It happened in 1888 and it is happening again today. The message of righteousness by faith is stirring a community of believers and is producing strong reactions, revealing not only the state of our theology, but also the state of our hearts. I have not the slightest regret that this subject, the essence of salvation, is being agitated, discussed and debated. Anything is better than apathy and complacency, and out of all this there is bound to emerge a clearer concept of the gospel as the Bible teaches it. This is a necessary requirement if there is ever to be a people who have pure truth and an experience of genuine Christianity, fit and ready for the reception of the latter rain.
Since we started writing on this subject, several questions have been asked, and there has been objection to several of the points which we have raised. Some people have not accepted these ideas, but in some cases this has been because there has been misunderstanding and even misrepresentation of our position. For those who have objections, we would like you to be sure of what you are objecting to and so we would like to clarify our position on these questions which seem to have caused the greatest concern.
Can we have “sinless flesh” in this life?
This objection is evidently based on misunderstanding and careless reading as well. It is difficult to understand why some have suggested that we are leaning in the direction of teaching “holy flesh.” When I speak of, “sinful nature,” I am not speaking of our physical makeup for the most part. The apostle Paul refers to the part that dies at conversion, as “the body of sin,” “the old man,” “the flesh,” and “the carnal mind.” I believe that if he used such words, then it cannot be wrong for me to use them also. When Paul stated that the body of sin had been destroyed (Rom. 6:6) was he teaching holy flesh? In fact, in Ephesians 2:3 Paul refers to the Ephesians as people who in the past “were by nature (sinful nature) the children of wrath.” This was not true of them after they became Christians. Their nature was changed. It was not their bodies that had changed, but rather their spiritual natures or their minds. This is why we are told that those who have become Christians have been made partakers of the “divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).” That does not mean that they have a heavenly or a sinless body. It simply means that their minds have been changed. Can we see that?
At times, in trying to show that every thing which we possess in our nature is from Adam, we have referred to the inheritance of “flesh and blood and genes and bones.” This is the same thing that Paul does in speaking of our relationship to Christ when he says that we are “members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30).” Some people have objected to the way we have used these words, but strangely, they have not objected to the way Paul used them.
But we can see that the Bible does use the word “nature,” to refer to the makeup of the mind, and this is what I mean when I say that all men (except Christ) are born with a sinful nature, which condemns them from birth. We have the same sin-affected bodies as Christ had, but He had a different mind. He was not born with a carnal, sinful mind as we are. It is true that Ellen White often used the term “sinful nature,” to refer to the physical body but the Bible does not usually do this. If we don't recognize this difference in the way words are used in different settings we often end up objecting to something when we do not even properly understand what is being said.
Our understanding of this is explained very carefully in Open Face 44 on page 7, in the article entitled, “You can be Truly Free.” In fact, I have copied the section below so we can read it again.
“Of course, it is not the physical body which dies. Hopefully, nobody would be foolish enough to misunderstand this truth. The physical, sinful body will be with us until Jesus comes again to change it. However, this physical body is not the real root of our sin problem and it is not what Jesus has destroyed, or put to death. The real problem is what is called “the carnal mind.” This is the self-centered life, the self-seeking, self-preserving attitude. This is something which resides in the mind of man, but is a very real part of our existence. It is this which Jesus put to death when He died to His own will and made the supreme sacrifice of His life, in choosing the Father's will. Now, through the mighty power of the holy spirit, His own life and power, Jesus enters our mind in the new birth and crucifies the self-centered life so that from then on, we no longer live for self, but only for God.” (Open Face 44, p. 7)
Does “sin” have only one definition?
In our November newsletter we stated that the way in which Paul uses the word, “sin,” in Romans 7:17,20, requires that we define sin as a negative ruling power in the carnal man. However, it has been pointed out to us that Ellen White says that the only definition of sin in the Bible is found in 1 John 3:4 where it says, “sin is the transgression of the law.” I will not debate with Ellen White on this matter and I accept that both Paul and Jesus, when they speak of sin as being our master are personifying sin, that is, they are speaking of it as if it is a tangible entity. But since sin is not something which can exist independently on its own, then technically it has no substantive reality apart from the actions which we commit. I accept this.
