BUT where do we hear such warnings about changing one’s lifestyle in order to be prepared for heaven? To even suggest, as Jesus did, that what we see, hear or speak could have anything to do with whether we go to heaven or hell is counted today as legalistic and fanatic.
It is assumed that sanctification is an imputed, passive experience just like justification. Christ does it all and we simply believe that His holiness and righteousness have ‘s been credited to our account. Salvation according to some people consists totally of Christ’s work in our behalf, and any concern of our own to do the works of Christ is an attempt to earn salvation. That false premise is demolished by statements such as these:
“The work of gaining salvation is one of copartnership, a joint operation. There is to be cooperation between God and the repentant sinner. This is necessary for the formation of right principles in the character. Man is to make earnest efforts to overcome that which hinders him from attaining to perfection. But he is wholly dependent upon God for success. Human effort of itself is not sufficient. Without the aid of divine power it avails nothing. God works and man works. Resistance of temptation must come from man, who must draw his power from God.” Acts of the Apostles, p. 482.
“Many never attain to the position that they might occupy, because they wait for God to do for them that which He has given them power to do for themselves. All who are fitted for usefulness must be trained by the severest mental and moral discipline, and God will assist them by uniting divine power with human effort.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 248.
These statements point up a most important spiritual principle about gaining the victory over sin. It is faith in the power-packed promises of God which brings deliverance from bad habits and sins. But faith without works is dead. After claiming the victory on the basis of God’s promise, we must demonstrate that faith by acting on His Word. Those who have asked for deliverance from tobacco, must then act as though it is done. They must throw away the cigarettes and refrain from ever taking them into their hands again.
According to Sister White, it is only when we begin to exert all of our effort against the sin over which we have claimed the victory that the power flows into our life to resist the temptation. Indeed the only true evidence of our faith is a confident, deliberate course of action which denies the possibility for the flesh to prevail against the promised power of God.
“The Lord does not propose to perform for us either the willing or the doing. This is our proper work. As soon as we earnestly enter upon the work, God’s grace is given to work in us to will and to do, but never as a substitute for our effort. Our souls are to be aroused to cooperate. The Holy Spirit works the human agent, to work out our own salvation.” Testimonies to Ministers, pg. 240.
Very simply then, we can say that God provides the POSSIBILITY for victory, but we possess the RESPONSIBILITY for it. He places the power over sin within us and we show our faith by using the power to actively and aggressively resist the sin. When victory F results we do not take credit for it, but glorify God who provided the deliverance. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57.
Satan would be more than delighted if we simply relaxed and waited for God to extract us from every dangerous circumstance of temptation. Thousands have made no effort of their own, feeling that it would be stealing some honor away from God to put forth any kind t. of resistance in the flesh against sin. When total victory doesn’t come through such a passive program, they are i comforted that God has deliberately ordained that some sin remain in the experience of the saints.
On an alarming scale, Seventh-day Adventist Christians have been assured that such sin, though willfully practiced, cannot take away their security in Christ. This is probably one of the most deadly doctrinal errors now permeating the remnant church at all levels. Because it is so subtly woven through many of the popular books of Adventism, it has produced an almost permissive slackness concerning the practice of sin. Believing the enormous lie that sin doesn’t affect their relationship with Christ, more have become less and less troubled by increasing lapses into worldly compromise and conformity. At the same time, they become righteously indignant at the “legalists” in the church who put everybody on a guilt trip by their negative attitude toward those little things like drinking coffee and eating out in restaurants on the Sabbath.
Are we talking about real things that are happening in practically every congregation? Of course we are. One large portion of our membership can’t understand why the other portion should be so distressed over a small amount of sin, because they have been convinced that it hasn’t separated them from Christ!
Much more needs to be said about the presumption of loitering on the fringes of Satan’s disputed territory. It is off limits for any Christian to remain where it is questionable. God had a reason for separating His people as far as possible from the sources of temptation. Some professed Christians seem to seek out test situations in which to exhibit their great faith in the keeping power of God. There is no promise of victory in such presumptuous action, Deliverance from sin is not a onetime, forever-settled transaction which guarantees no future failure. It is a continuous abiding in the imputed and imparted merits of Christ plus a deliberate closing up of every recognized route of temptation.
Wrote the prophet:
“We have a work to do to resist temptation. Those who would not fall a prey to Satan’s devices must guard well the avenues of the soul; they must avoid reading, seeing or hearing that which will suggest impure thoughts.” Mind, Character and Personality, p. 107.
