Posts tagged Salvation
My Take on Why Teens Leave Church

Young people are leaving the church in droves and despite our many attempts to keep them, they continue to fall away. Growing up, my church had more than a hundred kids and teens running through its corridors, but today few of them remain in the church. For some time, many concerned Christians have sought to understand the reasons why young people leave the church. I believe that the answer is simple. They leave because they find no relevance in Christianity and most importantly, they have not fallen in love with God.

Christianity lacks relevance for many young people.To them, being a Christian involves nothing more than following senseless rules and participating in church services that are disconnected from their reality. Ask any teen in church about how they perceive Christianity and nine out of ten will most likely describe to you three things: the church service, good behavior, and telling others about Jesus. While none of these things are wrong, in and of themselves they have no relevance. Teens today are faced with multiple obstacles such as drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, self-mutilation, rising divorce rates, promiscuity, homosexuality and abortion among many other things. So the question is, How does the church service empower them to deal with this? What exactly is good behavior? Is it what the Pastor says? Or is it what society accepts? And why tell others about Jesus when our post-modern culture embraces the philosophy that there is no such thing as truth? When Christianity fails to answer these questions and fails to provide direction and practicality to everyday life, teens begin to see it as unessential to life. This sets the stage for disregarding God altogether and embracing the godless culture of the day. “What’s wrong with godless?” They might subconsciously ask, “God was never that important anyways.”

A friend of mine recently told me a story that I believe illustrates this point very well. He had just returned from a mission trip to Malaysia. During the trip he and several other students had preached to the local people. Among the sermons where many interesting topics, but for one student, as interesting as they were, something was missing. In her attempt to express how she felt she asked the question, “What does this have to do with the price of rice?” This question, silly as it may be, underscores the foundational flaw in our Christianity – irrelevance. In order to keep our teens in church we must demonstrate to them that Christianity is applicable to everyday life and that is has the solution to the problems of our lives.

While many teens leave church because they think it is not important, the greatest reason for falling away is that many have simply never fallen in love with God. In the Bible, the apostle John writes, “We love Him because He first loved us.” The idea is simple, Gods love for us awakens in us a love for Him. That love motivates us to have a relationship with Him. However, in the church we often seem more concerned in teaching our young people how to be good church members instead of helping them fall in love with God. For many, upholding the standards of the church is more important than leading young people to experience the love of God. The end result of this model is catastrophic because it fosters a spirit of division between the old and young generations. The old generation assumes the role of “good behavior police” while the young are left to feel incapable of ever living up to the standards imposed on them.

I once knew a pastor who would never speak to the youth. He had no relationship with them whatsoever and the only time he would speak to them was when he was correcting them for dressing inappropriately in church, and in my experience, having hair that was too long. This is a perfect example of trying to force teens in church to look and act like good church members while avoiding relationships with them that help them to experience the love of God.

Without the two foundational principles of relevance and love, young people are set up to fail in the Christian life. As Christians, leading the youth into a love experience with God and demonstrating to them the relevance of Christianity in our world must be our top priorities.

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Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
Safe in God: Why Assurance is the Key to Transformation




A few years ago I was contacted by a young man who was writing to me on the other side of suicide. He had recently attempted to take his life and somehow he ran into my blog and decided to email me and tell me his story. He was a good kid. Thoughtful, kind and very educated especially in history - that was his favorite subject. I don't recall his exact age, but he couldn't have been past his early twenties. And he had a desire to live for God and honor him with his life. But something had gone horribly wrong. At some point in his faith-journey, he was introduced to a very dangerous but deceptive teaching - that in order for God to accept him he had to become perfect by overcoming all of his sins. And he tried. He tried because he wanted to please God. He tried because he trusted the people who were teaching him. So he gave it everything he had. And he failed.

His conclusion? I will never be good enough for God. Of course, this didn't happen over night. This happened after months - perhaps even years - of trying and failing, trying and failing, again and again. He reached a breaking point. He simply could not take it anymore. The pressure was too high. The demands were too intense. And when he returned home he returned to a broken family. He returned to a home where he wasn't safe to simply be. The intensity of not feeling safe in his own home, coupled with his belief in a God he could not please pushed him over the edge. He wasn't safe anywhere. He wasn't wanted anywhere. And in a moment of darkness he snapped. The only solution he could see was death.

Some friends of his intervened and his life was spared. And now, some time later, I get his email. He needs help. He want's to know why he doesn't feel good enough for God. He saw some articles I had written on the assurance of salvation and on the good news of Jesus Christ and he reached out - one Adventist to another - please help. And as I heard his story, I sat there and realized, this kid sounds so much like me.

But before I tell you why I want to introduce you to a contradiction in the Bible that provides the answer we are looking for. And from there, I'll launch into my story and then we will see what we can make of this contradiction. Here it is:




You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works... (Romans 3:28)




James argues that a man is made right with God by faith and works. But Paul argues that a man is made right with God by faith apart from works. James says: Faith in Jesus + My Works = Salvation. Paul says: Faith in Jesus = Salvation. No Works necessary. As a result, the book of James has a tendency to make people feel inadequate. Many people read it and end up feeling like the guy who emailed me - like they can't measure up. Never good enough. The book of Romans, on the other hand, gives people a sense of security in their walk with God. Paul is seen as the champion of grace. James is seen as works obsessed.  Paul says Abraham was made right with God simply by faith, not works. James says that Abraham was made right with God by faith and works. What gives? Is it Jesus + My Works = Salvation? Or is it Jesus-Only?

Why are these two Bible writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit contradicting each other? Allow me to tell you a few more stories and it will make more sense.



KP Yohanan, a native and missionary in India, tells of a fellow missionary who ran into a desperate woman on a bridge. She was crying uncontrollably. So the missionary sat with her to see what was wrong. The woman began to talk about all of her sins, her failures and the difficulties in her life. She spoke of her need to be forgiven and her families need for a blessing to get them through the following year. "In order to secure the forgiveness of sin and the blessing of the goddess" she said, "I have given her the greatest gift I can give her. My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river."



The missionary spoke to her. He told her about Jesus. He told her how God sent his son to die for our sins so that we could receive salvation as a free gift. When he was done, the woman looked him in the eye and said, "Why didn't you come a half hour sooner? I didn't have to kill my son." And with that she ran away weeping.


The woman's understanding of salvation is a very common one in the world. Every religion on the planet has a similar system. You do something for God, and God will reward you with salvation. We call this the "performance version" of salvation. And the Bible tells us that this is false. Salvation is a free gift of God. We don't earn it via performance. We receive it only by faith.

Next story. When I was in the Army I met a guy named Kennel. He was a total rebel who eventually got kicked out of the Army for drug use. He was wild. Partied like crazy and slept with a different woman all the time. One day, I asked him, "Do you ever think about eternity?" And his reply was, "Oh yeah, I'm not worried about it. I got saved at a youth rally four years ago. So when I die, I know I'm going to heaven." This version of salvation is the exact opposite to the woman in India. It requires zero performance. All you have to do is accept intellectually that Jesus is Lord, pray a prayer of forgiveness, and you are granted an eternal ticket into heaven. You can continue to live like you want, mistreat people, dishonor your body, lie, cheat and steal because you have the ticket. And no one can take the ticket away from you. I call this the "ticket version" of salvation.

So why am I telling these stories? Because they help us understand why Paul and James are contradicting one another. Paul is addressing people who believe what the Indian woman believes. He is addressing people who think that salvation can be earned by works. And the message of all of Paul's letters is: "NO WAY!" You cannot earn salvation by your works. You cannot earn salvation by keeping the Sabbath. You cannot earn salvation by going to church. You cannot earn salvation by paying tithe, or reading your Bible, or doing good things for good people. Salvation is a free gift of God. It cannot be earned. All you can do is receive it. According to Paul, the performance version of salvation is false in every way. You cannot earn salvation by keeping the law. And guess what? You cannot keep your salvation by keeping the law either. It is by grace through faith, period. That's it.

Funny thing is. I used to believe in the performance version of salvation even though I have been raised in church my whole life. But then, one day, I was introduced to the "ticket version" and it sounded so good that I went with it. And I loved the ticket version because I didn't have any fear about my salvation. But I soon discovered a problem with this ticket. It was powerless to deliver me from the power of sin over my life. All it did was make me feel good. And I needed something more.

So I abandoned the ticket version. But I couldn't go back to the performance version because I knew that was false. And like the guy who emailed me I landed at an understanding of salvation I thought was legit. I call it the "but version" of salvation. This version of salvation is basically "What Jesus did + What I do = Salvation". It wasn't like the performance version. The "but version" was trickier. I believed salvation was a free gift, but I believed that in order to keep this free gift I had to work hard. So anytime someone spoke about the grace of God, or the mercy of God in forgiveness, or the free gift of salvation I always felt compelled to say "yes that's true, but..." In other words, I couldn't enjoy or celebrate grace. I always had to throw a disclaimer in there. "yes, grace is good, but... don't forget you still have to do A, B and C all the way to Z". Too much grace made me worry that people would fall for the ticket lie, and I wanted to make sure no one did. But then, something terrible happened. The but version began to evolve toward its logical conclusion and I ended up in a place where I felt that if I didn't confess and repent every single time I sinned that I would lose my salvation. I call this period of my life the "light switch version" of salvation. Because in my mind, God was in heaven flipping a light switch. Every time I sinned he flipped the light switch off. There went my salvation. Every time I confessed and repented he turned it back on. I got my salvation back. Repeat. Over and over again. And after living with this idea for over a year I came to a place of utter desperation. I will never be good enough for God, I thought. Like the kid who emailed me, I got so angry with God. I didn't feel safe. I felt like he didn't want me. And the pressure to be this perfect person was too great. Jesus did some of the saving. I had to do the rest. But I couldn't. It was just too big an ask.

And this is what Paul addresses in the book of Romans and pretty much all his other letters. There is a free gift of salvation. It's a gift guys. Receive it. Believe it. You don't have to perform for it. God offers it freely. It's not like going to a car lot and driving off with a zero-down deal where you can take the car home without paying but the payments begin later. No. Salvation is not a zero-down deal. It is a gift. It is free and it is always free.

I love how Ellen White puts it in the book "Faith and Works":
When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity (FW 25.3).
In other words, it isn't what Jesus did + what I do. Its Jesus only. His righteousness is my only hope for time and eternity. There is no point where I need to add my own righteousness. I have none.

So when Paul writes his letters he is confronting people who think they can earn salvation by good works. His message to this is simple: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Romans 3:28).

So why does James contradict Paul? Why does James turn around and say, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24)? Scholars have explored this apparent inconsistency and have discovered that James does not contradict Paul at all. The issue is that James is addressing and entirely different issue to Paul. Paul is addressing people who believed, like the Indian woman, that salvation could be earned and kept by works. So Paul emphatically declares that grace is a free gift. James on the other hand is not addressing people who think salvation is earned or kept by performance. Rather, James is addressing all the Kennels in the world - the ones who think that salvation is nothing more than a ticket. The ones who think that so long as you "agree" with the doctrine of Jesus that you are saved. And James consistent answer is "NO WAY!" You can't just agree with Jesus as though Christianity were some intellectual test. True faith isn't about agreeing with a bunch of doctrines. True faith is about trusting your entire life to Jesus. And if you have trusted your life to him, then the evidence of that new relationship is a changed life. Not a perfect life. But a changed life.

So this is why James is so harsh on his listeners. They claim to be saved, but they ignore the word of God, they are prejudiced against one another, they gossip and tear one another down, they are proud and divisive, arrogant, conceited - always complaining no matter whats going on. Judgmental and impatient. James isn't saying you have to be perfect. Hes not saying you have to add to what Jesus did. He's simply asking - are you sincere? Are you for real? If you claim to be a Jesus-follower why are you so harsh? Why are you so controlling? Why are you so hard to get along with? Why are you so judgmental? Why are you so mean? And James isn't the only one who is wondering this! Mahatma Ghandi, the hero of India, once said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians! You Christians are so unlike your Christ."

The best way to summarize James is like this: We are not saved by faith and works. We are saved by a faith that works. In other words, our salvation depends only on Jesus. But the result of faith in him is a changed life.

I want you to know today that you are safe in the arms of God. You don't have to impress him. He is not going to cast you away. Salvation is not something you earn or keep by your effort. Its a gift from start to end. You can rejoice today that you are a child of God and that you are safe in his arms. And from the place of safety and security you can say "God, I trust you. Please, make me more like Jesus. Let my salvation be reflected in how I treat others."

I don't know what ever happened to that young man who emailed me. We lost contact and I have not heard from him in years. But I know what happened to me once I discovered that salvation is the work of Jesus only. I was set free. I know I am safe in the arms of God. And because I am safe I can rejoice. I have discovered that your life will never experience the transformation God wants unless you know you are safe in him. Assurance is the key to transformation. You have to know you are loved. You have to know you are wanted. You have to know you are safe. And as I rejoice and daily celebrate his grace in my life I pray a simple prayer, "Transform me Lord. Let my life be a billboard of your grace. May I reflect your love in the way I treat others".

I'll close with the following quote:
Each one of you may know for yourself that you have a living Saviour, that He is your helper and your God. You need not stand where you say, ‘I do not know whether I am saved.’ Do you believe in Christ as your personal Saviour? If you do, then rejoice (Ellen G. White, The General Conference Bulletin, April 10, 1901).

Thanks for reading this article guys! I would like to take this time to introduce the latest free eBook in the bookstore. It's titled "Salvation: Plain and Simple" and is a more detailed exploration of what you have just read above. I hope you guys enjoy it and find yourselves super blessed by what it shares. Download it free below!


Are We Getting in the Way of God's Salvation-Story?


Have you ever been so angry that you did something dumb? I got so angry once that I punched the steering wheel on my car and broke the horn. From that day on the horn would honk on its own whenever it wanted to. It didn't matter if I was at a stop light, in a parking lot, or driving down the university campus on a clam Sunday morning. The car would honk and honk and honk until I got so fed up I pulled the fuse and was left utterly hornless. The car died soon after, so no, I never got it fixed.

As I think about this moment of ridiculous anger I am reminded of Jesus in Matthews biography, chapter 21. Here Matthew recounts the time that Jesus went into the Jewish temple and the following took place:
Jesus came to the temple. He drove out all those who were buying and selling. He upended the money-changers’ tables and the dove-sellers’ benches (12).
We don't often think of Jesus as an angry guy and with good reason. It's hard to imagine him with a whip, flipping tables and chasing people around. And yet here he is. Jesus is angry. To be more precise he is furious. Some may even say Jesus has lost his cool. There is a fire in his stomach, a rage that boiled over and is now spilling out onto the onlookers. Gone is that gentle, pensive face. A frown adorns his brow, his breath is heavy, his heart is thumping, his thoughts are racing. Instinct takes over and Jesus, our gentle Jesus, appears to have lost control.

But he hasn't lost control. Had Jesus lost control he would have destroyed that entire temple and everyone in it. In his fury and power he could have split open the ground to swallow the entire place. No, he hasn't lost control. He knows what he is doing. He is perfectly in control.

And yet, he is beyond furious. Why? How is it that the one whom the OT describes as "slow to anger" now suddenly appears very quick to it? How is it that the one whom the prophecies have described as the "prince of peace" is now waging war with the salesmen in the temple courtyard? How is it that the Jesus who would someday patiently endure abuse, mockery, and torture at the hands of Roman and Jewish leaders is on this day seemingly impatient? How is it that the one of who it is said, "as a lamb he was led to the slaughter... and he opened not his mouth" now shouts at the top of his lungs "get out!" You can try to wiggle out of this one all you want but here is the truth. Jesus got angry. And there is no interpretive gymnastics that can get us out of that conclusion.

In other words, Jesus is not the teddy bear many of us have made him out to be. There is a side to Jesus that is shocking. There is a side to Jesus that doesn't come with a smile, a gentle word, or a cool and collected vibe. Instead, Matthew introduces us to a side to Jesus many of us would rather pretend is not there - an angry side.

What are we to make of this? Is Jesus bipolar? Is he perhaps mildly schizophrenic? Did his biographers get confused and introduce a contradiction into the story? Or was Jesus a really good actor - able to put on a facade of gentleness and self control, only to show his true colors on this random day? Or maybe, just maybe, there is nothing wrong with Jesus mental health, his biographers were not inconsistent, and Jesus himself lived authentically. If this is the case then the problem shifts to me. Maybe I am the one who has misunderstood Jesus. And by misunderstanding him I have presented a cheesy and unrealistic picture of a complex and emotional being. Maybe the problem is I have only accepted the parts of the Jesus-story that I am comfortable with and conveniently left the other parts out. But whatever the case, I can't get away from the conclusion. Jesus got angry.

Now that I have come to terms with that reality, I am left with another question. Why was he so angry? Was Jesus short-tempered like me? Was his ego so offended that he reacted in a fit of anger that puts my broken car horn episode to shame? I have already concluded that he did not lose control as I did. So the answer must lie elsewhere. If Jesus anger was not fueled by his ego, then what was it fueled by?

The answer is found in the narrative of the temple. In his book "It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity is about More than Going to Heaven when you Die" Jefferson Bethke points out that in the Old Testament the temple was considered the place where heaven and earth met. In other words, Bethke explains, it was the place where the human dimension and the heavenly dimension collided. If we could imagine two circles with one representing the human realm and another the heavenly, and then we overlapped those circles (below) the point of overlap, says Bethke, is the temple.


But what was the point of this overlap? What was the point of this collision? God himself answers that question when he said, "Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them" (Exodus 25:8). The temple in Israel was not just a place of worship, it was a theater of sorts. All of its services and rituals were like scenes in a movie. It told a story. That story was simple: God wants to live with people. He wants to be close to us.

So when people came to the temple, they didn't come for mindless rituals. They came to connect with a God who wanted to be with them. They came to speak to a God who wanted to be close to them, to bless them, and to heal them. They came to discover and rediscover his beauty and his love.

And then Jesus, the eternal God in human flesh, shows up. He who spoke the words, "Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them" is now there, in person. And when he walks into the temple, when he enters the place where heaven and earth collided and where his story, and his glory, and his love where meant to be experienced and celebrated this is what he found:
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money (John 2:13-14).
So Matthew tells us that Jesus "drove out all those who were buying and selling. He upended the money-changers’ tables and the dove-sellers’ benches." But then something amazing happens. Something that single handedly makes sense of all of this. Matthew adds,
The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them (14).
So Jesus cleanses the temple, but no sooner had he done so than blind people, and paralyzed people show up at the same temple. But here is the question Matthew dangles before us. Why weren't these people already there? The answer is obvious. They were being excluded and kept away by the money makers. In other words, God was trying to tell the world about himself, his love, his plan, his grace. And his own people were getting in the way.

The Jewish temple no longer exists. But Jefferson Bethke brings an interesting conclusion out of all this. He says that according to the New Testament we are now the temple of the Holy Spirit. Us. Believers. Individually and collectively, we are now the temple. In other words, we are the place where heaven and earth collide. You are a walking temple. You are a living and breathing temple and in you and in me the human realm and the heavenly realm meet. And in the same way that God wanted to communicate his love to the world through a physical building in the OT, he continues to do so now through us, individually and collectively, via the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. We are the place where people can see the beauty of God.

And yet the story of Jesus cleansing the temple brings to mind a sobering question: If we are the temple, if we are as believers the place where heaven and earth meet and the lives through which people can come into contact with Gods story of love then we must ask ourselves, What things are there in our lives and in our church that keep people from seeing the love of God? In what ways are you, and I, like the money makers, getting in God's way?

I can't pretend to have the answer. There are many answers in fact. Sometimes our traditions get in the way. Sometimes our self-confidence gets in the way. Sometimes our attitudes get in the way. Sometimes our structures, agendas, and hypocrisy get in the way. And Matthews story is clear. When we get in the way you had best believe that God gets angry. This is not light matter. The one time Jesus demonstrated his wrath as a human being was when his own people got in the way of his salvation story. Are we getting in the way? If we are, I think perhaps its time we repented.

Today I would like to invite you to consider Jesus moment of rage as a call to introspection: How are you getting in the way? I want to invite you to think about the ways in which you are contributing, whether largely or microscopically, to getting in the way of others seeing the story of the love of God that they should see in you, in me, and in us. But here is the beautiful thing. Once you discover it you don't have to be afraid. Because according to Matthew Jesus is not only a cleanser he is also a healer. Let him cleanse you of the stuff that gets in the way, and let him heal you. Come to him poor, blind, and naked. Come to him paralyzed with guilt and shame. Come to him as you are with all your broken mess. With your pride. With your selfishness. With your divisiveness. Come to him with your lack of faith and with your hidden sins and struggles. Let him cleanse you, let him heal you, and then let him fill you so that others may find in you a place where heaven and earth collide.
Why Assurance of Salvation Isn't "The Thing" Anymore




I don't know if anyone reading this will relate, but I have come to a shocking conclusion. Assurance of salvation just isn't "the thing" anymore. Now I know that sounds crazy. From the late baby-boomers down to the millennial generation no topic was more important as a Christian than assurance. It was our war cry. Legalism was the top antagonist and everyone's theology was hyper dissected to make sure none of it was creeping around in there. We wrote, published and read armies of books on assurance. We preached endless sermons on it and no conversation on faith and spirituality was complete without a discussion on assurance. We even branded people as heretics if we felt they didn't fit the assurance bill quite like we thought they should. When I first started this blog (originally known as "Jesus Adventism and I"), my main topic was assurance of salvation in the context of Adventist theology and almost every single post was in some way related to it.

But now I am a pastor ministering not only to baby-boomers, but to millennials and post-millennials in a secular post-modern context. And I have discovered they just aren't into the grace-wars quite like I was. Part of it is because many of them have never experienced the legalism I experienced (be thankful for that, by the way). But there is another reason that I believe is even more fundamental.

