THE life of the born-again person is a life totally surrendered to Christ. This surrender is of the mind, heart, and will. The desires, the will, the motives, the ambitions, the attitudes, are now Christ-centered and Christ-directed rather than being self-centered and self-directed.
But while there is a "new heart," as just defined, this does not mean that every undesirable habit that has been deeply registered upon our brain and nerve cells is wiped
The work of salvation is not child's play, to be taken hold of at will and let alone at pleasure. It is the steady purpose, the untiring effort, that will gain the victory at last. It is who endureth to the end that shall be saved. -Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 101, 102.
Those who would overcome must put to the tax every power of their being. They must agonize on their knees before God for divine power. ... Divinity and humanity may be combined in them. -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Matt. 4:1-11, p. 1082.
As day by day the continuously surrendered Christian cooperates with Christ in ridding himself of sinful propensities, his impulses to sin become weaker and weaker, and thus easier and easier to overcome. The sin pattern imprinted upon the brain cells where the habit is registered, becomes weaker and weaker as it is gradually eliminated and replaced by the good habit impulse the Christian is developing.
As we partake of the divine nature, hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong are cut away from the character, and we are made a living power for good. Ever learning of the divine Teacher, daily partaking of His nature, we co-operate with God in overcoming Satan's temptations. God works, and man works, that man may be one with Christ as Christ is one with God. Then we sit together with Christ in heavenly places. The mind rests with peace and assurance in Jesus. -ELLEN G. WHITE, in Review and Herald, April 24, 1900.
As day by day the Christian cooperates in the work of overcoming, the time comes when every impulse to sin has been subdued so that its impression upon the brain and nerve cells is too weak to trigger a reaction.
It is, I believe, of this condition that Ellen White writes:
If we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. -The Desire of Ages, p. 668. (Italics supplied.)
Does this mean that the Christian can get to the place where he will not sin?
God calls upon us to reach the standard of perfection and places before us the example of Christ's character. In His humanity, perfected by a life of constant resistance to evil, the Saviour showed that through co-operation with Divinity, human beings may in this life attain to perfection of character. This is God's assurance to us that we, too, may obtain complete victory. -The Acts of the Apostles, p. 531.
Exact obedience is required, and those who say that it is not possible to live a perfect life throw upon God the imputation of injustice and untruth.-ELLEN G. WHITE, in Review and Herald, Feb. 7, 1957.
He who has not sufficient faith in Christ to believe that He can keep him from sinning, has not the faith that will give him an entrance into the kingdom of God. -ELLEN G. WHITE, in Review and Herald, March 10, 1904.
Objections to Perfection
There are, understandably, a number of objections that have been raised to the teaching of perfection because of past experiences, already alluded to. But perfection, as we believe it may be understood from the Spirit of Prophecy writings –
Does not mean holy flesh. "While we cannot claim perfection of the flesh, we may have Christian perfection of the soul." -Selected Messages, book 2, p. 32.
It does not mean that it is impossible to sin. This has been lucidly explained by someone who said, "It is not impossible to sin, but it is possible not to sin." "Christ came to this world and lived the law of God, that man might have perfect mastery over the natural inclinations which corrupt the soul." -The Ministry of Healing, pp. 130, 131.
It does not mean ever reaching a time when we will be able to make it on our own. "We cannot for one moment separate ourselves from Christ with safety." -Messages to Young People, p. 115. "Divine grace is needed at the beginning, divine grace at every step of advance, and divine grace alone can complete the work." -Testimonies to Ministers, p.
It does not lead one ever to feel that he is holy, perfect, or to have pride or self-confidence. One reason for this is that he who reaches the condition described by Ellen White will not know that he has. 77 This was apparently the case with Paul. During his first imprisonment in Rome he wrote his Epistle to the Philippians, in which he stated: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after .. ," (Phil. 3: 12). These words were written toward the end of the apostle's life; he was beheaded only about five years later. Yet of Paul, Ellen White wrote, "Paul attained to the full moral stature of a man in Christ Jesus." -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Phil. 1:21, p. 903.
(We need to place beside the text just quoted, verse 15, in which Paul classes himself with those that are "perfect." This contradiction is only apparent, not real. The SDA Bible Commentary, in its comments on verse 15, says: "The concept here expressed does not conflict with the statement of Philippians 3: 12, where Paul denies that he has reached the ultimate in perfection. Here [in verse 15] he is employing perfect in a relative sense.")
In the Signs of the Times, August 22, 1911, Mrs. White stated, "You may not realize that you are growing up into Christ, your living Head. Your part is simply to submit your ways and your will to God. You are to trust yourself fully to God, knowing you cannot make yourself grow."
