Few theological topics evoke such passion as the question of the assurance of salvation. In many ways this is understandable, as human beings naturally crave security. Insurance companies know this, which is why they are among the richest and most powerful organizations in our society.
But as the victims of illness and natural disaster often learn, those who promise security do not always deliver. And history has shown that in the spiritual realm, this sad reality is truer still.
As Seventh-day Adventists around the world study the subject of preparation for the end-time crisis (1), the subject of assurance is being brought into focus (2). Leaders, pastors, and laity are thus constrained to compare the various thoughts expressed with the written counsel of God, not in the spirit of criticism and fault-finding, but in the spirit of the noble Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11, NIV).
Faith and Works
Confusion still persists in many denominational circles regarding the issue of faith and works. Some continue to mistakenly believe that when the Bible (as well as the writings of Ellen White) say we are not saved by works (Rom. 3:20,28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9), that this supposedly includes anything and everything human beings do, including after conversion. Such persons frequently insist that Christians are saved by justifying righteousness only, and not at all by the righteousness experienced by the Christian through regeneration and sanctification.
Yet the apostle Paul is clear that sanctification is very much a part of the means, not the result, of salvation:
God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (II Thess. 2:13).
In another verse he draws a direct contrast between works performed by human beings in their own strength and the internal transformation which—in addition to divine forgiveness (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7)—saves the believer:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5).
The works which don’t save the believer, therefore, are the self-generated, hypocritical, surface works of the unconverted heart. The apostle Paul makes reference to this false piety when he writes, “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Notice how the phrases “not of yourselves” and “not of works” are parallel. And when he writes, “lest any man should boast,” this makes it even clearer that unsanctified works are being described in this verse. Elsewhere, when Paul writes about the one who “restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God” (Rom. 2:17), he is clearly speaking of hypocritical, surface piety that professes allegiance to the divine law while simultaneously disregarding it (verses 18-23).
By contrast, one of the fruits of the Spirit is meekness (Gal. 5:23)—the opposite of boasting. Sanctified obedience doesn’t produce boasting, or it ceases to be sanctified.
On the surface, good and noble deeds may be performed, regardless of motive. Even the unconverted appreciate such conduct; it makes for nicer human relationships, it keeps reputations intact, and it might even keep you out of jail! But these works can’t save anyone in God’s scheme of things, as they do not rise from a converted, regenerated heart (Titus 3:5). Thus Ellen White makes such statements as the following:
If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason (3).
But obviously what is described above is something quite apart from the work of regeneration and sanctification, as the same author makes such statements as the following:
The work of gaining salvation is one of copartnership, a joint operation. . . . Human effort of itself is not sufficient. Without the aid of divine power it avails nothing. God works and man works (4).
We are saved by climbing round after round of the ladder, looking to Christ, clinging to Christ, mounting step by step to the height of Christ, so that He is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly-kindness, and charity are the rounds of this ladder (5).
The gospel that is to be preached to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples presents the truth in clear lines, showing that obedience is the condition of gaining eternal life. Christ imparts His righteousness to all who consent to let Him take away their sins (6).
So the inspired pen is clear that what is good, holy, noble, and lovely in humanity, apart from the experience of conversion, can have no part in our salvation, and that the very suggestion of such would be rejected by the heavenly host as treason. But what divine grace produces in human lives, in cooperation with human effort (Phil. 2:12-13), is indeed part and parcel of the Biblical saving process.
Assurance of Salvation
It is dangerous to quote certain Bible verses and not others, relative to any given subject. The genius of Seventh-day Adventist theology is that we take the whole of Scripture as our doctrinal foundation, particularly with reference to how human beings are saved. In the words of the apostle Paul to Timothy:
From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:15-16).
It is dangerous therefore, when studying a topic like the assurance of salvation, to focus only on those verses which speak of God’s part in the process, while ignoring those which speak of humanity’s part and responsibility. The Bible is clear, to be sure, that God is our gracious and miraculous Deliverer (Psalm 91:15-16; Joel 2:31-32), that nothing can pluck the faithful out of the Lord’s hand (John 10:28), and that belief in the Lordship and bodily resurrection of Jesus—and calling upon His name with sincerity—are essential to our salvation (Rom. 10:9-13).