In the article "Study Finds Millennials Are Ready to Change the World" the author points out that, "Millennials are a driven crowd.... [with] a passion to change the world and they are ready to take on the challenging aspects of making a positive difference in the lives of people locally and globally." This sentiment is present in even stronger terms for the post-millennials at our heels who "[possess] a belief in the possible and a commitment to the ideals of leaving our community and the planet better places than we found them." This desire however, has been met with a challenge within the church. While we have been running around talking about "grace not works" as if works was some terrible thing, younger generations have been craving less theological formulas intended to make us feel comfy and assured and more action found only in the oh-so-horrible "works thing". Perhaps few have said it as well as Marc in his blog "Why Millennials Want to Change the World" when he wrote,
Wanting to change the world is a fundamentally religious sentiment. My generation’s idealism is not suffering a lack of practical goals, but a lack of practical Christianity.
This lack of practical Christianity, I dare suggest, comes partly as a result of an unhealthy obsession with assurance of salvation that left us frowning upon anything related to "works". For us, works only comes up when we are criticizing them or explaining how useless, meaningless and unprofitable they are in the spiritual journey. But what I have discovered from giving Bible studies to this generation its that justification doesn't excite them near as much as sanctification. For them justification sets the foundation and its all good. But they don't want to linger there. They are ready to change the world and they want to know, did Jesus death do anything to make the possible? Sanctification is, to this wild generation, the key to true social justice, humanitarian service and community transformation. They see sanctification, not as a solo experience wherewith you attain some level of intrapersonal holiness but as a communal experience by which you learn to love and be loved. It is this love, revealed in relationships, sacrifice and standing up for the marginalized that they see as true practical Christianity. And that is what they want.

Assurance of salvation? Got it. Can we move on now?

That seems to be the new mantra for a new generation ready to change the world. Let's nurture that. It may just be the thing that takes the gospel to the whole world.

_____

[1] http://nonprofithub.org/volunteer-management/study-finds-millennials-are-ready-to-change-the-world/
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/grace-masback-/5-ways-that-gen-z-is-changing-the-world_b_9547374.html
[3] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2017/01/millennials-want-change-world.html

The Cry of the Soul in Pop-Lyrics


I love music of all kinds including secular. I do have convictions and lines I don't cross, but generally speaking my musical selection is pretty diverse. In fact, my Pandora account has seen stations featuring Puerto Rican Jibaro music, Salsa, Celtic Woman, Classical Mozart, Fernando Ortega, Hillsong, CCM, Hymns, Gregorian Chant, The Lumineers, Capital Kings, Owl City, Classical Chinese, Frank Sinatra and nature sounds with music (to name a few). With such an eclectic musical taste I am bound to run into songs that help me, as a Christian, to peek behind the exterior facade of pop-culture and whenever that happens the experience is always both challenging and affirming.

Below are some of my favorite secular songs that help open that curtain to the hearts and minds of those whom, generally speaking, seem to have everything life has to offer and more. Some of these are a bit old and others are more contemporary but they are the tunes I have heard throughout my years that have helped ignite a love within me for my millennial/ secular culture. Give them a listen (don't be too fussed over the language at times) and pay close attention to the bigger picture. In these songs you will find confusion, hope, despair, joy and a search for a greater meaning all wrapped up in one. Some of them are about an inner search, others about social issues, relationships, and life but under the surface they are all rooted in the same soil - the soil of a temporal existence for which there appears to be no real meaning apart from the illusive and self-deceptive meaning we attempt to create for ourselves.

What do these songs reveal about the soul-thirst experienced by those around us. And rather than demonize the culture or run from it, what can we as Jesus-followers, do to influence the culture with his story of healing, redemption, and existential fulfillment?

Finally, what secular songs have you heard that reveal the longing and spiritual search of the culture? Share them below!



















Songs recommended by comments:

The Things that Stop You Dreaming by Passenger (clean)
Show Me What I'm looking for by Carolina Liar
Some Nights by FUN (clean)
Beam Me Up by Pink
Timebomb by Pink
Iodine by Icon for Hire
Hurt by Johnny Cash
Q & A: What Does "Without a Mediator" Mean?


Q: One thing that I've been struggling with is reconciling a quote from EW like the above- We cannot say, “I am sinless,” till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body [the second coming]. {ST March 23, 1888, par. 13} with this one from GC "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" The Great Controversy, p. 425. That's obviously sinless perfection, right? How would it ever be possible to stand before God without Jesus' righteousness applied to us? Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.
A: The statement you are reffing to says, "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."
Some people misconstrue this statement to be referring to absolute sinless perfectionism. Its as if, unless we reach this state of sinlessness we will, at last, be rejected by God. This conclusion must, nevertheless, be rejected for two major reasons. 
1) It contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ* 
2) It contradicts the very writings of EGW herself**
Thus, a different interpretation must exist. One that harmonizes this statement with both the Bible and the full picture of EGWs soteriology. A closer more thoughtful reading of the passage does just that.
1) First of all Ellen White is referring to something that happens after the close of probation, not before. This means that standing without a mediator takes place when the judgment is over and no one else can be saved or lost. The irrevocable decision has been made. Thus, to be worrying about whether you are good enough after probation has closed is a waste of time because, er..., probation has closed. At this point you have either been declared righteous or wanting and nothing can change that decision. Thus you are, at this point in human history, either eternally lost or eternally saved.
2) This then raises the question, how can we be sure to be declared righteous? The answer is simple for the perfection which we have before God is no different in this instance as it has been all throughout history. Notice that Ellen says we must stand before God with spotless robes and purified characters. However, how is it that we attain these? Ellen answers the question when she adds, "by the blood of sprinkling". It is through Jesus blood that we stand spotless and purified before God. Not our works or performance.
3) The statement is simply saying that before Jesus comes we need to have our minds made up. Will we trust in him alone? Or like the Hebrews Paul wrote to in the NT, will we - in the midst of persecution - turn our backs on Jesus? Once the judgment is over no more changes will be made to the verdict. We are either covered by his blood or not. So now is the time to come sincerely before God and surrender our lives in full trust of his saving grace.
The late Adventist theologian Edward Heppenstal put it best when he wrote,
"To live without a Mediator does not mean to live without the righteousness of Christ, or without the Holy Spirit, or the saving grace of our Lord. Since all cases are decided for weal or for woe, the work of our divine Advocate is concluded. No further charges by Satan can be brought against the saints, for Christ has answered them all. The cases of the saints have all been called to the bar of heaven. Christ has successfully pleaded our cause and secured a judgment in our favor. Nothing can now reverse that verdict. There is nothing more to say. Excepting Satan and his host, there is perfect agreement throughout the universe as to Christ's verdict in favor of the saints. All questions have been answered regarding the future of the saints. No member of the Godhead needs to make any further defense on their behalf. All that remains is for Christ to return and for the saints to live and reign with Christ a thousand years (Rev 20:4-6). Because of their unchangeable irrevocable standing before God, there is no further need for Christ to intercede with God for their salvation or for their redemption. The saints have been declared the legal heirs to the new earth. Their standing from henceforth is one of final justification and vindication before the bar of God and before a sinless universe. The fact that they have chosen without qualification, the righteousness of Christ, leaves only the actual conferring of that sinless nature and entrance into their eternal inheritance at the second coming of Christ, when this mortal shall put on immortality and this corruption shall have put on incorruption (1 Cor 15:52-54). 
"As we have clearer views of Christ's spotless and infinite purity, we shall feel as did Daniel, when he beheld the glory of the Lord, and said, "My comeliness was turned in me into corruption." We cannot say "I am sinless," till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body. But if we constantly seek to follow Jesus, the blessed hope is ours of standing before the throne of God spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, complete in Christ, robed in His righteousness and perfection." (Signs of the Times, March 23, 1888)[1]
In his article, "Without a Mediator" Mike Manea explains a further implication of this statement when he writes:
"Although it is always dangerous to resist God’s call, the average individual usually has repeated opportunities to come to Christ. However, there have been times throughout history when those opportunities were cut short: the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of Jerusalem, etc. Whether young or old, those events brought probation to a close early for the people involved.
The second coming of Christ will have a similar impact, not just on a city or nation, but on the planet as a whole. People will no longer have the same opportunities to come to Christ that they would have had if history continued. Adventists call this event, the close of probation, and we believe God has placed us on this earth to prepare humanity for this solemn event. We believe Christ will come when every individual has had sufficient warning that probation is closing and their opportunities are running out.
Thus, the warning that we will soon be living without a mediator means several things:
1) It means that the people who have not yet accepted Christ are running out of time to make a decision.
2) It means that people who have accepted Christ but then went back to the world, are running out of time to return.
3) It means that Christians who have been holding on to willful/known sin, are running out of time to give it up.
What the statement does not mean however is that there will ever be a time when we will no longer need Christ. Nor does it mean that we will need to reach a state of complete sinlessness after which we will no longer be covered by Jesus’ blood. Salvation has always been and will always be by grace through faith. Even after the close of probation, we will be safe only because we are covered by the blood of Jesus."[2]
So in conclusion, the above statement cannot possibly mean that each person must reach a certain performance level which - if failed - will doom the person to condemnation. Such a belief is in direct contradiction to the gospel and the writings of EGW herself. What the statement does mean is that we are to trust in Jesus and not turn back. In truth, this statement is simply a natural outflow of Classical Arminianism which rejects the concept of once saved always saved. For a more thorough exploration of Ellen Whites foundation in Classical Arminianism I recommend you read "Facing Lifes Record: An Analysis of the Great Controversies 'Scariest' Chapter"[3]
Hope this helps! 
_________
*To being an exploration of the SDA understanding of the gospel, I recommend the following article: http://www.pomopastor.com/2013/04/the-sda-gospel-is-legalistic-isnt-it.html
**To begin an exploration of the relationship between EGW and the gospel I recommend the following article: http://www.pomopastor.com/2012/10/ellen-g-white-on-legalism.html#more
[1]https://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/sites/default/files/pdf/perfection%20Heppenstall.pdf
[2]http://mikemanea.com/conversations/without-a-mediator/
[3] http://www.pomopastor.com/2013/08/facing-lifes-record-analysis-of-great.html 
Jesus' First Words & Why They Matter (A Christmas Devotional)




Christmas is here! Aren't you excited? I hope so, because this is seriously "the most wonderful time of the year". And as we all enter our celebration modes, I would like to take a moment to share a devotional article to help keep your gaze on Jesus during this festive season.

Sadly, the Bible doesn't tell us what Jesus first words as a baby were. I would love to know, but something tells me none of the biographers thought it was that important. However, the first recorded words of Jesus give us a lot to think about as we celebrate his birth.


“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49

The Passover
Chronologically speaking, these are the first words Jesus ever spoke recorded in scripture. At this time, Jesus was only twelve years old. His parents Mary and Joseph had taken a trip from their home town in Galilee up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Now what was the Passover? It was one of the many festivals that the Jews celebrated throughout the year. The Passover began when they were slaves in Egypt. The story goes that the nation of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for about 300 years. Then one day, the Egyptian Pharaoh decided to kill of the male Hebrew newborns because he wanted to control the Israelite population. However, one mother hid her son in a basket and placed the basket in the Nile River. That sons name was Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter ended up finding Moses and he became her son. God used Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery. Moses became Gods ambassador to Pharaoh and requested that Pharaoh set the people free but Pharaoh refused. Every time Pharaoh refused God sent a plague on Egypt. First, all of the water in Egypt turned to blood. Then swarms of frogs invaded the country. After that the dust in Egypt became gnats and tormented the people. This was followed by swarms of flies, diseases on the livestock, boils, thunder and hail, locusts and darkness. After all of this Pharaoh still refused to let Israel go so God had to resort to something He never wanted to do: Death. God instructed the people that He would come and all of the first born in Egypt would die irrespective of persons. The only way to avoid this was to take the blood of a lamb and paint the door posts of the house with it. When the Lord came through and saw the blood on the door posts He would pass over that house and nobody would die. If He didn’t see the blood the first born would die. Moses then told Israel, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.” Shortly after this final plague Pharaoh let Israel go.

The Lamb
Over a thousand years had passed and the Israelites still celebrated the Passover. It was a reminder of Gods power to save. However, it was also a reminder of something more profound. God didn’t show up to kill the firstborns of the Egyptians. No. Anyone who had the blood on the doorposts of their house was passed over. If an Egyptian believed this and put blood on the door posts of their house God would pass over them. If an Israelite didn’t believe this and refused to put blood on the door posts of their house their first born would die. In other words, God didn’t choose who to bless and who to curse based on their race or nationality. No. God chose who to bless and who to curse based on who had the blood. In reality, it’s more accurate to say that God didn’t do the choosing. The people did. Those who chose to accept the blood chose life. Those who chose to reject the blood chose death. God simply carried out the result of the choice. However, the message remains the same: the only hope was the blood. But not any old blood. It had to be the blood of a lamb.

According to the Bible, that lamb in Egypt represented Jesus. And in the same way, as God judges this world He doesn’t do so based on race or ethnicity. He does so based on the blood. If you have accepted Jesus as your savior the blood He spilled on the cross covers you like the blood covered the door posts. When God judges you, you don’t have to be afraid because of the blood. However, there was one more thing. It wasn’t just about putting the blood on the door posts. It was about eating the flesh of the lamb as well. While the angel of death was searching in Egypt, those who had put the blood on their door posts were also instructed to cook the lamb and eat it. So what does this mean for you and me? We can’t use the blood of Jesus as “magic” to escape judgment. When we claim the blood of Jesus we automatically claim his flesh as well.

Now what in the world does that mean? I’m going to use an old word to explain it. The word is “partake.” To partake means “to be active in. [To] have, give, or receive a share of.”[1] When we accept the blood of Jesus over our life we automatically chose to partake of him as well. He is the lamb that was slain so that others could live. He is the God who gave his life so that I could have it and have it forever. When I choose Jesus, I don’t just choose a ticket to heaven. I chose an experience. I partake of him. I walk with him, talk with him, share with him, grow in my relationship with him, and become the kind of person he created me to be. A lot of people want the blood to cover them but they don't want to eat the lamb. In other words, they want Jesus to forgive their sins but they don't want Jesus to live inside of them. But it doesn't work that way. You cant have the blood without the flesh. You can't have the forgiveness without the experience of Jesus within, This is salvation. It’s God covering me with his own blood and then coming inside of me and changing my life for his glory.

Back to the Story
The time for the Passover had come. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate as they did every year. However, something was different this year: Jesus was now twelve years old. For a Jew, this is a really big deal because at the end of the twelfth year they pass from childhood to youth and are given more responsibility.[2] So Jesus is now on the verge of a new experience. With that in mind, the family goes to Jerusalem and celebrates the Passover with countless other Jews. When the festival is over they head back home. On the way home however, Mary and Joseph are shocked to discover that Jesus is not with them. Now allow me to clarify. It’s not that Mary and Joseph were blind. When they went to Jerusalem for the Passover they didn’t just go in the family minivan. No. They walked there with their families which probably numbered high in the double digits. Joseph most likely walked with the men and Mary with the women. All the uncles, aunts, and cousins were there along with many other relatives like Joseph’s other sons. Under such circumstances it would have been easy to leave Jesus behind. Mary could have assumed he was with Joseph, and Joseph could have assumed he was with Mary. Or perhaps they both figured he was with his cousins or half-siblings. Whatever the case, when they had gone a day’s journey they found out he wasn’t with them at all. Immediately mom and dad did a 180 and high-tailed it back to Jerusalem. The story says that they looked for him for three days. I can’t imagine what those three days would have been like. The stress. The anxiety. The sleepless nights.

Then finally on the third day they found him in the temple sitting with some of the religious leaders listening to them and asking them questions. The Bible says that, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”[3] Can you imagine? A group of seasoned religious scholars and theologians who were amazed at what a twelve year old boy, who was the son of a carpenter and lived in a small town, had to say. This isn’t because Jesus was God though. When Jesus (who is God the son) came to this world and became a man he emptied himself of all the power and knowledge he had beforehand. He never stopped being God, but all the advantages available to him as God were put aside. Jesus mother Mary had to teach him the Bible and tell him who he was and what his mission was. Therefore, Jesus' astonishing answers in the temple that day were partly due to how Mary had raised him.

But now we come to the climax of this story. Here is Jesus at his first Passover. The Lamb represents Him. The blood represents his blood. The entire feast is a celebration of his future death for the sins of mankind. He is the son of God, the spotless lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Now I don’t know how. Maybe Mary told him. Maybe the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. Maybe he discovered it by studying the Bible for himself. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but somehow at twelve years old Jesus got it. He figured it out. He was the lamb. All throughout the festival Jesus watched as the lamb was killed. He pondered as they ate the flesh of the lamb. He stayed up at night staring at the stars and talking to God. It all made sense now. People in town said he was an illegitimate child. They said Joseph wasn’t really his father. They made fun of Mary’s so called “angel” story. But Jesus knew her. He knew she wouldn’t lie. Joseph wasn’t really his dad. So who was? Now as he lay in Jerusalem during the Passover festival it finally made sense. His father was God – not in a literal sense because He was God too – but in a temporary sense. The Holy Spirit had miraculously implanted God the son into the womb of a human woman. How? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. Jesus probably didn’t know either. But he believed it by faith. Just as you and I have to accept that he is Gods son by faith, he also had to accept that he was Gods son by faith. Once Jesus had this epiphany he couldn’t wait to go and talk to the religious leaders. He probably wanted to know how much they knew about the prophecies and types concerning the savior. He also remembered that in the Bible it said that Gods presence was in the temple. In his twelve year old mind he probably figured, maybe I can find my father if I go to the temple. He was so enthused by this he didn’t even notice his family leave. God was his father. He wanted to be in his Father’s house. He wanted to meet him. Jesus was probably disappointed to find that Gods presence wasn’t in the temple as it had been in the old days. Wanting to know why he approached the religious leaders and asked. From there the conversation progressed. I don’t know where Jesus slept that night. Most likely he slept somewhere around the temple grounds, but he hung around the temple for at least five days. Why five? Well, he was there during Joseph and Mary’s journey back. They had gone for a whole day when they noticed he wasn’t with them. Then, they came back which would have been another whole day. Then it took them three days to find him which adds up to five. When they finally found him Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus turned. He smiled. Immediately after, his very first words recorded in the Bible are spoken. I bet he said them with confidence. With joy. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Why Should I Care?
These are the very first words of Jesus recorded in the New Testament and they say something powerful about Jesus: That he was the son of God. Deity. God made man. He was and is and will forever be God. How amazing that God would make himself a man, empty himself of all his power, and live with humankind in order to win them back to him. What other god is like that? What other god has ever gone so far to save mankind? What other god has ever gone so far to save me?

The words of Jesus also show us something else. When Mary asks him why he had gone missing, Jesus’ reply was, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” In other words: “It shouldn’t have been hard to find me. You know this is the only place I would be.” Why? Why was Jesus so fascinated with the temple? Because in Jewish times the temple wasn’t a place to go sing songs and hear a sermon. The Jewish temple was specifically designed to reveal to the world the entire plan of salvation. The Jewish temple announced the foundational reality of salvation and it’s this: “You can’t save yourself. I will do it. So I’ll come down. Become a man. Live a perfect life. Die a sinner’s death. And by doing so, I will make salvation available to everyone who believes."

This was the message of the Jewish temple. And Jesus was its fulfillment. The lamb came down and gave his life for mankind. Before sin even entered the world God had a plan to save humanity. Jesus was that plan. He was “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”[4]

So as you celebrate Christmas this year, keep in mind the little baby boy, born to live, to conquer, to suffer, to die, and to rise again - the perfect sacrifice that makes our eternal salvation secure.

Merry Christmas!

___________

[1] Rhymezone.com. http://rhymezone.com/r/d=partake_in
[2] SDA Bible Commentary
[3] Luke 2:47
[4] Rev. 13:8
For Those Who Don't "Measure Up"


Sometime ago I saw a video on YouTube that blew my mind. This guys was doing the craziest Calisthenic push-ups I had ever seen. One particular push-up consisted of him literally launching his body into the air from a prone lying position using only his arms. Being a guy that likes fitness I wrote him a comment and asked him how in the world he got to that level because I wanted to get there too. What do I have to do? I asked. I read his response with disappointment when he basically told me he didn’t really know what to say.

The way I felt when I saw him doing those push-ups is the way I feel when I read 1 John 3:9. Turn there with me. It reads:

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

When I read this verse my question is, John, how in the world do you get to that level? Will John, like my YouTube friend give us the answer? Or will he leave us hanging? Let’s find out.

Go back with me to the beginning of the chapter. Verse one opens up with a very powerful concept. John says,

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

Everyone here knows that God loves them. Almost every person in the west has seen a billboard with the words “God loves you” on it. But notice, John does not say “listen.” He does not say, “study.” He doesn’t even say “read”. John says, “behold.” To behold means to see. Let me ask you a question. What was the last time you actually saw Gods love for you?

There is an old story about a woman who asked her husband, Why don’t you ever tell me that you love me? And the husband replied, “I told you I love you when I married you and if I ever change my mind I will let you know.” Funny as that story might be, do you realize it actually describes the relationship many of us have with God? Many of us have not heard God tell us how much he loves us since we got baptized. But John says God lavishes his love on us. You don’t lavish someone with something once. The idea of lavishing connotes a continual action. God is always lavishing his love on us and John is saying, “You have got to see this love God lavishes on you every day.”

