people precisely because it promises freedom from sinsomething for which all true believers long with great desire. The problem is that when they seek to achieve a right standing with God through their own moral and spiritual accomplishments, they become "alienated from Christ," their only link of spiritual unity with God, and fall "away from grace" (Gal. 5:4). As a result, (1) they lose access to the benefits of Christ's redemptive work, and with it the right, conferred by grace at conversion, to continue as members of God's spiritual family of believers. And (2) they revert to the state of lostness, enmity, and condemnation in which they found themselves before their reconciliation took place.

Thus, under the guise of the enticing and apparently commendable objective of partaking of the divine nature and achieving sinless perfectionjust like Jesus—the new deception nullifies the membership of religious people in God's covenant of grace and places them squarely under the yoke of the covenant of works. As a result, they end up attempting to achieve salvation through a method that has no access to God's forgiveness, the saving righteousness of Christ, the enabling power of the Spirit, and any other of the gifts that, according to Scripture, God makes available only to those who retain their status as His sons and daughters through their continual faith relationship with Jesus Christ (see Luke 24:45-47; Acts 2:38; Rom. 8:9, etc.).

b. An Enticement to Eliminate Some Basic Distinctions Between Jesus and Sinners

The deception confronting the Adventist Church is not really new. In fact, it is but a refinement and adaptation of the one that caused humanity's fall in the Garden of Eden. According to the biblical description, the first deception introduced a radical change into God's plan in the creation of man. The first human sin was not a failure to live up to the high moral demands of a legal code. Nor was it a plunging down toward the evil and perversesomething that one could call a sin of the flesh, such as adultery, murder, or stealing. Instead, it was a sin of the spirit, a reaching higher than what the Creator had ordained.

Creation established a clear and permanent distinction between the divine and the human. Because God created man in His image, there was a considerable resemblance and closeness between the Creator and the creature. But the fact that man was created an image, or representation, of God and not a true counterpart also indicates that, in the Creator's order, God is God and man is man, and there will forever remain an essential difference and an unbreachable distance between the two.

In a forthcoming book on the biblical concept of man, I shall deal with this subject in depth. For our purpose here, suffice it to say that because God had created them in His image, Adam and Eve could reflect in their own personhood the righteous attributes and noble virtues of the holy character of God. They were spiritually complete because their unhindered spiritual union with the Creator made them direct participants in His goodness, righteousness, and holiness. But because they were only an image of God, and not God in essence, they were dependent on the Creator, who alone ultimately possesses such positive virtues.

When the deceiver tempted Adam and Eve with the thought of becoming "like God" (Gen. 3:5), he awoke in them the desire to reach a state that was different from the Creator's purpose for manto enjoy a level of existence higher than what God intended for them to attain. The first deception enticed humanity to seek to eliminate the radical qualitative difference that distinguishes the divine from the human and separates the Creator from the creature. Man's first sin was a refusal to accept his creatureliness—a presumptuous attempt to transcend the limitations of his finite status and attain to the self-determination and autosufficiency that belongs to God alone.

As a branch cannot exist by itself but depends on the vine to live, grow, and produce fruit, so original man dependent on God to be and do what the Creator meant he should be and do. Man's first sin was an attempt to outgrow his status as "branch" and to become a "vine" instead. He sought to be and to have in himself that which, according to the Creator's plan, he could be and have only as he continually partook of what originates with God and therefore is His exclusive possession.

Obviously, humanity's first sin was in essence a refusal to be and to live by the grace of God. Instead of continuing to reflect in their own person what proceeds from the Creator, Adam and Eve attempted to be what they were—good, righteous, holy—in and by themselves, even as God is. Man the image of God wanted to be man essentially God by experiencing an inner transformation in nature that would enable him to become a full participant in both the status and the nature of God.

By comparison, the new deception introduces a change in the plan God devised for human redemption. Representing a level that is higher than and different from what God has established in Scripture, the deception seeks to achieve spiritual equality with the God-man, Jesus Christ. Those enticed by it are not satisfied that, by God's grace, imperfect believers—growing sons and daughters of God—become blameless, righteous, and holy through the saving righteousness of Christ. Instead, they want to experience an inner transformation that somehow will enable them to transcend their sinful condition and to become perfectly faultless, righteous, and holy in themselves, even as Christ is.

