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Finally, we will consider some statements in Ellen Whites writings that indicate that the church contains only two kinds of people: (1) those who are righteous because they are covered in the merits of the Saviour and (2) those who are unrighteous because they attempt to meet Gods standard of perfect righteousness "independent of the atonement" and "without the virtue of divine mediation."
According to Ellen White, the two classes have their first representatives in Cain and Abel, and will coexist in the church to the end of time:
We will look at three specific concepts:
1. Cain understood neither his real predicament as a fallen being nor the dynamics of the salvation God provided in the Substitute. In his spiritual blindness he thought himself to be righteous, not realizing he was a lost, guilty, and unworthy sinner. Consequently he approached God with a thank offering only. He made no confession of sin, he brought no atoning blood, he acknowledged no need of mercy. As a result, he had no access either to Gods forgiveness or to the Saviours merits that Christ mediates only to those who come to God claiming His redemptive work on their behalf.
2. Abel realized his true condition as a fallen being and grasped the great principles of redemption. He went to God as a sinner, confessing himself lost, and placed his faith in and based his hope on the unmerited love of God as manifested in the atonement Christ would make at the cross on his behalf. By faith he brought the sacrifice God had stipulatedthe blood that pointed to the Lamb of God. That is the basisthe only basisfor the witness that he was righteous, and the reason his offering was accepted.
3. The church"those who come to worship God" contains two distinct categories of people. One group represented by Cain and the Pharisee in Christs parableconsists of religious moralists who are spiritually self-sufficient. They do not recognize the true depth of their own sinfulness and therefore come to God with a thank offering onlyan offering that lacks the cleansing blood of Christs sacrifice and is independent of the atonement. Their offering does not have the virtue of divine mediation and, consequently, cannot give them access to God. In their Laodicean blindness they do not perceive their moral inadequacy and spiritual destitution. As a result, they have no desire to repent, and feel no need to open the door to Christ as their only source of saving righteousness.
The other group within the churchrepresented by Abel and the tax collector in Christs parableis made up of those who understand both their predicament as fallen beings and the great principles of redemption. They know that except for the salvation God has provided in Christ, they are as lost, guilty, and helpless as any other sinner. That is why they avail themselves of Christs redemptive work on their behalf and, by faith, cover their spiritual nakedness with the robe of His all-sufficient righteousness. Like Abel they have the witness that they are righteous, the true children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
It is important to note that the criterion determining the separation of the church into two groups is not achievement-centered but Christ-centered. In other words, the church does not divide into one segment who are righteous in themselves and have learned to live without sinning, and another who failed to reach this double objective. Instead, the church separates into those who avail themselves of Christs redemptive work on their behalf and therefore are righteous in Christ by faith, and those who make their own spiritual accomplishments the ultimate basis of their standing and consequently have nothing to bring them into favor with God.
Notice how Ellen White elsewhere expresses the same concept:
Since the considerations in this chapter arise from the stories of Cain and Abel, and the Pharisee and the tax collector in Christs parable, we will briefly examine and discuss the scriptural account of the two cases.
1. Cain and Abel Offer Sacrifices to God
Scripture says little about the circumstances surrounding the incident when Cain and Abel brought their respective sacrifices to God. However, when we examine the implications of Cains act of bringing "some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord" (Gen. 4:3), we can draw several conclusions with a reasonable degree of certainty:
First, at least to some extent, Cain recognized his fallen condition and wanted reconciliation with God otherwise it is difficult to see why he should have brought God a sacrifice at all. Second, he obeyed God in building an altar and in bringing an offering. His problem was that he had the wrong sacrificeone that, instead of representing faith in the Substitute, symbolized dependence on ones own efforts for his standing with God.
Third, apparently Cain ignored the fact that only Christs righteousness can accomplish mans reconciliation with God. He failed to understand that when it comes to our personal standing with God, nothing less than the Saviours perfect merits is sufficient, nothing equally meritorious is possible, and nothing else is acceptable to God. Since "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22), nothing a sinner can grow in his own garden can take the place of the Lamb that God provided as a means to bring man back into favor with Him. The fruit Cain brought was probably the very best he had to offer, and it all grew through the power of God. But it symbolized mans accomplishments, accomplishments that, having no redemptive value, do not belong on the altar.