Is it possible then that for John the first step to overcoming sin is in seeing how much God loves us on a daily basis despite the fact that we are far from where he wants us to be?
John goes on to say that God lavishes his love on us by calling us his children. But notice something interesting. In verse 2 he adds, “now we are children of God.” Notice, John did not say that you have to reach a certain level of holiness before God considers you his child. He did not say you had to grow spiritually first before you could be considered his child. He said “now” we are his children. Today. Not tomorrow. You see, I have two boys. One is a toddler and he is wild. But as wild as he is he is my son. I will not consider him a son when he grows up and learns to behave better. He is my son now even though he is far from being the man I hope he someday becomes. In other words, you are a part of Gods family today, right now, even if you are a spiritual toddler. You may be far from the person God wants you to be. You may still have things in your life you need to get right and yet even so you are Gods child right now.

Could John be telling us that the secret to being an over-comer is to recognize that we are Gods children right now despite our imperfections?

But john goes on in the rest of verse 2 and says something very challenging. Look at what he says:

it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

John is saying two things here. Number 1, there is something I don’t know. Number two, there is something I do know. It has not yet been revealed what we will be. I don’t know that. But this I do know. Jesus is coming and when he does we will be like him because we will see him as he is. In other words we will not be like him before we see him. We will be like him after we see him. But why does that even matter? Allow me to read a letter to you I received a few weeks ago:

I have been miserable for years being a SDA. I love the Death and Hell message and mostly… the fundamentals of the Church but If I have to be perfect before God in the Flesh, then What DID JESUS come and do for me? I find myself being in fear all the time because I don't measure up.

You see, this guy thinks in order for Jesus to come and take him to heaven he has to become absolutely perfect. But John says, even though we wont be like him until we see him, guess what! We are going to see him. He is coming and when he does we will be transformed into his image.

Perhaps the third secret to being an over-comer is in recognizing that you don’t have to be absolutely perfect in order to go to heaven.

So lets put this all together. John goes on and notice what he says in verse 3:

And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Notice John does not say “all purify themselves.” John says, “whoever has this hope in him purifies himself.” Here is the answer to the question, “How can I be sinless?” There is only one way: All who have this hope in him. But what is the hope? The message that God loves us, calls us his children, and is coming to take us to heaven despite our flaws forms a foundation of hope that purifies the one who believes it.

Perhaps John is telling us that the fourth secret to overcoming lies in feeling safe in the arms of God (having the hope of salvation) despite your imperfections.

But what exactly does it mean to be sinless? Notice John says, “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Later on John tells us that God is love. Here he tells us that God is pure. So according to John God is pure love. If I pour salt into a glass of water is it pure? What about lemon? No. Pure water is H2O plus nothing else. According to John God is love plus nothing else. That’s not me. I have a bit of love mixed with selfishness, anger, and pride. But God is pure love. So to purify myself just as God is pure is to love like God loves. And while it is possible to correct behavior by focusing on behavior, you cannot love like God by trying harder.

But lets ask another question. What does John mean by love? Read verse 16 with me:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Being sinless is not about perfect behavior. It’s about perfect love. And perfect love is manifested in laying our lives down for one another the same way that Jesus laid his life down for us. But let me make this a little more practical. Perfect love is about laying down your time for someone else. Your wallet. Your reputation. Your comfort. John himself adds:
"If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."

Perfect love. That is what John means by living without sin. And there is only one way for you and I to ever get to this level. And that is to have the hope of Jesus within. What is that hope? The message that God loves us, calls us his children, and is coming to take us to heaven despite our flaws forms a foundation of hope by which we purify ourselves from selfishness until we love like God loves. You cannot live with this hope within you and go on sinning (living a lifestyle of selfishness). Hence John could say:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

I don’t know about you but I want to love like Jesus loves. That would be awesome. It begins by daily seeing his love for me. Not just reading about it. Talking about it. Or hearing about it. But experiencing it in our hearts. It begins by believing that you are a child of God, a member of his family, despite your imperfections. It begins by recognizing that you don’t have to be absolutely perfect in order for Jesus to come and take you to heaven. When you have this hope in you, you can go forth to purify yourself just as God is pure. You can learn to love like Jesus. The search for sinlessness is ultimately a search - not for perfect behavior or flawless obedience to the letter of the law - but for the love of God to make its home within us more and more. And so long as you are anxious and worried about your behavior you will never discover this love. It is when you recognize that its not about you at all, it is when you let go of your supposed "qualifications" and trust entirely on the sacrifice of Jesus for your salvation that you can then, in hope and joy, go forward to grow in love.
Stop Hating on Sanctification!



When I was a soldier I met a guy named Kenny. He smoked, drank, slept with different women all the time and got kicked out of the Army for doing drugs. However, according to Kenny, he was saved because four years before he had prayed a prayer at a youth rally. He didn’t do anything to earn his salvation, and he certainly wasn’t doing anything to keep his salvation. But is this what it means to be saved?

Kenny had bought into the popular gospel known as “once saved always saved.” The gospel which I have come to refer to as the “ticket version.” For him, Jesus was a ticket and nothing more. His salvation was simply a judge granting him irrevocable access to heaven regardless of how he continued to live his life. No faith was necessary. No trust or obedience. You said yes, and wallah! You are set for life. And why not? After all, we are saved apart from our works and we are preserved apart from our works as well. If works have nothing to do with our qualifying for heaven then why fuss over them? The Bible answers this question in the same passage we have been looking at. The NIV puts it this way:
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
The Greek word for workmanship is “poiema” which literally means, “a work” but it also carries with it the connotation of an artist. In other words, we are Gods art-work. When you give your life to Jesus He begins to do a work of art within you. He begins to change you and transform you. The amazing thing is that when Paul used the word “poiema” it simply meant a work. But over time it became the root of our English word poem. A poet is someone who makes a poem. However, the poet works on the poem until it is exactly what he wants it to be. His first draft is rarely his last. Instead he returns to the poem and edits it. He fixes grammatical errors, changes words, clauses, and at times even entire sentences and paragraphs. He artfully molds the poem until it becomes exactly what he wants it to be. This is what God does with us. When we accept Christ we are saved, but God is not finished yet. He doesn’t leave us broken like He found us. He works in us and through us and for us and turns us into a beautiful poem. He then reads this poem before the universe, a demonstration of his artistic finesse, and shows both men and angels that his love is powerful enough to turn the ugly into the beautiful, the ogre into the prince, and the selfish into the loving. Thus, we are changed into his image, grow into holiness, metamorphose into Christ-likeness, and translate into his love-language not as the basis for our acceptance with God, but as the inevitable result of looking unto Jesus and being filled with his love.

Works cannot save us and works cannot keep us, but anyone who claims to be saved and does not increasingly reflect the love of God is self-deceived at best. And there is a pervading ideology infecting our hearts that salvation is all about having a “ticket” for heaven. We churn at the thought of a God who demands. We roll our eyes at the word sanctification, as though it were a sour ingredient in the salvation dish. Perhaps, due to our legalistic backgrounds, we are so eager to experience the safety and joy of grace that we actually miss what grace is. And maybe, in some secret way, we envy those who believe in “once saved always saved” and try desperately to align our faith with theirs as much as possible. The end result is the “ticket” version of salvation. We talk about a relationship with Jesus, but we don’t even believe what we are saying because at the end of the day, a relationship demands a person not a ticket. And a personal relationship is either always growing, always ascending, always advancing or it becomes stagnant, cold, and dysfunctional. Billy Graham said it best when he stated,
It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil’s lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you.
God never leaves us the same. He never leaves us broken. He never leaves us enslaved. He never leaves us addicted. And while he doesn’t always deliver overnight, the promise of salvation is not only a new life in heaven but a new life here. A life that is characterized by radical love and other-centeredness. 

Andrew Farley, in his book The Naked Gospel, got it right he wrote that any gospel that fails to lead to a radical transformation of the life is “a half baked gospel.” And any person who says “I am saved by grace” while continuing to live in perpetual disharmony with the law of love demonstrates that he is still living in rebellion against God and has either never truly been saved, or thrown his salvation in the garbage bin either intentionally or through persistent neglect. A true understanding of the gospel comes when we embrace the paradoxical nature of grace and works. Such a paradox is very difficult to express in human language, and yet it is there. We are not saved by works or preserved by works, but nevertheless we are not once saved always saved. Salvation is a free gift but it must be enjoyed, not spurned. And when we enjoy our salvation, when we celebrate it and daily dance to its rhythm we will be changed, not as the basis for our salvation, but as the inevitable result of inhaling it’s fragrance.

And herein lies the joy of obedience. The joy of works. The joy of sanctification. We don’t have to obey to be saved as if salvation was earned by obedience. We don’t have to work to stay saved as if grace only covered our past, leaving our present and future status dependent on our performance. But when we are saved we will obey because obedience, good works, and sanctification are the natural result of being saved. You can distinguish between grace and works, but you cannot separate them. They come together – one as the qualifier for heaven (justification) and the other as the inevitable result of that experience (sanctification) which fits us for heaven.

I love the following illustration: Suppose you invited me to a meeting at Star Bucks and I arrived a half hour late. When I arrived I said, “Sorry for being late man. I was driving here and my car ran out of gas so I had to pull over. I then had to cross the street and when I did I was hit by a truck travelling 65 mph and it ran me over. And yeah, that’s why I’m late.” What would you think about my story? It would have to be one of three options. Either 1) I am joking, 2) I am lying, or 3) I am crazy. There is simply no way I am telling the truth because there is simply no way that I can come into contact with something as big as a truck and not be changed (i.e. splattered into a million tiny pieces). But isn’t God bigger than a truck? You cannot encounter Him and not be changed. It simply is not possible.

We are saved by grace and preserved by grace, but make no mistake, grace is not just pardon – it is power. Power to change. Power to transform. Power to deliver. Power to transpose. Power to redeem. You cannot have it and remain unchanged for the natural result of receiving grace is an experientially life altering divine metamorphosis. And its beautiful.

When I came to Christ I was broken because of my addictions and sinful habits. Controlled by my passions and tendencies. Corrupted by my DNA and corrupted even more by my own choices and misplaced allegiances. And I am so thankful today that Jesus didn’t just forgive me. I am thankful that he also changed me and set me free from the power of sin that was ruining my life. Am I still a sinner? Of course, but grace enables me to daily transcend my carnal self and live a life of integrity and purity before God and man. Am I perfect? Not by a long shot. But this I can say: When I look at my past I don’t like what I see. When I look at my present I don’t like what I see. But when I look at my future all I can see is the promise “that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Praise God! I am forgiven. I don’t have to continue a slave to the garbage that enslaved me. I am free from sins guilt and free from its power and I cannot wait until the day when I will be free of its presence – and that day is nearly here.

So what is the best way to summarise the only gospel? Here it is: What Jesus did. Period. What Jesus does. Period. Or to shorten the formula: Jesus-only. He pardons. He transforms. He erases. He re-writes. He uproots. He plants anew. He demolishes. He rebuilds. He puts to death. He rebirths. He is the author of our faith and he is its finisher. He wrote the first word in your salvation story and he will write the last. And what is your role in all of this? Simple. Just dance. Dance with Jesus. Or to put it in plain English, enjoy your relationship with him. Grow into him. Abide in him. Lose yourself in his love. Allow your soul to be swept into his presence. Fall deeper in love with him. Is it easy? No. Is it passive? No. Is it intentional? Yes. Is it a battle? Yes. But it is always, at all times and in all circumstances, a response to his grace made possible by his grace. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I began this series by saying that the book of Ephesians outlines Gods secret weapon to defeat evil. That weapon is the church – a community made up of evil, wicked, perverted, selfish people who have been redeemed. They are no longer evil, perverted, or selfish. Grace had pardoned. Grace had changed. Thus Paul could say,
As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience. I’m not talking about the outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world; we all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. As a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of humankind.
But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed. For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing. For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.



photo credit: Pat McDonald via photopin cc
Salvation is not a "Zero Down" Deal


In my last post I went over the four most common versions of salvation in the world and in the church. In the end I concluded all of them were pretty lame. However, I also proposed that the Bible teaches a fifth version, or better put the only version, and that is our topic today. So What is this only version? Look at it here in Ephesians:


For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.

The  salvation story that dominated most of my experience was the “but” version that I wrote about last week. In fact, that is the version that dominates many conservative Adventists. For some reason, many of us have embraced a Catholic/ Mormon view of salvation that teaches a “faith + works = heaven” theology, but nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Bible, salvation is a free gift that we receive apart from works. But what use would that gift be if once we had it we would have to “work” in order to keep it? A free gift that you have to earn the right to keep is not truly free. It is a product with a price tag that comes after you receive the product. Its like those deals you see on TV: “Take it Home for zero down!” But “Payments begin in 60 days.” No one considers the “zero down” deal a gift. It is still a product for sale because you are not able to keep it unless you begin to pay at the allotted time. And yet, this was the gospel to me. Not a gift, but a “zero down” option. “You don’t have to be perfect, just accept Christ and you are saved! It’s a free gift, apart from works! No one can earn salvation, just believe and its yours!” But once I accepted Christ, the message came, “Payments begin now.” Salvation was free, but only for the moment. I got it for zero down, but now I had to begin the payments. “Keep the Sabbath, change your diet, don’t do this or that or the other. Oh and by the way, here is a list of Ellen White quotes (out of context of course) on how everything you enjoy is evil and will keep you out of heaven. So stop doing it because you have to be perfect, without blemish or spot, or else you wont make it through the judgment.”

Now, let me be clear. No one actually used those words, but this is the picture my mind began to paint as I listened to sermons, read books, and spoke with other Adventists in my faith community. In many ways, I was oblivious to what I actually believed. It wasn’t until I was confronted with the true gospel that I realized that I believed a false gospel. The light shone on the darkness, and how great was the darkness! I saw for the first time, the scales fell from my eyes, and there I was – stunned beyond belief. When truth came, the lie was exposed in its ugliness and this was it: Salvation is free, but only for acceptance. Once you have it, you have to start making some payments or else you will lose it. And just to be clear on how serious God is about his law, even if you make lots of payments, they won’t do you any good unless you attain a spotless character. If you fail to do that then you can’t be saved.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is why anytime someone spoke about the grace of God I felt compelled to say “yes, Gods grace is wonderful but that’s no excuse for sin! You still have to be obedient! That doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want!” And so on and so forth. Was there something wrong with my “but” statements? Theologically, no. But the real problem lay in the fact that grace frightened me and because it frightened me I couldn’t enjoy it for what it was. Somehow, I thought grace would open the floodgates of sin and so I couldn’t simply sit back and say “amazing grace, how sweet the sound” because the moment I did I felt it was too good to be true. There just had to be something for me to add. There just had to be something I had to do in order to enter heaven. A gift was too free, too good, or dare I say, too “gracious.”

Nevertheless, the bible is clear. Salvation “is God’s gift.” It is not a “zero down” deal. It is not a, “take it home now pay later” offer. It is a gift. It is free to receive and free to retain. This is the only salvation story the Bible tells. You are saved as a free gift apart from works and are preserved in Christ as a free gift apart from works. This means that you don’t have to do anything in order to be saved or stay saved. You just have to receive the gift though faith and through the same faith that you receive it you also retain it. This is the foundation of Christianity. We are saved by grace through faith from beginning to middle to end. No if’s, no and’s, and certainly no but’s. It’s all a gift of God.

And the crazy thing is that God gives this gift to evil people, not to good people. Grace is for the sinner not the saint. The more wicked you are the more you qualify! Look at verse five. It says,


[God] infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace.

It is when we were dead in sin that Jesus offered us salvation. It is when we were lifeless, buried under mountains of pride, lust, and addictions, dead in our selfishness and depravity, that Jesus came to give us life. Works cannot save us and works cannot keep us. It has to be a gift of grace from beginning to end. This is the only way. You can’t be vegetarian enough, or know enough Bible verses, or behave well enough for God to accept you. The gift of salvation is not offered to you when you are good. It’s offered to you when you are evil. You did not receive the gift because you were good. You received it because God loved you despite your sin. And you do not keep the gift because you are good. You keep it because God loves you despite your imperfections. Salvation is a gift. It is given without merit. And the end result of this free gift is that no one can “go around bragging that [they] must have done something amazing.”

So do you qualify for salvation? I suppose that depends on whether you are a sinner. If you are then you qualify. And all you have to do is say yes to the gift that God has brought to you. The moment you do, it is yours without any “but’s”. I want to invite you to say yes to God’s finished work. If you have never experienced the forgiveness he offers or if you have been trying to earn his grace or keep his grace, it’s time to let go. Salvation is a gift for those who are sinners. It is not “What Jesus did + What I do = Salvation.” It is “What Jesus did. Period.” So accept the gift and rejoice.


Each one of you may know for yourself that you have a living Saviour, that he is your helper and your God. You need not stand where you say, “I do not know whether I am saved.” Do you believe in Christ as your personal Saviour? If you do, then rejoice. – Ellen White (GCB April 10, 1901, par. 14).
A Night with the Counterfeits

 Some time ago I wrote a blog titled "Do You Qualify For Salvation?" In the past few months I have taken that singular blog post and expanded it for a series at thehaystack.tv presented by the same title. Because the expansion proved to be a real joy and blessing for me as I wrote it, and also for others who read it, I have decided to share it here. However, because I already have a blog titled "Do You Qualify for Salvation?" I will give each of these posts a different title. Below is the first one titled, "A Night with the Counterfeits". For some, this series may be nothing more than a repetition of what you have read on this blog for the last few years. For others it may be a breath of fresh air. Whatever your experience, I pray you are blessed.


A Night with the Counterfeits. 

There is a true story told of an Indian missionary. The young man was in India during a great festival in which all of the Hindus travel to the river Ganges to wash themselves for the forgiveness of sins. Thousands of Hindus traveled for miles to wash themselves in this river. The story goes that this missionary was crossing a bridge over the river when he saw a woman weeping uncontrollably. He approached her to see what was wrong.

She told him that her husband was unable to work. They had no money to provide for the family. She told him that her sins were so many that no one knew about. She was burdened with guilt and shame. She needed forgiveness and blessings. In order to receive the blessing and forgiveness of the goddess Ganges, she said, “I have given her the most valuable offering I could give her. My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river.” The missionary proceeded to explain the gospel to her. To tell her that she didn’t have to kill her son. God had sent his son in order to save mankind. When he was done the woman looked at him. “Why didn’t you come a half hour sooner?” She asked. “I didn’t have to kill my son.” And with that she began weeping again. She’s not the only one you know. There are thousands. Millions are crying out “why?” Longing and searching for an answer to the void in their heart. Looking for forgiveness and salvation. Their religion tells them that salvation can only be gained by working hard to earn Gods favor. Their religion tells them that they have to climb, struggle, work, sweat, bleed, and suffer in order to enter the Kingdom. But the Bible says something else. In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says,


“For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.”[i]

The Bible teaches that it’s not what we do that saves us, but what God has done. In other words, this whole salvation thing is never about what we do; it’s about what He did. But what exactly does that mean? Before I explain it, I want to back track a bit. The book of Ephesians, which I just quoted, reveals God’s mysterious purpose for what we call “church.” Now, what does church have to do with salvation? Well, lets find out. Paul, the author of the book, paints a picture of a secret weapon that God had planned from the beginning of time in order to defeat evil. That secret weapon is the church. Why church? I mean. Isn’t church boring? Irrelevant? Hasn’t the church caused more evil than good in history? How could this be God’s secret weapon to defeat evil? That answer is found in Ephesians 1:22-23. Here Paul says,


“God has placed all things beneath His [Jesus'] feet and anointed Him as the head over all things for His church. This church is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all in all.”

According to this verse, Christ is the head of the church which is his body. However, there is something powerful here. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia” which means congregation or assembly. According to the Bible “church” is not a building, it’s a community of people. So God’s secret weapon to defeat evil is a community of people. But what kind of people? Ephesians 2:1-2 answers that question. It says,


“As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience.

Did you catch it? God’s secret anti-evil weapon from the beginning of time was a community of people. But not good people. Bad people! People who were rebellious, wicked, and selfish. People who were slaves to sin. God’s mystery of the church is that He was going to get these “evil people” and use them to defeat evil. However, in order for God to do this He would have to get these people to be on His side. But how? The answer is found in the story the Bible tells about salvation.

Now of course, there are many different versions of this story floating around. Even though the Bible only tells one salvation story, this story has been retold in countless ways. However, we can boil down all of those countless versions into four. 1) The most common is that you are saved by works. This means you have to be good and if you are good enough you are allowed into heaven. This is the version that forms the foundation of paganism. I call it the “performance” version of salvation. 2) The second is that you are saved by grace, but in order to stay saved you have to work. In other words, Jesus covers your past sins but your future is uncertain. You are saved, but not really. There is still something you have to do in order to earn the right to stay saved and enter heaven at last. This is the foundation of religions such as Catholicism and Mormonism. I call this the “but” version of salvation (you will soon see why). 3) The third is that salvation is a ticket to heaven and nothing more. No change takes place in the life. But because you once believed you now have a ticket that guarantees you access into eternal bliss. This is the foundation for some (though certainly not all) evangelical churches and is often referred to as “once saved, always saved”.[ii] I call it the “ticket” version of salvation. Being raised Adventist, I was too smart to fall for the “performance” version (most Christians are). However, that didn’t make me immune to being duped by “but” and “ticket” versions. For many years I viewed the salvation story though those two lenses. The “ticket” was useless. While I didn’t have any anxiety over my eternal security, I had no victory over sin. Since I knew I was going to heaven, I had no rush to find victory. But I was depressed, always feeling defeated and filthy, and eventually my sin caught up with me and the consequences were extremely painful. If only Jesus had set me free from sin I wouldn’t have had to go through those dark nights of shame and guilt that nearly choked out my life. But Jesus wasn’t the problem. The problem was I had come to view Him, not as a savior, but as a ticket and tickets have no power.

