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Perfect In Christ

Helmut Ott


One of the most significant teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is what is usually referred to as the heavenly sanctuary. The doctrine is generally divided into two distinct yet interrelated parts, namely the so-called investigative judgment and the mediatorial ministry of Christ. The former deals with what Christ, in His role as judge, does to establish the eternal destiny of the deadhow He formalizes the righteous standing of those who during their lifetime were willing to cooperate with God's redemptive activity on their behalf. The latter concerns itself with what Christ, as man's representative and advocate, does to establish the eternal destiny of the livinghow He secures the salvation of those who live depending on the Saviour's atoning death, redemptive victory, and all-sufficient righteousness for a right standing with God.

From the beginning Adventists perceived this doctrine to be both important and timely. By pointing to Jesus as the only rightful and effective mediator between God and man, it exposed a false system of mediation that had crept into the Christian church. The human system of priesthood that for centuries had prevailed in Christendom had arrogated to itself the role and the function that, according to Scripture, belong only to Christ, the heavenly high priest. The concept established the church as another mediator between God and man, another way to find favor with God.

The introduction of the system of priesthood both reflected and perpetuated a change in the church's self-understanding. The apostolic church viewed itself as the fellowship of believersthose who, by responding to the gospel in repentance and faith, had accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. The early believers had a strongly Christ-centered self-understanding. They saw Jesus as their "righteousness, holiness and redemption," their "life," their "hope," their "all" (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 3:4; 1 Tim. 1:1; Col. 3:11). To them He was "the reality" (Col. 2:17) of which the believer partakes by faith.

The apostolic Christians knew that they were already "sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26). Because they were sons, they were also "heirs according to the promise" (verse 29). But they also recognized that most of what the gospel promises does not become a concrete reality for the believer during his present existence. It will be fully realized only in the future, eternal life. In the meantime it is real only in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the only way the believer can have access to the gospel promises is through Christ.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (Col. 1:21-23). Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you ... By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain (1 Cor. 15:1, 2).

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:11, 12). We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first (Heb. 3:14). And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming (1 John 2:28). So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and over-flowing with thankfulness (Col. 2:6, 7).

The early Christians understood that all they were and all they had as sons and daughters of God, they were and they had only becauseand for so long asthey remained in Christ by faith. They knew that if they ever lost their hold on Himand consequently ceased to participate in His redemptive work on their behalfthey would revert to their previous state of lostness and would be subject to the old order of sin, condemnation, and death. It was therefore imperative that they continue living by faith in Christ throughout their lives. That was the only way in which what they now had by faith, as a promise, would become a concrete historical reality for them at the second coming of Jesus.

In time the Christ-centered self-understanding changed, and the church became a hierarchical institution that viewed itself, not as the dependent object of God's grace, but as its sole possessor and dispenser. Thus the church increasingly functioned as the authoritative agency that presumably could either actualize or frustrate a sinner's reconciliation with God. For all practical purposes Jesus was displaced by the church as the "author and perfecter of our faith," the only "source of eternal salvation" (Heb. 12:2; 5:9). Adventists believed a correct understanding of the sanctuary doctrine would play a major role in recapturing the apostolic perceptions and experience. First, it would expose the false systems of mediation that had been established, and reveal the fallacy of depending on any human institution, method, merit, or achievement for a right standing with God.

The sanctuary doctrine also called attention to the true way God has provided in Christ for man's reconciliation with the Father. Christendom had almost completely lost sight of Christ's mediatorial/substitutionary role in heaven. The sanctuary doctrine would bring this dimension to the forefront. It would present Jesus as the living Saviour who, as man's substitute and surety, "stands in the holy of holies, now to appear in the presence of God for us. There He ceases not to present His people moment by moment, complete in Himself' (Faith and Works, p. 107).

The fact that the Mediator presents His people complete in Himselfthat is, by imputing to them His personal meritsclearly indicates that in Christ all sinners have equal access to the Father. Thanks to the Saviour's substitutionary rolefirst on the cross as atoning sacrifice, and now on the throne as mediating advocateall true believers stand before God totally forgiven and perfectly righteous in Christ.

Third, by calling the believers' attention away from themselves and their meager accomplishmentstheir imperfect obedience, uneven growth, and incomplete maturityand by focusing their attention on Jesus and His redemptive ministry on their behalf, the sanctuary doctrine would remove fear and insecurity and replaced them with peace, assurance, and joy. The following passages from Ellen White's writings bring this out quite clearly:

The intercession of Christ in our behalf is that of presenting His divine merits in the offering of Himself to the Father as our substitute and surety; for He ascended up on high to make an atonement for our transgressions. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1, 2). "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). From these scriptures it is evident that it is not God's will that you should be distrustful and torture your soul with the fear that God will not accept you because you are sinful and unworthy. "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8). Present your case before Him, pleading the merits of the blood shed for you upon Calvary's cross (ibid., pp. 105, 106).

We must not trust at all to ourselves or to our good works; but when as erring, sinful beings we come to Christ, we may find rest in His love. God will accept everyone that comes to Him trusting wholly in the merits of a crucified Saviour (ibid., p. 39). We must center our hopes of heaven upon Christ alone, because He is our Substitute and Surety. We have transgressed the law of God, and by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified. The best efforts that man in his own strength can make are valueless to meet the holy and just law that he has transgressed; but through faith in Christ he may claim the righteousness of the Son of God as all-sufficient (ibid., p. 93).

