The Case for Last Generation Theology, Part 6: Is Sinless Obedience Possible?

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The Case for Last Generation Theology, Part 6: Is Sinless Obedience Possible?

The heart of the continuing Adventist salvation controversy concerns the question of whether character perfection, sinless living—phrases held by Last Generation Theology to mean the same thing—is possible for believers through heaven’s power here on earth.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: How to Conquer Sin through Jesus

This installment of our series will examine the evidence from Scripture and the writings of Ellen White which addresses this all-important question. But before we begin, some important points should be clarified. When we use such words and phrases as “sinless,” “sinlessness,” “sinless living,” “sinless obedience,” and “sinless perfection,” the following disclaimers apply:

 

  1. We do not mean that those who through God’s power have achieved this level of victory prior to probation’s close have never sinned at any point during their past lives. The Bible is clear that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).[1] The word “sinless” as used by proponents of Last Generation Theology does not, therefore, refer to people who have never fallen prior to experiencing the total cleansing from sin promised by the inspired pen.
  2. When we speak of “sinless,” we do not refer to the destruction of the Christian’s inherited fallen nature prior to the second coming of Christ. This series has repeatedly affirmed the teaching of the inspired writings that this fallen nature remains with the Christian until Jesus returns.[2] However—as this series has also repeatedly noted—a principal contention of Last Generation Theology, based on Scripture and the writings of Ellen White, is that the promptings and urges of the fallen nature do not constitute sin unless cherished by the will.[3]
  3. Sinless obedience, as described here, does not refer to extreme practices which some might call a “holy monk on the mountaintop” experience. Austere, man-made rules have unfortunately marred the pursuit of holiness by some Christians, including some Seventh-day Adventists. The Bible/Spirit of Prophecy teaching of sinless perfection described in this series neither embraces nor condones such conduct.
  4. Sinless perfection, as anticipated by the inspired writings for the earthly believer, does not refer to a state in which no errors in judgment (such as the wrongful assessment of a situation or proposed course of action) or mental miscalculations (as in mathematics) are made. All sins are mistakes, but not all mistakes are sins.
  5. As our study will show, the Christian who by God’s grace achieves sinless conduct here on earth will not be aware of this achievement when it happens. Anyone purporting to have achieved sinlessness in thought, word, or deed is making a claim both presumptuous and forbidden so far as the Word of God is concerned. While every Christian can know when and if their lives have made progress in the struggle against sin, only God knows when the expulsion of sin from the life is complete. The Bible says of God, “Thou, even Thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men” (1Kings 8:39). Thus, only He can declare, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Perfection in the Human Sphere

 

Put simply, such words and phrases as “sinless,” “sinlessness,” “sinless living,” “sinless obedience,” and “sinless perfection” refer to the removal from the Christian life—through God’s power—of all sinful choices, whether in thought, word, or deed. Nothing more. And when this conquest of sin is total, God alone will know, as He alone knows the heart.

 

Matthew 5:48 and Biblical Perfection

 

Often central to the perfection controversy in modern Adventism has been the meaning of Matthew 5:48, where our Lord declares,

 

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

 

Many Seventh-day Adventists in recent times have alleged that this verse is describing, not sinless obedience, but rather—in the words of one contemporary author—“a relative state of growing maturity.”[4]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: What Jesus said about Perfection

 

But let’s stop and think about that. Jesus is saying in this verse, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” We need to ask, Is God the Father absolutely sinless, or is He experiencing a “relative state of growing maturity”? There is no way this verse makes sense if it is understood as referring to relative maturity. Or even to love, as some have alleged.

 

Can any created being be as spiritually mature as God the Father? Or as loving?  Not even the sinless angels can do that! Even they have had to grow in their understanding as the great controversy has unfolded. Ellen White describes how these perfectly sinless beings lacked clarity in their perception of Satan and his purposes, a lack remedied by the events of Calvary:

 

By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he (Satan) had uprooted himself from the sympathies of the heavenly beings. . . . The last link of sympathy between Satan and the heavenly world was broken.[5]

 

In the latter act (murder), Satan uprooted himself from the affection of the loyal universe. In the death of the Son of God the deceiver was unmasked.[6]

 

Here we see unfallen, sinless beings, who according to Ellen White, know nothing of grace or the need for pardon,[7] nevertheless falling short in their awareness of the depth and destructive quality of sin. One finds it difficult to harmonize these statements with a view of the law’s requirements which leaves no room for any kind of omission or less-than-perfect perception. These statements also help us understand how Ellen White can write as follows regarding the time of trouble and God’s end-time people:

 

The time of trouble is the crucible that is to bring out Christlike characters. It is designed to lead the people of God to renounce Satan and his temptations. The last conflict will reveal Satan to them in his true character, that of a cruel tyrant, and it will do for them what nothing else could do, uproot him entirely from their affections.[8]

 

Some have tried to use this statement as proof that the saints during the time of trouble haven’t yet stopped sinning. But if in fact the sinless angels still needed to have Satan uprooted from their affections because of their lack of understanding as to the depth of evil his rebellion would bring, the need for a similar uprooting in the minds of the Last Generation saints hardly proves they are still falling short of God’s law. We will address in greater depth the experience of the Last Generation saints in our next article.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: When Can We Claim Sinless Perfection?

 

In short, only the Godhead possesses absolute perfection. Not even the unfallen, created inhabitants of the universe, who are certainly absolutely sinless, can be said to possess absolute perfection. This is why it is a mistake to equate absolute perfection with absolute sinlessness. Only the Godhead has made the ultimate sacrifice for human salvation, something no angel or other unfallen creature—however sinless—could possibly have done. No created being can be as absolutely perfect as our heavenly Father. But it would not be correct to say that no created being can be as sinless as God the Father, as indeed the entire citizenship of the universe (aside from this rebel planet) is in fact as sinless as the God they worship.

 

In light of the above, sinless obedience is the only sensible explanation for the perfection enjoined in Matthew 5:48. No created being, however sinless, can match the God of heaven in love or maturity. But they can, in fact, be as free from sin as He is.

 

Some have alleged that the word “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is merely a synonym for “merciful,” since the verse that parallels this one in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount reads, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36). But as with other variations in the Gospel accounts, it is important to place these statements alongside one another and accept their collective testimony. To be merciful is certainly one, very crucial aspect of Biblical perfection. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. If we consider the totality of Biblical and Spirit of Prophecy evidence, we are constrained to acknowledge that Matthew 5:48 inculcates a far more comprehensive vision for the characters of converted Christians than simply the exercise of God’s mercy.

