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Perfect In Christ

Helmut Ott

Chapter VIII

Summary and Conclusions

This chapter has two general sections. The first one provides a summary of some of the major points we discussed in the preceding seven chapters. The second section contains some overall conclusions based on the concepts we derived from Ellen White’s writings.

A. Summary

The first chapter examined two basic concepts and some of their major ramifications. First, we saw that the believer totally depends upon Christ for a right standing with the Father because God requires perfect righteousness, and man is incapable of producing it. Second, we saw that Jesus mediates for the believer to present him—as an individual person—perfectly righteous before the Father. Jesus imputes His atoning death, His redemptive victory, and His saving righteousness to the believer so that he may stand by faith before God faultless in Christ.

In order to enable Christ to act as his substitute, the believer must respond to the gospel in repentance and faith. Through repentance the believer indicates that he recognizes both his guilt and the inadequacy of what he is, what he has, and what he does to secure God’s approval. Through faith he acknowledges his inability to bring himself into favor with God, and therefore avails himself of Christ’s redemptive work on his behalf. Thus the believer gains access to God’s forgiveness for his sin and to Christ’s perfect righteousness for acceptance with the Father.

Since sanctification is a process never totally finished in the present life, the believer never becomes righteous in himself, but can be so only in Christ for as long as he lives. All he is and all he has, as a son of God, he is and he has only because and for as long as he partakes of Christ by faith. Should he ever lose his hold on Christ— and in so doing cease to participate in His redemptive work—the believer would revert to the state of lostness, condemnation, and death in which he found himself before his reconciliation took place at conversion.

In the second chapter we saw that the believer also depends on Christ’s mediation to make his life as a child of God acceptable to the Father. God requires not just obedience but perfect obedience, and that the believer is incapable of providing. The believer’s obedience has no value with God, first, because it is partial and imperfect and therefore deserves not divine approval but condemnation, and second, because the believer’s sinful nature defiles everything he does and thus renders it unacceptable to God.

We also made a distinction between true obedience—or the obedience of faith—and perfect obedience. True obedience includes submission to the injunctions of the law and compliance with the demands of the gospel. Consequently the truly obedient are those who, having done their best to live as is worthy of the sons and daughters of God in Christ, recognize their sinfulness, imperfection, and unworthiness, and approach the Father in repentance and faith. Christ’s atoning blood then cleanses them of their guilt, and His saving righteousness preserves them in a right standing with God.

The fact that we are sinners defiles our obedience. Nothing that sinful beings can render to God is acceptable on its own merits. It is satisfactory only when—and by virtue of the fact that—we bring it to the Father through the merits of the Son. Perfect obedience is therefore possible only through Christ’s mediation on our behalf. When we depend on Christ’s redemptive work for our standing with God, our divine High Priest imputes the Saviour’s righteousness to us in order to make up for our deficiencies and render our obedience, our service, and our worship perfectly pleasing to the Father.

In the third chapter we recognized that no fallen being has ever reached the goal of unblemished spiritual perfection outside of Christ. The patriarchs, prophets, and apostles—men who lived the nearest to God—admitted their sinfulness. Their unusually close relationship with God enabled them to acquire both the point of reference and the spiritual perception needed to see themselves as they really were. Therefore they all knew that nothing they were, nothing they had, and nothing they did could secure them God’s favor.

Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, all humans alike—from Abel, the first believer to die, to the last sinner to accept God’s saving grace in Christ just before probation ends—depend equally on Christ’s redemptive work for salvation. Because God devised a plan of redemption according to which Jesus Christ—His atoning death, redemptive victory, and saving righteousness imputed to the believer by faith— is the only way to the Father, all humans will either be saved by God’s undeserved grace or be lost.

The fourth chapter discussed the idea that an individual’s perception of his spiritual condition—whether he sees himself as righteous and good or imperfect and sinful— results from his relative spiritual closeness to Jesus and the adequacy of his view of the perfection of Christ. Those who do not have a close and enlightened faith relationship with Jesus lack both the point of reference and the spiritual eyesight that would enable them to see their moral inadequacy and spiritual imperfection. They underestimate their sinfulness and overestimate their possibilities. As a result they do not sense their total dependence on Christ.

Those who live nearest to Jesus have at least the following characteristics: 1. They have come to appreciate the beauty of Christ’s holy character, and therefore see their own sinfulness. 2. They have a clear understanding of the far-reaching nature of God’s requirements, and therefore realize how far they really are from meeting the standard He requires for salvation. 3. They adequately sense the terribleness of sin and of the frailty and sinfulness of humanity, and therefore know their total dependence on Christ. 4. 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 also saw that, according to Ellen White, the remnant church does not reach sinless perfection of either being or conduct by the time probation ends. Its members 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.