However, The real question is, what do Paul and Jesus mean when they say that a man is the servant of sin? (John 8:34; Rom. 6:20). When Paul says that “sin dwelleth in me,” was he referring to the indwelling of evil spirits? One friend of mine has suggested that this is what Paul meant, however, I cannot accept that this is what Paul was trying to say when he wrote, “sin that dwelleth in me.” There is not the slightest clue in the passage to support such an idea. However, even if this were referring to evil spirits, we would still have a problem, because again, we would have to define sin as meaning, “evil spirits.” It would then not be true that the only definition of sin is the transgression of the law.
Paul states clearly, “it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me (Rom. 7:20).” If this was referring to the presence of evil spirits in him, then what Paul would need is not conversion, but the casting out of evil spirits! Many of those who have become involved in “deliverance” ministries have concluded that this is the real problem with us and have decided to solve the problem of sin by casting out “demons” of anger, hate, depression etc. They claim that all these problems are due to demons dwelling in people, but is this what Paul is saying?
His meaning is very obvious. It is the same as the meaning of Jesus when He said, “he that committeth sin is the servant of sin.” What He is saying is that there is a power which rules in the carnal man which compels such a person to commit sin, and this power he refers to as the master of the person and He calls it “sin.” It is the person's master because he is compelled to obey its commands. If Jesus and Paul call it sin, then why am I wrong in doing the same as they?
However, we don't need to be distracted or diverted by definitions. I will abandon all my definitions and declare that I was wrong if only we can accept the truth which Paul wanted us to grasp. What is this truth? It is the truth that in our natural state we are so helpless, so controlled by our inherited depravity that it is absolutely impossible for us to do anything good. This is the real issue. It is the truth that all men are in this condition when they are born and because of it are declared unfit to live, and outside of Christ are lost forever, even from the moment of birth. Can we all accept this?
When Jesus and Paul tell me that sin is my master and that my problem is that sin is dwelling in me, they are trying to tell me something about what I am and what my real problem is, and that is the real issue!! If I do not learn this lesson there is no hope that sin will ever be conquered in me. Notice Paul's words in Romans 8:8. “So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God!!” In verse 6 he says that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God and it CANNOT be. It is not that it refuses to be, but that it cannot. It is an impossibility. Why is it impossible? Because we are born that way and committing sin is an integral part of our nature. Such a mind is enmity against God from the moment we are born (verse 7). In this condition there is no hope that we can ever escape its bondage and the only hope for us is that we must be born again.
Is our real problem our actions, or our nature?
If we say that our problem is what we do, rather than what we are, this is where we make a terrible mistake. We do not identify the problem properly and as a result we set out to overcome sin in the wrong way. We will never, ever be free from sin if we believe that our problem is what we do, rather than what we are! When we say that our problem is our ACTIONS, then logically, we set out to change our actions. We seek to do works!! This can never give us the victory. But when we understand that the problem is what we are, then we know that this is something which we can do nothing about. The answer must be in Christ and in Him alone. We come to Him for the remedy and we trust in Him alone, because although we may know how to do works, we know nothing about changing our nature.
One popular proverb says,
Sow a thought; reap a deed,
Sow a deed; reap a habit,
Sow a habit; reap a character.
There you have the human formula for “overcoming” sin. Notice, there is no need for God in this prescription. This concept has led some to the conclusion that all we need to do in order to change our characters is to change our actions. I believe that this concept is a source of much misunderstanding. It is partially true but not wholly true as I will demonstrate in a moment. If we limit the character to being only the product of our actions, what conclusions would I then reach? I would have to believe the following things which are totally contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
a. A baby has formed no habits so therefore has no character and therefore, cannot be defined as a sinner. Since he has performed no actions, he does not have a sinful character. Such a person does not need Christ to be saved.
b. Since the problem with men is the habits which they form, then in order to solve our problem, all we need to do is change our habits, thereby changing our characters. (notice that there is then no need for a new birth). This makes it possible to be saved by rehabilitation and self-improvement programs.
c. A parent who trains his child to good habits will produce a child who has no need of conversion since he already has a good character.
I am sure none of us would agree with the above listed points, and yet this is what we are required to accept if we hold to the concept that our real problem is our actions rather than our nature. Obviously the character is more than simply the result of my actions and habits. It also includes the nature that I was born with.