 

It is true there are times in Scripture when the word translated “perfect” does not refer to sinless obedience, though at other times—as in the following verses—it clearly does:

 

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. . . .

And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? (Job 1:1,8).

 

This equating of Job’s perfection with sinless obedience is demonstrated further in passages to come, in which—despite the trials brought upon him—it is declared that Job “sinned not” (Job 1:22; 2:10).

 

Regarding Lucifer, the book of Ezekiel declares:

 

Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee (Eze. 28:15).

 

But those holding to the anti-perfection theology in Adventism spend far too much time belaboring the word “perfect” and its various meanings. One word does not a doctrine make—or unmake. Let us remember again that in the inspired writings, “Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea.”[9] One must examine all the Biblical passages which describe God’s ultimate expectations of His people in order to understand whether or not sinless obedience is, in fact, God’s requirement for earthly believers.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: On Being Perfect

 

Some have used the example of Noah as proof that “perfect” in the Bible refers to less-than-sinless obedience. Scripture declares of Noah before the Flood that he was “a just man and perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:9; see also 7:1). Yet in a later chapter, we encounter the tragic episode of Noah’s drunkenness (Gen. 9:21-24). The problem with the anti-perfection argument, in this case, is that it fails to consider the moment-by-moment nature of the believer’s walk with God. Peter’s walking on the waves of Galilee illustrates how a single glance away from the Source of power can interrupt the Christian’s performance of what would otherwise be impossible. The Bible doesn’t say how long after the Flood Noah’s lapse occurred, but in all likelihood, it was sometime later—time enough to grow a vineyard, for grapes to ripen and ferment, etc. Speaking of the Christian’s need for constant connection with God, Ellen White declares:

 

We may leave off many bad habits, for the time we may part company with Satan; but without a vital connection with God, through the surrender of ourselves to Him moment by moment, we shall be overcome.[10]

 

The same principle applies to the use of the word “blameless” in such passages as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and 2 Peter 3:14. Some have alleged that because Zacharias and Elisabeth are described as blameless in Luke 1:6—this despite Zacharias’ subsequent lack of faith in the promised birth of John the Baptist (verses 18-20)—that therefore “blameless” is not the same as sinless. But again, the believer’s relationship with God is maintained moment by moment, tested at higher and still higher levels as greater tests are endured.[11] Like Noah, Zacharias is not described in the Sacred Word as blameless at the time of his recorded failure.

 

Another such example cited in this regard is Judah’s King Asa, of whom it is stated in Scripture that his heart “was perfect with the Lord all his days” (1Kings 15:14; see also 2 Chron. 15:17).  Yet in the latter part of his reign we read of the following incidents:

 

And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the Lord thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand.

Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen? yet, because thou didst rely on the Lord, He delivered them into thine hand.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.

Then Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people the same time. . . .

And Asa in the thirtieth and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians (2 Chron. 16:7-10,12).

 

The above passage is clear that divine power came to Asa’s rescue earlier in his reign because his heart was perfect with God (verse 9). The clear implication of the subsequent verses is that Asa’s heart was no longer in this condition, else God would have come to his aid again. Why, then, does Scripture later claim Asa’s heart was perfect “all his days” (1Kings 15:14; 2 Chron. 15:17)? For the same reason, we read in another passage of “My servant David, who kept My commandments, and who followed Me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in Mine eyes” (1Kings 14:8). We can only conclude that, as with David, Asa confessed and forsook his sins before he died, thus fulfilling the Biblical conditions of repentance and pardon (2 Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7), and was thus regarded of God—in the words of Ellen White—“just as if [he] had not sinned.”[12]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Historical Considerations of Sin and Human Nature

 

The same principle applies to Sarah, who is described in 1 Peter 3 as among the “holy women” who showed proper submission to their husbands (verses 5-6). Some may recall Sarah’s lack of faith, comparable to that of Zacharias, regarding her ability to bear a child in old age (Gen. 18:12-15). But again, when sin is confessed and forsaken and true repentance experienced, God counts such persons as holy.

 

Let us remember also that the promise regarding God’s people at the coming of Christ not only describes them as blameless but “without spot” as well (2 Peter 3:14). This is language identical to that used by Peter for Christ Himself, depicted by Peter as “a Lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). In 2 Peter 3:14, he urges his readers to be diligent that they are found by their Lord in the same condition. The wording used here is unambiguous and not at all relative.

 

One is led totally outside the message of Scripture to imply that either David or Asa could not have avoided—even through heaven’s power—the sins into which they fell. David himself makes clear the possibilities awaiting the faithful believer:

 

Stand in awe, and sin not (Psalm 4:4).

 

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and that seek Him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways. . . .Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee (Psalm 119:1-3,11).

 

In sum, Ellen White stands on firm Biblical ground when she identifies the perfection commanded by Jesus in Matthew 5:48 as sinless obedience:

 

God’s ideal for His children is higher than the highest human thought can reach. ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ This command is a promise. The plan of salvation contemplates our complete recovery from the power of Satan. Christ always separates the contrite soul from sin. He came to destroy the works of the devil, and He has made provision that the Holy Spirit shall be imparted to every repentant soul, to keep him from sinning.

The temper’s agency is not to be accounted an excuse for one wrong act. Satan is jubilant when he hears the professed followers of Christ making excuses for their deformity of character. It is these excuses that lead to sin. There is no excuse for sinning. A holy temper, a Christlike life, is accessible to every repenting, believing child of God.[13]

 

[Commenting on Matt. 5:48] The conditions of eternal life, under grace, are just what they were in Eden,–perfect righteousness, harmony with God, perfect conformity to the principles of His law. The standard of character presented in the Old Testament is the same that is presented in the New Testament. This standard is not one to which we cannot attain. In every command or injunction God gives there is a promise, the most positive, underlying the command. God has made provision that we may become like unto Him, and He will accomplish this for all who do not interpose a perverse will and thus frustrate His grace.[14]

 

[From an article commenting on Matt. 5:48, titled, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect.”] Under the discipline of the greatest Teacher the world has ever known, Christians must move onward and upward toward perfection. This is God’s command, and no one should say, I can not do it. He should say instead, God requires me to be perfect, and He will give me strength to overcome all that stands in the way of perfection. . . .