To strive to be the best person one can possibly be at every stage of his spiritual growth, and to increasingly pattern his life after what is true and right and loving, is a commendable and scripturally sound endeavor. It is my contention, however, that there is a radical difference between trying to live as is worthy of God's sons and daughters in Christ and attempting to equal, match, and duplicate in one's own life the absolute righteousness of Christ, the divine-human Son of God. To endeavor to be more like Jesus in character and conduct is one thing, while to attempt to be just as righteous and holy as He was during His life on earth is quite another. The former is an objective based on God's word as recorded in Scripture. The latter is an arrogant departure from it, and therefore constitutes sin.

It is important to note that in both its old and new forms, the appeal of the deception—and also its sin—lies in the fact that it presents an objective that, at least on the surface, appears to be commendable. Since by definition God is the supreme good of the universe, it logically follows that there could exist no higher ideal or nobler objective for Adam and Eve than endeavoring to be just like Him. Yet—and here is the irony—because the deception represents an attempt to breach the distance between the creature and the Creator, to merge the human with the divine, and to erase the qualitative difference between the eternal and self-sufficient I AM and dependent, mortal man, it constituted sin of the highest order.

The same problem is true with the believer's relationship to Jesus Christ. Obviously Jesus is the perfect example, the highest ideal that could possibly be set before the believer. We must not forget, however, that although He became man, Jesus never ceased to be God. While it is true that He took humanity upon Himself, it is also true that He never gave up His divinity. As "the Holy and Righteous One" (Acts 3:14), He is the personification of perfect goodness, absolute righteousness, and total holiness. Jesus veiled His infinite glory and relinquished the active use of His unlimited power, but He never yielded the flawless moral qualities and holy spiritual attributes that enabled Him to reveal the Father's righteous character to fallen man.

Scripture establishes the fact that "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 2:9). He who "was God" "became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1,14). Jesus "is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb. 1:3). Ellen White rightly states:

The Lord Jesus took upon Him the form of sinful man, clothing His divinity with humanity. But He was holy, even as God is holy. If He had not been without spot or stain of sin, He could not have been the Saviour of mankind. He was a Sin-bearer, needing no atonement. One with God in purity and holiness of character, He could make a propitiation for the sins of the whole world (This Day With God, p. 357; italics supplied).

So when someone endeavors to develop in his own personal life a righteousness that is as perfectand consequently as meritoriousas that of Christ, he does more than just attempt to equal the outstanding spiritual achievements of the only perfect Man who ever lived on earth since the Fall. He is striving to eliminate all distinction between the Saviour and the sinners He came to save. He is seeking to erase the difference and bridge the distance between himself and the Son of God, who, being just as pure, righteous, and holy as God the Father, needed no mediator, but lived in direct and unhindered spiritual unity with the other two Persons of the Godhead.

We therefore conclude that the new deception is essentially the same as the one that caused man's fall in the beginning. As the first deception enticed man to transcend his dependent state and achieve equality with the Creator, so the last deception allures the believer to outgrow his sinful condition and achieve equality with the Saviour.

As a result of Satan's deception, Adam and Eve became dissatisfied with having to depend on the Creator for continuing to be man in the image of God, and attempted to be righteous, holy, and good in and by themselves, even as God is. In turn, those who yield to the new deception are not content to depend on Christ for their standing with God, but attempt to be righteous, holy, and good in themselves, even as Christ is.

Unfortunately, the consequences of yielding to the new deception are as radical and as tragic as those of yielding to the first temptation. Under the guise of the apparently noble objective of granting them equality with God, the first deception disrupted our first parents' primal relationship with their Creator. It caused their spiritual separation from Him who alone could enable them to continue reflecting the righteous virtues of God's holy character in their personal lives. As a result, they lost their original spiritual wholeness and fell into a state of lostness, alienation, and sin.

So it is with the new deception. Lurking beneath the apparently noble objective of granting believers spiritual equality with Jesus, it disrupts their faith relationship with the Saviour. It spiritually divorces them from Him who alone can present them to the Father perfectly righteous and grant them the right to inherit eternal life. As a result, they lose their participation in the benefits of the covenant of grace and fall back into the state of lostness, condemnation, and death that is the predicament of all fallen beings outside of Christ.

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