But the Bible is also clear that human beings have an active part, beyond passive belief, to play in the salvation process, though conversion and transformation through the power of divine grace are essential in order for our part in the process to be acceptable to God. The Bible is clear that both confession and the forsaking of sin are needed in order to receive God’s forgiveness (II Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7; I John 1:9), in addition to our willingness to forgive those who have committed wrongs against us (Matt. 6:14-15). Jesus declared on several occasions that Spirit-empowered obedience to His Father’s will and commandments are conditions for receiving eternal life (Matt. 7:21; 19:16-26; 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-28). And the apostle Paul, despite misunderstandings to the contrary, taught the same thing (Rom. 2:6-10; 8:13; Heb. 5:9).
A passage often quoted with regard to the believer’s assurance of salvation is found in the Frist Epistle of John:
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (I John 5:11-13).
But what is often ignored is what the same author, in the same context, is talking about when he speaks of having eternal life. Consider what he states in verse 20 of this same chapter:
We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
And what, according to the same author in the same book, does it mean to be “in Christ”?
And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him (I John 3:24).
This of course is similar to the apostle Paul’s statement, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:17). In other words, to “have eternal life,” as the apostle John says, is not to rest under a canopy of declarative righteousness while occasional sin persists. Rather, it means to experience the transforming power of the new creation and to thus render obedience to all of God’s commandments.
We see the same principle explained in Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in the Gospel of John, when He prays, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). And how, according to the apostle John, can we know that we know Jesus?
And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (I John 2:3-4).
So it is clear that to have eternal life is synonymous in the New Testament with the keeping of God’s commandments. This is not an assurance of salvation based on forgiveness only, not by any means. True, we can be certain of God’s forgiveness if we fall into sin and experience true repentance (II Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7; Matt. 6:14-15; I John 1:9; 2:1). But to “know that ye have eternal life” (I John 5:13), when considered both in context and in the light of the full Biblical message, is also based on total surrender to the divine will through obedience to the divine law.
Such statements as the following can be confusing on this point:
We are called, even commanded, to live holy lives, but these lives are the result of having been saved by Christ, not the means of achieving that salvation (7).
If by this it is meant that outward obedience is the result of the regeneration and sanctification of the Holy Spirit which the Bible so clearly identifies as part of the means of our salvation (II Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5), we can agree. Obedience, after all, is primarily a state of the heart, just like disobedience (Matt. 5:22,28). The thief on the cross wasn’t physically able to restore the things he had stolen, which according to the Bible is a condition for such a one to be forgiven (Eze. 33:15). But Jesus knew what was in the penitent thief’s heart (I Kings 8:39), and thus knew that if given the opportunity he would have fulfilled the requisite conditions.
However, as our study has demonstrated, it is imperative to state repeatedly that Biblical salvation consists of both pardon and power, both justification and sanctification, both Christ’s work for us and His work in us. Both form integral parts of the ground of the Christian’s hope and assurance. Ellen White is clear that both the work of Christ for us and His work in us form the ground of our hope, and that both stand at odds with the spirit of boastfulness and self-exaltation:
So we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us (8).
In a number of other statements she is equally clear that Spirit-empowered obedience to God’s commandments is very much part of the basis of our assurance of salvation:
We cannot have the assurance and perfect confiding trust in Christ as our Saviour until we acknowledge Him as our King and are obedient to His commandments (9).
His (the believer’s) life, cleansed from vanity and selfishness, is filled with the love of God. His daily obedience to the law of God obtains for him a character that assures him eternal life in the kingdom of God (10).
If we neglect the cases of the needy and the unfortunate that are brought under our notice, no matter who they may be, we have no assurance of eternal life, for we do not answer the claims that God has upon us (11).
The conditions upon which salvation is assured are plain and simple, so that the wayfaring man need not err therein. . . . Let the Lord explain what He would have the sinner do to inherit eternal life. He has furnished ample provision for his salvation, for He gave Himself in Christ. He provided a salvation as full and complete as was the offering full and complete. A lawyer came to Christ asking what he should do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus said unto him, “What is written in the law? how readest thou? And He answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.
The lawyer spoke just as he was convicted, and Christ confirmed him in his interpretation of the law. “And He said unto him, Thou hast answered right; this do, and thou shalt live.” How beautiful was this truth in its simplicity! This is what God requires of us. Through faith in Jesus Christ as our substitute, surety, and righteousness, we may lay hold upon divine power, so that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (12).