The world has set up a standard to suit the inclinations of unsanctified hearts, but this is not the standard for those who love Christ. The Redeemer has chosen them out of the world, and has left them His sinless life as a standard.[15]

 

The following verse makes it clear that Paul understood Christian perfection as referring to the total expulsion of evil from the life:

 

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).

 

“All filthiness of the flesh and spirit” sounds quite comprehensive to me. It doesn’t sound relative.

 

The Bible on Sinless Obedience

 

A popular theory in the perfection debate in contemporary Adventism is that the doctrine of sinless obedience in this life is based primarily on Ellen White rather than the Bible. We have seen a number of Bible verses already which, to the contrary, demonstrate that the possibility of such obedience this side of eternity is very much a Biblical teaching. Following are a number of passages, some of which we have considered already, which offer evidence in this regard:

 

Stand in awe, and sin not; commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still (Psalm 4:4).

 

Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it (Psalm 34:13-14).

 

Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore (Psalm 37:27).

 

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and that seek Him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways. . . . Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee (Psalm 119:1-3,11)

 

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

 

Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more (John 8:11).

 

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14).

 

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).

 

Awake to righteousness, and sin not (1 Cor. 15:34).

 

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).

 

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

 

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it. That He might sanctify and cleanse it through the washing of water by the Word. That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27; see also Song of Sol. 4:7).

 

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Phil. 4:13).

 

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23).

 

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19).

 

For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps. Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (1 Peter 2:21-22).

 

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin (1 Peter 4:1).

 

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, in the which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? . . . Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless (2 Peter 3:10-12,14).

 

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. . . . If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7,9).

 

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure. . . Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous (1 John 3:2-3,7).

 

Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory, with exceeding joy (Jude 24).

 

To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne (Rev. 3:21).

 

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

 

When we consider the above passages, we confront the remarkable reality that regardless of how controversial this issue may be in certain circles of contemporary Adventism, there are in fact more Bible verses which speak of the possibility of sinless living through God’s power here on earth than verses which uphold the binding claims of the seventh-day Sabbath!

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Sanctuary and the Blotting Out of Sins

 

Moreover, when we look at the above verses, it becomes clear—as we noted earlier—that the attempt of certain ones to muddy the meaning of the word “perfect” doesn’t come close to impeaching the decisive Biblical evidence for the possibility of sinless living through God’s power by the earthly believer.

 

Equally clear, we might add, is the case for Ellen White being a plagiarist. If she is to be accused of teaching the doctrine of sinless obedience here and now, it would seem she copied it—straight out of the Bible! If you have any doubt, keep reading.

 

Ellen White on Sinless Obedience

 

We have already seen evidence that Ellen White echoes the summons of Holy Scripture to sinless obedience through imparted divine strength. Below is further such evidence, too plain to be misunderstood:

In our world, are to remember the way in which Christ worked. He made the world. He made man. Then He came in person to the world to show its inhabitants how to live sinless lives.[16]

 

Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘Casting down imaginations, and every high think that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.’ When you come into this position, the work of consecration will be better understood by you both. Your thoughts will be pure, chaste, and elevated, your actions pure and sinless.[17]

 

To everyone who surrenders fully to God is given the privilege of living without sin, in obedience to the law of heaven.[18]

 

But it is God’s purpose that man shall stand before Him upright and noble; and God will not be defeated by Satan. He sent His Son to this world to bear the death penalty of man’s transgression, and to show man how to live a sinless life. There is no other way in which man can be saved. ‘Without Me,’ Christ says, ‘ye can do nothing.’ Through Him, and Him alone, can the natural heart be changed, the affections transformed, the affections set flowing heavenward. Christ alone can give life to the soul dead in trespasses and sins.[19]

 

Thus He (Christ) placed us on vantage ground, where we could live pure, sinless lives. Repentant sinners stand before God justified and accepted, because the Innocent One has borne their guilt. The undeserving are made deserving, because in their behalf the Deserving became the undeserving.[20]

 

Christ bore the sins of the whole world. He was the second Adam. Taking upon Himself human nature, He passed over the ground where Adam stumbled and fell. Having taken humanity, He has an intense interest in human beings. He felt keenly the sinfulness, the shame, of sin. He is our Elder Brother. He came to prove that human beings can, through the power of God, live sinless lives.[21]

 

The Saviour is wounded afresh and put to open shame when His people pay no heed to His word. He came to this world and lived a sinless life, that in His power His people might also live lives of sinlessness. He desire them by practicing the principles of truth to show to the world that God’s grace has power to sanctify the heart.[22]

 

In the day of judgment the course of the man who has retained the frailty and imperfection of humanity will not be vindicated. For him there will be no place in heaven. He could not enjoy the perfection of the saints in light. He who has not sufficient faith in Christ to believe that He can keep him from sinning, has not the faith that will give him an entrance into the kingdom of God.[23]

 

Christ is ready to set us free from sin; but He does not force the will; and if by persistent transgression the will itself is wholly bent on evil, and we do not desire to be set free, if we will not accept His grace, what more can He do?[24]

 

The religion of Christ means more than the forgiveness of sin; it means taking away our sins, and filling the vacuum with the graces of the Holy Spirit. It means divine illumination, rejoicing in God. It means a heart emptied of self, and blessed with the abiding presence of Christ. When Christ reigns in the soul, there is purity, freedom from sin.[25]

 

To be redeemed means to cease from sin. . . . Christ says, ‘Blessed are they that do His commandments.’ The heavenly benediction is pronounced upon those who keep the law. ‘They shall have right to the tree of life,’ the Saviour declares, ‘and shall enter in through the gates into the city. We must decide for ourselves whether or not these words will be spoken to us. A right decision will be revealed by action in harmony with the law of God. But we can not possibly keep the commandments without the help of Christ. He alone can save us, by cleansing us from all sin.[26]

 

In His life He (Christ) has given us a representation of what repentant sinners may become. He was pure and undefiled. From His lips escaped no word that could leave a stain upon His character. All through the Scriptures He has given us assurances that through His grace we may attain the same perfection of character that He attained.[27]

 

Notice how the last of the above statements speak of this perfection-of-character teaching being taught by Jesus “all through the Scriptures.” We have seen much of this Scriptural evidence already.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Ellen White on Perfection and the Last Generation

 

