For a number of years now, a theory known as “universal legal justification” has been making the rounds among devout Seventh-day Adventists. In short, this theory teaches that on Calvary’s cross, Jesus didn’t simply die for the whole human race—something we all believe—thus providing for all a way of salvation should they meet the prescribed conditions found in Scripture. Rather, this “universal justification” theory insists that Christ legally justified the whole human race when He died on Calvary.Read More
As we drive down the freeway, street or road, we see signs which tell us the speed limit is 65, 55, 45, or 35 miles per hour, or whatever those who seem to know have determined is the maximum safe speed for that roadway. It's a law that should be obeyed. Most of us, however, take it for granted that the officer whose duty it is to help us obey that law will give us 4 or 5 over that limit before stopping us and writing a speeding ticket. We are assuming, and counting on, a certain amount of grace before the penalty is given.Read More
Why will the last generation become the last generation and not any generation before it? Is something missing? I believe we need the latter rain, but what will bring that about? I had heard that we will not receive it until we are completely without sin, so I tried very hard to get rid of all the sin in my life. I’m not the person I was when I started on my Christian journey, but I have not attained perfection.Read More
Many people have experienced trauma in their lives, and as a result of this trauma, they are trapped in a downward spiral of negative behaviors and thought patterns. When they seek help, they are introduced to the solution that the world offers. This solution is called self-help, and it promotes the idea that you can change yourself if you implement certain actions into your life. The problem with self-help is that it teaches the necessity of changing oneself. God’s Word, however, teaches us that self must die. Gaining victory over the destructive habits that enslave us does not involve making our best effort to gain control over self. In order for victory to be gained, self must cease to exist. “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31).* “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). So what does it mean to die to self? The answer to this question is found in the following two verses. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). The word “crucified,” which is found in both of these verses, is the key to understanding what it means to die to self. Jesus demonstrated the process of dying to self by His death on the cross. There is a specific reason why it was in God’s plan for Jesus to be crucified. Jesus could have died in many ways, and if we were to take our own lives—although I certainly hope not— we could do this in a variety of ways. But it is physically impossible for a person to crucify himself. The process of crucifixion can be accomplished only if a person submits himself to the will of another. The same is true when it comes to our spiritual growth. If we want to die to self, to be crucified with Christ, we must submit our will to the will of God. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Dying to self does not involve trying really hard to force ourselves to do something good or trying really hard to resist doing something bad. In the words of Moris Vendon, “Restrained badness is the worst kind of goodness.” Even if we did manage to make ourselves do good things and restrain ourselves from doing evil things, this external behavior would not change our hearts, because changing the heart is something only God can do. This is why Ellen White made the following statement in Christ’s Object Lessons, found on page 159. “No outward observances can take the place of simple faith and entire renunciation of self. But no man can empty himself of self. We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work.” Notice that James tells us to resist the devil, not to do battle with the devil. If we try to engage the devil in battle, not only will we be utterly defeated, but we will be fighting a pointless battle, because Jesus has already fought the battle with Satan and won. Christ has rendered the devil powerless. Rather than fighting the devil, we are to resist the devil, to defend ourselves against his attacks, but this can be accomplished only by submitting our will to God. If we submit to God, He will empty us of self, impart to us the mind of Christ, and give us victory over sin. “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). When we surrender our hearts to God, the mind of Christ within us will empower us to resist the devil.
It is through the process of submitting to God and receiving the mind of Christ that self is crucified, spiritual life is imparted, and freedom from sin is attained, but in order for this work to be accomplished, death must precede life. In John chapter 12 verse 24 Jesus uses the following analogy to describe what He had to endure in order to redeem humanity and establish His kingdom. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” Just as a grain of wheat must die beneath the earth in order to produce more grain, Jesus had to be crucified and buried before He could rise again and expand His kingdom by transforming the lives of all those who would accept His gift of salvation. In the earthly ministry of Christ, death had to precede life, and the same is true with us today. In order to be restored into the likeness of Christ in body, mind, and spirit, we must follow Christ’s example. “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Just as Christ had to die before He could live again, we, too, are to take up our cross and die to self by being crucified with Christ if we want to be resurrected to spiritual life through the power of God’s healing grace. The process of dying to self is a continual process. It involves coming to the foot of the cross on a daily basis, accepting God’s gift of salvation, reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:11), and asking God to give us the mind of Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Every day we must choose to lose our life in order to save it. Ellen White explains this concept very clearly in a statement she made in Christ’s Object Lessons, found on page 163. “As the sinner, drawn by the power of Christ, approaches the uplifted cross, and prostrates himself before it, there is a new creation. A new heart is given him. He becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus.”