Fourth, Cains behavior indicates quite persuasively that while he accepted the idea of reconciliation with God and to some extent showed he wanted to live in good terms with Himhe rejected the means God provided in Christ to make both reconciliation and a right relationship possible. Because Cains fruit represented a change in Gods plan to redeem His lost children, his offering not only failed to achieve its intended purpose but also increased his guilt and alienation from God.
Fifth, God did not reject Cain because he was a sinner. God knew the mans lost condition, and that is precisely why He provided a solution to his sin problem. The Lord could not accept Cain and his offering, because he did not place his faith in the Substitute God provided as the only means of salvation.
Abels offering was "better" because (1) it was the one God had stipulated as a symbol of Christ, and because (2) he brought it "by faith." He was "commended as a righteous man," not because he was morally blameless and spiritually perfect, but because through his sacrifice he showed his faith in the atoning blood of Christ for forgiveness, and his dependence on Christs infinite merits for a right standing with God.
According to Jesus parable recorded in Luke 18:9-14, a Pharisee and a tax collector went up to the Temple to pray. They were both religious menchurch members, we would probably say in our modern terminology. The Pharisee thanked God for being a better person and having a better behavioral record than "other men" who, according to him, were "robbers, evildoers, adulterers." In contrast, the tax collector recognized himself a sinner and prayed to God for mercy.
Since Jesus did not contradict the Pharisees selfevaluation, we can conclude that he spoke the truth when he said he did not rob or commit adultery as did other men. He probably also had long and detailed records to prove he fasted twice a week and paid faithful tithe. So his problem was not that he was a chronic sinner who lived in deliberate and open violation to the will of God. Instead, it was that because he thought himself righteous he felt no need of a Saviour.
The Pharisees spiritual predicament resulted from two theological misunderstandings: First, he apparently defined mans sin problem only in terms of moral character and ethical behavior. In his view, only wicked people who expressed open rebellion against God by willfully breaking the letter of the law were guilty of sin. Therefore he felt quite good about himself. Because he was not evil and immoral as he perceived other men to be, he thought he had a good moral character that deserved Gods approval. Having not broken any specific prohibition of the lawsuch as robbing and adulteryhe assumed that he had rendered perfect obedience and was therefore free of guilt. And because he believed that he had evidence to prove he fulfilled his religious dutiessuch as fasting twice a week and paying an accurate tithehe concluded that he was positively righteous, truly worthy of Gods approval.
Second, the Pharisee had a righteousness-by-works conception of salvation. That is, he based his standing with Godand by extension his assurance of eternal lifeon his personal moral goodness and behavioral flawlessness. Such a view ruled out two things: (1) Gods grace in providing the Substitute to pay the penalty for his guilt, cancel his death sentence, and give him the right to become a child of God, and (2) the believers response of repentance and faith by which he would become a participant in the Saviours redemptive activityan activity that would grant him Gods forgiveness and make him worthy of eternal life through the imputed righteousness of Christ.
According to the parable, the Pharisees visit to the Temple brought him no blessing, and he returned home unchanged. He was a morally righteous mana man with deep religious commitment, a great regard for the law, and a high standard of ethical behavior. But he was also someone who in his spiritual pride and religious self-sufficiency did not realize his desperate need of a Saviour. That is, he felt no need for either Gods forgiveness or the imputed righteousness of Christ. Although he had obeyed the lawin a sensehe ignored the gospel. As a result, he had no access to Gods covenant of grace, no part in Christ and the salvation He alone provides. So he went home convinced that according to the law he was righteous, but unaware that according to the gospel he was lost.
The tax collectors experience was the exact opposite of what happened to the Pharisee. The prayer of the taxgatherer indicates that he recognized himself a sinner and based his hope for a right standing with God on His mercy. Because in repentance he surrendered what he was and because in faith he accepted what Gods grace provides, he "went home justified before God" (Luke 18:14). He came to the Temple a lost, guilty, and hopeless sinner, but returned to his home fully reconciled to God, a son of God in Christ, an heir to eternal life. Should he have diedor should probation have endedat that point in time his eternal salvation would have been secure in Christ. The publican would have participated at the wedding feast of the Lamb and had part in Gods eternal kingdom of glory, not because he no longer was a sinner, but because he now had a Saviour, and consequently stood before God totally forgiven and perfectly righteous in Christ by faith.
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