In light of the above, it truly is amazing why there is still controversy over what exactly Ellen White teaches on this subject. One recalls the statement made by North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin during the U.S. Senate Watergate hearings of 1973. When John Ehrlichman, aide to then-President Richard Nixon, asked why the Senator was so dogmatic in his interpretation of a certain federal statute, Ervin replied, “Because I can understand the English language. It’s my mother tongue.”[28]

 

Perfection and Salvation

 

A recent critic of Last Generation Theology has written:

 

To be sure, God calls us to be holy, but our process of character perfection is (1) constant and never complete while in this corrupted body, and (2) a result of salvation, not a cause of it.[29]

 

But certainly, the statements we have listed from both the Bible and Ellen White should be clear that the sinless obedience described as possible for the believer is to occur here on earth, while we still have our corrupted bodies, not merely when we get to heaven. In our next article, we will see how the Bible teaches that the saints who meet Christ when He comes are to be “found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14), that “every man that hath this hope (of Jesus’ coming) in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Justification, Perfection and the Real Gospel

 

Notice that the saints are found in this spotless condition when Jesus comes; they don’t become spotless at that moment. Notice also that they purify themselves as Christ is pure while they still possess the hope of His coming—that is, before He actually appears, when it won’t be a hope anymore, but a reality. Ellen White echoes these verses when she insists that the removal of sin from the lives of God’s people must occur entirely within probationary time:

 

When He comes, He is not to cleanse us of our sins, to remove from us the defects in our characters, or to cure us of the infirmities of our tempers and dispositions. If wrought for us at all, this work will be accomplished before that time. When the Lord comes, those who are holy will be holy still. . . . The Refiner does not then sit to pursue His refining process and remove their sins and their corruption. This is all to be done in these hours of probation.[30]

 

A leading scholar in the church has lately found fault with Last Generation Theology for teaching that “without perfect obedience, there cannot be salvation.”[31] But we must remember what in fact the Bible means when it speaks of salvation. The first reference to salvation in the New Testament reads,

 

Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins (Matthew. 1:21).

 

Elsewhere in the New Testament, as we have seen already in this series, it is clear that sanctification and the Spirit’s inward work are a part of the means of this salvation, not merely its result:

 

God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (2 Thess.. 2:13).

 

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5).

 

It is equally clear from the Bible that sanctification will be perfect in this life:

 

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23).

 

The following Ellen White statements affirm the teaching of the above Bible verses that our sanctification is, in fact, to be perfect in this life:

 

What is sanctification? It is to give one’s self wholly and without reserve—soul, body, and spirit—to God; to deal justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God; to know and to do the will of God without regard to self or self-interest; to be heavenly minded, pure, unselfish, holy, and without spot or stain.[32]

 

True sanctification is nothing more or less than to love God with all the heart, to walk in His commandments and ordinances blameless. Sanctification is not an emotion, but a heaven-born principle that brings all the passions and desires under the control of the Spirit of God; and this work is done through our Lord and Savior.[33]

 

True sanctification consists in the cheerful performance of daily duties in perfect obedience to the will of God.[34]

 

Ellen White is also clear, as our series has already noted, that both imputed and transforming righteousness are the ground of our hope of salvation:

 

Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.[35]

 

Elsewhere we read:

 

The world is seeking for those things that perish with the using; its diligence and activity are not exerted to obtain the salvation gained through the imparted righteousness of Christ.[36]

 

We are saved by climbing round after round of the ladder, looking to Christ, clinging to Christ, mounting step by step to the height of Christ, so that He is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly-kindness, and charity are the rounds of this ladder.[37]

 

Thank God, He attends us every step of the way through, if we are willing to be saved in Christ’s appointed way, through obedience to His requirements.[38]

 

The following statements clarify just how perfect this obedience must be as a condition of our salvation:

 

Before the believer is held out the wonderful possibility of being like Christ, obedient to all the principles of the law. But of himself man is utterly unable to reach this condition. The holiness that God’s word declares he must have before he can be saved is the result of the working of divine grace as he bows in submission to the discipline and restraining influences of the Spirit of truth.[39]

 

So perfect is the character represented which men must have in order to be Christ’s disciples that the infidel has said that it is not possible for any human being to attain unto it. But no less a standard must be presented by all who claim to be children of God. Infidels know not that celestial aid is provided for all who seek for it by faith.[40]

 

He [God] sent His Son to this world to bear the death penalty of man’s transgression, and to show man how to live a sinless life. There is no other way in which he can be saved. ‘Without Me,’ Christ says, ‘ye can do nothing.’ Through Him, and Him alone, can the natural heart be changed, the affections transformed, the affections set flowing heavenward.[41]

 

In the day of judgment the course of the man who has retained the frailty and imperfection of humanity will not be vindicated. For him there will be no place in heaven. He could not enjoy the perfection of the saints in light. He who has not sufficient faith in Christ to believe that He can keep him from sinning, has not the faith that will give him an entrance into the kingdom of God.[42]

 

Christ came to this earth and lived a life of perfect obedience, that men and women, through His grace, might also live lives of perfect obedience. This is necessary to their salvation.[43]

 

Let us keep in mind, of course, what our study has considered already—that the perfection God requires is proportionate to the light given (Prov. 4:18; Matt. 13:8; Luke 12:48; Acts 17:30; James 4:17). More than likely, the great majority of the resurrected multitudes will have died sinning ignorantly. Some have drawn the contrast here between character surrender (the giving up and conquest of all known sin, which all in every age are able by God’s grace to do) and character maturity (which will only be complete among those required at the end of time to stand without a mediator.

 

As a mediator, according to our study, is essential in order to handle even ignorant sin,[44] those who endure the great time of trouble and experience translation will have reached the fullest state of character maturity required for fallen beings—the complete absence of sinful conduct, with all ignorant sins, revealed and overcome.

 

Sinlessness: Claiming Versus Being

 

A major point of confusion in the current dialogue over Last Generation Theology is the often-ignored distinction in the inspired writings between the impossibility of claiming sinlessness and the divinely-empowered possibility of experiencing it. (Again, let us be clear that by “sinless” and “sinlessness” we mean choices in thought, word, and deed, not the absence of an inherited fallen nature.)

 

Many wrongly assume that because Scripture and the writings of Ellen White forbid human beings to claim sinless perfection in this life, that this, therefore, means such an experience here on earth is beyond the reach of even the sanctified Christian. But the Bible itself furnishes sufficient ground for a contrary conclusion.

