WE MET our imaginary man, John, in chapter six, and since then have gotten to know him fairly well. When we met him he was at a low ebb, spiritually. For, although he was a church member "in good and regular standing," he had many habits and attitudes that told us he was not really a Christian.
Then we watched him as the Holy Spirit was able to get through to him and he began to respond. We saw him give up more and more of his sinful habits and practices until he had almost surrendered totally to the wooings of God.
We witnessed self putting up a stiff battle and finally, sadly, watched John give way and, as a result, slide back to his old, comfortable manner of life, in which he could still be an apparently good church member, but was far from his God.
In chapter ten we went "in depth" into John's experience, as it were, and analyzed the faculties involved in his struggle. We saw reason and judgment tell him he ought to surrender to the Holy Spirit's invitations. We described how desires and feelings strenuously objected to that step. And we decided that the struggle could be resolved in only one way: by an action of John's will.
In this chapter let's think about John one more time. Suppose that, on another occasion, the Spirit comes to him in a constraining manner. Again John is faced with his sins, external and internal. Again reason and desires wrestle with each other. But this time John places his will decisively on the side of reason and right. He surrenders self totally to God, and thus is released from the bondage of sin.
When this happens, John enters into a relationship with Christ that entirely changes his standing with God and his feelings toward God. Theologically, this is called justification.
Justification, as we have just intimated, has two aspects. The first may be termed legal, the second, experiential. In the first we may think in terms of a court in which the penalty of the guilty prisoner has been paid, and therefore there is no longer any charge against him. So Christ has paid the penalty for the sinner who accepts Him and gives himself to Him. Therefore the sinner stands before God as if he had never sinned.
If you give yourself to Him [Christ], and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned. -Steps to Christ, p. 62.
Justification is sometimes explained as nothing more than a legal transaction by which sins recorded in the books of heaven are canceled after one accepts the fact that Jesus is Saviour, and confesses his sins. But there is another vitally important element required, without which, in fact, one is not justified.
Justification is given only to those who accept and commit themselves to God's whole plan of righteousness by faith in Christ. -The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 521.
God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place. -Selected Messages, book I, p. 366.
Forgiveness [an aspect of justification] has a broader meaning than many suppose .... God's forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. -Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 114.
A Change in Mental Posture
The second aspect of justification, then, the experiential aspect, begins in John with a change of mental posture caused by the Holy Spirit's coming into his life and transforming his attitude. This is what Paul is writing about in Romans 12:2: "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind."
This radical change of attitude brings John into sympathy and agreement with God, and produces peace in the soul. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (chap. 5: 1). "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).
This experience of the born-again Christian may be illustrated by that marvelous mechanical device called a gyroscope that is used to stabilize ships and planes, and is used in many other situations where stability and equilibrium are required. The device, which seems to defy gravity, keeps its balance despite counter influences. This is because of a rapidly spinning wheel, which tends to remain in its initial position. This tendency may be demonstrated by a toy gyroscope in operation. Try to push it gently from its position, and it persists in holding that position.
If you point the axle of a rapidly spinning gyroscope at the sun the end of the axle will appear to follow the sun as it makes its way across the sky. This is because the gyroscope maintains its original position in space while the earth turns beneath it.
How beautifully this illustrates the experience of the justified person. One aspect of this is described in The Desire of Ages in these words:
Those who take Christ at His word, and surrender their souls to His keeping, their lives to His ordering, will find peace and quietude. Nothing of the world can make them sad when Jesus makes them glad by His presence. -Page 331.
Jesus' dwelling within is like a spiritual gyroscope that keeps us at peace although all around us may be moving in another direction, and seeking to push us in another direction.
Space vehicles, such as Mariner I and II, had gyroscopes set for horizontal, vertical, and transverse control, so that every possible movement was under gyroscopic control. Should some situation tend to cause deviation from the course to which they were locked, the gyroscopes would offset the interference.
The born-again Christian has similar spiritual "gyroscopic controls" that are meant to keep him from going off course:
"Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa. 30: 21).
Our subject, john, then, has surrendered to Christ, sin has been expelled from the soul, guilt has been removed, the Holy Spirit dwells within; he has spiritual stability and equilibrium. Can he now expect that he will not again be troubled by sin; that he is now immune to sin and sinning?
The answer, we realize, is No. No more than a plane or ship can expect that no forces will operate to get it off course when it is fitted with gyroscopes. We have just discussed this matter in the foregoing chapter. For example, we considered the statement: "As long as Satan reigns we shall have self to subdue, besetments to overcome, and there is no stopping place." -My Life Today, p. 249.
Justification Does Not Destroy Self
Justification and the new birth, then, do not destroy self, which concept is explained in the allegory of the previous chapter and chapter 6. They do remove it from the throne of the life, and make available needed resources to defeat
But while John cannot expect to escape being troubled by self and sin, at the same time God's ideal for him is that he no longer be overcome by them. "My little children," writes the apostle John, "these things write I unto you that ye sin not." But then he continues, "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 2: 1).