Finally, a personal knowledge of the high priestly ministry of Christ in heaven would enable God's people to establish and maintain a saving faith relationship with Him, and to fulfill the role God intended for them. Notice how the following statement expresses this idea:

All need a knowledge for themselves of the position and work of their great High Priest. Otherwise it will be impossible for them to exercise the faith which is essential at this time or to occupy the position which God designs them to fill. . . . The intercession of Christ in man's behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross (The Great Controversy, pp. 488, 489).

The passage presents two major concepts. First, it underlines the tremendous significance Christ's intercession in man's behalf has for the plan of salvation: it is "as essential . . . as was His death upon the cross." And second, it indicates that we can neither have essential faith nor occupy our God-ordained position unless we have a reliable personal understanding of Jesus as our great High Priest.

The importance of Christ's mediatorial ministry and its implications for our personal Christian experience should have moved us as a church to place it high on our agenda. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Historically the Adventist community has paid considerably more attention to Christ's role as judge of the dead than to His role as mediator for the living.

The reason for this is not that the former is more importantfor that is most definitely not the casebut that it is more controversial. In order to establish some aspects of this phase of the judgment, one must build conceptual bridges, establish textual relationships, draw conclusions, and derive implications that are not as scripturally evident as many would desire them to be. As a result, we have been so intensely occupied with reaching consensus on some details concerning God's judgment of the dead that we have almost totally neglected to concern ourselves with His ongoing work for the redemption of the living.

Predictably, such a one-sided emphasis has had some rather negative side effects. On the one hand, it has distracted us from proclaiming Jesus as the only rightful and effectual mediator between God and man. To tell the world that we cannot base our assurance of salvation either on the earthly church (its role, institutions, and ministry) or on the believer himself (his personal goodness, accomplishments, and merits) but on Jesus and what He is doing for us in heaven has certainly not been one of our foremost concerns. Hence, to the extent that we have failed to make this truth central to our message and mission, we have already failed to "occupy the position which God designs" us to fill.

On the other hand, our one-sided emphasis has prevented us from acquiring a clearer understanding of exactly what Jesus is presently doing on our behalf, and how His ministry should determine the nature and quality of our personal faith relationship with Him. As a result, some ideas have found their way into Adventism that, instead of stressing Jesus as the only source of saving righteousness for fallen man, actually make the believer's own character development and behavior modification the ultimate criteria for his standing with God. Thus the center of attention as well as the hope of salvation are shifted from Jesus and what He does for the believer in heaven to what he experiences in his personal life here on eartha subtle yet tremendously significant change that contradicts the essence as well as purpose of the sanctuary doctrine.

This brings us to the three major objectives of our present study: first, to restore Christ's high-priestly ministry to the forefront of our attention and refine our understanding of what Jesus, as our representative and advocate with the Father, is presently doing. Second, to enhance our relationship with Christ as our mediator and remind us that His atoning death, redemptive victory, and saving righteousness are the only basis of our acceptance with God, our only hope of salvation. And third, to provide a fairly systematic and reasonably comprehensive structure to the many teachings we find on this subject in Ellen White's writings.

In the process we will attempt to find the answer her writings provide to at least the following two basic questions: 1. Why is the mediation of Christ considered so important to the plan of salvation? That is, what is Jesus doing as our personal "substitute and surety"two of her favorite termsthat is so vital to our ultimate salvation? 2. And what response should Christ's mediatorial role elicit from us as believers? What must we do in order to allow the Saviour to carry forward His redemptive work on our behalf to its final and total realization at the second coming of Christ?

I have based this study almost exclusively on Ellen White's writings. As a result, I have presented only enough biblical evidence to show that the concepts derived from her writings harmonize with Scripture, and that we can therefore accept the concepts as reliable. I have two reasons for this approach. First, Ellen White is by far the foremost exponent of the Adventist understanding of Christ's mediatorial ministry and its significance. Second, although she wrote much on the topicreferences to it appear almost everywhere in her worksfor the most part she was neither systematic nor definitive enough to prevent misunderstanding. Therefore it should come as no surprise that some use portions of her writings to support views that, instead of centering on Christ and His redemptive ministry in heaven, focus primarily on man and his meager accomplishments here on earth.

Should such man-centered ideas become prevalent within Adventism, they would indeed make it "impossible" for us to "exercise the faith which is essential at this time." I have written this book in the hope that, by aiding our understanding of Christ's mediatonial ministry, it will enable us to recognize and deal with deceptive views, and move us to establish and maintain a strong personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ until He comes.

The study falls into eight general sections: 1. The mediation of Christ for the believer as an individual person. 2. The mediation of Christ for the believer's performance. 3. The mediation of Christ as the only source of saving righteousness for all. 4. The mediation of Christ as the only source of saving righteousness until He returns. 5. The mediation of Christ completed at the close of probation. 6. Ellen White and a deception aimed particularly at Adventists. 7. Two groups of people within the church: those righteous in Christ, and those unrighteous. 8. Summary and conclusions. The appendix outlines some basic principles concerning the use of Ellen White's writings and provides some examples of ways to deal with passages that at first reading appear to be in tension with the concepts established in this book.

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