I would have hesitated to say that this is the generally held view of Adventism, but for the fact that this is what I was taught in the church and because I have had several discussions with Adventists including ministers who have insisted on this as the biblical description of the nature of man.
If in the resurrection I will have a new body, made of different particles of matter then how will I be the same person? The word of God teaches very clearly that the new body received will not be the same as the original bodies we received when we were originally born into the world.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: (43) It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: (44) It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:42-44)
Ellen White agrees with the Bible that the bodies we receive in the resurrection will not be made up of the same material substance as the original body.
“Our personal identity is preserved in the resurrection, though not the same particles of matter or material substance as went into the grave. The wondrous works of God are a mystery to man. The spirit, the character of man, is returned to God, there to be preserved. In the resurrection every man will have his own character. God in His own time will call forth the dead, giving again the breath of life, and bidding the dry bones live. The same form will come forth, but it will be free from disease and every defect. It lives again bearing the same individuality of features, so that friend will recognize friend. There is no law of God in nature which shows that God gives back the same identical particles of matter which composed the body before death. God shall give the righteous dead a body that will please Him.” (Mar 301)
So the question is, since I will receive a completely different body, what is it about me that will make me the same exact person, the same individual as the person who lived my life on earth before I died? “Well,” someone may say, “God is able to give you the same thoughts and memories.” That is true, but then that still leaves the question, will that be me, or simply someone recreated in my exact image? You will understand why I was relieved when I discovered that there is a component in man called the spirit which is more than just a description of his thoughts and memories. The following Bible references reveal this very clearly. Job 32:8; Zech. 12:1; Luke 8:55; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59; Rom. 1:9; Rom. 8:16; 1 Cor. 2:11; 1 Cor. 5:3-5; 1 Cor. 6:20. As Ellen White said in the passage quoted above, “The spirit, the character of man, is returned to God, there to be preserved. In the resurrection every man will have his own character.” (Mar. 301)
This is a vitally important point. The proper understanding of some of the most critical Bible truths is dependent upon an appreciation of this point. Let me ask, are human beings born with spirits which are morally neutral, which are neither good nor evil? Is it true that the ultimate condition of the mind will depend upon the experiences of that person as he begins to grow up? Do the things which he sees, hears, learns etc. determine the kind of mind which he will have, whether good or bad? Is it true that at birth his fleshly body is weak, degenerate and sinful, but his spirit is morally neutral, neither good nor evil? We cannot answer this question properly unless we understand the truth as to what the spirit of man really is. When a baby is newly born and incapable of rational thought, incapable of moral awareness, does he have a spirit? Does evil reside in his mind, or is it only in his fleshly, genetic makeup that there is a tendency to do wrong?
One question will settle this issue and if we can answer this question honestly we will know the answer to these other questions. The question is, when a person is born is he naturally selfish or unselfish? Does he instinctively think of others or of himself? The answer is obvious. Self is the natural focus of all who are born on this planet and this has been true of all men in all ages from the time of the fall of Adam, with only one exception. Selfishness is the root of sin, the foundation of it and so where selfishness exists, evil is automatically present.
But where does selfishness come from? Where does it reside? Is it something which is passed on in the genes? Is it built into the muscles, the blood, the bones? Of course not! Selfishness is entirely a thing of the mind and its universal presence in all men at birth demonstrates the fact that man is born with not only a sinful body, but a sinful mind or spirit as well, and that this sinful spirit exists even before man is capable of rational thought. Therefore the word of God tells us in unmistakable language,
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (Rom 8:7)
The carnal mind is simply the mind that is not renewed by the spirit of God in the new birth. This mind is at enmity with God, it matters not whether this mind is one day old or one hundred years old. As long as the person is not born again it is naturally at enmity with God.
God Alone is Good
As we have emphasized over and over, God alone is good (Matt. 19:17; Rev. 15:4). There is no place or person in the universe where goodness may be found unless God is dwelling there. Divinity alone is good and as we recognize this, we will realize that the only way in which any creature may be good is if he is united to divinity. No creature is good in himself and therefore wherever there exists a creature who is not united to God, the only possible state of that creature is an evil state. By nature he is evil. There is no other option open to him.
This is what Lucifer, Adam and Eve and millions of angels did not realize when they chose to act independently of God, when they chose a path which separated them from God. In passing we should note that this happened while they all were in sinless flesh. It had nothing to do with their physical nature but had to do exclusively with a condition which developed in their minds. Immediately they became evil although this evil took time to manifest all its facets. Yet the consequences of Adam's actions were devastating for himself and his descendants. As a result of his choice, every one of his descendants was doomed to be born separated from God – a member of the kingdom of Satan, in a condition where Satan's principle of self, ruled, and where God's spirit was missing.
When we understand this, then we can see why every human being must be born again of the holy spirit. In the condition of our first birth we are not united to God. We are therefore totally evil, sinful in body and sinful in mind. All we are capable of is sin and sin and more sin. Our very best endeavours are laced with selfishness and are therefore intrinsically evil.
The New Birth
But when a person is born again, what happens? A great change takes place, but what is the nature of this change? Is it the person's body which changes? Is it the flesh and blood, the genetic make-up which is altered? The Bible, as well as science, reason and history, tells us that the physical make-up of a converted person does not change. Conversion does not make him stronger, taller, younger than when he lived in sin. A test of his genetic structure would reveal that he has not changed physically and this is still the condition in which he lives and dies.