 

One popular text in the arsenal of those who deny the earthly possibility of sinless obedience is 1 John 1:8: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (see also verse 10). But just before and after the above verse, the apostle John is clear that through heaven’s power it is indeed possible to be fully cleansed from sin and unrighteousness:

 

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. . . .

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (verses 7,9).

 

When he writes that we deceive ourselves and make God a liar by claiming to have no sin (verses 8,10), the apostle is simply confirming Paul’s statement that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), which obviously means that all have sin from which cleansing is required. What is more, God alone knows our hearts (1 Kings 8:39), which means only He can know when our cleansing from sin is complete.

 

Job, whose case we have already considered, understood this principle well. While God declared him to be “a perfect and upright man, one who feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1,8), even though—despite horrific loss and tragedy—the Bible says “Job sinned not” (verse 22; see also Job 2:10), Job refused to make such a claim about himself, as the following verses bear witness:

 

If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me; if I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet I would not know my soul; I would despise my life (Job 9:20-21).

 

The following Ellen White statements are often used to support the notion that sinlessness is impossible this side of the second coming:

 

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.[45]

 

We cannot say, ‘I am sinless,’ till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body.[46]

 

When the conflict of life is ended, when the armor is laid off at the feet of Jesus, when the saints of God are glorified, then and then only will it be safe to claim that we are saved, and sinless.[47]

 

Current critics of Last Generation Theology have repeatedly used the above statements to prove their theory that sinless obedience is impossible before Jesus returns.[48]

 

But on the surface as well as in context, these statements fail to support the belief that sinlessness is impossible this side of heaven. The first statement, regarding the need to subdue self and overcome besetting sins “so long as Satan reigns,”[49] merely confirms the reality till Jesus comes of constant fighting on the Christian’s part against sin and Satan, not constant failing.

 

During World War 2, on the Russian front, it took the Soviet army two full years—from the aftermath of Stalingrad in early 1943 to the conquest of Berlin in the spring of 1945—to recover the territory the Germans had taken a scant four months to occupy in 1941. The same was true on the Western front from the invasion of Normandy on June 1944 to the German surrender in May 1945. But on both fronts, during the periods described, it was a case of uninterrupted victory for the Allies. Thus, it will be for God’s saints during the final crisis of sacred history.

 

The latter two of the above Ellen White statements merely warn us not to claim what humans have no right to claim because God alone knows the heart (1 Kings 8:39). The context of the second of the three statements cited above is especially clear on this point:

 

But we shall not boast of our holiness. As we have clearer views of Christ’s spotlessness 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.[50]

 

Clearly, the focus of the above statement is boasting of our holiness, and how no Christian will do this. The statement is not saying it is impossible to in fact be sinless until our bodies are changed at glorification. What is forbidden by the above statement is saying we are sinless. The context of the last of the three above statements is clearer still:

 

When the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, then the sins of the repentant soul who has received the grace of Christ and has overcome through the blood of the Lamb, will be removed from the records of heaven, and will be placed upon Satan, the scapegoat, the originator of sin, and be remembered no more against him forever. The sins of the overcomers will be blotted out of the books of record, but their names will be retained in the book of life. The True Witness says, ‘He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.’ When the conflict of life is ended, when the armor is laid off at the feet of Jesus, when the saints of God are glorified, then and then only will it be safe to claim that we are saved, and sinless. True sanctification will not lead any human being to pronounce himself holy, sinless, and perfect. Let the Lord proclaim the truth of your character.[51]

 

Quite obviously, according to the above statement, overcoming through divine power is both possible and imperative for the saved. But because God alone knows the secrets of every heart, He alone can declare His saints to be sin-free. True, as we noted earlier, the Christian can know if he or she has made progress in the sanctified life; if sinful choices we once made are no longer being made, this can certainly be known. But because our hearts at the deepest level are known only to God, only He can say, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). Only He can declare of His people as He turns their captivity just before Jesus returns: “‘They come! they come! holy, harmless, and undefiled. They have kept the word of My patience; they shall walk among the angels.’”[52]

 

Notice the saints aren’t themselves declaring, “We come, holy, harmless, and undefiled.” Only God, because He alone knows the heart (1 Kings 8:39), is able to make this pronouncement.

 

Thus, it is easy to see that when Ellen White warns of continual conflict between the Christian and the fleshly nature prior to Jesus’ coming,[53] when she warns against claiming to be sinless,[54] she is fully consistent with other statements we have reviewed, in which she affirms the possibility on earth of “sinless lives,”[55] “actions pure and sinless.”[56] “living without sin,”[57] living “lives of sinlessness,”[58] “freedom from sin,”[59] “to cease from sin,”[60] along with identical or similar language used in numerous other statements.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Defiled Prayers on the Day of Atonement

 

Recent critics of Last Generation Theology who have described Ellen White’s statements on sinlessness as “puzzling,”[61] even perhaps contradictory,[62] simply haven’t permitted Ellen White to explain her own vocabulary. Her perfection theology, like that of Scripture, is clear beyond misunderstanding. The Christian can achieve sinless conduct here on earth through heaven’s power, but because God alone knows the heart (1Kings 8:39), no claim to such an achievement will be heard from mortal Christian lips.

 

“Perfectionism”?

 

Like the Communist label during the Red Scare of the 1920s and the Joe McCarthy era thirty years later, not to mention the “socialist” label in our own time, such words as “legalism” and “perfectionism” in contemporary Adventist discussions have become the sort of epithets designed to close minds and shut down conversation before objective evidence is given a fair hearing. Such labels can take on a life of their own, heedless of the facts, whether in a sacred or secular context.

 

Few theological terms are as toxic in contemporary Adventism as “perfectionism,” “perfectionist,” and “perfectionistic.” Since both Scripture and Ellen White so often use the words “perfect” and “perfection” with reference to the spiritual condition sought by God for His people, efforts have been made in recent Adventist history to distinguish Biblical perfection from what some are pleased to call “perfectionism.”

 

Unfortunately, most—though not all—who have tried to make this distinction have used the word “perfectionism” and its above variants with reference to the belief that through heaven’s power, sinless obedience can be rendered by fallen human beings here on earth.[63] The inspired evidence assembled in this series should be sufficient to persuade honest readers that this belief is, in fact, the teaching of both the Bible and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.