The commandment-keeping people of God are to walk in the sunlight of Christ’s righteousness, their countenances expressing cheerfulness and thanksgiving, joyful in the assurance, “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the City.” Revelation 22:14 (13).
Inevitably, in a discussion such as this, the question arises as to whether salvation is lost through occasional, non-premeditated sin. The problem with such language is that there are degrees of premeditation for all of us. Ellen White is very clear as to the ultimate responsibility for every sinful choice:
However great the pressure brought to bear upon the soul, transgression is our own act (14).
In other statements she is equally clear as to what happens to our relationship with God when the choice to transgress takes place:
Just as soon as we separate ourselves from God by sin, which is the transgression of His law, Satan takes control of our minds (15).
Every impurity of thought, every lustful passion, separates the soul from God; for Christ can never put His robe of righteousness upon a sinner, to hide his deformity (16).
Every transgression brings the soul into condemnation, and provokes the divine displeasure (17).
When man transgresses he is under the condemnation of the law, and it becomes to him a yoke of bondage. Whatever his profession may be he is not justified (18).
For those who fear that the definition of salvation as a work in progress will deprive them of assurance and peace of mind, let them be reminded that the God we serve is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). According to the inspired pen, repentance includes not only sorrow for sin, but also “a turning away from it” (19). In another statement, the modern prophet assures the Christian:
The angels never leave the tempted one a prey to the enemy who would destroy the souls of men if permitted to do so. As long as there is hope, until they resist the Holy Spirit to their eternal ruin, men are guarded by heavenly intelligences (20).
No one, therefore, need indulge in these popular “assurance” illustrations we hear so often, many of which range from the frivolous to the perverse—for example, a man nailing shingles on a rooftop who accidentally strikes his thumb, utters a curse word, then tumbles over with a heart attack, or the minister conducting a pastoral visit who encounters an attractive married woman at home alone, who then seduces the pastor into adultery, only to have her husband return unexpectedly and shoot the pastor dead. Both of the above illustrations usually end with the question, “Is the one dying in the act of sin lost or saved?”
The assumption behind such illustrations is that events take God by surprise, and that Christians thus need some sort of celestial “insurance policy” to cover them in case of accidents. But history never takes God by surprise. The Bible assures us that God knows the end from the beginning: “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isa 42:9). God knows intimately the state of every heart (I Kings 8:39), and thus He knows when an individual’s probation can fairly and justly be brought to a close. Again, in the words of Ellen White: “As long as there is hope, until they resist the Holy Spirit to their eternal ruin, men are guarded by heavenly intelligences” (21).
Assurance of Salvation and the Time of Jacob’s Trouble
The phrase “time of Jacob’s trouble,” whose antecedent traces to the patriarch Jacob’s wrestling with the Lord on the shore of Jabbok as his brother Esau marched against him (Gen. 32:24-30), is originally found in the book of Jeremiah, in a reference to the travail of Israel’s captivity out which God’s people would eventually be saved (Jer. 30:7). In the classic Adventist end-time scenario, founded on Scripture and further articulated in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy, this period covers the time from the issuing of the universal death decree at the falling of the second of the seven last plagues (Rev. 16:3), until the voice of God delivers the saints just before Jesus’ second coming (22).
When this decree goes forth against God’s people, they will afflict their souls and search their hearts, to make sure no sin remains unconfessed or unforsaken. Like Jacob they will wrestle with God in prayer, entreating their precious Lord, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me” (Gen. 32:26). And what is especially telling is the following Ellen White statement, which describes in depth the anguished spirit which will possess God’s saints in this ultimate hour of trial:
Though God’s people will be surrounded by enemies who are bent upon their destruction, yet the anguish which they suffer is not a dread of persecution for the truth’s sake; they fear that every sin has not been repented of, and that through some fault in themselves they will fail to realize the fulfillment of the Saviour’s promise: “I will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world.” Revelation 3:10. If they could have the assurance of pardon they would not shrink from torture or death; but should they prove unworthy, and lose their lives because of their own defects of character, then God’s holy name would be reproached (23).
Notice how Ellen White says, “If they could have the assurance of pardon,” which means that God’s people in this future moment will not in fact have the assurance of their salvation. That is the reason for their anguish. They will thus examine their lives and past experiences, and when they do so, Ellen White tells us that “their hopes sink, for in their whole lives they can see little good” (24). But the good news is that Ellen White goes on to clarify that despite the saints’ “deep sense of their unworthiness, they have no concealed wrongs to reveal. Their sins have gone beforehand to judgment and have been blotted out, and they cannot bring them to remembrance” (25).