In 1 John 3:14, John describes what happens when we transition from death to life. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.” As long as self remains alive, we are spiritually dead. There is no love in our hearts, because we abide in death. When we pass from death to life, self dies, we are given spiritual life, and the new heart God gives us causes us to love God and love others. If we choose to walk the road that Jesus walked by allowing God to take us through the process of transitioning from death to life, we will experience God’s complete healing. “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:5-7).
This message of hope is the message that we as Christians must take to those whose wounded lives have entangled them in the snare of sin. Jesus not only died for our sins, but He also died for our suffering. The same Jesus who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities also bore our griefs and our sorrows. He took our pain, as well as our sin, to the cross. “When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:16-17). If we were to witness to people who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, would it minister to them if we told them that Jesus died for their sins, or would it minister to them if we told them that Jesus died for the pain, the anger, the fear, the shame, and the powerlessness they experienced during the trauma they endured? Not only did Jesus bear our pain to the cross, but He also lived a life of hardship and suffering on Earth and can personally identify with us in every trial we face. If we could choose the course of our lives, how many of us would choose to be born in a barn, grow up in a ghetto, and bear the stigma of being considered an illegitimate child? How many of us would choose to go through the heartache of being slandered, falsely accused, misunderstood, unfairly judged, rejected, abandoned, and betrayed? How many of us would choose to endure the shame and humiliation that results from having our physical boundaries violated? How many of us would choose to endure the physical agony of being tortured, as well as the emotional agony of being separated from God? How many of us would choose to die by means of one of the most cruel and barbaric forms of execution ever invented by man? Jesus endured all of these things when HE lived on Earth. Since we are all born into a sinful world, we all endure things over which we have no control, but Jesus did not have to experience any of the things He experienced while living on Earth. Incredibly, He chose to experience these things. He lived as a man, enduring temptations and trials so that He could identify with us in our temptations and trials. He overcame all of this by relying on His Father’s power so that He could pave the way for us to overcome. Then He died and rose again so that He could set us free from our pain and sin. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18). “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The only thing that self-help has to offer a hurting world is a futile attempt at gaining control over the sinful self, and if the world is not presented with a better alternative, it will plunge deeper and deeper into a hopeless state of decay and ruin. As God watches people desperately trying to gain the mastery over self through their own efforts, He desperately longs to cause them to die to self so that He can give them a new life of joy and freedom. As God’s ambassadors on Earth, we are called to introduce the world to a real and tangible God who not only identifies with them in their pain, but also longs to remove their pain by setting them free. This freedom can be attained only by passing from death to life, and since the process of passing from death to life can be frightening at times, people who are hurting need to be shown that God is someone they can trust because He can relate to the pain they are going through. When they see God for who He really is, when they realize that they are safe with God because HE knows them and identifies with them, they will be ready to move forward by taking up their cross and following after the God they have learned to trust. Rather than trying to maintain control over their lives by attempting to change themselves, they will allow God to take control. The sinful self that they were previously trying to change through their own effort will be crucified with Christ, and they will pass from death to newness of life. This is what freedom is all about, and God is willing to give all of us this miraculous gift of freedom if we let Him.
*All Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version.
“At times, there seems to be confusion about justification and sanctification and how they relate to each other and our salvation. Some promote justification to the exclusion of sanctification and arrive at what has been termed “cheap grace.” Others focus almost exclusively on sanctification and arrive at what has been termed as “perfectionism” or legalistic salvation by works.”
As Seventh-day Adventists we know that God requires obedience to all of His commandments. We also know that justification and sanctification are both the work of Christ alone. In an effort to avoid the extremes of law without grace and grace without law, we sometimes find ourselves on a spiritual tight rope, carefully trying to equally balance grace and obedience without drifting toward either of these extremes. If we saw grace fully revealed in its true light, we would realize that there is no need for a balancing act.