 

Only once does Ellen White use the word “perfectionism”—in the following statement:

 

God will not entrust the care of His precious flock to men whose mind and judgment have been weakened by former errors that they have cherished, such as so-called perfectionism and Spiritualism, and who, by their course while in these errors, have disgraced themselves and brought reproach upon the cause of truth. Although they may now feel free from error and competent to go forth and to teach this last message, God will not accept them. He will not entrust precious souls to their care, for their judgment was perverted while in error, and is now weakened.[64]

 

In her description of those who taught what she describes here as “perfectionism,” it becomes clear that the theory she is describing is far removed from the doctrine of sinless living taught in both Scripture and the consensus of her own writings. A passage which, in another of her books, identifies the misguided “perfectionism” noted in the above statement, is worth quoting in full for the sake of clarity on this point:

 

During family prayer that night, the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I was shown many things in vision. These men were presented to me as doing great injury to the cause of God. While professing sanctification, they were transgressing the sacred law. They were corrupt at heart, and those in union with them were under a satanic delusion, obeying their carnal instincts instead of the word of God.

They held that those who are sanctified cannot sin. And this naturally led to the belief that the affections and desires of the sanctified ones were always right, and never in danger of leading them into sin. In harmony with these sophistries, they were practicing the worst sins under the garb of sanctification, and through their deceptive, mesmeric influence were gaining a strange power over some of their associates, who did not see the evil of these apparently beautiful but seductive theories.

Terrible was their power over the people, for while holding their attention and winning their confidence through a mesmeric influence, they led the innocent and unsuspecting to believe that this influence was the Spirit of God. Therefore those who followed their teachings were deceived into the belief that they and their associates who claimed to be wholly sanctified, could fulfill all the desires of their hearts without sin.

Clearly the deceptions of these false teachers were laid open before me, and I saw the fearful account that stood against them in the book of records, and the terrible guilt that rested upon them for professing complete holiness while their daily acts were offensive in the sight of God.

Some time after this, the characters of these persons were developed before the people, and the vision given in reference to them was fully vindicated.

‘Believe in Christ,’ was the cry of these claimants of sanctification. ‘Only believe; this is all that is required of you. Only have faith in Jesus.’

The words of John come forcibly to my mind. ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ I John 1:8. I was shown that those who triumphantly claim to be sinless, show by their very boasting that they are far from being without taint of sin. The more clearly fallen man comprehends the character of Christ, the more distrustful will he be of himself, and the more imperfect will his works appear to him, in contrast with those which marked the life of the spotless Redeemer. But those who are far from Jesus, those whose spiritual perceptions are so clouded by error that they cannot comprehend the character of the great Exemplar, conceive of Him as altogether such a one as themselves, and dare to talk of their own perfection of holiness. But they are far from God; they know little of themselves, and less of Christ.[65]

 

It isn’t difficult for anyone reading the above statement to see the clear difference between the Biblical doctrine of divinely-empowered sinless living here on earth and the false sanctification, or “perfectionism,” condemned in the above statement—and elsewhere[66]—by Ellen White. The three most obvious differences between these two doctrines are as follows:

 

  1. Claiming to be sinless. We’ve already seen how both Scripture and Ellen White uphold the divinely-empowered possibility of sinless obedience here on earth[67] and the simultaneous impossibility of any earthly being claiming to have achieved this goal.[68] Unlike the perfectionism condemned in Ellen White’s writings, Last Generation Theology as taught in contemporary Adventism upholds both of these parallel truths.
  2. Trusting one’s natural affections and desires. Our study has demonstrated already how the affections and desires of the lower nature, though not a source of guilt in themselves, must nevertheless be subdued by the higher nature (1 Cor. 9:27)[69]—a victory demonstrated for the Christian in the life and experience of Jesus (Rom. 8:3-4; 15:3). We have also seen how according to the writings of Ellen White, this struggle against the fleshly nature will continue till Jesus comes.[70] By contrast, the “perfectionism” condemned by Ellen White in the above statements promised its adherent a purification of their fleshly urges so that these could be safely trusted. The Bible/Spirit of Prophecy doctrine of Spirit-empowered sinless obedience teaches no such thing.
  3. “Only believe” as the condition of salvation. Here again, the advocates of the “perfectionism” described above departed from inspired teaching. Both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White are clear that both forgiveness for our sinful past and obedience accomplished through divine grace are the prescribed conditions for Biblical salvation (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Matt. 7:20; 19:16-26; Luke 10:25-28; Rom. 2:6-10; 8:3; Heb. 5:9).[71]

 

In light of the above, any use of the term “perfectionism” to describe and disparage the Bible/Spirit of Prophecy teaching of divinely-empowered sinless living in the experience of earthly, fallen believers, is both false and confusing. In speaking negatively of “perfectionism,” Ellen White is describing a teaching fundamentally different from what Scripture, her own writings, and the vast majority of Adventist Last Generation Theology advocates have taught since the start of our church history, and continue to teach today.

 

From Wax to Granite

 

Anglican scholar Geoffrey Paxton, in his 1977 book The Shaking of Adventism, described Ellen White as having a “wax nose” in the Adventist perfection controversy,[72] presumably because her writings were being used by individuals on both sides of the dispute. In the years that followed, it would seem, quite a number of Adventist adherents to Paxton’s theology thought the “wax” had turned to granite—and in a way decidedly contrary to their own convictions.

 

During this period one such author, who candidly rejected Ellen White’s authority in doctrinal matters, wrote an analysis of two different Sabbath School Quarterlies holding opposite views on the human nature of Christ. Here he frankly admitted which side in the controversy most accurately represented Ellen White’s theology—a theology which, in the context of the article, he clearly disagreed with:

 

Does it follow, then, that Ellen White did not really have a consistent viewpoint concerning the nature of Christ and the issue of perfection? Probably not, because her entire theology was perfection-oriented. The Sabbath and health reform, two of her great concerns, have their rationale in perfectionism in preparation for translation.… Using some of Ellen White’s statements to prove that perfection is unattainable would seem as futile as using some of her statements to establish that she repudiated the significance of 1844.[73]

 

The same author states earlier in this article that a series of “anti-perfectionistic” Ellen White statements quoted by another author “are generally not very convincing when read in context.”[74] He goes on, writing of the end-time-perfection theology: “To repudiate it would be to repudiate the very nature of Adventism.”[75]

 

I agree.

 

The fact is that while both sides in the Adventist debate over sin, salvation, the humanity of Christ, and character perfection have used Ellen White in support of their positions, only one side in the debate has actively sought to reduce Ellen White’s authoritative role.[76] If her writings were truly as ambiguous as certain ones have alleged, both sides would likely seek to reduce their role in the controversy.