I can never forget the conflict in my own self-nature at the age of eleven when I placed everything on the altar for God. Satan understands the point of greatest weakness in every human being, and upon that point he will rally all his evil resources for a final face-off battle. My weakness was reading exciting novels and drugstore magazines. It was a fierce struggle, but finally the decision was made! Fifty years have not dimmed the memory of how I loaded those comic books and magazines into my little red wagon, and pulled it up the road, through the gate, into the cow pasture behind the barn. There I dug a hole and buried those treasures of my past unregenerate life.
God gave me a glorious victory that day over those tantalizing publications, but I had to stop meeting the summer library truck as it pulled into the school yard next to my house every Thursday. I knew deep down inside of me that if I stood looking at those fascinating titles, they would end up on my desk at home.
God gave me the victory and showed me how to keep it, but He could not make the decision for me not to meet the library truck. That responsibility was mine. I’m still tempted by exciting adventure books and TV programs, and if I ever gave Satan a tiny advantage, he would sweep me back into that slavery again. That’s why I have never had television in my home. God has given me enough wisdom to recognize the danger of trifling with something that could lead into sin. How thankful we should be for that wonderful reasoning mind which can, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, make choices to act against sin.
Genuine conversion will make us willing to give up the enjoyment of sin. Too many people play games with the flesh and the world, and end up testing themselves beyond their strength. How foolish it is to believe we can take fire into our bosom without being burned. God will not work miracles to save us from dangers we create for ourselves. Do not pray for a pure mind while you feed your eyes on scenes of immorality and impurity, or while you mingle with the near-nude crowd at the pool or beach. Stop making the silly excuse that you can control your thoughts and emotions under all circumstances. No one has the strength of victory who does not have the Holy Spirit in control of the mind. And it is certain that the Holy Spirit would never send messages for the eyes to look at scenes of provocative nudity, or violence, or sin. Neither would He order the feet to walk into the theater or the rock concert!
If you are praying for God to save you from weaknesses of the flesh, apply yourself also to help answer that prayer. Inspired counsel tells us how many fail in this respect:
“So many invite the enemy to tempt them. They place themselves in circumstances where they will be entrapped.” Upward Look, pg. 25.
“You, my brethren, fold your hands, and drift into evil practices, and then wait for God to work a miracle to change your characters and compel you to be pure and holy men. Will you expose yourself wantonly to temptation, expecting God to force your mind and inclination that you may not be corrupted? Will you take the viper to your bosom, expecting God to put a spell upon it so it will not poison you with its venomous sting? Will you drink poison, expecting God to provide an antidote?” Testimonies to Ministers, p. 455.
“You cherish the evil; you strengthen it. You love it better than you love truth, purity, righteousness. You do not take hold of divine help, wrenching yourselves from hurtful and dangerous associations. You tamely give yourselves to the working of an evil way, as though you had no free moral agency. Study God’s Word prayerfully, meet its demands firmly, resolutely, as did Joseph and Daniel. Lay hold upon the help God has promised you.” Ibid. p. 452.
The expression “wrenching yourselves” sounds very much like the words of our Lord. He spoke of “plucking out” the eye and “cutting off ’ the hand to get away from harmful influences. In our soft-sell age it is popular to believe that God wants us to be happy and, therefore, He would never make it necessary for us to exert such effort in living the Christian life. On this basis, truth and principle are often measured by the subjective test of joy, pleasure, or compatibility with those around us.
Is this not the root of many moral problems in the church? Why are there almost as many divorces in the Seventh-day Adventist Church as among the population at large? One reason is because the mind does not repel the first thought of sin. That initial attraction must be aggressively rejected. No matter how alluring it might be to the fallen nature, the spiritual mind must say no to that appeal. If the temptation is harbored, and that other person gets a second and third thought, the flame begins to grow. Husbands and wives look less and less suitable while the third party appears more and more desirable. Soon there is a divorce.
Almost any unscriptural divorce and remarriage situation is defended today by an appeal to feeling or reason. One question is assumed to lay the matter to rest and preclude any further discussion on the subject:
“Do you think he is supposed to live alone for the rest of his life?” In other words, no proper solution would allow for less than another marriage partner. Without realizing it, we have substituted happy relationships instead of the Bible for testing standards of right and wrong. Gradually the strict scriptural admonitions on dress, diet, divorce, etc., have been rationalized in favor of practices more congenial with culture and personal gratification. We have made ourselves believe that happiness, peace, and unity are the highest aims of Christian living. Desirable though they may be, these are not valid tests for measuring truth.