From there I fell into the “but” version of the salvation story. This is the version that teaches that Jesus forgives and saves but in order to stay saved you have to perform at a certain level or else you are out.  This version was instrumental in showing me that victory over sin was possible, but as time went on I found this to be nothing more than a baptized version of the “performance” model. Even though I was saved by grace I always felt I hadn’t done enough to stay saved and that I had to do more. I had to be a vegetarian or else I would lose my salvation. I had to keep the Sabbath perfectly and be nice to people and do everything right or else I would lose the free gift of salvation. And I was miserable. I call this the “but” version of salvation. Why? Because anytime someone spoke about the grace of Christ, I always felt the need to add “but” at the end of their conversation. “We are saved by grace!” They would shout. “But!” I would shout back, “don’t forget you still have to do A, B and C!” For some reason I couldn’t just enjoy the grace of God for what it was. Instead, I always had to add the “but” at the end just to make sure everyone knew what the requirements were. During this time I knew some of rest that is to be found in Jesus, but there was always a voice in the back of my mind that prevented me from having full assurance. I experienced spiritual growth and victory over sins that had long controlled my life, but something was missing.  However, I refused to admit there was a problem with my salvation story because in my mind, the only alternative was the “ticket” version and I sure wasn’t going back to that.

4) Eventually, the “but” version of salvation led me to the fourth version of the gospel. It is a subcategory of “but” known as the “light switch” version of the gospel. The light switch version nearly killed me. This version (which was nothing more than the logical result of the “but” version) teaches that a person is justified freely by Gods grace but must, from then on, continue to perform well enough to keep their salvation. That’s pretty much what the “but” version is, only in the “light switch” version every time you sin you lose your salvation until you confess and repent and then you are saved again. It’s as if God is in heaven flipping a “light switch.” Every time you sin, the light switch goes off (you have lost your salvation), and every time you confess and repent the light switch goes back on (you are saved again). When I believed in “light switch” I was always worried about whether I had sinned or not and often times found myself debating myself over whether or not I had just sinned, almost just sinned, or thought I just sinned but hadn’t really. The situation was worse when I felt that God wouldn’t forgive me for a sin I committed if it involved another person. I would suffer for weeks and months over a supposed sin that I needed to confess to someone else and at times found myself confessing things that were not only unnecessary but ridiculous. But I did it anyways because I wanted to make sure that God wouldn’t have any reason to not let me into heaven. I was daily and hourly tortured by my conscience and became so hypersensitive that I eventually found myself at a counselors office diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. God was my enemy desperately trying to keep me out of heaven. And I was responsible for changing his mind, but no matter how hard I tried one plaguing accusation remained: “Never good enough.”

Negative as this experience may have been I do thank God for it because if it weren’t for my hopelessness and despair I would never have turned to him for answers. I would never have studied and researched and explored. I would never have asked those deep, gut wrenching questions that many people never think to ask. My defeat paved the way for my victory and though I have much to learn I eventually discovered that none of those previous versions were the true salvation story. When I did in fact discover the Biblical story of salvation my entire soul was enraptured with a joy and conviction I have never before experienced. I was free! The 4 versions were false, but there was a fifth. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it the fifth. Instead, I prefer to call it the only. The true. The genuine. All the others were counterfeits, but I had finally discovered the beauty of the gospel and the overwhelming joy it brings.

But more on that next time.

_____
[i] All Bible verses quoted from The Voice.

[ii] Contrary to what I believed growing up “once saved always saved” is not a universally accepted teaching in the evangelical world. Adventists are in the company of Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Free-Will Baptists (also Pentecostal) and others in denying this teaching. Most Protestants who embrace the theology of Martin Luther, Jacobus Arminius, or John Wesley are likely to also reject the concept of “once saved always saved”.
Why I No Longer Believe in Last Generation Theology


Why I No Longer Believe in Last Generation Theology 
by Sam Millen

Growing up in the Adventist church, I was exposed to a brand of Adventism promoting what has been identified as Last Generation Theology (LGT).  We were taught that those in the church who disagreed with LGT were in apostasy.  It was much later, while studying in the seminary, that I discovered LGT didn’t enter Adventism until the 1930s.  It was introduced by Adventism's premier theologian during that period, M.L. Andreasen.  The concept is not new, however.  I have also learned that the Pharisees had their version of LGT.  They firmly believed that if Israel kept one Sabbath perfectly, the Messiah would come immediately.  That is why they wanted to get rid of Jesus when he broke their Sabbath rules.


LGT proponents like to cling to one particular quote by Ellen White.  She writes, “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” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69).  When I view this quote now, without an LGT bias, it becomes clearer that Ellen White is not necessarily talking about sinlessness, but setting aside our differences and being loving, just like the disciples in the upper room before the Holy Spirit was poured out.  Jesus says the end will come when the gospel reaches everyone (Matthew 24:14).  He also says that everyone will know we are his disciples when we love each other (John 13:35).


The focus of LGT is character perfection.  From an LGT point of view, Jesus hasn’t returned because he is waiting for a generation that is sinless in order for God to prove that his law can be kept perfectly.  LGT teaches that God is depending on us to vindicate his character.  If we could demonstrate to the watching universe that God’s law can be obeyed, nobody would have an excuse.  We would prove Satan wrong!  God would be reasonable in his expectations.  I now see this as blasphemy.  Jesus fully vindicated God’s character on the cross.  God is love.  We cannot take Jesus' place and fulfil that role.


Instead of partying with my peers, I spent most of my teenage years trying to be perfect.  I tried to have only pure thoughts, and to conquer my temper and other character flaws.  After all, God was relying on me to overcome sin!  I didn’t want to delay his coming any longer.  I also knew that the time was coming when “probation" would close and we would be without a mediator.  I had to be sinless by then.  Much later, I was relieved when someone pointed out to me that we will always have a Savior.  At that point, there may be no more switching of sides (requiring a mediator, see Revelation 22:11), but our sins are covered by Christ’s blood until the end when we are on God’s side.  


Although this theology did spare me from the consequences of a typical teenage rebellion, LGT can be just as (if not more) harmful emotionally and spiritually.  Even though we were told that we could overcome sin through Christ’s power, the focus was not on Jesus.  I focused on my behavior.  How was I performing?  Isn’t that what the whole universe was supposedly focused on?    Every time I messed up, I knew I would be lost unless I repented and started again from scratch.  That was not a joyful Christian experience.  It was miserable!  I desperately wanted to be perfect so that I could be a part of the Last Generation.


I now see Christianity as a relationship.  Because God is love, he created us for a relationship with him.  That is our purpose.  It is why we exist.  Since we are born on a rebellious planet, God's primary objective is to win our hearts.  He wants us to trust him.  However, when we give God our hearts, we still have the weaknesses of the flesh.  Even though our hearts are in the right place, we still mess up.  When we fail because of the flesh, we do not lose our salvation.  We haven’t turned our back on God.  We love God.  We want to do what is right, and when we get a new body at the resurrection (without any weaknesses), we will not be rebelling in heaven.  It’s because God has won our hearts.  We trust him.  We love him.


It’s like a marriage (a biblical metaphor for our relationship with God).  I am not a perfect husband.  I make mistakes that hurt my wife (not physically).  However, because I love my wife, I am sorry when I mess up.  I don’t want to hurt her.  When I mess up, I am still married to her.  I haven’t turned my back and walked away.  We are still in a relationship.


The only way to lose your salvation is to deliberately turn your back on God and walk away from him.  He will never leave you.  Even if you reject him completely, he will try to win your heart again.


I am convinced that we will never be perfect.  We don’t have to be.  When we are in a relationship with God, our sins are covered by Christ’s blood until the end.  If God has won our hearts, we will get a flawless new body when Jesus comes.  That is when our new hearts will finally be compatible with our bodies because our bodies will also be new.


Am I trying to make excuses for sin?  Not at all.  In fact, the harder I tried to overcome sin, the more I failed and became discouraged.  Now I find that when I focus on my relationship with Jesus, the sins that seemed so appealing before, start to lose their power in his presence.  It’s miraculous.



_________

Sam Millen pastors the Luray Seventh-day Adventist Church in Virginia, in the Potomac Conference. He grew up in Australia, moving to the US to study for the ministry at Andrews University. He and his wife Angie have a six-year-old and two-year-old twins.

This article was originally published on Spectrum Magazine. Used by permission.



Further Reading:

REclaiming Adventism (A Response to the Testimony of Former Adventist Eliana Matthews)
For other posts related to Last Generation Theology click here.

The Sabbath as "Seal" & Grace Alone: My Struggle with the "Contradiction"



photo credit: LarimdaME via photopin cc

I don't know about you, but the-Sabbath-as-seal doctrine is one that bothered me for quite some time. In case you don't know what that is allow me to explain. Seventh-day Adventists believe that the Sabbath is the seal of God and that in order to be sealed by God we must keep the Sabbath. Such a doctrine immediately throws up red flags. Being sealed by God means we belong to him. If we cannot be sealed unless we keep the Sabbath then logically it follows that we must keep the Sabbath in order to earn Gods seal and thus, ultimately, salvation. In the end then, it seems as is Adventisms claims to salvation by grace alone are pseudo claims since we do, in fact, believe that the Sabbath is the seal given only to those who honor the Sabbath. As I said above, this concept bothered me because it seemed incompatible with the gospel. However, after taking a closer look the Holy Spirit settled my questions by showing me two simple points I had totally missed. Ultimately my main problem was that I had an oversimplified understanding of the seal doctrine. It was this oversimplification of that led me to my misconceptions. By looking deeper I discovered that there was more to the seal than I had previously known and this new understanding opened up a whole new view to the seal. 

First, While Adventist believe that the Sabbath is the seal of God we do not believe that the Sabbath alone is the seal of God. To view Gods seal as simply the Sabbath is an oversimplification of Adventisms seal theology. The seal of God is primarily and foremost a love seal not a law seal. Ellen White expressed it well when she said, "Love is expressed in obedience, and perfect love casteth out all fear. Those who love God, have the seal of God in their foreheads, and work the works of God" (LDE 221.4). This quote demonstrates that Ellen White understood the seal of God to be more than just going to church on Saturday. It has to do with having a heart that loves God supremely – a love which according to scripture is always expressed by obedience (John 14:15). So, far from receiving the seal of God due to our ability to read the calendar correctly or to keep the law well, the seal of God is given to those who love God. 

Second, those who love God she describes as those who "work the works of God". Notice that the seal is not simply given to those who "work the works of God" but to those who "love God" and as a result "work [his] works". Thus, the seal of God must not be understood as simply a "law" issue, but as a "love" issue. What this demonstrates is that, according to Ellen White, Adventisms seal doctrine is presupposed by the same gospel that Luther, Calvin, and Arminius preached. That is that we are saved by Gods grace alone and that our salvation - while not dependent on - is nevertheless evidenced by our works. This point is important because it places the concept of obedience to God in the proper sphere. Working the works of God have nothing to do with earning salvation or earning the right to keep salvation. Instead, they have to do with the evidence for salvation. And it is the third point that God showed me which really brings this to life.

The third point is this: The seal of God as the Sabbath must be understood in its apocalyptic setting in contrast to the mark of the beast. Let that sink in. In fact, read it over again two or three times before moving on. The seal of God as the Sabbath must be understood in its apocalyptic setting in contrast to the mark of the beast.  If we separate the seal of God from that context we end up with an oversimplification that both misrepresents Adventisms theology and also undermines the gospel. 

First, without the apocalyptic context in mind the Sabbath as seal doctrine translates as a “you must start keeping the Sabbath to be saved” theology that does nothing but undermine the truth about Jesus only. If such a theology were true then Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley - along with the billions of Jesus-followers of every age - will all be lost because none of them kept the Sabbath and thus none of them received the seal of God. However, this is not  what Adventisms seal theology teaches. So what does it teach? Once again, this teaching must be understood in its apocalyptic context.

Scripture is clear that in the final days there will be a crisis over loyalty. All of mankind will be compelled by force and threat to worship the beast but those who are faithful to God will refuse on pain of death. The faithful are described in Revelation as "those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). Today there is much debate over the validity of the Sabbath. Faithful Christians find themselves on both sides of the debate. But in the final crisis there will no longer be a debate. Every person will know for sure whether or not they are following God or following the beast. Thus, it is within this apocalyptic context that Ellen White could say:
... when Sunday observance shall be enforced by law, and the world shall be enlightened concerning the obligation of the true Sabbath, then whoever shall transgress the command of God, to obey a precept which has no higher authority than that of Rome, will thereby honor popery above God {GC, 449}.
Those who would have the seal of God in their foreheads must keep the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. This is what distinguishes them from the disloyal, who have accepted a man-made institution in the place of the true Sabbath. The observance of God’s rest day is the mark of distinction between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not (Manuscript 27, 1899) {7BC 970.2}.
Understood within the apocalyptic context the seal of God poses no contradiction to Jesus Only. Those who decide to follow the beast will evidence their loyalty by obedience and those who choose to be faithful to God will evidence their faithfulness by obedience. Both groups will be obeying someone as a sign of loyalty. So the seal of God in Revelation is set against the backdrop of the mark of the beast. In the final crisis everyone will have either the mark or the seal. There will be no in between. And unless one is willing to go as far as to develop a theology that teaches that it’s OK to be disobedient and receive the mark of the beast and still be saved then you have to come to terms with the apocalyptic seal.

However, never make the mistake of thinking that we earn Gods apocalyptic seal and thus earn salvation. The issue here has nothing to do with faith vs works. It simply has to do with sincerity. Are we going to be faithful to God and worship him or are we going to ally ourselves with the religio-political beast system of Revelation and worship it? When you dig deep it becomes obvious that the real issue is not about 7th day VS. 1st day but about who your Lord is, man or God? It’s really that simple.

Therefore, it seems to me that the only way to turn the seal of God into a legalistic doctrine is to remove it from its apocalyptic context. Once you do that, yes it very much sounds like we are sealed based on our performance instead of Gods grace. But within the apocalyptic context it becomes clear that it is primarily and issue of sincerity/loyalty not faith/works.

A perfect example of this is the book of Hebrews. The book was written with one purpose in mind - to convince persecuted Christians, who were considering returning to Judaism in order to escape the persecution, to remain faithful to God. Hebrews is clear that turning your back on Jesus means forfeiting the salvation he so freely offers. Paul is encouraging the believers to be faithful to Christ because he is the only way to heaven. Judaism and its many ceremonies could not save, only Christ and his righteousness alone.

Likewise, in the apocalyptic context the Christian church will suffer intense persecution. The beast will offer his mark and say that anyone who receives it will escape the persecution. Since Adventists believe the beast is Papal Rome and his mark of authority is Sunday observance then we conclude that a Sunday law will be enforced. Those who honor it will give allegiance to Papal Rome. But those who refuse and instead honor Gods Sabbath (a sign of his creation, salvation, and redemption) will evidence their allegiance to Him and thus receive the apocalyptic seal. Is it possible for a sincere Christian during this time to say, "Well I'm not saved by works so I'm just gonna get the mark of the beast and go to heaven anyways"? No way! Such a thought is nonsensical. 

The way I see it, the final test has nothing to do with revealing to God who his faithful ones are. He already knows. But the final test will help us see if we really love God and would be happy to spend eternity with him. God never tests us to discover something about us he doesn't know. He tests us to reveal something to us that we don't know. I think at this time many who thought they wanted to go to heaven and be with God forever will discover that they find no joy in honoring him in the midst of a temporary conflict and will thus make their decision to walk away from him forever. Again, sincerity is the issue.

However, the NT does say "do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you "were" sealed." Not "by whom you are going to be sealed." This concept, when combined with Revelation, paints a picture of a two dimensional sealing. One in the here and now. It gives us assurance of our salvation. The other is in the apocalyptic context, protects us from the plagues, and reveals to us how much we truly love God.

In conclusion, the Sabbath as seal poses no contradiction to salvation by grace through faith. An oversimplification of this doctrine that places it outside of its apocalyptic context certainly creates that problem. However, placed within its apocalyptic context where it belongs demonstrates that the seal of God is a love issue, not a law issue. Because this is a contextual topic it is clear that no one today has the mark of the beast. It is only at the end of time when the polarization becomes clear that the mark is given. However, all who love God today have the seal of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of salvation and in the end of time, those who are alive will receive the apocalyptic seal in contrast to the mark of the beast. However, Gods people won't be sealed because they keep the Sabbath but because they love God. That love will compel them to honor him in the final conflict which involves the Sabbath by honoring the one day that celebrates him as creator, redeemer, and restorer while rejecting the day that celebrates the papacy - a system which presents an alternative method of salvation that counters the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

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Note: This post is an edited excerpt from: REclaiming Adventism: A Response to the Testimony of Former Adventist Eliana Matthews.
Wesley's Faith-Journey: A Life Long Battle with Legalism
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The following is a book review I wrote on the book "John Wesley, A Biography" by Stephen Tomkins.

John Wesley, A Biography, written by Stephen Tomkins, is an excellent biography of John Wesley, one of the fathers of evangelicalism. Tomkins, though negatively biased toward Wesley's theology, brings an authentic flavor to the telling of his story. Rather than presenting him as a hero without warts, Tomkins pours through Wesley's journals and stories in an attempt to paint the man as realistically as possible. The end result is a picture of a man far from perfect-though he preached perfection-and far from confident in his walk with God-though he preached faith. And yet, we also see a man so committed to Christ that few have ever matched his sacrifice and zeal for the work of the gospel.

John Wesley, A Biography is a chronological retelling of the life of Wesley. Tomkins looks not only at Wesley's teachings and adventures as a Methodist preacher, but also his childhood, love life, emotional life, spiritual journey, and family relationships. Due to lack of space I will focus on that which is of most interest to me: his faith journey and his lifelong battle with legalism.

John Wesley was born into an Anglican family that was, for lack of a better word, dysfunctional. According to Tomkins, Wesley's father, Samuel Wesley, once separated from his wife, without intending to return, because she did not support the new king of England and would not pray for him. "You and I must part," said Samuel, "for if we have two kings, we must have two beds" (10). But after his house nearly burned down during a visit Samuel decided to stay and take care of his family. "Less than a year later, on 28 June 1703, John Wesley was born" (11).

Wesley's childhood was loving, but stringent. According to Tomkins, his upbringing was exceedingly strict even by the standard of his day. Susanna, Wesley's mother, believed that children were naturally wicked and rebellious. As a result, Susanna sought to do a type of behavior modification by forcing her children's wills to incline toward good. Her parenting philosophy is summarized in her own words: "Break the will, if you will not damn the child" (13). Tomkins writes:


Susanna... [Wesley's mother] allowed 'no such thing as loud talking or playing'... When turned a year old (and some before) they were taught to fear the rod, and to cry softly... to be still at family prayers, and to ask a blessing immediately after meals, which they used to do by signs before they could kneel or speak... By the time they were grown, they all knew vast tracts of the Bible, some of them whole books, by heart. At meals times the children sat at a small separate table... They were allowed nothing to eat or drink between meals and were beaten if they asked... (12-13).


The strictness of his childhood did not end with adolescence or even adulthood. As a young man, before his conversion, Wesley dedicated himself, while studying at Oxford, to living a holy life. With holiness as his ultimate goal in life Wesley became quite fanatical. Of this time Tomkins writes, "he grew ever stricter on himself, writing a new self-catechism to review not only his daily deeds but also if his motives were sufficiently directed to the glory of God. He discouraged visitors to his room who might waste his time, and abandoned such frivolities as cards and dancing" (32). And yet this was only the beginning. Tomkins describes the evolution of Wesley's fanaticism stating, "As his goals were elevated, his self-analysis and self-discipline were turning into obsessions... He now updated his spiritual audit on an hourly basis and not only noted his successes and failures, but gave himself a score out of nine" (38).

This severe approach to Christianity continued for many years. However, events in Wesley's life began to change his theology and reveal to him a more joyful religion. It all began with Wesley's missionary voyage to America. During the journey Wesley's ship was caught in a fearful storm. Wesley feared for his life but he noticed a company whom didn't seem frightened at all. Wesley inquired as to the source of their super-natural peace and discovered them to be Moravians; followers of Luther, whose religion placed an "emphasis on justification by faith that the English church [to which Wesley belonged] had lost" (46). It was this confidence in salvation that gave them peace in the face of death. However, it was not until much later, in the midst of another spiritual crisis, that light shone for Wesley as he heard a Moravian "reading from Luther's Preface to Romans" (61). The experience was to be a life changing one. Wesley writes:


About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death (61).


However, and here is where I appreciate Tomkins genuine portrayal of Wesley, this experience was not the end of Wesley's struggle with legalism. Unlike those who would like to romanticize Wesley's conversion, Tomkins has no quarrels with diminishing its grand impression upon Wesley's story by admitting that he continued, for the rest of his life, to bounce back and forth between grace alone and grace and works.

Some assume that Wesley was simply a legalist. According to Tomkins, "The traditional evangelical understanding of [Wesley]... is that he was attempting salvation by works" (43). This is said to be the case even after his conversion and is admittedly Tomkins bias. I however have a different theory. Having been raised in a similar fashion to Wesley I also have found it a great struggle to overcome my natural legalistic inclinations and trust in Christ alone for salvation even under the light of gospel freedom. Therefore, in my point of view, it is as a result of his upbringing that Wesley struggled with legalism most of his life. In short, I believe his struggle with legalism was due to psychological factors, not theological failure. The overbearing discipline instilled in his mind as a child formed a lifelong habit of fanatical austerity that he never, even under the light of gospel freedom, seemed to escape for long.

