We have two lessons remaining in this quarter, and thus it is time for us to begin to wrap up everything we have covered thus far, and to tie up any remaining issues that haven’t yet been addressed. This week’s lesson covers Romans 12 and 13, which are extremely straightforward when compared with the previous chapters, which were quite theologically heavy. In these two chapters, Paul is explaining to us what the end result should be if we understood his arguments correctly—a transformed life.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
These two chapters go into a lot of detail concerning what kind of life a true Christian ought to live. Whatever the gospel of salvation by grace through faith means, the one thing it cannot mean is that we can continue living an unregenerate life. Adventism is correct when it argues that the true gospel will produce a sanctified life.
Throughout this quarter, we have discussed Luther’s contribution to Christian theology. It was Luther who introduced the idea that justification is forensic, and thus not contingent on a transformation of character having already taken place.
This idea was powerful, because it opened the door of salvation to anyone who was interested. However, because of several factors discussed in previous lessons, Luther, Calvin, and other reformers, chose to envelop the concept of justification by faith in a predestination framework.
With time, Arminius and his followers began to work out a version of the Protestant gospel that was compatible with a free-will framework—a process which Adventism eventually completed through its Sanctuary Doctrine. The two-room model of the sanctuary made it possible to have a context of acceptance and assurance (suitable for spiritual growth) without presumption and cheap grace.
Our great controversy perspective, which was described from a purely rational standpoint in last week’s lesson, explained that God allowed sin to exist as a deterrent from future sin throughout eternity. On one hand, this clarifies that God cannot allow a person who has clearly chosen against Christ to enter heaven and place everyone else in jeopardy. On the other hand, this life is the only opportunity God has to save us, and therefore all His resources are focused on saving us, as there is plenty of time for judgment after we die.
This leaves us with the one question of what happens to those who are still alive at Christ’s coming. When are they judged, since they cannot be judged after death like everybody else? In Adventist theology, this issue is known as the close of probation.
The close of probation is topic that many Adventists have difficulty with and, I would say, many misunderstand. Moreover, this topic often causes problems for us when in conversation with other Christians. In reality, all Christians believe there is a close of probation, even though they don’t use the phrase. They might believe that it occurs at the Second Coming or after the millennium, but all Christians believe that there is a point when people can no longer switch sides.
What makes Adventism’s take on this subject unique is that Seventh-day Adventists believe this event will happen a short time prior to the Second Coming. As a result, many Adventists believe that there will come a day when God will close the door of mercy, at which time God will no longer forgive them, even if they want to repent.
What we’re dealing with here is somewhat different. Throughout the course of every person’s life, a decision is made whether or not to follow Christ. However, at any given time, there are three categories of people: those who have already chosen Christ, those who made up their mind to reject Christ, and those who are still undecided. At some point, even the undecided will make a decision. However, by then, more people will have been born and there will be a new generation of fence sitters. Essentially, if we follow this pattern, there will never come a time when Jesus could return without there being people in the undecided group.
An illustration I often use to bring this point home is that of a catalyst. In chemistry, there are certain substances which increase the rate of a chemical reaction. Thus, if we mix together two substances, and find that it normally takes several hours for the chemical reaction to occur, adding a catalyst would reduce the necessary time down to several minutes.
Prior to the second coming, God wants every person to make a decision for or against Christ. He wants people to move out of the undecided group. To do this, God introduces a catalyst. This catalyst is a combination of natural disasters, as well as political and economic upheavals. The church has a part to play as well, which we will discuss next week. Through all these catalysts, God will speed up the decision-making process, so that all will make up their minds as to whom they will serve.
To better understand this concept, let’s consider the effect of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles on the Jewish nation. After three and a half years of ministry, Jesus had brought people to a point where they were either strongly in His favor, or strongly opposed to Him. The Jews had been halting between two opinions for centuries, but the life of Jesus caused them to make their decisions in a comparatively short amount of time.
Thus, probation will not close to prevent people from changing their minds, but rather because people are no longer changing their minds. In other words, as a result of this catalyst, all will have made their decisions, and there is no point in keeping probation open any longer.
Probation closes before the Second Coming, and not at the Second Coming, because God wants to allow time to pass so that it is evident to angels and unfallen beings that people have made up their minds, and are no longer going to change. Some period of time passes where, despite all the opportunities God gives people to repent, no one does anymore. As a result, heavenly beings all agree that there is no point in waiting any further, and that it is time for Jesus to return to take His people home.
This perspective demonstrates that there is no significant difference in how people are saved throughout history compared to the last generation. Even though everyone else is judged after death, while the last generation is judged while still alive, this can be done safely because their decisions have already been made. The judgment of the living, therefore, is not some type of “higher standard” that God holds the last generation to, except in that there is an additional source of urgency because the people of the world are running out of time.
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)