Wise as Serpents, Harmless as Doves

There is no doubt about it. We are headed towards an ever-spiraling era in history that edges us closer to the end of the world than ever before. More than ever are we seeing natural disasters pile up, causing more than a million deaths in a single event.

Wars and rumors of wars abound, and show no signs of abating, despite people’s hopes that our advanced age and civilization would facilitate peace. We teeter on the edge of a precipice leading to a rapid drop to the end.  And yet we’ve been saying this for more than a century.

Jesus is way, way overdue. But it’s certainly not His fault.

Is it perhaps that we haven’t had the war to end all wars yet, the one everyone in the early 20th century believed took place during the First World War?

No, there was greater. World War I saw the death of 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians. World War II was less forgiving, at 80 million combatant and civilian deaths. (1) 2 million of that number were Jews who died in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka alone, not to mention the 4 million Jews the Nazis slaughtered elsewhere. The world has remained in turmoil to this day.

Could it be, then, that we just haven’t had the right Pope come to power? Popes have come and gone, but God’s purposes are neither thwarted nor accelerated by their activities.

You might say, “I know! We haven’t taken the Gospel of the Kingdom to the whole world!”

Well, I have news for you. We are a fast-growing church, one of the fastest in the Protestant world. We added 1.2 million new members in 2015. It is likely we added more last year. That’s about 3,280 additions to the faith in a single day! (2)

But this is what we’re up against:

360,000 births a day! Approximately the same amount come of age every day. (3) That might, of course, be an unfair comparison, because reaching the world with the Gospel doesn’t necessarily mean converting them, and the vast majority of those we reach will not accept our message.

But still, it illustrates the utter inadequacy of our soul winning efforts in comparison with population growth. At the rate it is going, there is no way to touch every single soul alive with the Three Angels’ Messages.

Okay, then maybe the cosmic clock has not yet ticked down to zero.  But our own Adventist history tells us otherwise:

“Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people in giving to the world the message of mercy, Christ would, ere this, have come to the earth, and the saints would have received their welcome into the city of God.” - 6T 449.4

In other words, we are long, long overdue.  But why?

Scripture tells us why.  The Old Testament declares of God’s people at the end of time:

“The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid” (Zeph. 3:13).

The New Testament exhorts Christians to fulfill this promise in such passages as the following:

“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:23).

“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? . . . Wherefore, brethren, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (II Peter 3:11-12,14).

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:2-3).

Echoing the words of Zephaniah, the apostle John describes those who will meet Christ in peace when He returns:

“And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Rev. 14:5).

Ellen White thus echoes the words of Scripture when she declares:

“Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.” - COL 69

There it is! As plain as the eye can read. This is huge, friends! This means that it was as likely for the world to end when Pope Pius IX was pope in the 1870’s as it is under Pope Francis. This means it was as likely for Christ to return when Ulysses Grant was president as it is under Donald Trump. The reason we haven’t been able to reach the world with the Gospel is because we haven’t been willing to claim our Lord’s power to demonstrate His character to the world and to the universe.

You see, the cosmic conflict isn’t just about doctrinal truths and specifics, though these certainly play a big part. The conflict of the ages is about character. Are we going to reflect the character of the arch-enemy Satan, or the character of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ? Whose government are we giving our allegiance to, Satan’s or Christ’s?

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” Phil 2:5

Furthermore, the working of Christ within us must be evident, and His presence in our lives a sure-fire indicator of our conversion and salvation by grace through faith.

“To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” - Col. 1:27-29

The work of Christ in man is no mystical formula; it is spiritual pragmatism exercised to perfection. Its simplicity is downright embarrassing to those that seek to wrestle continually in the quagmire that is the debate between law and grace—a false dichotomy if there ever was one.

“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3:11) Yet faith provides action. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 15:10)

It should be thus apparent to layman and scholar, that what God requires, man cannot meet. In our sinful condition, we are in no shape or form able to prove we are fit for the company of angels and unfilled beings in other worlds. So God made it so simple for us. What God requires, He provides.

Like Abraham, who was called to an extreme act of faith where he was asked by God to offer up his only son as a burnt offering. As the “just shall live by faith”, Abraham proceeded to obey God by faith, even if the request was the most illogical of all illogicals. Yet his faith was counted to him for righteousness; it was manifested in the ram that he and his son, alive and well, had to remove from the thicket.

When you are tempted to build a false dichotomy between the law and God’s grace, remember that the law is, and always will be, the moral standard for the universe which keeps moral order and is thus immutable. God’s grace through His Son gives us both pardon for past sins and power to resist future ones.

In Eden humanity fell, and men and women have since chosen an ever-deepening experience with sin and rebellion. Sin has been so virulently pervasive in the human condition that without outside assistance, we don’t have a prayer of resisting its pull. But we need not fear.  For what God requires, He provides.