But how is it that the gospel was never able to set Wesley completely free from the Pharisee within? Apart from his natural tendency toward legal religion instilled into his childhood psyche by his legalistic mother, there is another factor that I believe to be the main culprit: Wesley never seemed to learn that faith and feeling are complementary, not synonymous. All of his life Wesley seems to have been dependent on his emotions to reveal to him the state of his soul rather than to depend fully and totally on the promise of God despite what his emotions told him. It is my theory that Wesley was inclined toward grace when he felt close to God, but whenever he felt far from God he would default to the rigid lifestyle of his earlier years as a way of feeling close to God again. The tragedy of this deceptive flaw is that even after years of enduring hardship, persecution, and deadly mobs for the cause of Christ, Wesley poured out his heart to his brother Charles saying:


I do not feel the wrath of God abiding in me; nor can I believe it does. And yet (this is the mystery) I do not love God. I never did. Therefore I never believed, in the Christian sense of the word... I never had any other evidence of the eternal or invisible world than I have now; and that is none at all... And yet I dare not preach otherwise than I do... I want all the world to come to what I do not know (168).


Tomkins is therefore right when he says, "What a desolate spectacle... It is pitiful to see his faith, even after all these years, still so dependent on the vicissitudes of his emotions" (169). This was Wesley's downfall. He never realized, at least in an experiential manner, that feelings are never to be the grounds of our walk with God. They can come and go as easily as the wind shifts. We must learn to trust God's promises even when we cannot feel them to be true.

Even in the midst of this Wesley remained faithful to the Lord until his dying day. On Tuesday 1 March 1791 Wesley approached the end of his life. Weak, ill, and worn from a life of service he found himself unable even to write. "'After a last 'Farewell'', he died on Wednesday morning" (194).

While I have, up to this point, expressed my appreciation for Tomkins biography I do have one major point of contention with him: the way in which he dealt with Wesley's doctrine of perfection. Tomkins anti-perfection bias, in my opinion, prevented him from honestly assessing Wesley's true understanding of perfection. In his book A Plain Account of Christian Perfection Wesley clearly asserts that perfection is not the grounds for salvation and he distances himself, sometimes more and sometimes less, from the heresy of sinless perfectionism. Wesley's understanding of biblical perfection is "perfection in love". Wesley believed that Gods children can be perfected in love and have, what he refers to as "a purity of intention" and be free from "willful rebellion." Perfection in love, versus sinless perfectionism or absolute perfection which Wesley denied, is a concept easily found in scripture starting with Jesus who, after describing Gods love for his enemies said, "Be therefore perfect as your father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). When Luke quoted the same discourse he substituted the word "merciful" for "perfect" indicating that perfection is not a state of flawless obedience to every minute command but having a heart that loves like Jesus loves. Tomkins seems to skip over these facts and instead focuses on the more fanatical concepts inherent in Wesley's perfection doctrine such as instantaneous perfection and the self-awareness of having attained perfection. He, therefore, gives the impression that he is eager to discredit the doctrine of perfection and fails to give it a fair hearing.

In conclusion, I found John Wesley, A Biography to be an excellent resource on the life of the father of the Methodist movement. Of all the aspects of his religious life I found his spiritual journey to be the most interesting. While I believe Tomkins analysis contains a slight anti-Wesley bias, especially when it came to Wesley's understanding of salvation and perfection, I nevertheless consider this work to be exceptionally done and worth reading for anyone who wants to learn more about the man, John Wesley.

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This book review was completed in partial fulfillment of the course Church History II at Southern Adventist University. Originally published in Ezine Articles: Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/8321138
Faith VS Works
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Have you ever read the book of James? If so, chances are you might have been a bit confused. After all, James seems to contradict nearly everything Paul says in the book of Romans. He consistently talks about "works" whereas Paul was the "champion of grace." However, how can the Bible contradict itself on such a major theological topic? For example, Paul writes in Romans 3:28 that "a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." However, James says in James 2:24 that "a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." Since the Bible does not support theological pluralism or relativism one of them has to be wrong. But which one is it? 

The reality is neither one of them is wrong. They are both right. In order to see that James and Paul don't contradict each other its important to understand the historical context that they were writing in and the issues they were addressing in their letters. You see, in Romans Paul was dealing with the dangerous heresy that a person can be saved by keeping the law. Paul repeatedly emphasizes here (as he does in Hebrews, Galatians, Ephesians etc.) that it is impossible to perform your way into heaven. The only way is by Gods gift of salvation. A gift that cannot be earned. James, on the other hand, isn't dealing with this heresy. James is dealing with a totally different heresy - the idea that so long as you accept doctrinal truth in your head then you are saved. Therefore when James uses the word faith he uses it differently than Paul does. Paul uses faith to describe a genuine trust in Jesus. James uses faith to describe an intellectual assent to some abstract theological truth. According to James simply saying "yes I believe that's true" does not save you because it isn't real faith. Real faith doesn't just accept truth intellectually; it embraces the truth and applies it to life. Real faith is seen in the persons life not just his words. Therefore, good works are the evidence that you have been saved by grace through faith. A lack of good works (which results in the presence of sinful works) may be evidence that your faith is not genuine.
Did Jesus Complete the Atonement on the Cross?
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Some have charged the SDA church with teaching that the atonement was not finished at the cross. Below is an edited excerpt from the article REclaiming Adventism (A Response to the Testimony of former Adventist Eliana Matthews) that briefly deals with this issue:

From the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. 
On the cross the penalty for human sin was fully paid. Divine justice was satisfied. From a legal perspective the world was restored to favor with God (Rom. 5:18). The atonement, or reconciliation, was completed on the cross as foreshadowed by the sacrifices, and the penitent believer can trust in this finished work of our Lord. – 350
From Ellen White
[Christ] planted the cross between heaven and earth, and when the Father beheld the sacrifice of His Son, He bowed before it in recognition of its perfection. “It is enough,” He said. “The atonement is complete” {RH September 24, 1901, par. 11}.
Our great High Priest completed the sacrificial offering of Himself when He suffered without the gate. Then a perfect atonement was made for the sins of the people {7BC 913.3}.
Christ’s sacrifice in behalf of man was full and complete. The condition of the atonement had been fulfilled. The work for which He had come to this world had been accomplished {AA 29.2}.
The Lord would have His people sound in the faith—not ignorant of the great salvation so abundantly provided for them. They are not to look forward, thinking that at some future time a great work is to be done for them; for the work is now complete {1SM 394.3}.
Comment:

Clearly, the charge that Adventists teach an unfinished atonement at the cross is false. But aren't there other quotes and sources that suggest that Adventists believe the atonement was not completed on the cross? Yes. Then are we contradicting ourselves? No. Allow me to explain.


The real issue here is one of semantics. SDA theology places a wider definition on the word atonement than do other Christians. For most Christians the word atonement means the work of Christ on the cross. For Adventists, the word atonement means two things: the atonement of the cross, and the final atonement. The atonement of the cross is what Jesus did for us in offering salvation. That is complete. But the final atonement involves, among many things, the second coming of Jesus, the final destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of the New Jerusalem. Thus by final atonement, we mean that God is going to bring the entire universe into perfect harmony as it was before sin began. Since Jesus' death on the cross did not bring the universe into perfect harmony we can say that the atonement is not complete. However, when speaking of the atonement in the sense of salvation it is 100% complete. Therefore, it is not a denial of the cross to say that Jesus is doing a work of atonement in heaven. The best way to summarize the SDA understanding is this way: The sacrificial atonement was provided in full on the cross of Calvary. Nothing needs to be added to it. It was perfect. The atonement taking place in heaven is simply Christ applying the benefits of the cross to our individual lives. He is not adding to it. It is perfect and complete and when we come to him we can rest assured that everything needed for our salvation is found, not in ourselves, but in Christ. Then, at the end of time God will complete the other phase of the atonement which has nothing to do with the death of Christ, but with the complete restoration of the universe.

From:  REclaiming Adventism (A Response to the Testimony of former Adventist Eliana Matthews), edited.
John Wesley on Christian Perfection


I recently read John Wesley: A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. As a Seventh-day Adventist the doctrine of Christian perfection (not to be confused with the heresy of sinless perfectionism) is one that is near and dear to my heart. Ellen White spoke much on Christian perfection and, knowing that she was a Methodist, it was pretty cool to read about the doctrine of perfection from the man she learned it from - John Wesley. Not only did this experience help me appreciate the doctrine more but it also helped me gain a greater understanding and appreciation for Ellen Whites approach to perfection. Below are some of my favorite quotes from Wesley's book. I am sharing most them as answers to 3 basic questions: Did Wesley believe in perfection, how did he define it, and were did he stand regarding the concept of absolute, or sinless, perfectionism.




Did John Wesley believe in Christian perfection?
"Yes, we do believe that He will in this world so 'cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, the we shall perfectly love Him, and worthily magnify His holy name."
"Why should devout men be afraid of devoting all their soul, body, and substance to God? Why should those who love Christ count it a damnable error to think we may have all the mind that was in Him? We allow, we contend, that we are justified freely though the righteousness and the blood of Christ. And why are you so hot against us, because we expect likewise to be sanctified wholly through His spirit?"
"[T]his we do confess... we do expect to love God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves."
How did Wesley define perfection? 
"[R]ejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks... this is all that I mean by perfection..."
"By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God and our neighbour, ruling our tempers, words, and actions."
[Perfection] is purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God. It is the giving to God all our hearts: it is one desire and design ruling all our tempers. It is the devoting, not a part, but all our soil, body, and substance to God... it is all the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked. It is the circumcision of the heart from all filthiness, all inward as well as outward pollution it is a renewal of the heart in the whole image of God, the full likeness of him that created it... it is the loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves."
Did Wesley believe in absolute perfection? 
"Absolute perfection belongs not to man, nor to angels, but to God alone."
"Sinless perfection is a phrase I never use."
"Is [perfection] sinless? It is not worth while to contend for a term. It is 'salvation from sin.'"
"[Perfection] is perfect love. This is the essence of it..."
"I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object against it." 
My thoughts:

While Ellen White was a firm believer in the doctrine of Christian perfection, she parts ways with Wesley in two senses. The first is that Wesley maintained that we could know in this life if we had attained perfection. Ellen White never suggests that we can reach a point in our lives where we can know we are perfect. In fact she consistently taught otherwise as can be seen in the following statement:
So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained. Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience {AA 560.3}.
The second point of departure is in clarity. Wesley seems to almost beat around the bush when it comes to the concept of sinless perfection. He never explicitly taught it, but as can be seen above, he never explicitly denied it. This is made most evident in his final quote "I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object against it." Ellen White did not beat around the bush when it came to sinless perfection. She denied it consistently throughout her ministry as in the following quote:
We cannot say, “I am sinless,” till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body [the second coming]. {ST March 23, 1888, par. 13}.

Some other cool Wesley quotes:
"As a very little dust will disorder a clock, and the least sand will obscure our sight, so the least grain of sin which is upon the heart will hinder its right motion towards God." 
"[T]he devil fills whatever God does not fill."
"Indeed it has been my opinion for many years, that one great cause why men make so little improvement in the divine life is their own coldness, negligence, and unbelief."
"In the greatest temptations, a single look to Christ and the barely pronouncing His name, suffices to overcome the wicked one..." 

Note: I read this book in a Kindle so there were no page numbers. If there is a specific quote you would like to trace feel free to message me and ask for the location number if you'd like. 


Further Reading:

Never Good Enough: The Close of Probation and Sinless Perfectionism
REclaiming Adventism (A Response to the Testimony of former Adventist Eliana Matthews)

Note: This article is now available for download as a PDF eBook here.

Most of you are probably wondering why I would be sharing a video that basically denounces Seventh-day Adventism (by the way, if you haven't watched the video then stop right now and do so. Ms. Matthews testimony is crucial to grasping the issues I deal with in this article). Perhaps this is an attempt at defending my church and I am now going to embark on an apologetic vindication of Adventism. However, while I am going to clarify many things I am not interested in debating Ms. Matthews. Frankly, I am not even attempting to get her to reconsider leaving Adventism. In my opinion, her spiritual life has suffered enough in Adventism and I think it is best if she remains where she is and just follows Jesus.

Likewise, strange as it may sound, I am actually on her side. Everything stated in this video is true. Everything she was taught is true. She did not make it up or “misunderstand” the true teachings of the church. In order for her to “misunderstand” our true teachings she would first have to be exposed to them. Her summary of beliefs as stated in this video leads me to believe that Ms. Matthews never was exposed to true Adventism.

Adventism has more than one school of thought. Some of these schools of thought are actually fringe groups such as the Anti-Trinitarians, the Historic Seventh-day Adventists, the Branch Davidians/ Shepherds Rod, and the Reformed Seventh-day Adventists. Each of these groups is characterized by their separation from the mainstream SDA church and by marked differences in our theology. However, there are other schools of thought in the SDA church that are not always considered “fringe” and are found within the mainstream SDA church. These are known as the 1888er's (a nick name for those who subscribe to the theology of the 1888 Message Study Committee), the Last Generation Theology camp (the Andreasens), the Maxwellians, the Sequerians, and several others. These theological camps are alive and well within the SDA church and their influence can be felt in our academic world as well as in our churches.

While all of these groups teach wonderful truths (even the fringe groups) none of them teach true Seventh-day Adventism (although some come closer than others). In my experience I have found that of all of these camps the most influential and widespread in the mainstream church is the Last Generation Theology Camp (the Andreasens). This theological camp is one whose primary focus tend to be topics such as the human nature of Christ, perfectionism at the close of probation, victory over sin and the 144,000. It is these camps that are most common in the conservative wing of the church. Because of this, it comes as no surprise to me that Ms. Matthews could go to church school, get A’s in all of her Bible classes, and have her own pastor commend her theological knowledge while simultaneously never understanding true Adventism.


Just last summer I spoke to two young men. One raised in SDA school all of his life. The other raised in an SDA home and currently a student in an SDA university. Neither one of them understood the gospel. The one raised in SDA schools told me that heaven is attained by doing the best you can and hoping it was good enough and the other confided that he lived with a perpetual state of anxiety over whether or not he was good enough to go to heaven. It is because of this that I am not surprised by Ms. Matthew’s version of SDA theology even though she went to SDA schools all her life. Quite possibly her teachers, parents, and spiritual leaders were heavily influenced by the theological camps I mentioned above. As a matter of fact, Ms. Matthews’s description of SDA theology shows her to have been more of a Seventh-day Andreasen (more on this later) than a Seventh-day Adventist – a common phenomenon.[i]

I will not here seek to denounce these groups I have mentioned. There are wonderful, godly, loving people in each of these camps. Quite often, many of them do not experience anxiety over their salvation and many are not necessarily “legalistic.” This is often because many of them do not understand the true implications of their own theology. However, when they communicate this theology to others who carry it to its logical conclusions the damage done can be immeasurable. In his book I Used to be Perfect, Adventist historian George R. Knight tells how, after his conversion, he was approached by a zealous group of Adventists (quite possibly from one of these camps) who shared an Ellen White quote with him which he understood to mean he had to be perfect or else Jesus wouldn’t return. He made an oath to be the first perfect Christian since Christ and failed so miserably he turned his back on God for years. Martin Webber, retired SDA pastor, shares a similar story in his auto-biography My Tortured Conscience. I too share these experiences. There was a time when I feared the investigative judgment, had no assurance of salvation, and thought that I lost my salvation every time I sinned, no matter how small, until I confessed and repented. My wife Candice nearly ended up in a mental institution after reading the Ellen White book Messages to Young People through the eyes of a false gospel. So understand that as I respond to Ms. Matthew’s video I do so from a position of one who wholeheartedly understands the struggle, the pain, the anxiety, the depression, and the dark cloud of hopelessness that overwhelms you when you realize "I’m never going to be good enough." I have lived those days of anger at God for placing such “heavy burdens” on me that I couldn’t carry. Those were days of sheer exhaustion, of crushing guilt and shame and I have come within inches of leaving this church behind. Even today I must daily fight against the tendency toward legalism. There is a pharisee alive within me and only the constant reminder of the grace of God can keep him under control. So as I write, I do not do so as a theologian or as a patriotic Adventist eager to defend the “remnant church.” As I write, I do so as one who has "been there and done that."



A Bit of SDA History

When Adventism was born a large portion of North Americans were already Christians. Because of this, Adventist evangelists focused almost exclusively on the unique doctrinal teachings of the church. Since most of their audience were Christians who already understood the gospel, the gospel was left out of many Adventist discourses. Over time the church came to lose sight of the gospel completely and plunged into legalism. In 1888 the message of grace was re-introduced to Adventists. This re-introduction was supported by Ellen White but rejected by many, including some SDA leaders. In short, it was the saddest chapter in SDA history. The legalism continued. In the 1950's a series of discussions began between Adventist leaders and evangelicals who wanted to know, from the horse’s mouth, what Adventists really believed. The discussion was published in a book known as Questions on Doctrine (QOD). At this point an influential SDA theologian named M.L. Andreasen reacted against the SDA leadership (as any in his position would have done). According to Andreasen, the book Questions on Doctrine was a departure from orthodox SDA theology. Andreasen especially combated two aspects of the book, 1) how it dealt with the human nature of Christ and, 2) how it dealt with the atonement. Although Andreasen also attacked other points put forth in the book these were his main contentions. Due to lack of space and time I cannot enter into the specifics of this controversy here, but for those who would like to know more I recommend the books Questions On Doctrine Revisited! by Leroy Moore and the annotated edition of Questions on Doctrine. Suffice to say that Andreasens charges, with exception to the human nature of Christ (which I will not deal with here), were mostly misunderstandings that led to confusion (the QOD authors weren't innocent either). During this time Andreasen came to develop what would become one of the most influential theological schools of thought in Adventism - “Last Generation Theology (LGT).” So what is LGT? Here is a summary:
1. We are born with tendencies to evil.
2. We are lost because of our own choice to rebel.
3. God takes the initiative to save us. We cannot earn salvation.
4. Christ reproduces his character in us (sanctification).
5. Obedience is both a condition for salvation and an ongoing requirement of salvation.
6. Jesus came in the fallen nature of Adam and was like fallen man in every way.
7. Jesus was tempted from without and from within.
8. The atonement was not completed at the cross, it is being completed now in the investigative judgment.
9. The sanctuary cannot be cleansed until Gods people have become sinlessly perfect.
10. Jesus cannot return until we arrive at a state of sinless perfection.
11. The Last Generation will defeat Satan (he was not fully defeated on the cross) and exonerate Gods character by becoming sinlessly perfect thus proving once and for all that Gods law can be kept and that it is possible to live without sinning.
12. We must ultimately reach a point of sinless perfection in order to stand in the sight of God without an intercessor after probation closes. (for more on Last Generation Theology you can visit 
http://www.lastgenerationtheology.org)
At this point I must say that analyzing anyone's theology is a horrendous game. I have read debates between theologians who constantly accuse the opponent of misrepresenting and misunderstanding what they really teach. No doubt, as faulty humans that is a possibility. Thus, "exposing" LGT is not my main burden. My main burden is in demonstrating the differences between LGT and mainstream Adventism. In the meantime I will show how, at least in my estimation (and the estimation of numerous other SDA theologians), LGT does in fact lend itself toward legalism. While many LGT proponents attempt to reconcile LGT with the gospel by restating it in grace language at the end of the day such a theology inevitably breeds a focus on ones own performance. I once believed in LGT. While I was blessed by much of what I heard and learned there was an ever present sensation that something was missing. The best way I can explain the way I understood salvation is with the following formula.

What Jesus did + What I Do = Salvation

And of course, I would make myself feel better by adding the following element:


What Jesus did + What I Do (by Gods grace of course) = Salvation

In my blog post "Jesus Only" I shared that adding the "by his grace" element really does not make much of a difference for "[e]ither way.... [t]he basic idea remains the same: 'I must add something to what Jesus did in order to either be or remain saved.'" The only difference is that the adding is now done in his power instead of mine. However, this version of the gospel is more Catholic and Mormon than it is Adventist.

Now, please understand, not everything taught in LGT is necessarily false, but taken as a whole LGT culminates in a self-focused experience that breeds insecurity, legalism, and anxiety for many who adopt its teachings. This is the case even though LGT maintains that works are non-meritorious. Those who do not experience this seem to be the exception and not the norm. Such an experience may not be the intention of its teachers, who are sincerely longing to lead others to a closer walk with Jesus and out of the Laodecian lukewarmness so prevalent in Adventism today. However, such an experience certainly seems to be the logical outworking of this system of theology. The SDA church does not accept LGT, however, LGT seems to be the most popular lens through which the majority of conservative Adventists view the gospel. This is due to the fact that Andreasen was one of the most influential SDA theologians in the 1940's. Because Adventists already tended toward legalism his views came to be embraced by everyone who believed his claims of conspiracy among the church leadership to undermine true SDA theology. Thus, from that moment on a huge divide took place in the SDA church. Many followed Andreasen as though his teachings represented the true, orthodox, historic theology of the pioneers while others rejected his teachings. To this day, I would say that the mainstream SDA church is primarily split into two camps: 1) the Andreasens and 2) everybody else.

Ms. Matthews was an Andreasen she just didn’t know it. Indeed, a large portion of Andreasens have no idea that they are.[ii] This is partly due to Andreasens influence over conservative Adventism, partly due to other influential conservative SDA teachers perpetuating his theology (an in many instances exaggerating and or misrepresenting it), and partly due to their heavy use of select Ellen White quotes that seem to support their cause. Because many SDA’s believe whatever Ellen White believed without investigating for themselves LGT goes uncontested by many who assume the theology originated with her.



Responding to Ms. Matthews

Now that I have established a bit of background I can move forward with my response to Ms. Matthews’s video. From this point on I will numerate each of Ms. Matthews’s points and comment on them. Keep in mind that these are not all necessarily points she made verbatim but they are all points she mentioned in one way or another. I will respond by using the Bible, official SDA statements of faith, statements made by SDA theologians, the writings of Ellen White and others. While SDA theology is not built upon Ellen White but upon the Bible, she is still considered an authoritative source of truth and her theological insights will help shed much light on true Adventism. During the process I will help distinguish, whenever necessary, between true Adventism and Andreasenism. All italics are supplied for emphasis.