 

But only one side has sought to do this, and when we look at the evidence reviewed in this article, we begin to understand why. If Ellen White is granted her full authority as noted in the statements cited in the first installment of our series,[77] and if the consensus of her counsel is accepted regarding the issues before us, the belief that Christians cannot stop sinning here on earth—even through imparted divine power—stands in mortal peril.

 

Conclusion: “All Things Through Christ”

 

Ellen White’s description of the stony-ground hearers in Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matt. 13:6,20-21) offers a pointed warning to those who want Jesus’ salvation while denying His power for the total conquest of sin:

 

There are very many who claim to serve God, but who have no experimental knowledge of Him. Their desire to do His will is based upon their own inclination, not upon the deep conviction of the Holy Spirit. Their conduct is not brought into harmony with the law of God. They profess to accept Christ as their Saviour, but they do not believe that He will give them power to overcome their sins. They have not a personal relation with a living Saviour, and their characters reveal defects both hereditary and cultivated.[78]

 

Perhaps the most popular and practical argument voiced against Last Generation Theology is the oft-repeated claim, “I’ve never met a sinless person.” This observation on the part of certain ones has often made me as curious as anything else, as I frequently wonder if these folks would actually recognize a sinless person if they ever did meet one! Our utterly sinless and consummately loving Lord, after all, was repeatedly accused of being devil-possessed (John 7:20; 8:48,52; 10:20). And of His followers He declared,

 

If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of His household? (Matt. 10:25).

 

A sobering fact of sacred history is that the holier people get, the less popular they get. Conviction may indeed be pressed home to sinful hearts by the godliness of the faithful, but no inspired assurance is offered that such conviction will be verbally acknowledged by a human majority prior to Jesus’ second coming.[79] Revilement, not admiration, has been the consistent portion of the godly in every age. It is doubtful even the accusers of Daniel, who were constrained to acknowledge his faultlessness among themselves (Dan. 6:4), would have voiced such a candid admission to others.

 

Speaking of the holiness of Christ and its effect on His adversaries, Ellen White observes:

 

Though His every word and act breathed of divine compassion, His unlikeness to the world provoked the bitterest hostility. Because He would give no license for the exercise of the evil passions of our nature, He aroused the fiercest opposition and enmity.[80]

 

The purity and holiness of the character of Christ stirred up the very worst passions of the human heart. . . . His perfect obedience to the commandments of God was a continual rebuke to a sensual and perverse generation.[81]

 

Elsewhere Ellen White speaks of a number of Bible characters who attained to character perfection and reflected the life of Christ at different times in sacred history.[82] And speaking of the righteous character of Enoch, she observes, “And there are Enochs in this our day.”[83] She goes on to write, “Stand like Daniel, that faithful statesman, a man whom no temptation could corrupt.”[84]

 

The above statements, of course, do not assert that these men never sinned, for the Bible is clear that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). But they do make it clear that sin can be fully conquered through heaven’s power here on earth. If indeed Daniel, at the pinnacle of global power in his day, was one “whom no temptation could corrupt,”[85] there isn’t much excuse for the rest of us.

 

While testimonies of experience can’t gainsay the written Word,[86] they can, in fact, confirm the Word’s promises. Every time we witness, or experience in our own lives, complete victory over a hurtful addiction or other sinful habits, we see evidence that the same God who grants such victory can grant the same over any sin with which we struggle. When a particular temptation seems irresistible, let us think of the materialists, the race bigots, the smokers, the alcoholics, the pornography addicts, the overeaters, and so many others of our acquaintance who through God’s power have left these practices behind, never to indulge them again. If God can give these persons total victory, can He not do the same for those struggling with impatience, faultfinding, gossiping, a quick temper, the occasional lustful glance, or any other sin? When I hear people claim they can’t stop sinning, I am constrained to ask, “Which sins, which fleshly urges, does God lack the power to give you victory over?”

 

In 2010, when golf legend Tiger Woods publicly confessed to the sin of adultery, he pledged to go forward “never repeating the mistakes I’ve made.” In words more than slightly remarkable, coming from one of the world’s richest men, Tiger also observed: “Life is not defined by what you achieve, but by what you overcome.”

Too bad Mr. Woods is a Buddhist! I pray someone will find a way to share with him two short and powerful Bible verses, which give in a nutshell both the gospel and the Bible’s promise of total victory. The first is our Savior’s admonition: “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The second is the apostle Paul’s assurance: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

 

In the words of Ellen White:

 

But many of you say, ‘How can I help sinning? I have tried to overcome, but I do not make advancement.’ You never can in your own strength, you will fail; but help is laid upon One who is mighty. In his strength you may be more than conqueror. You should arise and say, ‘Through the grace of God, I will be an overcomer.’ Put your will on the side of God’s will, and with your eye fixed upon Him who is the author and finisher of your faith, you may make straight paths for your feet.… Lay hold upon Him by living faith, and believe the word of God to the letter.[87]

 

The next installment of this series will be titled, “Sinless Obedience and the Last Generation.”

Click here to read the rest of this series on Last Generation theology.

______

Notes.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are from the King James Version.

[2] Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 560-561; Prophets and Kings, p. 84; Counsels to Teachers, p. 20; Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 33.

[3] See James 1:14-15; White, That I May Know Him, p. 140; Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 421; Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 623; Our High Calling, p. 87.

[4] Martin Weber, More Adventist Hot Potatoes (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1992), p. 54.

[5] White, The Desire of Ages, p. 761.

[6] Christ Triumphant, p. 11.

[7] In Heavenly Places, p. 34.

[8] Our High Calling, p. 321.

[9] Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 20.

[10] The Desire of Ages, p. 324.

[11] Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 187.

[12] Steps to Christ, p. 62.

[13] The Desire of Ages, p. 311 (italics supplied unless otherwise noted).

[14] Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 76.

[15] Signs of the Times, July 17, 1901.

[16] Evangelism, p. 385.

[17] Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 83.

[18] Review and Herald, Sept. 27, 1906.

[19] Youth’s Instructor, April 16, 1903.

[20] Signs of the Times, June 17, 1903.

[21] Ibid, Aug. 9, 1905.

[22] Review and Herald, April 1, 1902.

[23] Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 360.

[24] Steps to Christ, p. 34 (italics original).

[25] Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 419-420.