Several pages later, the servant of the Lord describes the spiritual condition God’s people must attain in advance of the great time of trouble, in order to stand successfully during this ultimate ordeal:
Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation. . . . He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to His advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble (26).
No promise of an assured salvation based on forgiveness only, whether during the great time of trouble or before, can be found in either Scripture or the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. We have noted twice from God’s Word that both confession and the forsaking of sin are essential in order for forgiveness to take place (II Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7; Matt. 6:14-15; I John 1:9; 2:1). Ellen White confirms this truth when she defines repentance as “sorrow for sin, and a turning away from it” (27). And according to the passage cited above from The Great Controversy, this turning from sin is to be complete in advance of probation’s close (28).
Not until the voice of God turns their captivity does the agony of the striving faithful cease. Ellen White describes this moment as follows:
By the people of God a voice, clear and melodious, is heard, saying, “Look up,” and lifting their eyes to the heavens, they behold the bow of promise. The black, angry clouds that covered the firmament are parted, and like Stephen they look up steadfastly into heaven and see the glory of God and the Son of man seated upon His throne. In His divine form they discern the marks of His humiliation; and from His lips they hear the request presented before His Father and the holy angels: “I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.” John 17:24. Again a voice, musical and triumphant, is heard, saying, “They come! they come! holy, harmless, and undefiled. They have kept the word of My patience; they shall walk among the angels;” and the pale, quivering lips of those who have held fast their faith utter a shout of victory (29).
Notice, however, that even at this time the saints make no claim to sinlessness, even though the inspired pen is clear that they most assuredly have reached this condition. Notice it is not they who declare, “We come! we come, holy, harmless, and undefiled.” Rather, it is the voice of God that declares this concerning them. Like Job (Job 9:20-21), they won’t dare to state this about themselves, but as in Job’s case, God will do it for them (Job 1:1,8,22; 2:10).
Election Through Sanctified Obedience
Those who teach salvation through justifying righteousness alone will at times use the New Testament language of predestination and election to make their case. Verses are quoted which speak of God having predestined His people to salvation from eternity past (Eph. 1:4-5; II Tim. 1:9) (30). And then the question is asked:
How could salvation come from anything we could do if we were elected to have this salvation even before we existed? (31).
Yet both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White are clear that the predestination, or election, described in the New Testament is not something God arbitrarily decides, or decrees through forensic justification. Rather, it is accomplished through the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification in the lives of believers. Because God knows the future in advance (Isa. 42:9), He is aware of those who will accept His transforming grace as the means of election and predestination. Two New Testament passages are especially clear on this point, one of which our study has considered already:
God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (II Thess. 2:13).
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God, through sanctification of the Spirit (I Peter 1:2).
In other words, this election is not merely “made manifest” in the lives of the ones elected, as some have claimed (32). Rather, it is accomplished through the sanctification the Holy Spirit works out in the lives of God’s people. It is not a case of being saved first and becoming holy later; rather, becoming holy is an actual part of the process of being saved.
Ellen White speaks of election and predestination in exactly the same way, in such statements as the following:
This is the only election regarding which the Bible speaks. Fallen in sin, we may become partakers of the divine nature and attain to a knowledge far in advance of any scientific learning (33).
God has set forth in His word the conditions upon which every soul will be elected to eternal life—obedience to His commandments, through faith in Christ. God has elected a character in harmony with His law, and anyone who shall reach the standard of His requirement, will have an entrance into the kingdom of glory.
Every soul is elected who will work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. He is elected who will put on the armor, and fight the good fight of faith. He is elected who will watch unto prayer, who will search the Scriptures, and flee from temptation. He is elected who will have faith continually, and who will be obedient to every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (34).
The predestination, or election, of which God speaks, includes all who will accept Christ as a personal Saviour, who will return to their loyalty, to perfect obedience to all God’s commandments (35).
Neither Lawless Nor Sinless?
Commenting on Jesus’ final denunciation of those professing to do good works in His name, yet who fail to do His Father’s will (Matt. 7:21-23), some have lately alleged:
Jesus didn’t say, “Depart from Me,” you who were “not sinless,” or you who were not “without fault,” or you who were “not perfect.” Instead, He describes them as “lawless”—a translation of anomian or “without law” (36).