Should God decide the eternal destiny of the remnant church on the basis of their true spiritual condition and actual moral behavior, their case would be hopeless. Fortunately Jesus, the powerful mediator, silences the accuser with arguments founded, not upon the believers’ own merits—for they have none—but upon their dependence on His redemptive activity on their behalf. He removes their filthy garments and covers them with the glorious robe of His spotless righteousness and thus presents them to the Father righteous in Christ.

The fifth chapter looked at some of the most significant events connected with the end of probation and the time of trouble. Some of the major concepts discussed were as follows: First, Jesus will continue His mediatorial ministry until He achieves its intended purpose fully and completely. That is, He will cease to act as man’s advocate with the Father only after He has God’s final and irreversible verdict of approval for His people as the pre-Advent judgment closes. As a result, they receive "the seal of the living God," which grants their sonship in Christ a permanent status, and bestows upon them the right to be heirs of the kingdom.

Second, the moment when Jesus completes His mediation for the last generation of believers also marks the end of the pre-Advent judgment. The "final test" that determines eternal destinies "has been brought upon the world.... The number of His subjects is made up." The future of all is permanently and irrevocably fixed, each case not only decided but forever closed, never more to be opened for revision. Because the decision that God pronounces as the judgment concludes is final, those who will be saved are saved, and those who will be lost are lost as of that moment.

Third, at least three major factors give the believers peace, assurance, and hope as they face the end of probation and the time of trouble: 1. Jesus will mediate in their behalf until God’s final verdict of acceptance has made their salvation permanently sure. 2. They will not have to face an after-judgment test to determine whether or not they have achieved flawless righteousness of being and sinlessness of conduct and hence are personally worthy of eternal life. 3. God will protect and provide for them during the short period of time between the end of probation and the second coming of Christ, so that nothing will jeopardize their salvation.

Fourth, the time of trouble will be a period of deep spiritual intensity, sincere self-examination, and earnest wrestling with God. The experience of God’s people during this time seeks to achieve three basic objectives: (1) to demonstrate that they have sincerely repented of their sin and trust in God’s forgiveness; (2) to lead them to a full realization of their unworthiness to have a part in God’s kingdom of glory; and (3) to strengthen their faith that God will fulfill the gospel promises to them in spite of their shortcomings, imperfection, and sinfulness.

The sixth chapter explored a peculiar deception that entered Adventism shortly after the 1844 disappointment, appeared again at the turn of the century, revived in a more sophisticated form in the late 1950s, and, according to Ellen White, will confront the church again before the end of probation. Judging by its past influence, this "message of error" has the potential 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.

Such "fanaticism" represents a radical departure from the teachings of Scripture and obviously contradicts most of the significant concepts we have derived from the writings of Ellen White. 1. It changes the standard the last generation must meet for salvation and also the method by which believers can achieve it. 2. It modifies Christ’s role as Saviour as well as the manner in which He saves. 3. It alters Christ’s high-priestly ministry in heaven and greatly reduces the significance of His ongoing mediation with the Father. 4. It erases the essential distinction the Scriptures establish between the holy and righteous Son of God and the guilty sinners He came to save.

In the seventh chapter we found that the church will contain two radically different groups of people until the end of time. One group consists of those who do not realize their true spiritual condition and do not understand the great principles of redemption. They seek to be right with God by eliminating sin from their lives— and thus cease to be sinners—instead of accepting the solution to their sin problem that God has provided in Christ. By not coming to the Father, trusting solely in the merits of the Son, they have no access to the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work. As a result, they remain in the state of lostness, guilt, and eventual eternal death that is the common destiny of all sinful beings outside of Christ.

The other group includes only those who understand both their real predicament as fallen beings and the dynamics of the plan of redemption. They know that, as God reviews their cases to determine their eternal destiny, nothing less than the imputed righteousness of Christ is sufficient, nothing equally adequate is possible, and nothing else is acceptable. Thus they depend entirely on the Saviour’s atoning death, redemptive victory and saving merits for their position with God. As a result, they stand before God righteous in Christ by faith, and continue enjoying their status, as adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ, that gives them the right to inherit eternal life.

B. Conclusions

One of the most attractive characteristics of the preceding concepts in Ellen White’s writings is that they portray a scenario in which everything that has a bearing on the sinner’s relationship with God occupies the place and carries out the function so clearly assigned to it in Scripture. We will briefly describe this scenario by outlining some of the most significant aspects of the role played by the Holy Spirit, the law of God, the believer, and Jesus Christ.

1. The Holy Spirit

Three of the Spirit’s functions are particularly relevant here: The first one deals with the believer’s behavior—his life as an adopted child of God. The Spirit helps him to gain an increasing understanding of God’s will for man, on the one hand, and of the multifaceted and deceptive nature of sin, on the other. Gradually the Spirit increases the believer’s spiritual capacity to differentiate between what is true and good and loving and what is not. He moves the believer to accept God’s will as normative and to endeavor to pattern his life in harmony with it. And He enables the believer to do what only God knows is reasonable to expect of him at every advancing step of his growth and maturity.