Since we are saved from the wrath to come by pardon and power, our duty must be fulfilled to the utmost. Christ sends us as sheep among wolves…and we must be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

“Wise as serpents” because we need to “present sound arguments, that will not only silence our opponents, but will bear the closest and most searching scrutiny….” - CW 40

Snakes are crafty creatures. They may act like they are only driven by instinct, but certain observations have made scientists question that. If you are brave enough, try searching for “Julius the Python” on YouTube. Julius is able to open doors with flip handles and even knows how to roll over on command. (4)

Biblically, Satan is represented by the serpent (Gen. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:9; 20:2),  not only because of his use of the creature in tempting Eve, but also because of his intelligence and craftiness as a former angel of light. Jesus calls us to be harmless as doves; with the dove obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit and the peace He presents to those that listen to His leading.

The problem lies in those that, while avid proclaimers of truth, forget to examine their characters (II Cor. 13:5) and end up not just being as wise as a serpent, but as harmful as one.

“‘Behold’ said Jesus, ‘I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’ Christ Himself did not suppress one word of truth, but He spoke it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact, and thoughtful, kind attention in His intercourse with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes. He wept over Jerusalem, the city He loved, that refused to receive Him, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They rejected Him, the Saviour, but He regarded them with pitying tenderness, and sorrow so deep that it broke His heart.” - DA 353

The work of Christ can be hindered even by those that try to be its greatest workers. This happens when the mind of Christ gets left behind, and people rush forward into a spiritual gunfight armed only with a proverbial knife. The servant of the Lord warns us:

“We long to see reforms; and because we do not see that which we desire, an evil spirit is too often allowed to cast drops of gall into our cup, and thus others are embittered. By our ill-advised words their spirit is chafed, and they are stirred to rebellion. Every sermon you preach, every article you write, may be all true; but one drop of gall in it will be poison to the hearer or the reader. Because of that drop of poison, one will discard all your good and acceptable words. Another will feed on the poison; for he loves such harsh words. He follows your example, and talks just as you talk. Thus the evil is multiplied."  - GW 375.1

This isn’t only true in our church relationships, but inside our homes as well.  Could this be the very reason we have been preaching the Second Advent Message for almost 200 years and it has little effect?

Have we been guilty of leaving the character of Christ on the doorstep of our homes, workplaces, and God forbid, our churches?

Why is it that we have to be reminded by God that, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” - Zech 4:6

Because we are developing characters in preparation for the company of sinless angels and unfallen creatures, obedience to God must be freely chosen and led by the Spirit of God voluntarily. This is why, for those preaching the Three Angels’ Messages, there should be no room to support laws and lawmakers who seek to unite church and state.

Obedience to God is a gift to those willing to receive it, and followers of God must understand that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).  Nor is God’s kingdom the United States of America, blessed as she is. We can and should decry the darkening cloud of moral degradation that thickens with every passing year.  But if we presume that it takes secular power and the carnal weapons of statecraft to reverse these trends, we would be woefully mistaken.

Instead of petitioning Capitol Hill for a revival of primitive godliness among us, we must be petitioning the Holy Spirit! Harmless as a dove though He is, the Spirit will quicken any needing soul. We need only ask for His presence, and with His assistance we can cooperate with divine agencies to rescue souls from the depths of deprivation.

This is how the 4th commandment is the test for the final days. With the character of Christ, we seek to follow all of God’s commandments, especially the one that is most forgotten and which commemorates Him as Creator of Heaven and Earth. Christians everywhere already know to worship God alone. They know not to take His name in vain. But they, for some reason, uphold human pride in respecting a day which was never sanctified by God.

Even today Adventists pay lip service to the true Sabbath, but secretly support political movements and measures that will lead to Sunday legislation and compelled observance. We assume Babylon is only comprised of the Papacy. But Babylon also includes apostate Protestantism. We need to shed this notion of wanting to control peoples’ consciences through human force, and instead teach unbelievers to freely yield themselves to the Holy Spirit, who can change their characters into the similitude of Christ’s. This is how we can hasten Christ’s return.

The only counter to a wolf in sheep’s clothing is a sheep who is as wise as a serpent, and yet harmless as a dove.

We can provide what Jesus is waiting for through cooperating with divine grace. When we give our lives to Him, He is able to reproduce His own character in us, and we will be like-minded with Him. And seeing that we will soon be in the company of sinless beings in a sinless universe, we need to be found of Him in “peace, without spot and blameless” (II Peter 3:14).

Let us endeavor to be as wise and harmless as our Lord and Savior was.



1. “World War I vs World War II.” World War I vs World War II - Difference and Comparison | Diffen, www.diffen.com/difference/World_War_I_vs_World_War_II. Accessed 1 Sept. 2017.

2. “A daily average of 3,000- plus accessions was first attained only in 2007 (though the church came close in 1999), and since then has been repeated in 2011, 2012, 2014 and now 2015.” – “2016 Annual Statistical Report: 152nd Report of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.” Adventist Archives, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR2016.pdf/. Accessed 1 Sept. 2017.

for 2014 and 2015

3. “Birth & Death Rates.” Ecology Global Network, www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/. Accessed 1 Sept. 2017.

4. Welsh, Jennifer. “Watch A Giant Snake Open A Door.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 18 June 2013, www.businessinsider.com/giant-albino-python-julius-opens-door-2013-6. Accessed 1 Sept. 2017