[26] Review and Herald, Sept. 25, 1900.

[27] Signs of the Times, June 10, 1903.

[28] Karl E. Campbell, Senator Sam Ervin, Last of the Founding Fathers (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007), p. 292.

[29] Adelina Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 8: Biblical Perspectives: Sanctification,” June 13, 2019.

[30] White, Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 355.

[31] Jiri Moskala and John C. Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 105.

[32] Our High Calling, p. 212.

[33] From the Heart, p. 298.

[34] Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 360.

[35] Steps to Christ, p. 63.

[36] Manuscript 31, 1907.

[37] Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 147.

[38] This Day With God, p. 72.

[39] Acts of the Apostles, p. 532.

[40] In Heavenly Places, p. 201.

[41] Youth’s Instructor, April 16, 1903.

[42] Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 360.

[43] Review and Herald, March 15, 1906; see also Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, p. 122.

[44] Early Writings, p. 254.

[45] Acts of the Apostles, p. 560-561.

[46] Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 355.

[47] Ibid, p. 356.

[48] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, p. 107,109,115-116,117,232,265,274,283; see also George R. Knight, End-Time Events and the Last Generation: The Explosive 1950s (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 81.

[49] White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 560.

[50] Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 355.

[51] Signs of the Times, May 16, 1895.

[52] The Great Controversy, p. 636.

[53] Acts of the Apostles, p. 560-561.

[54] Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 355, 356.

[55] Evangelism, p. 385; Youth’s Instructor, April 16, 1903; Signs of the Times, Aug. 9, 1905.

[56] Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 83.

[57] Review and Herald, Sept. 27, 1906.

[58] Ibid, April 1, 1902.

[59] Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 420.

[60] Review and Herald, Sept. 25, 1900.

[61] Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 13: Final Thoughts,” July 19, 2019

[62]Last Generation Theology, Part 11: Ellen White on Justification and Sanctification,” July 5, 2019.

[63] See H.K. LaRondelle, ThD, Perfection and Perfectionism: A dogmatic-ethical study of biblical perfection and phenomenal perfectionism (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1979); Edward Heppenstall, “Let Us Go On to Perfection,” Perfection: The Impossible Possibility (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Assn, 1975), p. 61-81; Martin Weber, More Adventist Hot Potatoes (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1992), p. 53-64; Jiri Moskala and John C. Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 18,116,117,208,273,274.

[64] White, Early Writings, p. 101-102.

[65] Life Sketches, p. 83-84.

[66] The Sanctified Life, p. 7-17; Review and Herald, June 6, 1878.

[67] See Psalm 4:4; 119:1-3,11; Zeph. 3:13; Rom. 6:14; 8:4; 1Cor. 15:34; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:27; Phil. 4:13; 1Thess. 5:23; 1Peter 2:21-22; 4:1; 2 Peter 3:10-14; 1John 1:7,9; 3:2-3,7; Jude 24; Rev. 3:21; 14:5; White, The Desire of Ages, p. 311; Steps to Christ, p. 34; Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 419-420; Evangelism, p. 385; Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 83; Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 260; Review and Herald, Sept. 25, 1900; April 1, 1902; Sept. 27, 1906; Signs of the Times, June 10, 1903; June 17, 1903; Aug. 9, 1905; Youth’s Instructor, April 16, 1903.

[68] See 1 Kings 8:39; Job 9:20-21; Acts of the Apostles, p. 560-561; Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 355,356; Signs of the Times, May 16, 1895.

[69] Ministry of Healing, p. 130; Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 114; The Adventist Home, p. 127-128; Messages to Young People, p. 237; Review and Herald, Aug. 11, 1887.

[70] Acts of the Apostles, p. 560-561; Prophets and Kings, p. 84; Counsels to Teachers, p. 20; Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 33.

[71] The Desire of Ages, p. 523; Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 561,679,694; Signs of the Times, Nov. 24, 1887; Dec. 15, 1887; Nov. 15, 1899; Review and Herald, June 22, 1890; Oct. 26, 1897; June 26, 1900; SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 920,972; This Day With God, p. 72; From the Heart, p. 181; Manuscript Releases, vol. 18, p. 73-74.

[72] Geoffrey J. Paxton, The Shaking of Adventism (Wilmington, DE: Zenith Publishing Co, 1977), p. 156.

[73] Dennis Hokama, “Wallowing in the Gulley of Indecision—Christ’s All-Atoning Sacrifice versus Jesus the Model Man: An Analysis” Adventist Currents, July 1983, p. 14.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid.

[76] See Roy Adams, “Divided We Crawl,” Adventist Review, February 1995, p. 2l Adelina Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 13: Final Thoughts,” July 19, 2019, Graeme Bradford, More Than a Prophet (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 2006), p. 187,188,269; Desmond Ford, Documents from the Palmdale Conference on Righteousness by Faith (Goodlettsville, TN: Jack D. Walker, Publisher, 1976), p. 42,43; Daniel 8:14; the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment (Castleberry, FL: Euangelion Press, 1980), p. 4-6; George R. Knight, Angry Saints: Tensions and Possibilities in the Adventist Struggle Over Righteousness by Faith (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 1989), p. 107; End-Time Events and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 105; Martin Weber, Adventist Hot Potatoes (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1991), p. 110-113; Who’s Got the Truth? Making sense out of five different Adventist gospels (Silver Spring, MD: Home Study International Press, 1991), p. 187-211.

[77] See White, Early Writings, p. 78; Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 32; Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 989; Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 655-656,665; Colporteur Ministry, p. 126; Gospel Workers, p. 302, quoted by Kevin Paulson, “The Case for Last Generation Theology, Part 1: First Principles.”

[78] Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 48.

[79] The Great Controversy, p. 655.

[80] Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 29.

[81] Sons and Daughters of God, p. 41.

[82] Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 146-147; Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 88-89; The Story of Redemption, p. 103; Gospel Workers, p. 54; From the Heart, p. 265,266; Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 469; vol. 5, p. 43; Prophets and Kings, p. 486; Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 332; Our High Calling, p. 249; Acts of the Apostles, p. 315; Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 31; SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 903.

[83] Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 332.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 71; Counsels on Health, p. 108-109; Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 146; From the Heart, p. 299.

[87] Review and Herald, Sept. 20, 1892.

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About the author

Kevin Paulson

Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and serves as a script writer for the It Is Written television ministry and other media ministries within the church. He also serves as the leading webmaster of ADvindicate.com, where many articles by him and others can be found which address a variety of denominational issues. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.