The Greek word here translated sin is hamartia, which means, missing the mark. Thus sin is missing the mark that God has set for us, which mark is a character that parallels the life our Saviour lived as a man by obeying His Father
One may miss the mark in two ways-willingly, deliberately, or unwillingly, unintentionally. The born-again person does not sin intentionally, willingly.
When we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, we shall have no relish for sin; for Christ will be working with us. We may make mistakes, but we will hate the sin that caused the sufferings of the Son of God. -Selected Messages, book I, p. 360.
We shall fail often in our efforts to copy the divine pattern. We shall often have to bow down to weep at the feet of Jesus, because of our shortcomings and mistakes; but we are not to be discouraged; we are to pray more fervently, believe more fully, and try again with more steadfastness to grow into the likeness of our Lord. -Ibid., p. 337.
This brings us to an important question: If the born-again person may have complete victory over sin and self, why is it that he sometimes fails? Or, to get back to our gyroscope illustration, if the axle of the spiritual gyroscope is set on the Sun of Righteousness, how does it get nudged off course?
A number of answers may be given to this question. One is that the Christian's faith may temporarily falter.
Such was the case with Elijah after his great triumph over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18, 19).
Integrally linked with this is the fact that the Christian sometimes takes his eyes off Jesus. In her discussion of Peter's failure after beginning to walk on the water, Ellen White says:
When trouble comes upon us, how often we are like Peter. We look upon the waves, instead of keeping our eyes fixed upon the Saviour. Our footsteps slide, and the proud waters go over our souls. -The Desire of Ages, p. 382.
Neglected Prayer and Study
An important reason that we lose sight of Jesus is that we do not spend time in thoughtful meditation and prayer, and in the study of the Word.
Then, Satan may temporarily succeed in getting the Christian to forget the Lord. He may so succeed in focusing his attention on his problems that he fails to remember Him who is the solution to them. The adversary "knows that if he can obscure our vision, so that the eye of faith cannot see God, there will be no barrier against sin" (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 92). "Too often we forget the Lord. Self gives way to impulse, and we lose the victories that we should gain." -God's Amazing Grace, p. 179.
Still another reason that the Christian may temporarily fail is that he permits self and sin to assert itself briefly. Envy, pride, self-righteousness, anger, or some other besetment may rise to the surface and find
Some earnest Christians fear that when they fail under these circumstances they are separated from God. Let them ponder these encouraging words:
If one who daily communes with God errs from the path, if he turns a moment from looking steadfastly unto Jesus, it is not because he sins willfully; for when he sees his mistake, he turns again, and fastens his eyes upon Jesus [his spiritual gyroscope brings him back to position], and the fact that he has erred, does not make him less dear to the heart of God. -Review and Herald, May 12, 1896.
However, it is well to realize that,
the willful commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit and separates the soul from God. -The Sanctified Life, p.92.
How Character Is Revealed
We may also remember that "the character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional [unintentional] misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts." -Steps to Christ, pp. 57, 58.
If you have made mistakes, you certainly gain a victory if you see these mistakes and regard them as beacons of warning. Thus you turn defeat into victory, disappointing the enemy and honoring your Redeemer. -Christ's Object Lessons, p. 332.
When the Christian recognizes his mistakes, turns immediately from them, repents and confesses, is aware of his own great weakness and the need of a greater dependence upon his Saviour, he has gained a victory and prepared himself for future victories.
The question is sometimes asked, You say that the born-again person, in his battle with sin, is sometimes overcome. If this is so, what is the difference between him and the unregenerate person, the church member who is not born again, but who also struggles with sin and fails as the born-again person does?
Remember the gyroscope? As soon as a ship equipped with the device is hit by a wave, immediately the gyroscope is at work to maintain the ship's balance. So with the born-again person. When any weakness or temptation tends to cause him to sin, his spiritual gyroscope, the new heart that is set toward God, operates to bring him back in balance.
The person who is not born again does not have this stabilizer. It is a case of "the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7: 19). So he struggles to maintain his spiritual equilibrium against sin and self. But he cannot keep it. He does not have a gyroscope.
Remember, also, that this stability in the born-again person that is seen outwardly, operates inwardly. It is the result of the renewed heart and mind guided by the Holy Spirit. The unregenerate may sometimes manage to maintain an outward appearance of victory, when inwardly he is far off center. But he whose life is in Jesus has victory within. When he turns to Jesus for aid, his feeling of anger, or resentment, or envy, dies. He is at peace. In the unregenerate the feeling continues to seethe, and he may later take it out on his wife, or children, or someone else.
The way of the born-again person then, is the way of victory, inwardly and outwardly, even though defeat may sometimes seem to be his lot. For the fact that he turns his eyes toward Jesus when sin intrudes, means that, by the very act of turning, he has changed a momentary setback into a victory.