This assertion is really quite remarkable, especially when one views it in the light of the coming Sabbath/Sunday conflict. To begin with, the New Testament is clear that ultimate “lawlessness” in the setting of the final judgment does not require disobedience to more than one commandment. In the words of the apostle James:
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:10-12).
Some appear to forget that all it took was one sin to remove our first parents from Eden. And according to the above passage, all it will take is one sin, unconfessed and unforsaken, to keep any of us from returning to Eden.
The assumption of certain ones that Matthew 7:21-23 is talking about Christians who, in their view, wrongly believe that striving for character perfection through God’s imparted strength is part of the means of their salvation, when supposedly they should place full trust in declarative, “credited” righteousness for salvation, is simply untenable in the light of the other Biblical evidence we have seen that the work of Christ in and through the believer is very much a part of salvation (II Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5). The problem with the Christians described in Matthew 7:21-23 is not too large of a focus on sanctification, but rather, too little. The first verse in this passage says it all:
Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father, which is in heaven (Matt. 7:21).
The fact that Jesus describes these people as practicing “lawlessness” (verse 23, NKJV) makes it clear that while they claim to be “exalting Jesus” by doing good works in His name, this is being done not through sanctifying grace, but rather, as a superficial “Christ-centeredness” beneath which disobedience to the divine law persists.
Moreover, if anything less than faultless, perfect, sinless obedience were required of God’s people, why should the Sabbath/Sunday test be all that important? How convincing would the testimony of a Seventh-day Adventist in an end-time judicial setting be, were he or she to insist that the Sabbath commandment, which they are presumably willing to die rather than break, comes out of a law they can’t, even through God’s power, perfectly obey? If the law can’t be perfectly kept anyway, why obstruct global unity and the hope of universal peace by insisting on keeping the letter of any of the Ten Commandments?
The Bible is clear that the final generation of believers at the close of sacred history will in fact be without spot, without fault, without sin, in their daily conduct, through the power of sanctifying grace. Such passages as the following come to mind in this regard:
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).
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).
And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God (Rev. 14:5).
Notice how these verses tell us that the saints are to be “found” in this condition when Jesus comes. They won’t get that way when He comes. The passage from Second Peter speaks of being “found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (II Peter 3:14). (This, by the way, is the same language used by the same author to describe Jesus, the “lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:19).) Notice also how being purified “even as He is pure” is accomplished while we still have the hope of His coming (I John 3:3), not when we see Him in the clouds. No wonder Ellen White speaks so clearly on this point:
When He comes, He is not to cleanse us of our sins, to remove from us the defects in our characters, or to cure us of the infirmities of our tempers and dispositions. If wrought for us at all, this work will be accomplished before that time. When the Lord comes, those who are holy will be holy still. . . . The Refiner does not then sit to pursue His refining process and remove their sins and their corruption. This is all to be done in these hours of probation (37).
In the messages to the seven churches of Revelation, all the promises are given to the overcomers (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21). But only the church of Laodicea, the last of the seven, is promised an overcoming experience identical to that of Jesus: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Rev. 3:21).
And a host of Ellen White statements confirm this Biblical promise, only a few of which we have space for in this article:
Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth. . . .
When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing (38).
I also saw that many do not realize what they must be in order to live in the sight of the Lord without a high priest in the sanctuary through the time of trouble. Those who receive the seal of the living God and are protected in the time of trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully. . . . I saw that none could share the ‘refreshing’ (latter rain) unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action (39).
Those who come up to every point and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation (40).
Now is the time to prepare. The seal of God will never be placed upon the forehead of an impure man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of the ambitious, world-loving man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of men or women of false tongues or deceitful hearts. All who receive the seal must be without spot before God—candidates for heaven (41).
Are we seeking for His fullness, ever pressing toward the mark set before us—the perfection of His character? When the Lord’s people reach this mark, they will be sealed in their foreheads. Filled with His Spirit, they will be complete in Christ, and the recording angel will declare, “It is finished” (42).
The Saviour is wounded afresh and put to open shame when His people pay no heed to His word. He came to this world and lived a sinless life, that in His power His people might also live lives of sinlessness. He desires them by practicing the principles of truth to show to the world that God’s grace has power to sanctify the heart (43).