In this last phrase is found the main reason why he who reflects the character of Christ fully, even should he know that he does, will never feel that he has done the attaining, or will in any way be inclined to pat himself on the back. Humbly, he will know, through bitter experience, that he himself cannot get rid of his inherited and cultivated bent to sin. He has learned that his only strength, his only hope, his only sufficiency, his only possibility, is in his Saviour, who only can bring a good thing out of an evil thing.78
Because he who reaches the stage where he no longer commits sin, will not know it, and because "It is not impossible to sin, but it is possible not to sin," "we cannot say, 'I am sinless,' till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body."-ELLEN G. WHITE, in Signs of the Times, March 23, 1888.
Contradictory as it may at first thought seem to some, "in this life [to] attain to perfection of character" does not mean to become as unsurpassably perfect as God is perfect. It does not mean that one has reached the absolute, ultimate limits of growth. We have noted that Christians are to manifest the kind of perfect life Jesus lived on earth. Those who finally reach that condition will have, in cooperation with Him, done so from two aspects. They will have completely overcome the negative qualities in their lives, sin. And they will have added positive qualities. In other words, they will stop sinning, entirely, and will manifest fully in their present state the qualities of moral perfection shown by Christ as a man. Thus they will be perfect in their sphere as God is perfect in His, which is infinitely above man's.
As a man, Christ revealed a severely limited picture of His divinity. His glory, His character, was lived within boundaries to which human beings are limited. But, under those limitations, and revealing to man as much as man could grasp, Christ lived a perfect life, a fulfillment of the absolute idea of manhood.
Right here I wish to detour for a moment to bring in an idea that, while not directly connected with what we have been discussing, is nevertheless vitally related, and is very important in the context of our chapter title, "Proving Satan Wrong."
In The Desire of Ages, page 763, we read of the time when, from the viewpoint of the development of man's character, the controversy will have reached its peak. Referring to "the end of time," the author says:
There will be but two classes. Every character will be fully developed; and all will show whether they have chosen the side of loyalty or that of rebellion.
Then the end will come. God will vindicate His law and deliver His people.
Man's Blunted Faculties
Man, in the flesh, with all of his faculties vastly blunted by sin, is intellectually, spiritually, socially, esthetically, and sensorially limited. But all of this will be changed when the redeemed are given bodies "like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). With the sin principle, the negative element, entirely eliminated from the character, with minds and bodies infinitely better and more sensitive than those we now possess, we will begin growth of which we can now have no
Every faculty will be developed, every capacity increased. The acquirement of knowledge will not weary the mind or exhaust the energies. There the grandest enterprises may be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations reached, the highest ambitions realized; and still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the powers of mind and soul and body. -The Great Controversy, p. 677.
And the years of eternity, as they roll, will bring richer and still more glorious revelations of God and of Christ. As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase.-Ibid., p.678.
Those who are under the instruction of Christ in this world will take every divine attainment with them to the heavenly mansions. And in heaven we are continually to improve. -Christ's Object Lessons, p. 332.
Thus, in this life, he who surrenders himself totally, unreservedly, to God will, in cooperation with Jesus, grow away from sin, the negative quality of life, until Jesus can "keep him from sinning." At the same time he will begin to grow in all the positive qualities-love, gratitude, appreciation, service, and others . 80 And he will continue to grow throughout eternity. In this, so far as man is concerned, there seems to be no absolute, no arriving, for these qualities are God's infinitely, and man will never be equal to Him.
It is essential that one further, very important, idea be added here. Because a Christian has so placed himself in the hands of Jesus, and his life has been so molded that he finally no longer commits sin, does not mean that he cannot sin. We previously quoted, "It is not impossible to sin, but it is possible not to sin." Let us examine the subject in the light of this statement.
There are quotations in the Spirit of Prophecy that, if not properly understood, seem to contradict what we have written. Portions of the following are among them:
Sanctification is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime. It is not gained by a happy flight of feeling, but is the result of constantly dying to sin, and constantly living for Christ. ... It is only by long, persevering effort, sore discipline, and stern conflict, that we shall overcome .... So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained. Sanctification is the result of a lifelong obedience. -The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 560. 561. (Italics supplied.)
A question that may be raised is this: If it is possible "in this life [to] attain to perfection of character;" if it is possible that Christ can "keep him [a Christian] from sinning," how is it that we are told that "so long as Satan reigns [which will be till the coming of Christ] we shall have self to subdue," and that "there will be no stopping place"?
Perhaps a simple allegory will help us to find a solution. There is an island kingdom, with a fortified city as its headquarters, that has a tyrant as king.
There comes a time when the subjects of this kingdom begin to groan under his tyranny, and wish to be rid of him. They put forth every effort to dethrone him, but to no avail. He is too strong, too entrenched, for them.
Finally they conclude, There is no use in our trying to depose the king. He has forces available that we do not have. The only way we shall be able to rid ourselves of him is by calling on another king to help us.
So they approach the king of another country and ask him to liberate them from the tyrant. He says, I will send my son, the crown prince, to aid you.