1. Ms. Matthews states she had no assurance of salvation.

From the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Many wrongly believe that their standing before God depends on their good or bad deeds. – 136
Through justification by faith in Christ, His righteousness is imputed to us. We are right with God because of Christ our substitute…. As repentant sinners, we experience full and complete pardon. We are reconciled with God! – 137
Justification also brings the assurance of the believer’s acceptance. It brings the joy of being reunited with God now. – 138
From Ellen White
We stand in favor before God, not because of any merit in ourselves, but because of our faith in "the Lord our righteousness" {ST 2:497}.
We may enjoy the favor of God. We are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute. Ye are accepted in the Beloved {2SM 32}.  
The soul who sees Jesus by faith, repudiates his own righteousness. He sees himself as incomplete, his repentance insufficient, his strongest faith but feebleness, his most costly sacrifice as meager, and he sinks in humility at the foot of the cross. But a voice speaks to him from the oracles of God's word. In amazement he hears the message, "Ye are complete in him." Now all is at rest in the soul. No longer must he strive to find some worthiness in himself, some meritorious deed by which to gain the favor of God {ST, 2:497; 7/04/92}.
Notes: Lack of assurance seems to be a classic symptom of LGT. Again, not every LGT proponent experiences this, but those who carry the theology to its logical conclusion do. While LGT proponents will never say that we are saved by works and would just as readily denounce legalism the experience of many in this camp proves that the theology is inherently legalistic. If this is not the case then the only other assumption I can arrive at is that the teachers of LGT are not emphasizing the righteousness of Christ enough and unwittingly pointing many of their adherents in a direction they themselves do not intend to go. 

Allow me to deal with another issue. There is one statement in which Ellen White says that Christians should "never be taught to say that they are saved." However, this is not in the context of assurance of salvation but in the context of self-confidence. Ellen White was warning that we should never come to a place in our Christian experience where we feel like we are so “saved” that we no longer need Christ. Sadly, although Andreasen himself may never have gone this far, some LGT proponents have come to believe that there will be a last generation that will essentially be holy enough to stand without the interceding, saving grace of Christ.

2. Jesus is not finished with the atonement.

From the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

On the cross the penalty for human sin was fully paid. Divine justice was satisfied. From a legal perspective the world was restored to favor with God (Rom. 5:18). The atonement, or reconciliation, was completed on the cross as foreshadowed by the sacrifices, and the penitent believer can trust in this finished work of our Lord. – 350
From the Bible
We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all – Heb.10:10
From Ellen White
[Christ] planted the cross between heaven and earth, and when the Father beheld the sacrifice of His Son, He bowed before it in recognition of its perfection. “It is enough,” He said. “The atonement is complete” {RH September 24, 1901, par. 11}.
Our great High Priest completed the sacrificial offering of Himself when He suffered without the gate. Then a perfect atonement was made for the sins of the people {7BC 913.3}.
Christ’s sacrifice in behalf of man was full and complete. The condition of the atonement had been fulfilled. The work for which He had come to this world had been accomplished {AA 29.2}.
The Lord would have His people sound in the faith—not ignorant of the great salvation so abundantly provided for them. They are not to look forward, thinking that at some future time a great work is to be done for them; for the work is now complete {1SM 394.3}.
Notes:

The idea that Jesus is not finished with the atonement is a classic Andreasen charge against QOD. This concept plays a big role in Andreasens LGT. Strangely enough, Andreasen also believed in a finished atonement at the cross. It seems that either his theology evolved to some degree during the QOD conflict or this was the time in which he fully unveiled his theological views. However, doesn’t the investigative judgment teach that Jesus is making atonement for us in heaven right now? Yes. However, the issue here is one of semantics. SDA theology places a wider definition on the word atonement than do other Christians (I wont go into that here). Therefore, it is not a denial of the cross to say that Jesus is doing a work of atonement in heaven. The best way to summarize the SDA understanding is this way: The sacrificial atonement was provided in full on the cross of Calvary. Nothing needs to be added to it. It was perfect. The atonement taking place in heaven is simply Christ applying the benefits of the cross to our individual lives. He is not adding to it. It is perfect and complete and when we come to him we can rest assured that everything needed for our salvation is found, not in ourselves, but in Christ.

3. Seventh-day Adventists' claim to be the “remnant” church is tantamount to elitism.

From the official doctrinal statement of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

Fundamental Belief #13 – Remnant and its Mission: The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
From the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
God has his children in all churches, but through the remnant church He proclaims a message that is to restore His true worship by calling His people out of the apostasy and preparing them for Christs return. - ?
From the Bible
And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. - Revelation 18:4
From Ellen White
Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. A solemn responsibility is theirs. As Christ’s messengers, we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock {6TM 78}.
The spirit has been entertained which presumes to limit the Holy One in the judicial working of His grace. In the place of coming close to those for whom the Lord has seen fit to work, men have stood apart, saying, “I am holier than thou. I cannot connect with you in religious service. Your ways and my ways do not agree” {RH January 7, 1902, Art. A, par. 17}.
It should ever be manifest that we are reformers, but not bigots. When our laborers enter a new field, they should seek to become acquainted with the pastors of the several churches in the place. Much has been lost by neglecting to do this. If our ministers show themselves friendly and sociable, and do not act as if they were ashamed of the message they bear, it will have an excellent effect, and may give these pastors and their congregations favorable impressions of the truth....
Our laborers should be very careful not to give the impression that they are wolves stealing in to get the sheep, but should let the ministers understand their position and the object of their mission—to call the attention of the people to the truths of God’s Word. There are many of these which are dear to all Christians. Here is common ground, upon which we can meet people of other denominations; and in becoming acquainted with them we should dwell mostly upon topics in which all feel an interest, and which will not lead directly and pointedly to the subjects of disagreement.—The Review and Herald, June 13, 1912 {Ev 143.5}.

From Martin Webbers article "How Adventists are blessed by other Christians".
…in the 1880s Ellen White joined forces with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a group of Protestant prohibitionists. She spoke at their rallies and even recommended that some of our best Adventist talent should work for that organization. 
In 1892, she braved much criticism from narrow-minded Adventist brethren when she entrusted her signature book, Steps to Christ, to non-Seventh-day Adventists for initial publication. Few today are aware that she contracted with Dwight Moody’s [the leading Sunday preacher of the day] brother-in-law, Fleming Revel, to print that treasured book.

Even her controversial “borrowing” from non-Adventist authors, in writing her later books, is a form of collaboration with Christians outside our denomination. The enemies of Ellen White allege plagiarism, while her friends point out that copyright standards back then were much more relaxed than they are today. Lost amid this arguing is the undeniable reality that Ellen White thought so highly of non-Adventist theologians and historians that she incorporated their insights—not just their language—into her own books. This amazing fact is highly instructive for Adventists today who wish to quarantine themselves from Christians outside our denomination…. 
If you remain unconvinced that fellow Christians have anything good to offer Seventh-day Adventists, I’ll let you borrow my scissors so you can get to work on the official SDA Hymnal. And while you’re clipping away, maybe you can explain why Ellen White collaborated with non-Seventh-day Adventists whose descendants some of us feel we must shun. www.sdaforme.com
Notes: The SDA church does not claim to be the only church in which Gods spirit dwells. It does not claim that non-SDA’s are false Christians who will not be saved. Neither does it claim that non-SDA's don't know anything as Ms. Matthews expressed. The SDA church affirms that God's people are everywhere and in every denomination. By Remnant church the SDA church teaches that it carries God's last day message to this world and that it is his visible remnant church. Some would respond saying that this is nothing but denominational arrogance, however, if that were the case then every denomination would be guilty of arrogance. While not all denominations claim to be the remnant church no denomination claims to be a false church. Because theological pluralism is un-biblical every denomination then, whether actively or passively, claims to be the true church. For the SDA church to claim actively what every other church claims passively is not arrogance, it is conviction.

In addition, SDA's affirm, support, and embrace all denominations. We read, quote, share and even sell books written by a variety of non-Adventist authors. As an SDA many of my favorite preachers are not even Adventist but evangelical (Billy Graham, Francis Chan, Greg Laurie, Kyle Idleman, Ravi Zacharias, and Louie Gigglio). While I do not agree with everything they say, I still value their authentic spirituality and wisdom. Were the SDA church a cult any outside influence, especially from theologians, would be rejected by the organization. However, the opposite is true.

The purpose of the remnant then is not to be an exclusivistic organization of elite Christians that alone comprise Gods church but to be the church which proclaims Gods special message to His people and the world in the last days. The true and final remnant will not be seen until the very end of time when decisions for or against Christ have been finalized, but the SDA church affirms that in a time of widespread apostasy within Christendom it has, as a movement and visible organization, been entrusted with the remnant message. It is the visible remnant. (Ellen White used the terms "church militant" to describe the visible remnant, and "church triumphant" to describe the invisible remnant).


Part of the QOD conflict was a conspiracy theory by Andreasen that the church leaders were purposely undermining Adventist theology in order to gain evangelical approval. Thus, a strong anti-evangelical (or anti-anything-that-is-not-Adventist) sentiment exists among many (though not all) LGT proponents. But this is not the sentiment of the mainstream SDA church.

4. We need to reach a state of sinless perfection before the close of probation when we will have to stand in the sight of God without a mediator.

There are no statements regarding this issue in the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe or in the doctrinal statements of the Seventh-day Adventist church. That is because sinless perfection before the close of probation is not a doctrine of the SDA church. However, the following statements on the topic of perfection from the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe show that the doctrine of sinless perfectionism is not compatible with true SDA theology.

How may we become perfect? The Holy Spirit brings us to the perfection of Christ. By faith, Christ’s perfect character becomes ours. People can never claim that perfection independently, as if it were their innate possession of theirs by right. Perfection is a gift of God. – 143
Apart from Christ human beings cannot obtain righteousness. – 143
In Christ these qualities constitute our perfection. He completed, once and for all, our sanctification and redemption. No one can add to what He has done. Our wedding garment, or robe of righteousness, was wrought out by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. – 143
Neither Christlike character traits nor faultless behavior is the ground of our acceptance with God. Saving righteousness comes from the one righteous Man, Jesus, and is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit. We can contribute nothing to Christ’s gift of righteousness – we can only receive it. No one other than Christ is righteous (Rom. 3:10); independent human righteousness is only filthy rags. – 146
From Ellen White
So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained. Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience {AA 560.3}.
As we have clearer views of Christ’s spotless and infinite purity, we shall feel as did Daniel, when he beheld the glory of the Lord, and said, “My comeliness was turned in me into corruption.” We cannot say, “I am sinless,” till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body. But if we constantly seek to follow Jesus, the blessed hope is ours of standing before the throne of God without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; complete in Christ, robed in his righteousness and perfection {ST March 23, 1888, par. 13}.
Every case is decided either for salvation or destruction {EW, 36}.
The destiny of all will have been decided for life or death {GC, 490}.
Notes: The last two Ellen White quotes make it clear that when probation closes those who are saved are saved and those who are lost are lost. Those who are in Christ when probation closes don’t need to worry if they will be “perfect” enough after probation because they are already saved and at this point in human history no one else can be saved or lost. It’s done. If that’s the case, then why entertain anxiety over what my behavior will be like after the close of probation? 

This close of probation sinless perfectionism is actually a classic teaching of LGT. M. L. Andreasen taught it in the chapter “The Last Generation” in his book The Sanctuary Service (although some LGT proponents take it much further then Andreasen himself did). He arrived at this conclusion by affirming two teachings that Adventism denies 1) that Jesus had a fallen nature like all the sons of Adam and 2) that the atonement was not completed at the cross. While Adventists believe that Jesus had a fallen physical nature we do not believe he had a fallen moral nature and as stated above, we believe that the atonement was finished on the cross and that the atonement taking place now is an application of the benefits of the cross – not an “improvement plan” upon the work of Calvary. While Ellen White speaks of “standing before a holy God without a mediator” after the close of probation the context shows that without a mediator or intercessor means that God will no longer intercede to restrain the wicked. Therefore, Gods people will have to live through a time when Satan has full control of the wicked human race. But this idea that after probation we need to be good enough to stand without the grace and mercy of God is heresy and certainly not Adventist theology. It is with this context in mind that Adventist lay evangelist Keavin Hayden could write,
The heresy that we must become absolutely perfect, matching the perfection of Christs character, is a soul-destroying device. It will either lead us to give up on the work of sanctification from discouragement, or cause us ultimately to deceive ourselves in believing the lie that we can become perfectly sinless in this lifetime (Surviving the Shaking p. 58).
However, it would be disingenuous to assert that Ellen White did not believe in perfection. She most certainly did as do Seventh-day Adventists. However, we must distinguish between perfection and sinless perfectionism. At first the difference seems non-existent, however, it will soon be clear where the line of demarcation lies. Perfection, according to Ellen White, is not "sinless perfectionism" but perfection in love (referred to as character perfection). This concept of perfection in love is not only scriptural (Mat. 5:48; Jas. 1:4; 1Joh. 2:5, 4:12, 4:18; Phil. 2:15; Col. 3:14 etc.) but it forms the basis of John Wesley's doctrine of perfection which influenced Ellen White (she was a Methodist). Below is a quote from Wikipedia on the doctrine of Christian perfection as taught by John Wesley:
Christian perfection, according to Wesley, is “purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God” and “the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked.” It is "loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves".[3] It is “a restoration not only to the favor, but likewise to the image of God,” our “being filled with the fullness of God.”[4] 
Wesley was clear that Christian perfection did not imply perfection of bodily health or an infallibility of judgment. It also does not mean one no longer violates the will of God, for involuntary transgressions remain. Perfected Christians remain subject to temptation, and have continued need to pray for forgiveness and holiness. It is not an absolute perfection but a perfection in love. Furthermore, Wesley did not teach a salvation by perfection, but rather says that, “Even perfect holiness is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ.”[5] 
Wesley did not use perfection to describe sinlessness. Similarly, perfection is not the state of being unable to sin, but rather the state of choosing not to sin. Wesley's perfection represents a change of life, a freedom from willful rebellion against God, impure intentions, and pride. [Rest of the article and bibliography]. - Wikipedia
Not only are Ellen White and the Seventh-day Adventist church in good company when it comes to the doctrine of Christian perfection, but Ellen Whites writings also reveal that the core of that perfection is not a self-focus on overcoming sin in order to be worthy of heaven but a complete surrender to Christ that allows his love to be perfected in us and through us.[iii] Indeed, if all of Christendom strove for that kind of perfection, the one received only by beholding Jesus and letting go of self, Christianity would have enveloped the world long ago. It is our claim of allegiance to Jesus contrasted by our perpetual state of selfishness and lovelessness that has the world mocking us. 

However, once again, while we are to strive for perfection in love and not simply claim it we must never assume that gaining that perfection is the basis for our salvation. Here is where LGT differs from Wesley, White, and the SDA church. Thus, in his book Questions on Doctrine Revisited! Leroy Moore could write,
While final generation perfection is present truth, failure to grasp its paradoxical principles creates very serious problems. Many assume they must become perfect to be saved - at least in the very end, when we must stand without an intercessor. Indeed, some think we must be perfect enough to live without the Spirit in the time of trouble. Both ideas fly in the face of the entire Scripture. Such serious misconceptions suggest a false basis for salvation (263).
And in his article "How Perfect Is "Perfect" or Is Christian Perfection Possible?" the late Adventist minister Edward Heppenstall,  could state,
Salvation by grace alone means that absolute perfection and sinlessness cannot be realized here and now. Righteousness by faith means that we look continually and exclusively to Christ; that we look away from ourselves and any hope in ourselves altogether in order to live out of Him alone. Genuine salvation directs us at once to Christ, to the only perfect life lived here on the earth, and to His redemption through the Cross. What is absolutely central is Jesus Christ. Man's victory over sin is exclusively the work of God in Christ, the continual control of the life by the Holy Spirit; that through daily union with Christ we actually participate in Christ's holy life (Biblical Research Institute, adventistbiblicalresearch.org [Click here for article]).
5. I must remember and confess every sin or else God will bring it against me in the judgment.

This is yet another doctrine not found anywhere in official SDA statements of beliefs. However the following statements from the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe show that such a belief is not compatible with true SDA theology.

Only through Jesus Christ can one experience salvation, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – 134
Through justification by faith in Christ, His righteousness is imputed to us. We are right with God because of Christ our substitute…. As repentant sinners, we experience full and complete pardon. We are reconciled with God! – 137
Justification also brings the assurance of the believer’s acceptance. It brings the joy of being reunited with God now. – 138
Even what we do in response to Christ’s saving love cannot form the basis of our acceptance with God. That acceptance is identified with the work of Christ. In bringing Christ to us, the Holy Spirit brings that acceptance. – 146
From Ellen White
The soul who sees Jesus by faith, repudiates his own righteousness. He sees himself as incomplete, his repentance insufficient, his strongest faith but feebleness, his most costly sacrifice as meager, and he sinks in humility at the foot of the cross. But a voice speaks to him from the oracles of God's word. In amazement he hears the message, "Ye are complete in him." Now all is at rest in the soul. No longer must he strive to find some worthiness in himself, some meritorious deed by which to gain the favor of God {ST, 2:497; 7/04/92}.
Notes: I cannot say with certainty that the “confess every sin or else” theology is a teaching of LGT, however, I do believe that it fits perfectly into the LGT paradigm. If I am to be perfect before probation closes and Jesus returns then I better confess and repent of all of my sins! This teaching removes Christ as savior and places me and my ability to remember and confess every known sin as the real savior. Anxiety is the result. Assurance is removed from the soul and an agonizing darkness takes over. The believer now finds no rest. The mind works to alleviate the stress and begins, almost without conscious effort, to explore the memory banks for any sin that has not been confessed. Then follows the logical conclusion to such a belief. It is called the "light switch version of the gospel" and it basically means this: Every time you sin you lose your salvation until you confess, then you get it back until you sin again and so on and so forth. It’s as if God is standing in heaven with his hand on a light switch. Every time you sin, off goes the light and when you confess, on it goes. I used to believe this teaching and as a result I developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder and experienced damage to my emotional health (thankfully the Lord has brought healing to my life although I still experience the effects from time to time. In this sense I relate to Ms. Matthews comment on "Adventist chains"). Does that sound like the fruit of the gospel of peace to you? No way. Any teaching that contradicts "Jesus only" is heresy, plain and simple.

6. If I don’t keep the Sabbath I will lose my salvation.

From the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Neither Christlike character traits nor faultless behavior is the ground of our acceptance with God. Saving righteousness comes from the one righteous Man, Jesus, and is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit. We can contribute nothing to Christ’s gift of righteousness – we can only receive it. No one other than Christ is righteous (Rom. 3:10); independent human righteousness is only filthy rags. – 146
Even what we do in response to Christ’s saving love cannot form the basis of our acceptance with God. That acceptance is identified with the work of Christ. In bringing Christ to us, the Holy Spirit brings that acceptance. – 146
From the Bible
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:21-24
From Ellen White
A legal religion has been thought quite the correct religion for this time. But it is a mistake. The rebuke of Christ to the Pharisees is applicable to those who have lost from the heart their first love. A cold, legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion… Works will not buy for us an entrance into heaven. The one great Offering that has been made is ample for all who will believe {1SM 388.1}.
Christ for our sakes became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich. And any works that man can render to God will be far less than nothingness. My requests are made acceptable only because they are laid upon Christ’s righteousness. The idea of doing anything to merit the grace of pardon is fallacy from beginning to end. “Lord, in my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” {FW 24.2}.
When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity {FW 25.3}.
You will meet with those who will say, “You are too much excited over this matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.” As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God. We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth {1888M 560.5}.
Notes: The “I must be obedient or else I will lose my salvation” is a What Jesus did + What I do = Salvation theology. While an LGT proponent would never make such a statement they most certainly believe it. When I believed in LGT I was never truly at rest. There was always something to do. However, the truth is no one has to keep the Sabbath in order to stay saved. We keep it because we are saved. We are Gods people and as such we live according to his will. If it is his will that we keep the Sabbath we do so, not out of fear of losing salvation, but out of love. As Jesus said, “if you love me keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Imagine if I told my wife that the only reason why I am faithful to her is because I am afraid she will divorce me if I’m not. Would she be happy? Not at all. I am faithful, not from fear of divorce, but because I love her. The same goes with obedience to God. It doesn’t give us any extra kudos with God but we do it because we are born again from above and have a new desire to obey God in whatever he asks us to do. That is far from legalism. Thus, in his book Surviving the Shaking Keavin Hayden could state, 
Israel had so focused on obeying the law that they missed Christ, the one whom the schoolmaster (the law) was trying to lead them to. That is why they were in such a hurry that crucifixion Friday to kill the Lord of the Sabbath. They needed to make sure they were home in time to avoid breaking the Sabbath commandment. Their observance of the law was of more importance to them than their total reliance on the substitutionary record of the only One who could keep the law perfectly in their behalf (30). 
I have no burden to argue for the validity of the Sabbath under the new covenant in this post, but suffice to say that keeping it today is no more legalistic than keeping any of the other commandments (which every Christian does with exception to the 3rd).