How does God transform my mind? Is it by a miracle or by education? Is conversion an act of God which takes place by the infusion of the holy spirit, a supernatural, divine power, or is it a gradual change which occurs as a result of a person beginning to adjust his thoughts? Education has its place in teaching me the will of God, in enabling me to understand God's purposes and ways better so we can be more perfectly in harmony. But what is the critical ingredient in the Christian's experience? Is it education or is it re-creation? Does God merely direct me into new truth, or is there an actual experience when the very life of Christ is imparted to me, when by His power, I am changed into a new creation? These are critical questions.
Are we guilty of Adam's sin?
I have never stated that we are guilty of Adam's sin, although I did quote Ellen White where she states that Adam's children “share his guilt.” (ST, May 19, 1890 par. 8). Those who object to the idea of us sharing Adam's guilt should contend with Ellen White.
I have preferred to use the biblical expression which says that we are condemned because of Adam's sin (Rom. 5:18). Is there a difference between the words, “condemned,” and “guilty?” I am not sure if the dictionary would define them differently, but there is an implied difference in the way we use these words which might give the wrong idea if I use the word, “guilty,” with respect to our inheritance from Adam.
The word, “guilty,” suggests personal, willing and conscious involvement to such a degree that a person may be taken before a judge and questioned concerning his involvement. Blame may be fixed upon him because he was consciously and willingly involved in a crime. This was not true of our involvement in Adam's sin and so I have not used the word guilty to describe our state in Adam.
However, the Bible does use the word “condemnation.” This word indicates that doom has been pronounced against a person and that he is simply waiting to be destroyed. We often use the word, “condemned,” to refer to old buildings which have been marked for destruction. Notice that guilt is not necessarily the issue. Condemnation signifies that a thing has been consigned to destruction, that a decision has been taken to remove it from existence. This sentence can be passed for several reasons. It does not necessarily mean that the person or thing has been personally involved in a crime.
The Bible does teach that we are condemned in Adam. His sin involved us and took us, along with himself to death. We were condemned when he was condemned, but we were not personally or consciously involved in his sin, therefore, we cannot be tried for the sin which he committed, although it killed us all.
Did Adam's sin totally corrupt all humanity?
There is a dangerous thinking which permeates the thinking of many Seventh-day Adventists, and I believe it is a very grave false doctrine. It is the belief that all that is wrong with us is that we are born weak and all we need is the right kind of teaching and training to become good. The Roman Catholic church teaches that the sin of Adam wounded the human race but that man is not wholly evil. The Catholic Catechism expresses the difference between Catholics and Protestants over the issue of the human condition by saying:
(Original sin) is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted,- it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it. The Church's teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation . The first Protestant reformers taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil, which would be in (him).
The Protestant reformers taught that Adam's sin killed humanity rather than wounded it. In other words, man is totally and hopelessly depraved and lost. His only hope is Christ, but of course the Catholic point of view makes us believe that what man needs is assistance rather than to be totally and completely recreated. This Catholic point of view is what many Adventists have embraced. They believe that we are born in absolutely the same condition as Christ except that He was born full of the holy spirit. The only difference as they see it, is that He had more help at the beginning so He was able to choose not to sin, while we chose to. In their thinking if we had only had a little help we could have been Christ!!
This utterly false concept has led some to the conclusion that people such as John the Baptist who were filled with the holy spirit from birth were men who lived without sin. In effect, this idea is suggesting that we have more than one Christ!! Naturally, the conclusion is that all we have to do in order to overcome is simply to copy Christ, that is to follow His example.Victory over sin and becoming perfect is simply achieved by learning to change our habits. If we can do this through the right education, hard work and much struggling and striving, we will eventually change ALL our habits and so we will be just like Christ!! Thus, there is no need for a man to be born again. This is just a figurative term which refers to the time when a person makes up his mind that he will begin to strive to be like Christ.
This is pure foolishness because it has never worked. Unless the spirit of God comes to take possession of a person, to give him a new nature and a new mind, there is no hope that he can ever change. Education, even Biblical education is not the same as the new birth!!!
At least the Catholics have devised a way by which they feel that this impossible task may be finally accomplished after a person dies, because it certainly cannot be accomplished while those who try in this way, are alive. The Catholic Church teaches,
"All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect." (The Catholic Catechism)