Well then, is it his thoughts which change? Does the new birth consist of a re-education so that the thought-patterns change and therefore produce good actions? There is no doubt that education has a part to play in the life of the Christian, but certainly it is not the critical factor which is involved in the new birth. Re-education will not make a man into a new creature. A new way of thinking will not cause a person to experience the new birth. Notice what Jesus said:
.... Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
Before Christian education takes place, even before we are guided into truth, first of all there needs to be the coming of the spirit of truth. It is the place of the spirit to educate us after we are born again. Before there is the ability to think good thoughts leading to good actions, there must first of all be a work done by the holy spirit in the most fundamental area of human nature.
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. (Mark 7:21-23)
It is the state of the heart which is the real issue, not the physical make-up or even the thoughts. See what proceeds from out of the heart of men: adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness etc. Sins most vile and abhorrent. But notice also that there is pride as well and (most significantly) evil thoughts! Thoughts produce actions, yes, but there is something which produces these thoughts. We have to go deeper than the thoughts to solve the real problem. The real difficulty is the heart (often referred to as the mind or the spirit). The fundamental spiritual nature of the man who is not born again is evil. He has an evil heart, or mind and that is the problem which really needs to be dealt with. Therefore it must be said again, and again, and again: Overcoming sin cannot be achieved by reforming the actions. Overcoming sin cannot be achieved by re-educating the mind. Overcoming sin is only possible when our spirits become united with the spirit of God in the union of the new birth.
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (35) A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. (Mat 12:34-35)
Birth is a process by which a new person comes into the world. The new birth is a process by which a new person enters the kingdom of God. What makes an old sinner become a new saint? What fundamental change takes place in a person which transforms him from a sinner to a saint?
In the innermost part of his being, in that part of him from which springs all the thoughts and actions, that part called the heart, the mind or the spirit, an influence from God unites itself with the spirit of the person. I refer to it as an influence from God, but that word does not give us a complete picture of what we receive. This “influence,” brings with it, or in it, God's own nature of love and purity, it brings peace, comfort and God's personal presence. It is the spirit of God and rather than being a mere influence, it is actually an extension of the very life of God Himself so that the Christian may truly say, “God Himself lives in me!” God sits on a throne in heaven, but by means of His holy spirit, His inner self, He extends Himself and is united to every being in the universe who chooses to yield to him, so that by an unseen, but very real chain of life, God and each Christian is united and become one spirit. (1 Cor. 6:17)
It is a wonderful thing to contemplate. It is a truth almost too awesome to believe. It is the wonder which sets true Christianity above all false religions. The blessed truth that God, in His Son, has brought the sons of Adam to the place where they are partakers of the very life of the almighty God of the universe! Oh what a blessing! How thrilling to understand the love, the condescension, the mercy of a God who has granted us such a privilege, who has exalted us to the place where we are truly and literally His own sons and daughters because His very life is in us!
Yes, angels have been sent to minister to us. They also guide, protect and in other ways minister to us as God's messengers. But what a blessing to know that in addition to that we have personal contact!!
“Through the agency of His Spirit and His angels He ministers to the children of men.” (MH 417).
Our God is not like the great men of earth who will send a representative while He Himself remains aloof. No! Through His Son, He comes close to us by His holy spirit and binds us to His heart by an invincible union.
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Eph 2:18)
Now we understand why Christ is our righteousness. Not that He gives us righteousness, but that He Himself is our righteousness. As, through the holy spirit Christ comes to live in our hearts, what do we receive? Nothing else but the pure, holy life of Christ Himself. His spirit unites with my spirit so that we are one spirit. His nature is now my nature so that I love righteousness and hate iniquity. The curse of my first birth is removed by the blessing of my new birth. With Christ as my life (Col. 3:2) I have died to sin (Rom. 6:7), to the flesh (Rom. 8:7), to the old man (Rom. 6:6), to the body of sin (Rom. 6:6; 8:10). It is not I, but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20).
This is not to say that when Christ's spirit is united to our spirit then we immediately are absolutely perfect in every respect. Absolute perfection suggests that all my actions are perfect and that everything which I do perfectly demonstrates God's character in every way. While we rejoice in the gift of life and righteousness we must understand that even though we partake of the very life of Christ, yet obedience to God depends upon how well we understand His will. God does not work independently of our will and our understanding. He does not reveal all truth to us immediately and it is His purpose to continue to lead us step by step through His word to an ever-increasing understanding of His will and His ways. One day there will be a people who have a complete understanding of God's will as far as man's life in this world is concerned and these people will represent Christ more perfectly than any other people have ever done. These will be the 144,000 and these will be perfect in an absolute sense as far as human perfection in this life is possible.
However, this does not contradict the reality that here and now, every single Christian may be and ought to be perfect. What does God require of me? All He requires is that I surrender to Him absolutely, without reservation. What else can I do? Everything else is the work of God. He must teach me His will, He must guide me into all truth step by step. Today as I surrender perfectly to Him, He will accomplish His will for today in me. Does God require or expect more of me than this? Absolutely not. Perfect surrender is all that God requires of us and so, when a person has fully surrendered to God, then that person is perfect in the eyes of God. Even when the 144,000 are absolutely perfect it will simply be that each day they surrender to God one hundred percent. Their surrender is no greater than the surrender of the true Christian today. The fact that God gives them more light is not an indication that they were more surrendered than others, but simply that God's purpose for the final generation involves a greater revelation of His will and character.
This is why the thief on the cross can be saved. His surrender was perfect and this will be the same for all who will be saved. God will have had full control of the person's will and therefore will have been able to give them His own life.