7. Romans and Galatians contradict Adventist theology.

From the official doctrinal statement of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example. This faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God's grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God's sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God's law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment.
From the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
God’s ministry of reconciliation reveals the futility of human endeavors to obtain salvation through works of the law. Insight into divine grace leads to the acceptance of the justifying righteousness available through faith in Christ. The gratitude of those who have experienced forgiveness makes obedience a joy; works, then, are not the ground of salvation but its fruitage. – 131
Through justification by faith in Christ, His righteousness is imputed to us. We are right with God because of Christ our substitute…. As repentant sinners, we experience full and complete pardon. We are reconciled with God! – 137
From Ellen White
If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and then 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 {FW 24.1}.
Notes: The books of Romans and Galatians are certainly in contradiction of the perfectionism inherent in LGT but they are not in contradiction to the official SDA understanding of the gospel. These books were also in contradiction of the commonly accepted view of the gospel within Adventism prior to the 1888 General Conference in which God brought the message of Christ’s righteousness back to the Adventist church. The message was rejected by many and to this day has not been fully accepted by every Seventh-day Adventist as can be witnessed by Ms. Matthews experience. However the SDA church fully embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ as did Ellen White.

8. Adventism’s sketchy history with the divinity of Christ.

From the official doctrinal statement of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created…. Forever truly God, He became also truly man, Jesus the Christ.
From Ellen White
…the life of Christ was unborrowed. No one can take this life from Him. "I lay it down of Myself." (John 10:18), He said. In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived {1SM 296}.
He is the eternal self-existent Son {Ev 615}.
But while God‘s Word speaks of the humanity of Christ when upon this earth, it also speaks decidedly regarding His pre-existence. The Word existed as a divine being, even as the eternal Son of God, in union and oneness with His Father {1SM 247}.
Christ is the pre-existent, self-existent Son of God. . . . In speaking of his pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when he was not in close fellowship with the eternal God {Ev 615}.
Notes: The above Ellen White quotes show beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was anything but silent on this topic. For Ellen White the divinity of Christ was very important and, unlike Ms. Matthews assertion, she was very clear about where she stood. What about the other pioneers that rejected the divinity of Christ? When the SDA church was born it was comprised of Christians from many different backgrounds. Some were Arians, of that there is no doubt. However, the views of SDA pioneers on the divinity of Christ is irrelevant because the church does not share their views. What about the whole “Jesus is Michael the Archangel” theology? Frankly, I have no burden to defend this concept here. If you are interested in reading why we believe this and how we can reconcile such a belief while simultaneously believing that Jesus is the uncreated, eternal God I recommend the following article I authored (footnotes and all): Who Is Michael The Archangel?

I must also add that the issue of Christ’s divinity has nothing to do with LGT or Andreasen. The LGT camp believes and teaches the eternal pre-existence of Christ as fully as does the whole of Protestantism. The only aspect of Christology in which LGT differs from the SDA church and Ellen White is in regards to the human nature of Christ.

9. Scapegoat as Satan or Jesus?

From the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

In no way can it be said that Satan atones for the sins of the believers – Chris has fully done that. - 406
From the book A Response to the Video: Seventh-day Adventism – The Spirit Behind the Church
Though the term “sin-bearer” appears in Mrs. White’s published and released writings at least 186 times, she not once said that Satan is our “sin-bearer.” She consistently taught that Christ is our “only sin-bearer.” – 125
Placing sins upon the scapegoat after the atonement is over has nothing to do with our salvation. It has everything to do with the punishment of the great rebel who has caused so much misery on planet earth. - 127
From the Bible
When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness. – Leviticus 16:20-22 [Note: Notice that the goat for Azazel is sent out after the high priest “has finished making the atonement.” In addition, the goat for Azazel is not a sacrifice. Its blood is not spilled and “without the shedding of blood there can be no atonement for sin (Heb. 9:22).” Thus, the goat for Azazel has nothing to do with forgiveness, reconciliation, pardon, or substitution.]
From Ellen White
In His intercession as our advocate, Christ needs no man’s virtue, no man’s intercession. He is the only sin-bearer, the only sin-offering. {ST June 28, 1899, par. 3}
How hard poor mortals strive to be sin-bearers for themselves and for others! but the only sin-bearer is Jesus Christ. He alone can be my substitute and sin-bearer. The forerunner of Christ exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” {RH June 9, 1896, par. 2}.
Proclaim remission of sins through Christ, the only sin-bearer, the only sin-pardoner. Proclaim the remission of sins through repentance toward God and faith in Christ, and God will ratify your testimony {10MR 290.3}.
Notes: Seventh-day Adventists do not believe that Satan has anything to do with our salvation at all. The concept of the scapegoat can be summarized in this paragraph: At the end of time Christ removes the confessed sins of his people from the sanctuary. The work of salvation is already complete. The saved are already in heaven at this time. There is no further sacrifice needed. Now Christ looks upon Satan as the one who is ultimately responsible for all of the rapes, genocides, and murders in the world and says, “I am holding you accountable for all of this.” Satan is punished under Gods judgment not only for his rebellion but for the sins that the redeemed committed. This has nothing to do with salvation. It has everything to do with closure. God will bring closure for us. He will make an utter end of sin and hold Satan ultimately responsible for it. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s just, fair, and awesome.

I must also add that the issue of scapegoat as savior has nothing to do with LGT or Andreasen. To my knowledge, there is not a single Adventist fringe group that teaches that either. It is a complete misunderstanding by critics of Adventist theology.


10. Sabbath is not the Seal. The seal is the Holy Spirit.

There is no need for me to share official SDA comments on this statement because it is well attested that we in fact do believe that the Sabbath is Gods seal. This is clear in both SDA theology and Ellen White. However, an oversimplification of this theology is what leads to the misconception Ms. Matthews shared. Therefore, allow me to elaborate:


From Ellen White:

Love is expressed in obedience, and perfect love casteth out all fear. Those who love God, have the seal of God in their foreheads, and work the works of God {LDE 221.4}.
Notes: The above Ellen White quote demonstrates that she understood the seal of God to be more than just going to church on Saturday. It has to do with having a heart that loves God supremely – a love which according to scripture is always expressed by obedience (John 14:15). So, far from receiving the seal of God due to our ability to read the calendar correctly or to keep the law well, the seal of God is given to those who love God. Thus, the seal of God must not be understood as simply a "law" issue, but as a love issue.

In addition, the seal of God as the Sabbath must be understood in its apocalyptic setting in contrast to the mark of the beast. If we separate the seal of God from that context we end up with a “you must start keeping the Sabbath to be saved” theology that does nothing but undermine the truth about Jesus only. If such a theology were true then Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley will all be lost because none of them kept the Sabbath and thus none of them received the seal of God. This is salvation by works and it is heresy. So how can we say that the seal of God is his Sabbath? Once again, this concept must be understood in its apocalyptic context.

Scripture is clear that in the final days there will be a crisis over loyalty. All of mankind will be compelled by force and threat to worship the beast but those who are faithful to God will refuse on pain of death. The faithful are described in Revelation as "those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). There are myriads of Gods faithful children today who are not honoring the Lords day of rest but are instead (though unwittingly) bowing to the authority of Papal Rome. Today there is much debate over the validity of the Sabbath. Faithful Christians find themselves on both sides of the debate. But in the final crisis there will no longer be a debate. Every person will know for sure whether or not they are following God or following the beast. Thus, it is within this apocalyptic context that Ellen White could say:
... when Sunday observance shall be enforced by law, and the world shall be enlightened concerning the obligation of the true Sabbath, then whoever shall transgress the command of God, to obey a precept which has no higher authority than that of Rome, will thereby honor popery above God {GC, 449}.
Those who would have the seal of God in their foreheads must keep the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. This is what distinguishes them from the disloyal, who have accepted a man-made institution in the place of the true Sabbath. The observance of God’s rest day is the mark of distinction between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not (Manuscript 27, 1899) {7BC 970.2}.
Understood within the apocalyptic context the seal of God poses no contradiction to Jesus Only. Those who decide to follow the beast will turn their backs on Christ and those who choose to be faithful to God will evidence their faithfulness by obedience. So the seal of God in Revelation is set against the backdrop of the mark of the beast. In the final crisis everyone will have either the mark or the seal. Unless one is willing to go as far as to develop a theology that teaches that it’s OK to be disobedient and receive the mark of the beast and still be saved then you have to come to terms with the apocalyptic seal (Note: Adventists, like Methodists and Lutherans, do not accept "once saved always saved" as a biblical doctrine). However, never make the mistake of thinking that we earn Gods apocalyptic seal and thus earn salvation. The issue here has nothing to do with faith vs works. It simply has to do with sincerity. Are we going to be faithful to God and worship him or are we going to ally ourselves with the religio-political Antichrist system of Revelation and worship it? When you dig deep it becomes obvious that the real issue is not about 7th day VS. 1st day but about who your Lord is, man or God? It’s really that simple.

Therefore, it seems to me that the only way to turn the seal of God into a legalistic doctrine is to remove it from its apocalyptic context. Once you do that, yes it very much sounds like we are sealed based on our performance instead of Gods grace. But within the apocalyptic context it becomes clear that it is primarily and issue of sincerity/loyalty not faith/works (even though it is by faith that we honor God in the midst of this conflict). 

A perfect example of this is the book of Hebrews. The book was written with one purpose in mind - to convince persecuted Christians, who were considering returning to Judaism in order to escape the persecution, to remain faithful to God. Hebrews is clear that turning your back on Jesus means forfeiting the salvation he so freely offers. Paul is encouraging the believers to be faithful to Christ because he is the only way to heaven. Judaism and its many ceremonies was worthless, Christ and his righteousness was of true value.

Likewise, in the apocalyptic context the Christian church will suffer intense persecution. The beast will offer his mark and say that anyone who receives it will escape the persecution. Since the beast is Papal Rome and his mark of authority is Sunday observance then we conclude that a Sunday law will be enforced. Those who honor it will give allegiance to Papal Rome. But those who refuse and instead honor Gods Sabbath (a sign of his creation, salvation, and redemption) will evidence their allegiance to Him and thus be sealed. Is it possible for a sincere Christian during this time to say, "Well I'm not saved by works so I'm just gonna get the mark of the beast and go to heaven anyways"? No way! Such a thought is nonsensical. 

The way I see it, the final test has nothing to do with revealing to God who his faithful ones are. He already knows. But the final test will help us see if we really love God and would be happy to spend eternity with him. God never tests us to discover something about us he doesn't know. He tests us to reveal something to us that we don't know. I think at this time many who thought they wanted to go to heaven and be with God forever will discover that they find no joy in honoring him in the midst of a temporary conflict and will thus make their decision to walk away from him forever. Again, sincerity is the issue.

However, the NT does say "do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you "were" sealed." Not "by whom you are going to be sealed." This concept, when combined with Revelation, paints a picture of a two dimensional sealing. One in the here and now. It gives us assurance of our salvation. The other is in the apocalyptic context, protects us from the plagues, and reveals to us how much we truly love God. I believe that at this time many self-confident Adventists will be surprised to discover that they don't really love God enough to risk everything for him, while many self-doubting Christians will be surprised to discover that there lies within them an unmovable love for God. To this some will ask, How can we have full assurance of salvation if there is a possibility that we will turn our backs on God in the future? To this the Bible responds:
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. - Phi. 1:6
Just keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and rest in the promise of his word.

11. Saved from sin not in sin.

This statement simply needs clarification. The way it is used does not mean that we have to become sinless to either be or remain saved. That is not its intended use. This statement simply says that we cannot be hypocrites and go to heaven. Everybody hates hypocrites. God did not die in order to spawn a movement of forgiven hypocrites. He died in order to save us from sin so that we could be new creatures in Christ Jesus. This statement simply teaches what the book of Jude teaches (and the rest of the Bible for that matter). We cannot claim Jesus and cling to cherished sin at the same time. It’s one or the other. This is not just an SDA teaching. With exception to the antinomianists this is a commonly accepted view in Protestantism. The danger of course is to assume that we must overcome sin in order to be accepted by God and then be absolutely perfect, but I have already dealt with that above. In short, sincerity is all this quote is appealing for. Below is a quotation from a non-denominational Christian website (gotquestions.org) that expresses the exact view we as a church uphold:

For the truly converted, then, continuing to live sinfully is not an option. Because our conversion resulted in a completely new nature, our desire is to no longer live in sin. Yes, we still sin, but instead of wallowing in it as we once did, we now hate it and wish to be delivered from it. The idea of “taking advantage” of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by continuing to live sinfully is unthinkable. If a person believes himself to be a Christian and still desires to live the old, sinful life, he has reason to doubt his salvation. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). [Read More]
12. Faith is a gift.

From the Bible

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. – Romans 12:3
From Ellen White
Faith that enables us to receive God’s gifts is itself a gift, of which some measure is imparted to every human being {Ed 253.4}.
Notes: It is not only faith that is a gift. Repentance is also a gift of God (Romans 2:4). Thus, Ellen White could also say:
The Bible does not teach that the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. It is the virtue that goes forth from Christ, that leads to genuine repentance {SC 26}.
The Bible also teaches that we must confess to be forgiven (1 John 11:9). However, we cannot confess unless the Holy Spirit convicts (John 16:8). With this in mind, the three conditions for salvation (faith, confession, and repentance) are all gifts from God. They do not come from within, they come from Him. We can no more repent, confess, and believe in Him than we can save ourselves. God provides everything for our salvation. The only thing he does not do is say “yes” on our behalf. This truth is also seen in the OT sanctuary which Adventists love so much. When a person sinned they had to come to the sanctuary with a sacrifice. Without the sacrifice it was pointless to come to the sanctuary. The sanctuary represents the plan of salvation yet no one was allowed to enter in unless the savior (sacrifice) was with them. This illustrates that no one can enter salvation of his own volition. God must provide every detail with the exception of a free response. Ellen White wrote:
Repentance, as well as forgiveness, is the gift of God through Christ. It is through the influence of the Holy Spirit that we are convicted of sin and feel our need of pardon. None but the contrite are forgiven; but it is the grace of God that makes the heart penitent. He is acquainted with all our weaknesses and infirmities, and He will help us {FW 38.2}.
The teaching summarized here is known in theological circles as the doctrine of previnient grace. Ellen White clearly believed in previnient grace. For her confession, repentance, and faith were all a gift of God to bring the sinner toward salvation. This is most clearly summarized in her following statement:
Separate humanity from divinity, and you can try to work out your own righteousness from now till Christ comes, and it will be nothing but a failure... All heaven is laboring to elevate the human race from the degradation of sin. All heaven is open to the inhabitants of earth... if there is a man on the face of the earth who has any inclination toward God, it is because of the many influences that are set to work to bear upon his mind and heart {FW 71, 73}.
13. Jesus only!

From the book Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, put forth by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Neither Christlike character traits nor faultless behavior is the ground of our acceptance with God. Saving righteousness comes from the one righteous Man, Jesus, and is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit. We can contribute nothing to Christ’s gift of righteousness – we can only receive it. No one other than Christ is righteous (Rom. 3:10); independent human righteousness is only filthy rags. – 146
Personal quotes of how I, as a Seventh-day Adventist, understand salvation:
...there are three popular versions of salvation. The most common is that you are saved by works. This means you have to be good and if you are good enough you are allowed into heaven. The second is that you are saved as a free gift apart from works. This means that you don’t have to do anything in order to be saved. You just have to receive the gift. The third is that you are saved by grace, but in order to stay saved you have to work. For many years I fell into the third version of salvation. However, this version is simply a baptized version of salvation by works. Even though I was saved by grace I always felt I hadn’t done enough to stay saved and that I had to do more. I had to be a vegetarian or else I would lose my salvation. I had to keep the Sabbath perfectly and be nice to people and do everything right or else I would lose the free gift of salvation. And I was miserable. But according to Paul, it’s the second version that’s the right one. We are saved by grace through faith. Period. Look at it here in Ephesians. It says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Guys, it’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did. We can’t do anything to be saved. We can’t do anything to stay saved. It’s all a gift of God. And the crazy thing is that God gives this gift to evil people, not to good people. Grace is for the sinner not the saint. [Do You Qualify For Salvation? Click here for the full article]
Adventist authors have emphasized over the years again and again that our standing in the judgment is not based on our works but Christ’s perfect work. Unfortunately many Seventh-day Adventist’s have had their faith damaged by the errors of their parents, teachers, and spiritual leaders who have taken a legalistic stance on the judgment. Leslie Hardinge, author of With Jesus In His Sanctuary tells us that “[i]n preparing for the judgment the important thing is not to think of what we have done wrong, or anything we might contribute, but on Whom we know.” And in his little book The Great Judgment Day Adventist author John L. Shuler writes: “Our only hope in the judgment is to be hid in Christ (Col. 3: 3), clothed with His righteousness. His life alone will meet the requirements of the law by which we shall be judged…. Thus through the work of Christ in our hearts… we shall be accounted worthy in the judgment….” Shuler goes on to say that “[i]f we are abiding in Jesus Christ, it is our privilege to face the judgment with perfect confidence.” [The Investigative Judgment and Righteousness by Faith, Click here for the full article and references]
Suppose you have been a faithful Christian for 40 years. You have led countless people to God, have preached over 4,000 sermons, have lived a life of exceptional obedience, and have impacted the world through your humanitarian efforts. You have placed all of your faith in Jesus. Are not a legalist. Have never been hypocritical and have a tender and loving heart like Jesus'. In short - you are a model Christian on your way to heaven. Suddenly, the strangest thing happens. Somehow Jesus ceases to exist and the cross is erased from history. What does that mean for you? Will you be able to go to God and present the last 40 years of your obedience as an argument for him to let you into heaven? The straight up answer is no. None of it will count. That's because none of that obedience played any meritorious role in your salvation. It was simply the result. Never the basis. [Jesus Only! Click here for the full article]
Satan is constantly accusing us before God day and night. His charge? You are not good enough to go to heaven. Every time you sin Satan is there to accuse you of not being good enough for the kingdom of heaven. And the only way that you and I can pass Satan's test and escape his accusations is if we were absolutely perfect. Did you catch it? Satan is the original perfectionist! The doctrine of salvation by perfection is an ancient heresy invented by the enemy of God. [Salvation According to Satan, Click here for the full article]
From Ellen White
We must not permit Satan to cast his hellish shadow athwart our pathway, and accomplish his purpose of eclipsing the bright views of our future reward. Let us not look upon his shadow of darkness. We gain heaven not through our own merits, but through the merits of Jesus Christ. We cannot find salvation in our own individual selves; we are to look unto Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith, and as we look, we live. Satan would point us to ourselves, and seek to make us feel that we must bear our own sins. How hard poor mortals strive to be sin-bearers for themselves and for others! but the only sin-bearer is Jesus Christ. He alone can be my substitute and sin-bearer. The forerunner of Christ exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Shall we not give up our sins, and let them go? Shall we not turn from them and hate them, and still remember that Christ regards his human agents as of great value? We cannot calculate the estimate placed upon the soul. Then take your eyes off yourself, and encourage hope and confidence in Christ. Let your hope not be centered in yourself, but in him who has entered within the vail. Talk of the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ {RH June 9, 1896, par. 2}.
You will meet with those who will say, “You are too much excited over this matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.” As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God. We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth {1888M 560.5}.
When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity {FW 25.3}.
A legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion. Fasting or prayer that is actuated by a self-justifying spirit is an abomination in the sight of God. The solemn assembly for worship, the round of religious ceremonies, the external humiliation, the imposing sacrifice, proclaim that the doer of these things regards himself as righteous, and as entitled to heaven; but it is all a deception. Our own works can never purchase salvation {DA 280.2}.
The fountain of the heart must be purified before the streams can become pure. He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law is attempting an impossibility. There is no safety for one who has merely a legal religion, a form of godliness. The Christian's life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature. There is a death to self and sin, and a new life altogether. This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit {DA 172.1}.

Concluding Remarks 

This is without a doubt the longest article I have ever posted on this site. I did it all on the same page because I wanted the article to be with the video. However, once again, my purpose in writing this article is not to combat Ms. Matthews. There are plenty of more sophisticated books, ministries, websites, and documentaries attacking the SDA church. I have no desire to debate with any of them and although I welcome friendly dialogue with Ms. Matthews to argue over these issues will only open the door to what I consider to be, to a large degree, a colossal waste of time. I think Ms. Matthews would agree.[iIii]

My reason for writing this is thus, not in an attempt to defend the SDA church from its critics but from its very own members – some of which are zealous for the faith we hold. I hope stories like Ms. Matthews can help us see how damaging an unbalanced presentation of the gospel can be. The painful results of adopting views that remove Christ from the center of it all haunt many current and former Adventists. To my fellow Adventists, whom I love so much, I appeal – make Christ your all. Study to show yourself approved. Let us be, as we once were, a people of the book. And yet, let us not only be a people of the book, but a people of the author as well. And whenever someone tells you anything that seems to remove Christ from his rightful place as the all sufficient savior do not believe it, no matter who it comes from, even if they have Ellen White quotes to “prove” it.

And what about Ms. Matthews? I truly hope she can someday heal from the damage we as a church caused (I still have not fully healed but it’s getting better). Not only her, but all of those whom we have been hurt with false Adventism. There is a battle ahead of all who want to reclaim Adventism from the cold grip of legalism. I truly wish Ms. Matthews would return so that she can help us fight the fight, but I also have but one desire for her: That she would love Jesus supremely, follow Him unreservedly, and enjoy her journey of faith for once. As for me, I’ll be here with the many who are fighting the fight to reclaim Adventism as a movement intended to portray the supremacy of Christ and his atoning blood unlike any other. 
This is true Adventism, and if Ms. Matthews had known it, Oh! What a difference it would have made.