The second major function of the Spirit relates to the believer’s being—his nature and character. The Spirit keeps the believer’s sinful nature under supernatural control so that it may not assert its evil desires and cause him to sever his spiritual union with Christ and rebel against God. The Spirit makes him willing to continue his struggle to overcome his sinful character traits, tendencies, and attitudes. And He enables the believer to develop a personal character that increasingly reflects the holy traits and righteous virtues of the perfect character of Christ.

The last major function of the Spirit we will mention has to do with the believer’s faith relationship with Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour and only source of saving righteousness. The Spirit protects the believer from falling away from grace by helping him to develop the spiritual eyesight he needs to constantly recognize his shortcomings and imperfections, and his consequent need of Christ. The Spirit strengthens the believer’s spiritual union with the Saviour and motivates him to live in a state of repentance and faith so that through Christ he may continue having access to God’s grace and retain the right to be a child of God and an heir to eternal life.

It is important to note that the Spirit’s role is not to work in competition against Christ by creating an alternative way for a sinner to achieve a right standing with God independent of Christ’s mediation. Nowhere does Scripture affirm—or even remotely suggest—that one of the Spirit’s functions is to help the believer to transcend his sinful condition, to outgrow his spiritual destitution and moral imperfection, and to develop a personal righteousness that is as perfect and as meritorious as Christ’s. Instead, the Spirit keeps the believer constantly depending on Christ’s redemptive work.

2. The Law of God.

The scenario portrayed in Ellen White’s writings reinforces the biblical concept that God did not intend that the law be another way of salvation—a means by which the sinner can develop flawless righteousness and earn merit with God. Instead, the law serves four basic purposes: 1. It provides specific principles that help sinful beings understand God’s distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, loving and unloving behavior. 2. It prescribes the believer’s conduct particularly in relation to God and to his fellowmen. 3. It serves as the moral standard according to which God judges our lives. 4. And by revealing our shortcomings and failures to live in total harmony with God’s will, it makes us aware of our guilt and leads us to come to Christ for forgiveness and saving righteousness.

3. The Believer

The scenario we have described in this book views the believer as a sinner reconciled to God through faith in Christ and adopted into God’s spiritual family, of believers. His faith relationship to Jesus entitles him to sonship, and his sonship gives him the right to be an heir of the kingdom. Throughout his entire life the believer partakes of two radically different realities at one and the same time. Apart from Christ—in himself, by nature—he is sinful, guilty, unworthy. However, in Christ—by partaking of Him and His redemptive work by faith—he is righteous, faultless, and worthy of eternal life. In other words, the believer is still guilty but no longer condemned, still sinful but no longer lost.

Throughout his life as a child of God, the believer experiences character development, behavior modification, and spiritual growth and maturation that are real and significant. But because the redemptive process was not designed to come to complete realization during the present life, the believer never fully outgrows his personal sinfulness and never transcends his need of Christ this side of glorification. Only when the eternal replaces the temporal, when God’s kingdom of glory becomes a concrete historical reality, and when God finally makes His children to be like Jesus "when he appears" (1 John 3:2; cf. Heb. 11:39, 40; Phil. 1:6)—only then will the believer regain the original perfection with which God created man in the beginning. Then he will, for the first time ever, be faultless in himself by nature, just as our first parents were before the Fall. In the meantime the believer can be righteous, holy, and worthy only in Christ.

4. Jesus Christ

The Saviour stands tall, unchallenged, and unequaled at the very center of God’s plan for human redemption. Scripture describes Him as "the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). He is the only way back to the Father, and the only basis for our right standing with God. Yesterday Jesus died on the cross as our substitute to atone for our sin, free us from our guilt, and cancel our death sentence. Today He ministers for us on His heavenly throne to grant us eternal life by imputing to us His atoning death, redemptive victory, and saving righteousness, and thus presenting us perfectly acceptable to the Father. Tomorrow He will come again to complete our redemption by removing our sinfulness and restoring us to the perfect spiritual wholeness that man had at Creation. As a result of this transformation, we will reflect the image of God in our being as fully as did Adam and Eve before the Fall. Restored to complete spiritual unity with God, we will live perfect lives in the personal presence of our righteous, holy, and gracious Redeemer.

Then the Creator’s initial plan of a righteous world inhabited by healthy, happy, and holy beings will finally come to its complete and permanent realization, thanks to the redemption God provided in Christ. The marks in the hands of Jesus and the white robes the redeemed wear throughout eternity will forever remind them that it was His atoning sacrifice at the cross on their behalf that saved them from eternal death, and His perfect righteousness imputed to them by faith that gave them access to eternal life. That is why gratitude will dominate heaven—joyful gratitude, expressed in endless praise to God, because His grace proved to be infinitely greater than human sin. Realizing that, all the redeemed of all ages will be equally ready to cast their golden crowns at the Saviour’s feet, and eagerly join the universal choir singing:

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever! (Rev. 5:13).

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