In the day of judgment the course of the man who has retained the frailty and imperfection of humanity will not be vindicated. For him there will be no place in heaven. He could not enjoy the perfection of the saints in light. He who has not sufficient faith in Christ to believe that He can keep him from sinning, has not the faith that will give him an entrance into the kingdom of God (44).
In light of the above statements, it is nothing short of foolish to speak of being “neither lawless nor sinless.” If even one commandment is being violated, if but one sin persists in the life, we qualify as lawless according to the Holy Word of God (James 2:10). And at the end of human history, in the final crisis of the ages, the above statements are clear that God will indeed have a people who perfectly reflect the image of their Redeemer. For this demonstration God, and all His universe, awaits:
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 (45).
Purveyors of “assurance theology” in contemporary Adventism often forget two key facts from the inspired writings: (1) Neither Scripture nor the writings of Ellen White promise an assurance of salvation which transcends the practical choices of the sanctified life; and (2) the central issue of the great controversy is not the peace of mind and spiritual security of the believer, but rather, the ultimate and eternal security of God’s universe.
The following Ellen White statements make clear God’s ultimate consideration so far as taking men and women to heaven is concerned:
God will accept nothing less than unreserved surrender. Halfhearted, sinful, professing Christians would spoil heaven, were they permitted to enter. They would stir up a second rebellion there (46).
Without perfection of character no one can enter the pearly gates of the city of God, for if, with all our imperfections, we were permitted to enter that city, there would soon be in heaven a second rebellion. We must first be tried and chosen, and found faithful and true. Upon the purification of our character rests our only hope of eternal life (47).
Without Christ, it is impossible for [man] to render perfect obedience to the law of God; and heaven can never be gained by an imperfect obedience, for this would place all heaven in jeopardy and make possible a second rebellion (48).
In short, God can’t take the chance on taking anyone to heaven who might start another revolution.
But through all our struggles and strivings as we approach the final crisis—as we press onward and upward, strengthened each day by the angels who ascend and descend the ladder of progress (Gen. 28:12; John 1:51)—our ultimate hope is anchored in the One who is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). We close with a final reference to the following assurance from the modern prophet:
The angels never leave the tempted one a prey to the enemy who would destroy the souls of men if permitted to do so. As long as there is hope, until they resist the Holy Spirit to their eternal ruin, men are guarded by heavenly intelligences (49).
1. Preparation for the End Time (Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide: April-May-June 2018) (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018).
2. Ibid, pp. 30-36.
3. Ellen G. White, Faith and Works, p. 24.
4. ----Acts of the Apostles, p. 482.
5. ----Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 147.
6. ----SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 972.
7. . Preparation for the End Time (Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide: April-May-June 2018), p. 34.
8. White, Steps to Christ, p. 63.
9. ----Faith and Works, p. 16.
10. ----Sons and Daughters of God, p. 42.
11. ----Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 524.
12. ----Signs of the Times, July 2, 1896.
13. ----Review and Herald, May 3, 1898.
14. ----Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 421.
15. ----Review and Herald, July 12, 1887.
16. ----Our High Calling, p. 214.
17. ----Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 623.
18. ----My Life Today, p. 250 (italics supplied).
19. ----Steps to Christ, p. 23.
20. ----Our High Calling, p. 23.
22. ----Early Writings, pp. 282-285; The Great Controversy, pp. 615-622.
23. ----The Great Controversy, p. 619.
24. Ibid, pp. 618-619.
25. Ibid, p. 620.
26. Ibid, p. 623.
27. ----Steps to Christ, p. 23.
28. ----The Great Controversy, p. 623.
29. Ibid, p. 636.
30. Preparation for the End Time (Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide: April-May-June 2018), p. 35.
33. White, In Heavenly Places, p. 29.
34. ----Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 207-208.
35. ----Gospel Herald, June 11, 1902.
36. Preparation for the End Time (Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide: April-May-June 2018), p. 36.
37. White, Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 355.
38. ----The Great Controversy, p. 425.
39. ----Early Writings, p. 71.
40. ----Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 187.
41. Ibid, vol. 5, p. 216.
42. ----SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1118.
43. ----Review and Herald, April 1, 1902.
44. ----Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 360.
45. ----Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69.
46. ----The Upward Look, p. 197.
47. ----Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, p. 294.
48. ----Signs of the Times, Dec. 30, 1889.
49. ----Our High Calling, p. 23.
Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
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