Has this attitude affected the message of the Seventh day Adventist Church? To get an answer to that question, one needs to survey our official publications during the past several years. A large portion of the articles lean toward the more frothy aspects of an emotional love and grace relationship with little solid content about loyalty and obedience. My own search turned up very few discourses on Christian standards, and one of them warned of the terrible danger involved in seeking to ‘ uphold high standards. Another article darkly hinted of legalism and spiritual pride which attended any efforts to eat, dress or act in a certain way. The negative aspects of a Christian lifestyle came through more forcefully than anything positive.
Just yesterday, I was interrupted in my writing by a phone call from California. The date was September 28, 1987, and the excited man on the other end was calling at 5:30 in the morning. He had a most interesting story to share with me. He was not a Seventh-day Adventist, but spoke feelingly about his deep, born-again relationship with Christ.
A few days earlier, this man had made a survey of all the private schools in his area. He had been greatly’ impressed by one of them which forbad the use of cosmetics and jewelry. Even though his own church approved of moderate adornment, the man himself had strong convictions that it was worldly and displeasing to God.
Upon further inquiry, he discovered that it was an Adventist school which took the stand against makeup and jewelry. Determined to get more information on the subject, he made the two-hour trip to Loma Linda where he approached the university librarian for help in locating source material in support of our teaching on artificial adornment.
She referred him to the file which he described as “The Herald and Review.” There he spent a long time searching back through thirty years of the Adventist Review papers. By the time he reached the mid-fifties, only two articles had been found pertaining to the topic, and he told me in disappointment that they contained almost nothing of any substance to answer his questions.
He appealed once more to the librarian for further material, but she had none to offer. Nevertheless, she did suggest that he go to the nearby Adventist Book Center and ask for the book, Colorful Cosmetics and Jewelry, by Joe Crews. The man hurried to the store and bought the book. He read it through twice and called me immediately to express his delight. His plan now is to prepare a paper for his own church presenting the Bible evidence and appealing for them to take a stand against wearing makeup and jewelry. The man said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to find a church that has the courage to take a stand where the Bible does.” He asked for all the additional information I could send him to help in preparing his paper.
Let no one bring the ridiculous charge that this church is putting out too much material on standards and Adventist lifestyle, and thereby projecting a legalistic image. It may be that legalism has resulted BECAUSE we have not provided material showing the beautiful relationship between our love for Jesus and our service for Him. Yesterday my new California friend could find almost nothing in our large university library on specifics of practical Christian behavior. He could have found hundreds of volumes on the theology of faith, imputed righteousness, etc.
The fact is that many in our beloved church have been intimidated either by an over-emphasis, or by a distortion of love, grace, justification and ecumenism. One popular book from our presses boldly
proclaimed on its cover: “We are not given salvation because of our good deeds, nor are we deprived of it because of our misdeeds.”
Ask Eve, or Achan, or Judas if misdeeds can affect our salvation. Why do we print such dangerous falsehoods? This lie has been Satan’s stock in trade for six thousand years. Yet it would amaze all of us to know how steadily and stealthily this concept has gained ground in the remnant church. The leavening power of a little sin has not been properly portrayed. We all, ministers and members alike, need to be brought back to the Bible understanding of sin as an act of transgression against God’s law. We have failed to expose the dangers, as well as the ultimate consequences, of acting contrary to God’s revealed will. Our dereliction in this area surely is proven beyond question by the divorce rate among Seventh-day Adventists and the fact that nearly forty percent of our young people are not sure that fornication is a sin. How could the church with the Elijah message have such a dismal domestic record, especially considering that the Elijah message consists of two main partsuniting the family and boldly condemning sin in all its forms? It is patently obvious that we have not defined clearly enough adultery and fornication in our churches. The world has a right to expect the last-day, true church to restore the great original principles of purity, modesty and morality. Yet we are just as far from those principles as some of the churches of spiritual Babylon, and often they seem to speak out and take stronger stands on moral issues than we do.
Why are we so fearful of assuming firm positions in the area of Christian standards? Is it because we are desperately trying to change our image in the eyes of the world? Because the evangelicals have accused us of legalism, are we now overreacting, and down-playing those very good works which have distinguished and identified us as the true remnant? This may appear very likely as we analyze further the potency of Satan’s agelong warfare against the people of God.