"THERE lived in the land of Uz a man of blameless and upright life named Job, who feared God and set his face against wrongdoing" (Job 1: 1, N.E.B.).
Around this man, Job, was enacted a drama that has intrigued and instructed men ever since. It is possible that Job himself never did learn of the unseen drama played behind the scenes, one that involved the great antagonistic powers in the universe, God and Satan.
The stage for the drama was set during a council, possibly of the rulers of the millions of inhabited worlds throughout the universe. Satan apparently attended as the prince of this world. A discussion is recorded between Jehovah and Satan, during which the latter suggests that the whole earth is under his control. God then reminds Satan that there is at least one man, Job, who is not his servant, but who obeys God.
At this Satan responds, "’Has not Job good reason to be God-fearing [a term denoting loyalty and obedience to God]? Have you not hedged him round on every side with your protection, him and his family and all his possessions? ... But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and then he will curse you to your face’" (verses 9-11).
The development and end of the drama, we all know. Although Satan was permitted to try Job to the limit, Job persevered in his faithfulness to God.
Satan's Perennial Challenge
The challenge that Satan threw down to God respecting Job's loyalty is one that he has been hurling through the centuries. It is one that involves every professed child of God. For, in essence, Satan was implying, "Look, Job really can't keep Your commandments. The only reason he seems to is because You are pampering and protecting him. But let him really be tested and You will find him too weak, too self-centered, to remain loyal. And every other human being is just like him."
Satan represents God's law of love as a law of selfishness. He declares that it is impossible for us to obey its precepts. -The Desire of Ages, p. 24.
From the very beginning of the great controversy in heaven, it has been Satan's purpose to overthrow the law of God. It was to accomplish this that he entered upon his rebellion against the Creator, and though he was cast out of heaven he has continued the same warfare upon the earth.-The Great Controversy, p. 582. (Cf. The Desire of Ages, pp. 29, 309, 761; Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 77.)
In The Desire of Ages, Ellen White describes the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day as echoing Satan's claim: "The rabbis virtually represented God as giving laws which it was impossible for man to obey" (page 284). Through the centuries, in one way or another, many religious leaders and followers have agreed with them.
But God claims that man can keep His law, and He expects him to do so. "May God himself, the God of peace, make you holy in every part, and keep you sound in spirit, soul, and body, without fault when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. He who calls you is to be trusted; he will do it" (l Thess. 5:23, 24, N.E.B.). "If you give fortitude full play you will go on to complete a balanced character that will fall short in nothing" (James 1:4, N.E.B.). "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).
Many conservative theologians recognize the heights of accomplishment God requires of His people.
In the New Testament the only Christian life allowable is that of entire sanctification. For those who are stopping short of this there are exhortations, warnings, expostulations, invitations, prayers; but the life there presented to every believer is one of a surrendered will, an obedient heart, a victorious Spirit-filled life in union with Christ, bringing salvation from sin, and leading to steady growth, through increasing knowledge and manifold temptations. -JAMES HASTINGS, Thessalonians to Hebrews, p. 52.
After examining a number of Scripture words that describe God's moral requirements for His followers, R. B. Girdlestone comments:
It will thus be seen that the standard of perfection set before all Christians in the N.T. is very high indeed, no room being left for any wrong-doing; but the promise of needful power is equally explicit. -Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 99.
Ellen G. White is direct and explicit in her statements regarding God's standard for His people:
Exact obedience is required, and those who say it is not possible to live a perfect life throw upon God the imputation of injustice and untruth.-In the Review and Herald, Feb. 7, 1957.
God requires at this moment just what He required of Adam in Paradise before he fell-perfect obedience to His law.-Review and Herald, July 15, 1890.
The obedience that Christ rendered God requires from human beings today.-Christ's Object Lessons, p. 282.
At this point we come to a problem that some Seventh-day Adventists have. Probably none of us have a problem concerning the eternal, unchangeable nature of God's law. We know that Jesus kept the law perfectly. We rightly believe that when we truly accept Him as our Saviour His unflawed obedience to the law is imputed to us so that we stand before God as if we had never sinned.
An Incredible Suggestion!
But some of us think the suggestion incredible, inconceivable, that we are expected to keep the law as perfectly as Jesus did. It is insisted by some that it is not possible for any man perfectly to meet that standard. Indeed, the Christian is bound to battle with sin throughout his life. But, it is implied, he is also bound to keep on failing, even if to a lesser and lesser degree. But by the very nature of the situation, it is suggested, he will keep on failing until Jesus returns. He can do nothing else because he was "shapen in iniquity; and in sin did ... [his] mother conceive ... [him]" (Ps. 51: 5), while Jesus was born without any tendency to sin.
But one thought must overshadow all such concepts. If it is impossible for man, in the strength of Christ, to keep God's law perfectly, then Satan is right; God is unfair. It is impossible for us to obey the precepts of the law. God is asking too much of us.