How to Heal

A good question to ask is, if Adventism is beset by such division why even be a part of the church? It seems as though being an Adventist is too dramatic, too controversial, and too distracting. While other Christians enjoy a simple walk with Jesus, Adventists seem to be engaged in a perpetual and complex battle over theology. Discovering true Adventism, working through the arguments and nuances of LGT with their never ending refutations and clarifications, and weeding out the false perceptions in order to arrive at the genuine seems like too much of a hassle. Even now I can promise that many LGT proponents will attempt to refute what I have stated in this article in which case I will respond, in which case they will respond, in which case I will quote the experts, in which case they will quote the experts, in which case I will appeal to the Bible to which they will respond by doing likewise. Then we will get into Ellen White, Adventist history, and the development of Catholic and Evangelical theology. Soon we will be arguing over the Greek and Hebrew (we might even pull out a dictionary from the 1800's to see what Ellen White really meant when she used certain words). Such a scenario could go on forever and ever. LGT proponents will claim the positions taken against them are straw-man arguments, while those opposed to LGT will maintain that they are not. Countless hours will then be devoted to pouring over Andreasens writings in order to determine his exact position on certain issues. The dictionaries will be brought back out and the fight will seem to be back at square one. This is not, in my estimation, an effective avenue by which to find healing and unity. 

First of all, allow me to state that I know countless Adventists who know nothing of these debates and enjoy a simple walk with Jesus like any other Christian (I envy them). Likewise, many other protestant denominations are beset with their own theological divisions. Indeed, Christianity has been divided even from its infancy in New Testament times. Adventists are certainly not alone in such drama and it is possible to be an Adventist without ever getting involved in these debates. But in the context of Adventism, the question is "how do we heal?" Is the solution to marginalize those whose theological views we disagree with? Or is the solution to launch an all out war against one another as Andreasen did with the authors of QOD? No. Such an approach will never work. It will only foster greater division, pride, and hatred of the opposite camp. A quick glance at the history of theological division within Gods people demonstrates that debates such as these do nothing but dig each proponent deeper into their own views - a phenomenon that continues decade after decade, generation after generation, and millennium after millennium. Again, such an approach will never work.

While I will not spend much time on this issue (I will do so in the book REclaiming Adventism) I will say this: Without love we will never heal. Indeed, love is the essence of perfection. If Adventists and Andreasens would, by faith, take hold of the love of Jesus and in turn pour that love out on one another the only possible result would be healing and unity. It is our tendency to hate those we disagree with that will keep us in a constant state of brokenness. We must come to terms with our differences and unite in love. Only then can we effectively engage in dialogue that will produce good fruit. Must we wait to "love like Jesus" before we can come together for this purpose? No. If we do we will be waiting forever. But we can make the choice to love, and to keep on loving no matter what. If and when we do we can move forward in faith that God will make it all work out.

Whether you are a proponent of LGT or not, none of us want to see more Eliana Matthews leaving our church. Neither do we want to see more young Adventists living under the burden of hopelessness. On this we can unite. While I do not believe that it is logically possible to believe in LGT and the true gospel I am not willing to begin a war to marginalize the myriads of wonderful, committed  and loyal Adventists who have found LGT to be true. There must be a coming together in love and a renewed emphasis on the righteousness of Christ. Those who refuse to be a part of this healing are not our responsibility. Ellen White spoke of a shaking that would shake many out of the Adventist church. When that shaking takes place those who are impure will be removed from our fellowship. As sad as this may be, it gives me hope for the Adventist church because it assures me that the day is coming in which God will remove all those who are standing in the way of the gospel. Until then, all I can do is wait on Jesus, teach the gospel, and pray for God to reboot my own spiritual life. 

The issues are deep, the divisions are wide, and the emotions are raw. In and of ourselves we will never fix this, but there is One who is capable of doing the impossible without our help. He created man without mans help. He redeemed man without mans help. And he will ultimately restore man without mans help. While he calls for our cooperation, he does not need our help and of that I am truly thankful. So let us heed the call. Let us cooperate with the healer so that we can have our eyes opened, our leprosy cured, and our spiritual paralysis replaced by the power of the unutterable love of God.[iiiii]


Further Reading

The Pre-Advent Judgment and Righteousness by Faith


Troubling Statements of Ellen White on the Investigative Judgment

What Does It Mean to be Judged?

Ellen G. White on Legalism

John Wesley on Christian Perfection

Some Thoughts on the Human Nature of Christ

Do You Qualify for Salvation?

James VS Paul

Who Is Michael the Archangel?

Why Does God Need to Investigate?

How Adventists are Blessed by Other Christians

What Ellen White Said About Non-SDA Pastors

Salvation According to The Bible: A Greek Word Study

Are Adventists Christians?

Salvation According to Satan

Look and Live

My Understanding of Salvation

The SDA Gospel is Legalistic - Isn't It?

Troubling Statements of Ellen White [Updated]

Seventh-day Adventists and Other Christians

Why Am I an Adventist?

Another Look at Babylon (George R. Knight)

Never Good Enough: The Close of Probation and Sinless Perfectionism

Ellen Whites Clearest and Most Concise Explanation of the Gospel

Jesus Only!


Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (A Lutheran View)

Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (A Methodist View)


Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (An Adventist View)

Facing Life's Record (An Analysis of the Great Controversies Scariest Chapter)



Recommended Books

I Used to Be Perfect by George R. Knight

The Case for the Investigative Judgment by Marvin Moore

Questions on Doctrine Revisited! by Leroy Moore

The Gospel VS. Legalism by Marvin Moore

Blinded by the Light by Philip W. Dunham

Seventh-Day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine -(annotated edition)

Seventh-day Adventists Believe (put forth by the General Conference)

My Tortured Conscience by Martin Weber

Ellen White Under Fire by Jud Lake

Sin and Salvation by George R. Knight

Reading Ellen White by George R. Knight

An Endless Falling in Love by Ty Gibson

Who's Got the Truth? by Martin Weber

Faith and Works by Ellen G. White

Steps to Jesus by Ellen G. White

The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism by George R. Knight

Surviving the Shaking by Keavin Hayden

Lifestyles of the Remnant by Keavin Hayden

Never Without an Intercessor by Morris Venden

Adventist Cultures in Conflict by Leroy Moore

The Power of Humility: What to do When You Are "Right" by Leroy Moore

Videos

Does the Sabbath Still Matter?

Just As I Am Without One Plea: The Truth About the Investigative Judgment

Jesus Practical Guide to Perfection

A New Beginning

Resting in Gods Finished Work

No Hope. No Victory. (Perfection VS Perfectionism)
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[i] I do not like using the contrast Seventh-day Adventists VS. Seventh-day Andreasens because it implies that Andreasens are not true Adventists. While there are differences in our theology, such a dichotomy is still, to a certain degree, false. There are many Andreasens who are better Christians than I am and it would be nothing short of arrogance to suggest that those of the LGT persuasion are false Adventists. However, I make use of the phrase because it is imperative, for the sake of clarity, to establish the theological differences between mainstream Adventist theology and LGT. I hope none would take offence at this faulty attempt to maintain such clarity.

[ii] I am not suggesting that Andreasen was not a wonderful SDA who loved the Lord. He was certainly a faithful man whom God used in mighty ways. So when I refer to Andreasen in this article I am not referring to the man but to the theology. It is his theology I refute, not his person. In addition, I have my doubts as to whether Andreasen is fully responsible for the legalism inherent in LGT. While LGT is logically consistent with legalism I don't think that was Andreasens intention. However, later teachers of the doctrine have certainly proposed it that way and why wouldn't they? The theology logically demands it. With that said, I am not entirely uncomfortable or at enmity with LGT. I believe that much of what it teaches is true, however, if it will ever produce the results it proposes it needs to replace its heavy emphasis on victory over sin with a more balanced emphasis on both grace and power. A proper understanding of the gospel always leads a believer to feel inspired not required to change.

[iii] The following comparison of Wesley and White is not to be mistaken as saying that they both agreed on every minute point when it came to perfection. In fact, there are many aspects of Wesley's soteriology that White never promoted. This includes Wesley's belief in instantaneous perfection, the possibility of knowing one has reached a state of perfection, and his overbearing emphasis on works as noted in the published Methodist Conference minutes of 1770. For more on the differences between Wesley and White check out the article John Wesley on Christian Perfection. I also recommend John Wesley, A Biography by Stephen Tomkins

[iiii] This post serves as a skeleton for a book I am working on titled REclaiming Adventism. The book will go into more depth and offer a fuller picture of these issues, their evolution, and how we can heal. To be honest, while I want to write the book I also do not want to write it. I fear such a project would place me at the center of debates I quite honestly do not want to be a part of. I am also fully aware of the reactions I may receive from my own brethren (some of which are relatives) who are LGT proponents. However, stories like Ms. Matthews' prompt me to speak up and not be silent. As Martin Luther once said, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."

[iiiii] The following books, by Leroy Moore, are excellent resources for those seeking to foster healing within the SDA community: Adventist Cultures in Conflict and The Power of Humility: What to do When You Are "Right"

Ellen White's Clearest and Most Concise Explanation of the Gospel
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Courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate, Inc
I have, in the past, shared a variety of Ellen White quotes regarding her understanding of the gospel. Because her writings are often misused by legalists and often misquoted by both supporters and critics many have come to view her as "the scary lady of Adventism" - a Victorian prude who had an unhealthy obsession with rules. However, when one reads her broadly instead of selectively it becomes rapidly clear that she was a balanced, Christ centered, average human being whose only desire was to lift Jesus up in her life and ministry. As a Seventh-day Adventist I find it heart breaking that many of my fellow believers have successfully managed to turn a fun-loving, kindhearted, Jesus lover into what many people today consider the most legalistic protestant religious thinker to have ever lived. I guess this is why I have, on older blog posts, attempted to paint an accurate picture of Ellen White by sharing her views on the gospel. I do this, not in order to defend her against her critics but in order to defend her, in many instances, from her most zealous supporters (of which I am among). I have found that it is us, not the critics, who have done the greatest harm in this respect. So as can be imagined, I am always excited to discover Ellen White statements that help form that balanced picture that many of us have so effectively maligned.

Which brings me to the reason why I am writing this blog post in the first place. I had the privilege today of listening to Seventh-day Adventist pastor Dwight Nelson do a series of presentations on Ellen White. Toward the end of one of his presentations, pastor Nelson read an unpublished letter that Ellen White wrote to her sister Elizabeth just before she died. The letter was so breath taking that I had to listen to it twice and then share it with my wife when I got home. Each time I heard it I had to hold back the tears that wanted to flow. This personal letter from Ellen to Elizabeth constitutes what I consider to be the clearest and most concise explanation of the Gospel I have come across in any of her writings. Knowing that time was short, Ellen White wrote this letter as an appeal for her sister to accept Christ into her life. It reads:
I love to speak of Jesus Lizzy, and His matchless love. My whole soul is in this work. I have not one doubt of the love of God and His care and His mercy and His ability to save to the utmost all who come to Him. Don't you believe in Jesus Lizzy? Do you not believe He is your savior? That He has evidenced His love for you in giving His own precious life that you might be saved? Oh, I pray most earnestly that the Lord Jesus shall reveal Himself to you and Reuben [her husband]. Dear sister, it's no wonderful thing that you have to do. There is one Lizzy, who died that you might live through eternal ages. Just believe that Jesus will hear your confession, receive your repentance, and He will forgive every sin and make you and Reuben children of God. Oh, I long to take you in my arms and lay you on the bosom of Jesus Christ. With Jesus as your blessed friend Lizzy, you need not fear to die, for it will be to you like closing your eyes here and opening them in heaven. Then we shall meet never more to part.*
Wow. That's all I can say as I read this amazing letter. She never brings up the Sabbath. She never brings up vegetarianism. She never mentions the Adventist church or even demands that Lizzy believe she is a prophet. She does none of it. Instead, Ellen White says, "it's no wonderful thing that you have to do..... Just believe." I don't know about you but that doesn't sound like a legalist to me. I truly, truly pray that those of us who value and embrace the prophetic ministry of Ellen White would be faithful to present her as she really was - a Christ centered, grace focused, God loving woman who ever lived to share Jesus with the world.

Further Reading:

Troubling Statements of Ellen White

The SDA Gospel Is Legalistic - Isn't It?


Ellen G. White on Legalism



* Since this letter is unpublished at the time of writing I cannot reference it. However, if you would like to hear the letter as I heard it in pastors Dwight's presentation click here and skip forward in the presentation to 36:20. If you would like to inquire as to the letter itself you can contact the Ellen White Estate here.
Jesus Only
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/
My son is a horrible eater. He's two so nothing unique there. However, from time to time I find myself having to be very firm with him in order to get him to eat. It's lots of fun. Anyways, just the other day my son and I had one such episode. It was brekky time and he refused to eat his cereal. Frustrated, I took the toy he had and told him if he wanted the toy back he would have to eat. He ate so he got the toy back. I then told him that if he wanted to keep the toy he would have to keep eating as well. In other words, not only did he have to earn his toy by eating but he also had to earn his right to keep the toy by continuing to eat. As soon as I said this the thought hit me like a ton of bricks, What if salvation worked that way? What if God were in heaven saying, "If you want to have eternal life you had better "eat your brekky." Afraid of being lost, I commence in doing that which God said to do. As soon as I do I begin to feel better about myself because I am no longer lost. However, my peace is soon shattered by the words, "And if you want to keep your eternal life you had better keep "eating." In other words, not only do I have to earn my salvation by my obedience but I would also have to earn my right to keep this salvation by continual obedience. Is this how salvation works?[1]

Most Christians would quickly say that we don't have to earn our salvation at all because it is a gift of God. But how many of us are trying to keep our salvation by our own works? In other words, when we accept Jesus we are saved but not really. We still need to live a life of perfect obedience or else God will snatch the gift of salvation from us. The solution? Trust in Jesus for the power to live an obedient life so that you don't end up losing your salvation. The problem? It's legalism in disguise. 

This theory of salvation can be summarized in the following formula:



What Jesus did + What I do = Salvation

Some try to soften the impact of this formula by adding the following:



What Jesus did + What I do (by his grace of course) = Salvation

Either way it makes no difference. The basic idea remains the same: "I must add something to what Jesus did in order to either be or remain saved." However, scripture is unequivocal when it states that the formula for salvation is Jesus Only. No obedience necessary to either be saved or to remain saved.[2] Why not? Because Jesus' perfect obedience is credited to those who believe in him and there is no need to improve on it. After all, it is perfect.


It is at this point that some well meaning Christians object with the following arguments: "There is no such thing as 'Once saved always saved!'" and "Obedience is still required of the believer." To such I would say, yes and yes. The Bible doesn't teach once saved always saved and it is all for obedience. But doesn't that imply a "Jesus + Me" theology? Not necessarily. First of all, obedience is the inevitable result of salvation. It doesn't form the basis for salvation in any way shape or form but it is the natural fruit of being saved. And we are not "once saved always saved" because even though God is not measuring our performance to determine whether or not we are worthy of retaining the gift of salvation we are ever free to walk away if we so choose. In other words, when a person loses their salvation it is not because God gave them the boot, it is because they themselves chose to walk away from Jesus. But when we respond to the invitation of Jesus salvation is ours and there is no need to perform good enough to keep the gift. Its ours period. Our obedience is simply the result, or the aftermath, of coming face to face with the savior. So while obedience is inevitable for the believer it adds nothing to the finished work of Calvary. 


Think of it this way: 

Suppose you have been a faithful Christian for 40 years. You have led countless people to God, have preached over 4,000 sermons, have lived a life of exceptional obedience, and have impacted the world through your humanitarian efforts. You have placed all of your faith in Jesus. Are not a legalist. Have never been hypocritical and have a tender and loving heart like Jesus'. In short - you are a model Christian on your way to heaven. Suddenly, the strangest thing happens. Somehow Jesus ceases to exist and the cross is erased from history. What does that mean for you? Will you be able to go to God and present the last 40 years of your obedience as an argument for him to let you into heaven? The straight up answer is no. None of it will count. That's because none of that obedience played any meritorious role in your salvation. It was simply the result. Never the basis.
With that said, you don't have to stop smoking to be saved. You don't even have to stop stealing to be saved. If we could stop our sinful behavior on our own, what in the world do we need salvation for? And while we may, in fact, be capable of modifying our behavior on the outside we are still rotten on the inside. It is precisely because we are sinners without hope that we need salvation. And once you are saved, you don't have to stay away from cigarettes in order to keep your salvation. You don't even have to refrain from stealing to remain saved. And in the context of Adventism, you don't have to keep the Sabbath to either be or stay saved. But watch out, because when you experience salvation you will change. Or better said, God will change you.[3] Obedience will become your new desire. This does not mean that obedience will always come naturally or easily. There is certainly a fight to be fought especially when we are dealing with addictions, however, so long as we hang on to Jesus by faith we will be brought into harmony with Gods will. You will stay away from the cigarettes, not because you need to earn the right to keep your salvation, but because you already have salvation and it now your joy to obey. Christians don't keep the law to be saved but because they are saved. So yes, the saved still obey, but as Jesus said, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching" (John 14:15) - a teaching that highlighted love for God and one another as the highest aim of spirituality. It is our love for him that will inspire this new life of obedience not fear of hell. Salvation is not a light switch that gets flipped on and off every time you make a mistake. It is the gift of a God whom works "in and through us to do according to his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

As SDA pioneer Ellen White once wrote:
When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity (Faith and Works, p. 25 emphasis mine).
__________________ 

[1] Some may argue that Ellen White taught that we must earn the right to remain justified by continual obedience. The following quotation seems to support this idea:
in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul. {FW 100.1}
However, such a position presents a serious problem. In the same exact book Ellen White also stated that, "many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity." Therefore, it would be strange to suggest that Ellen White taught the we cannot add to what Jesus has already done and then taught that we must add to what Jesus has done by continual obedience. Such a position is self contradictory.

In order to properly understand Ellen Whites statement we must realize that truth is by nature paradoxical. The paradox of grace and works can be seen in reading the book of Romans and the book of James. As a matter of fact, the "continual obedience" statement above is written with the epistle of James in mind, for the very next paragraph quotes, 
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:21-24).
So what are we to do with such statements that seem to show that salvation is not only by faith in Jesus but by faith plus works? Such a belief would immediately rob one of the assurance of salvation because one would begin to wonder if enough high-quality obedience has been achieved in order to be saved at last. In addition, the joy of obedience would quickly fade because obedience is now no longer the fruit of salvation, but to some degree, its basis.

The problem is quickly solved when we discover that James is addressing the idea that one can be saved, not by faith alone apart from works, but by faith alone that does not work. James exposes this heresy by stating that true faith always results in works. While those works are not meritorious they are the inevitable fruit of salvation. Likewise, Ellen White states that "there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul." Notice that the continual obedience is not by effort, but by living faith. And it is not by living faith and works but by living faith that works. Ellen White presents no problem here to "Jesus only" and is in fact, simply repeating the message of the book of James. Seventh-day Adventist lay evangelist Keavin Hayden put it well when he wrote,
...sanctification contributes no merit toward saving righteousness (that's what justification does). Thus our cooperative works cannot save us. Nevertheless, without cooperation in the sanctification process Christ cannot possibly justify us before the universe. Our unwillingness to cooperate with God by seeking to bring our lives in harmony with the principles of his law demonstrates the fact that we are still in a state of rebellion against Him. Professed faith without a corresponding respect for God's law is only presumption (Surviving the Shaking p. 50).
The apparent contradiction then is that in my article I am addressing something much different than Ellen White. In my article I am addressing the belief that faith in Jesus is not enough and I must constantly strive to obey more in order to remain saved. One of the problems with such a belief is that obedience is no longer a joy but a burden. One no longer obeys out of love but out of self-preservation. This belief also makes assurance of salvation impossible even though John  said, "Whoever has the son has life" (1 John 5:12) not "whoever has the son plus works has life". Thus, I maintain that salvation is Jesus only. No extra ingredients. Just him. However, both James and Ellen White are addressing the heresy that faith in Jesus frees one to live in continued disobedience and lack of spiritual growth and that it is OK because one "believes" in Jesus. To such a belief I too would say that unless you see the fruit of salvation in your life (love, joy, peace, self-control) then you cannot continue to assume that you are eternally secure. We are not saved by faith and works, but we are certainly saved by a faith that works. An absence of works (which in the context of James is works of love) is evidence of one of two things 1) the absence of a true conversion or 2) the absence of abiding in Christ (backsliding, apostasy etc.) which can result in a forfeiture of the righteousness of Christ. It is in this context that Ellen White could say,
But while God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, no man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ’s righteousness while practicing known sins or neglecting known duties. God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul {FW 100.1}.
And yet also say,
When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity {FW 25}.
and elsewhere,
Perfection through our own good works we can never attain. The soul who sees Jesus by faith, repudiates his own righteousness. He sees himself as incomplete, his repentance insufficient, his strongest faith but feebleness, his most costly sacrifice as meager, and he sinks in humility at the foot of the cross. But a voice speaks to him from the oracles of God's word. In amazement he hears the message, "Ye are complete in him." Now all is at rest in the soul. No longer must he strive to find some worthiness in himself, some meritorious deed by which to gain the favor of God {ST, 2:497; 7/04/92, emphasis mine}.
Billy Graham summed it up well when he said,
It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil's lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you. - Christianity Today
[2] The word obedience in this statement does not refer to complying with the conditions for salvation (repentance, confession, faith) but to the idea that once we have received salvation extra obedience (of the 10 commandments, health laws, or any other laws) is necessary to earn the right to remain saved.

[3] Some would argue that this belief can open the flood gates of sin by making it seem that it is OK for a Christian to smoke or break the Sabbath and still go to heaven. However, notice what is being said and what is not being said. I am not saying that it is OK to do these things and still go to heaven. A Christian who continues to live in active, habitual sin is still in rebellion against God and thus has reason to doubt if he has truly been saved. However, what I am saying is that a true Christian does not abstain from sin out of fear of hell but out of love for God. Abstaining from sin is a result of grace and so long as the saved continue to abide in Christ by faith in him (which results in cooperation with Gods will) then they have nothing to fear. The above end-note already clarified these issues.