One of the reasons for such a debate as to where the line is drawn between grace and works involves some people who do not understand that grace and obedience are interconnected. They are not two separate components of our spiritual lives that must be reconciled. Grace and obedience are one. In the same sermon, President Wilson also made this statement. “The two great provisions of salvation—justification and sanctification—cannot be separated for they constitute the fullness of Christ, Our Righteousness.” Jeremiah chapter 31, verses 33 and 34 paint a beautiful picture illustrating the unification of justification and sanctification.
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”*
As clearly seen in this passage of Scripture, God not only promises to forgive our sins, but also to put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts. When our thoughts are in harmony with God’s law, His law will be acted out in our lives through our words and actions. God’s grace does so much more than forgive our sins and grant us eternal life. God’s grace also heals our wounded hearts, sets us free from the captivity of sin, and causes us to keep all of His commandments. Conviction of sin, repentance, forgiveness of sin, surrender, faith, obedience—they are all gifts from God, bestowed upon us through the power of His grace. As long as we fail to see the oneness of grace and obedience, we will be spiritually off balance. We will either be in danger of becoming legalistic or casting aside God’s law, and our attempt to walk the spiritual tight rope will not prevent us from shifting toward either of these two extremes.
Many claim that being under grace means that keeping the law is no longer necessary, but according to the Bible, being under grace actually means the opposite.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:12-15).
If God’s grace only forgave our sins and nothing more, what a hopeless state we would be in! God’s Heavenly kingdom will be a perfect world, and if we are not transformed into the likeness of God’s character through the power of His grace, we will not be fit for His kingdom. Heaven would be marred by sin, just as it was in the beginning when Satan fell. Without laws, chaos would result, and “God is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33.) The idea that God would annul His law after Christ’s death and resurrection makes as much sense as the idea that Congress would legalize murder if the president chose to die in the place of a murderer on death row. The fact that someone had to pay the death penalty for sin demonstrates that God’s law is unchangeable. When we are under grace, obedience will actually be more important to us, not less.
The mark of the beast is a perfect example of how grace and obedience are interconnected. When Adventists think of the mark of the beast, they immediately associate it with Sunday worship. It is true that the choice to either observe the seventh day Sabbath or to observe Sunday will be the factor that determines who receives the mark of the beast, but the observance of Sunday rather than the seventh day is actually a symptom of a much deeper problem. There is a passage of Scripture in Revelation chapter 13 that tells us what the mark of the beast represents.
“He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:15-17).
Contrast these verses with Isaiah 41:10. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” God promises to hold us up by His righteous right hand, but those who receive the mark of the beast receive it on their own right hands and on their foreheads. God offers us His righteousness, but those who receive the mark of the beast choose to rely on their own righteousness. By choosing to keep Sunday holy they are paying homage to a church system that teaches salvation by works. Because those who receive the mark of the beast rely on their own righteousness, their hearts will not be made perfect in love through the power of God’s grace. Instead, they will be controlled by the wicked one and will have no qualms about killing God’s people. Notice Deuteronomy 6 verses 5 through 8.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
Those who choose to worship the beast have His mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, but the people of God have God’s love in their hearts. God’s law is bound to them as a sign on their hands, and His commandments are as frontlets between their eyes. Their thoughts, words, and actions are in harmony with God’s law of love, because they are depending on Christ’s righteousness alone.
There is no such thing as cheap grace. The so-called grace that claims to make void the law of God is not grace at all. There is only one kind of grace. It is the free grace that overflows from the loving heart of God, the grace that not only justifies us, but sanctifies us, completely restoring us into the likeness of God’s character. When this grace is in control of our lives, there will be no spiritual tight rope to walk, no balancing act. There will be no confusion or debate, because there is no dividing line between grace and obedience. Obedience to God’s commandments will come naturally to us, and there will be no fear of extremes, because our motives will be pure. We will not be taking care of our own interests, focusing only on how we may enter Heaven. Instead, our motives will be actuated by love for God and love for others. Glorifying God’s name and leading others to the foot of the cross will be our mission. We will gladly keep all of God’s commandments, not in order to be saved, but because we already are saved. This is what it means to be under grace, and as the simple yet profound gift of God’s grace is more clearly revealed to us, we will understand why we will be studying the subject of grace throughout all eternity.
*All Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version.