There is another, even more crucial and important issue involved, even the honor of God Himself. Ellen G. White puts it this way:
The Lord desires through His people to answer Satan's charges by showing the results of obedience to right principles.-Christ's Object Lessons, p. 296.
The very image of God is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people. -The Desire of Ages, p. 671.
Taking Another Look
The two concepts we have just considered-that if God cannot empower men to keep His law perfectly, Satan is right, and that the honor of God and the Son is bound up with our developing Christlike characters--demand that we take another look at our relationship to Christ, God, and the moral law.
Christ "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7, 8, R.S.V.). The Father sent "his own Son in a form like that of our own sinful nature" (Rom. 8:3, N.E.B.). "Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest" (Heb. 2: 17, R.S.V.).
Our Saviour took humanity, with all its liabilities. He took the nature of man, with the possibility of yielding to temptation. We have nothing to bear which He has not endured. -Ibid., p. II7.
Christ's overcoming and obedience is that of a true human being....
The obedience of Christ to His Father was the same obedience that is required of man .... He came not to our world to give the obedience of a lesser God to a greater, but as a man to obey God's Holy Law, and in this way He is our example. -Our High Calling, p.48.
God's requirement for us, then, is to live the kind of perfect life men may live in their
our work is to strive to attain in our sphere of action the perfection that Christ in His life on the earth attained in every phase of character. He is our example. -That I May Know Him, p. 130.
The Lord requires perfection from His redeemed family. He expects from us the perfection which Christ revealed in His humanity. -Child Guidance, p. 477.
A Troubling Concept
At this point we are confronted with a subject that has challenged and troubled the Christian church for centuries and that challenges the Seventh-day Adventist Church today -that of perfection.
When we study the Spirit of Prophecy in the light of what God expects of His people, it is impossible to avoid the term, for Ellen White uses it over and over again in this connection. Because she uses it so often, and often places it in a context that helps us to understand what she means, we believe it is possible for us to get from her writings an understanding of the concept that builds on the Bible teaching, and that goes on to give us a magnified picture of the concept.
To understand the concept we need first to take a look at the term as used in the Bible.
This present book is not the kind of work in which the author goes into a detailed, scholarly examination of the Biblical terms, Hebrew and Greek, that are translated "perfect." A brief summary must suffice.
It is possible to explain the Hebrew words by observing that they mean, variously, among other definitions, complete, whole, entire, blameless, finished. But because the subject of perfection comes much more to the fore in the New Testament, it might be well to look a little more closely at the Greek words there translated by various forms of the term "perfect"-the word, teleios. It comes from the root, telos, meaning, an end.
Teleios means, among other definitions, whole, perfect, full grown, fulfilled, mature, complete.
In his Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson comments on Matthew 5:48: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." "The word [perfect] comes from telos, end, goal, limit. Here it is the goal set before us, the absolute standard of our heavenly Father. The word is used also for relative perfection as of adults compared with children."
Of this text Ellen White says:
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 redemption 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 Desire of Ages, p. 311.
Perfect in Our Sphere
In My Life Today, page 38, Ellen White enlarges somewhat on Matthew 5:48 by writing, "We may be perfect in our sphere, even as God is perfect in His." We shall deal with this idea again in the following chapter.
Commenting on the noun form of the word, telos, which is teleioi, the perfect ones, Richard C. Trench observes:
In a natural sense the τέλειοι [teleioi] are the adults, who, having attained the full limits of stature, strength, and mental power within their reach, have in these respects attained their τελος [telos], as distinguished from the νέοι [neoi] or παΐδες [paides], young men or boys .-Synonyms of the New Testament, p. 75.
Later, he summarizes:
The distinction then is plain .... The τέλειος [teleios] is one who has attained his moral end, that for which he was intended, namely, to be a man in Christ; however it may be true that, having reached this, other and higher ends will open out before him, to have Christ formed in him more and more.-Page 77.
Truth Versus Fanaticism
Now, the fact that the idea of perfection has in the past led some men and women to make exaggerated, fanatical claims, and to practice fanatical, even immoral, acts, should not lead Seventh-day Adventists to repudiate the whole concept out of hand. 74 Exaggeration and fanaticism have been attached to many another Bible teaching, as well, but we don't reject these teachings because of that.
Moreover, the fact that Ellen White does not avoid or depreciate the concept, except when she is discussing fanaticism, but rather uses the term in a sense that often seems to approach the absolute meaning-by which I mean total and uninterrupted victory over every sin of thought, motive, and action that were in the life-should cause us to examine the idea carefully.
We believe that, on the basis of the Spirit of Prophecy writings, there is a way to understand the concept of perfection that will, in the main, eliminate the objections that have been raised against it over the centuries. This way is the subject of the following chapter.