Reading No. 3–Sunday, December 7, 2008

by Larry Watts, U.S.A.

One hundred twenty years ago, the message of Christ and His righteousness became a source of controversy in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, because obedience to the law had frequently been taught with little or only a passing reference to Jesus. At that time, Ellen G. White stated that “our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and for kindred truths.” –Review and Herald, March 25, 1890. That statement is still true today, but the emphasis is often quite the opposite.

We hear a lot about Christ and His righteousness: He did it all! But there seems to be little consensus as to what He really did and who He really was. Few will disagree with the fact that Jesus is the last Adam. The question is, Was He like Adam before the fall, or was He in His flesh the Child of Adam after the fall? Some think that this is a question best left for the world to come, but it must be answered now! Why? Because who He was determines who and what His followers are to be in this present world just before He comes.

His Nature and My Sanctification

Just what is sanctification by faith, and what does His nature have to do with it? Simply everything! Let’s examine this.

“The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us.” (Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 244). If Christ took the nature of Adam before the fall, then there was no internal struggle. He overcame Satan in an unfallen nature, and the contest was like a winner-take-all sparring match between two deadly foes. In such a case, His experience might have been real; but it would have been nothing that any of us could identify with or duplicate. In other words, He could be our hero but not be our example.

Here is part of that argument and an answer: “Letters have been coming of to me, affirming that Christ could not have had the same nature as man, for if He had, He would have fallen under similar temptations. If He did not have man’s nature, He could not be our example. If He was not a partaker of our nature, He could not have been tempted as man has been. If it were not possible for Him to yield to temptation, He could not be our helper.” The statement continues: “It was a solemn reality that Christ came to fight the battles as man, in man’s behalf. His temptation and victory tell us that humanity must copy the Pattern; man must become a partaker of the divine nature.” –Review and Herald, February 18, 1890.

Furthermore, the whole purpose in Jesus’ life, mission, sacrifice, and resurrection was to redeem a fallen race. To do that, He had to take upon Himself fallen nature of that race.

The whole issue of justification by faith and what naturally follows–sanctification by faith–hinges on whether or not we believe we can overcome as Jesus overcame! Those who say, “No,” look at Jesus as superhuman and therefore untouchable. They have to; because once one asserts that Jesus overcome in the same nature as we have, he has to say that it is possible to perfect human character as He did. And he must also believe that in our lives we can be as He was–consistently choosing not to sin, which simply means being dead to self–by having Him live within us moment by moment.

He Knew that He Should Be Crucified

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), a man named George Wyatt was drafted (inducted into the army). He had a wife and six children, and so a young man named Richard Pratt offered to go in his stead. Pratt joined the army and actually carried the name and number of George Wyatt; shortly afterward, he died in action. Then, George Wyatt was again notified that he had been drafted. He protested, saying that he had already served and died in the person of Pratt. The authorities, upon checking their records, confirmed that he had died in identification with Pratt, his substitute. Wyatt was thereby exempt from any further military service and was beyond the claims of the law. He had died in the person of his representative.

Properly understood, this story gives us at least a partial answer. However, Jesus did not die merely as our substitute. The truth is: We all died in Him, and thus we have fulfilled the law’s demands. (See Ezekiel 18:20; 2 Corinthians 5:14 and Romans 6; Galatians 2:20; etc.) If you stop right here at the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, you have only half of what God accomplished in Christ. To stop here is to say that Jesus lived a righteous life in place of me, died as my substitute, paid for my sins, and has now gone to heaven instead of me!

Although the above true story of Richard Pratt standing in for George Wyatt is a simplified allegory of our justification, we must “go on unto perfection” in Christ, which is sanctification. But how? The answer lies in a correct understanding of the incarnation of Christ.

The Bible teaches that Jesus “took on Him the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16; see also Galatians 3:16), and “was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). Therefore, to say that He came to earth with the nature of Adam before the fall is a denial of many plain Bible statements. The Scripture verse that God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” should be plain enough for any honest mind (Romans 8:3). But the text continues with “and for sin….” It was “because of sin” that He took our nature and condemned “sin in the flesh” by His righteous life. He overcame real temptations, both internally and externally, and perfectly reflected the glory of God in all His doings.