The prince agrees to help. But there are conditions. He says, "There is only one way I can help you. Your ruler is so strong, so subtle, so pervasive, that in order for me to defeat him you must give me absolute control, and do completely everything I ask of you."
They agree. Then he adds, "While I ask total cooperation and obedience if I am to be your king, I will rule you only as long as you want me to. I want to be wanted as your king. When you ask me to abdicate, I shall do so."
With this understanding the prince deposes the tyrant, and becomes the new king, ruling in love and benevolence.
But the tyrant, while he is no longer ruler, is still alive. He flees with his followers to some wild, barren mountains to the north of the island kingdom. From there, year after year, he carries on guerrilla warfare against the people and the city. And the subjects of the kingdom must be on constant, and vigilant, guard against him, and must ever look to their new king for aid.
Sometimes the old ruler, who is well acquainted with the weaknesses of his former capital, makes a sudden sally, and the city's defenses are momentarily breached. Sometimes the city's inhabitants relax their vigilance, and he takes them by surprise, overcoming
As long as the subjects of that kingdom are submitted to their new king, they can, with his help, turn these setbacks into victories, and thus they grow stronger day by day. At the same time the tyrant, in his barren mountains, is growing weaker and weaker.
As time goes on, the weakened former ruler loses every fight. He is constantly subdued, and never again successful in any raid he
But he is still alive and alert, always looking for an opportunity to defeat his former subjects, always harassing them, always making it essential that they never let down their guard, and that they look constantly to their new ruler for aid.
The interpretation of the allegory is this:
The tyrant king is Sinful Self who is the natural ruler at the center of all men's lives. There are some men who, becoming unhappy with their ruler, decide they must get him out of their lives. So they put forth every effort to subdue him and his followers-various evil habits and tendencies, such as temper, appetite, malice, lust, envy, and so on. But they soon discover their inability to overcome. They then call upon God and He sends His Son, Jesus, to the rescue.
[But] Christ asks for an unreserved consecration, for undivided service. He demands the heart, the mind, the soul, the strength. Self is not to be cherished. He who lives to himself is not a Christian. -Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 48, 49.
While Christ demands complete consecration, He will not demand it unwillingly. If we decide to permit self to assume control again, He will sorrowfully acquiesce to our wishes.
But once the surrender is made, Christ aids the sinner to expel self from the throne of the soul. But self is not destroyed by that act. He is still lurking in the life, waiting to manifest himself at any moment.83
Self is difficult to conquer. Human depravity in every form is not easily brought into subjection to the Spirit of Christ. But all should be impressed with the fact that unless this victory is gained through Christ, there is no hope for them. The victory can be gained; for nothing is impossible with God. By His assisting grace, all evil temper, all human depravity, may be overcome. -Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 349.
Self can be conquered. The sinful human nature can be subdued, totally, through Christ.
By resolute self-denial, by constant watchfulness, by earnest prayer, by the diligent use of every means of grace, and by the help of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, we shall come off victorious. -Our High Calling, p. 82.
But self, subdued though it may be for years, is always there, potentially ready to take over the life. And it is not until Christ comes, and we are changed, that Sinful Self will finally be destroyed.
Proving Satan a Liar
Thus, I believe that the perfection Christ desires, and that Ellen White describes, is that full giving over of the life to Jesus that He may develop mature, complete, blameless, finished characters that will reflect fully the life He lived on earth, in which sinning had no part. The people who thus cooperate with Him will prove that, by His indwelling Spirit, His law can be fully kept. They will prove that Satan is a liar.
Some hold that the subject of perfection is not one upon which the Christian needs to dwell. While we do not believe the danger inherent in the usual understanding of the subject is found in the explanation we have given, still we would agree, except for one reason:
There is a great, overshadowing cause for the Christian to aspire, with the concentrated powers of his being, to the life that perfectly reflects the life of Jesus. It is because his greatest desire will be to vindicate the honor of his Lord and Saviour. He will want to prove to all the universe, to Satan and all his hosts, that the adversary is a liar, and that God is right.
Christ is asking this vindication of His remnant church in this generation. And this means you and me. For with this church as the nucleus, there will emerge the 144,000 who will fully cooperate with Him (see Rev. 18:4, 5).
The church is the depositary of the wealth of the riches of the grace of Christ, and through the church eventually will be made manifest the final and full display of the love of God to the world that is to be lightened with its glory. The prayer of Christ that His church may be one as He was one with His Father, will finally be answered. The rich dowry of the Holy Spirit will be given, and through its constant supply to the people of God they will become witnesses in the world of the power of God unto salvation. -Testimonies to Ministers, p. 50. (Italics supplied.)
Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. -Christ's Object Lessons, p. 69.
"It is not for your sake, you Israelites, that I am acting, but for the sake of my holy name.... I will hallow my great name, which has been profaned among those nations. When they see that I reveal my holiness through you, the nations will know that I am the LORD, says the Lord God" (Eze. 36: 22,23, N.E.B.).
We must not fail Him!