The Apostle Paul in Philippians 2 said that He emptied himself of His divine prerogatives and clothed His divinity with that flesh which needed redeeming. And that was His test. While we are tempted to yield to our fallen nature, He was ever tempted to use His divine nature. “If you be the Son of God…” was ever the taunt of the devil (Matthew 4:3, 6; 27:40). But He came into this world already crucified by promise, “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) and He remained true to that promise and ratified with His own blood on Calvary the covenant He made four thousand years earlier. And just before His death, He stated His desire for us: “Holy Father,… sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy word is truth.” John 17:11, 17.

God’s Purpose

What, then, is God’s purpose, His desire? “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification….” 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

To believe that Christ took upon Himself man’s sinful nature is one thing. But how to reach to the perfection in our sphere that He reached in His is quite another thing. Is it really possible? If He could, then we can, but by what means? By a faith that works by love and purifies (same root word in Greek as sanctify) the soul (Galatians 5:6; 1 Peter 1:22). Just as He clothed His divinity with our humanity with all its liabilities, so we must clothe our humanity with His divinity and thus receive all His enablings.

We must realize, however, that if we do not believe it is possible, it is impossible. 2 Peter 1:5-8 is our key to victory. Every step of that ladder “represents advancement in the knowledge of God…. We are saved by climbing round after round … to the height of Christ’s ideal for us. Thus He is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 530.

“All these successive steps are not to be kept before the mind’s eye and counted as you start; but fixing the eye upon Jesus, with an eye single to the glory of God, you will make advancement….” –The Youth’s Instructor, January 5, 1893.

When we have a clear picture of what our human nature is, our greatest desire is to receive His divine nature so we are in perfect unity with Him–having His mind. It is His righteousness that is active in us, not a righteousness of our own making. Divinity and humanity were blended in Him, and they will be blended in us. As He trusted His Father completely, so we will depend on and trust Him now. Then we will both wait and work to meet Him with joy at His coming. Others may use or misuse us, go around us, or completely ignore us; but if we are submitted to Him and trial or persecution comes, it will remain external to us, and there will be no human resistance against it.

What, Then, Is This Sanctification?

Sanctification is to give yourself–soul, body, and spirit–to God; to set yourself apart without reserve to deal justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God; to know and do His will without regard to self or self-interest; to be heavenly minded, pure, unselfish, holy, and without spot or stain. “The sign of God is sanctification through obedience to the truth.” –The Signs of the Times, November 22, 1899.

“Obedience to the law of God is sanctification. There are many who have erroneous ideas in regard to this work in the soul, but Jesus prayed that His disciples might be sanctified through the truth, and added, ‘Thy word is truth’ (John 17:17). Sanctification is not an instantaneous but a progressive work, as obedience is continuous…. Those who are loyal to the truth will, through the merits of Christ, overcome all weakness of character that has led them to be molded by every varying circumstance of life.” –Faith and Works, p. 85.

“The Father’s presence encircled Christ, and nothing befell Him but that which infinite love permitted for the blessing of the world. Here was His source of comfort, and it is for us. He who is imbued with the Spirit of Christ abides in Christ. The blow that is aimed at him falls upon the Saviour, who surrounds him with His presence. Whatever comes to him comes from Christ. He has no need to resist evil, for Christ is his defense. Nothing can touch him except by our Lord’s permission, and ‘all things’ that are permitted ‘work together for good to them that love God.’ Romans 8:28.” –Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 71.

In the backyard of our rented house is a lovely little orange tree not much taller than a man. Someone said the owner had picked it; but upon my return from a long trip, I was delighted to see it still decked with its jewels–beautiful, fat, orange oranges. They seemed ready, but the harvest tarries. I wanted to pick them, but they belong to another–the man upstairs.

So it is with earth’s great harvest. We want it picked. We want it done. We want to see all this misery finished. But we really have only one thing to take care of: Our own personal victory and ripening for heaven. The Husbandman, the Man upstairs, and Owner will reap the harvest in His own time. Mercy still lingers, but for what purpose? “Christ desires nothing so much as to redeem His heritage from the dominion of Satan. But before we are delivered from Satan’s power without, we must be delivered from his power within….” –Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 174, 175.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation; it is Jesus Christ living within by a living faith–His faith–a faith that works by love. This is God’s purpose. This is sanctification by faith–a revelation of Christ before the world in the person of His saints. Let us strive to be numbered among them!

“The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us.” –Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 244.