Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
“Those who are living upon the earth, when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a Mediator” (Great Controversy, p. 425).
These two statements struck terror to my young soul. [1. As a Seventh-day Adventist, I hold the Scripture as our primary source of authority, and I find that Ellen White’s writings often provide clarity to the Scripture. If you do not see her writings as enlightening, you may want to skip reading this post. A statement regarding our regard for Scripture is the first of Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Beliefs. Belief #18 states our position on the Gift of Prophecy which includes the ministry of Ellen White.] They evoke a last-day perfection image that has scared many sincere Christians who believe that they must live a life absolutely free from error as they seek to prepare for a time called “Jacob’s trouble,” when Christ will not be available to help.
Confusing biblical perfection with sinless perfection causes a great deal of fear and argument. When we examine the context of Christ’s words in Matthew 5:48, we find that He is really talking about loving our neighbors as ourselves. He is talking about a heart condition, not details of behavior. [2. Also see what God spoke through Balaam when he attempted to curse Israel in Numbers 23:21. He had not found iniquity in Jacob or wickedness in Israel? Clearly God has different ways of seeing people than we do!] Some read 1 John 3:6 NKJV and understand the words “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” to mean that a real Christian will live absolutely without human error – as good as Jesus. Those of us who are aware of our human weakness either tend to give up or minimize our sinful nature. I trust that an examination of inspired evidence will remove some of this confusion.
How well I remember my early experience of discovering surety in Christ. In my third year of college I understood grace for the first time through Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace have you been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God and not of works, lest any man should boast.” For several months I basked in the joy of believing I could go to heaven.
However, my exuberance was short-lived. The university pastor at the time had a sermon that rocked my surety to the core. He spoke of a time in the future when we must perfectly reflect the character of Christ and live without a Mediator in the sight of a Holy God. I knew I was deeply flawed, and being that perfect without Christ’s continuing grace was impossible. I was distraught. I understood from his sermon that we must not make any human mistakes or have any shortcomings or we could not make it through the time of trouble when Christ would not be available to help. Even now, some teach that the last generation to live before Christ’s Second Coming finally becomes so victorious that they are absolutely perfect and worthy of translation – that they must be better than any other generation, or they cannot be saved.
The Bible speaks of a time before Jesus comes when, “he that is righteous let him be righteous still and he that is unjust let him be unjust still.” Revelation 22:11 It seems clear that, before Christ comes again, the harvest of the earth must be either ripe for heaven or ripe for destruction. (Revelation 14:14-20) Thus there will be a time when mediation ceases as Christ discontinues his work as Priest and Mediator and returns as King of Kings. John’s describes this time as the plagues are about to fall upon those who receive the mark of the beast: “The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.” Revelation 15:8 That seems to indicate that there will be no Mediator in heaven.
Rather than give up my faith that day, I decided to study the chapters in The Great Controversy from which I thought these ideas came. I particularly pored over the chapter “The Time of Trouble” which occurs after the close of probation, when every decision has been made for or against Christ. This is the time when there is no Mediator. That afternoon I discovered that God’s people are the apple of His eye. Tucked away in one significant paragraph I found great encouragement. If you have wondered if you could ever make it to heaven, I hope that you will be encouraged too.
As we try to understand the time when there will be no Mediator, let’s look at the beginning of chapter 39 in Great Controversy to discover the context.
“When the third angel’s message closes, mercy no longer pleads for the guilty inhabitants of the earth. The people of God have accomplished their work. They have received the latter rain ‘the refreshing from the presence of the Lord,’ and they are prepared for the trying hour before them. Angels are hastening to and fro in heaven. An angel returning from the earth announces that his work is done; the final test has been brought upon the world, and all who have proved themselves loyal to the divine precepts have received ‘the seal of the living God.’ Then Jesus ceases His intercession in the sanctuary above… Every case has been decided for life or death. Christ has made the atonement for His people and blotted out their sins. The number of His subjects is made up; ‘the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven,’ is about to be given to the heirs of salvation, and Jesus is to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. When He leaves the sanctuary, darkness covers the inhabitants of the earth. In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor” (The Great Controversy, pp. 613-614).
Clearly the setting of this chapter is after probation has closed. [2. While the word “probation” does not occur in Scripture, the concept of a probationary period during which people can demonstrate their loyalty either to God or His adversary is evident in Scripture. Thus “the close of probation” suggests a time when people can no longer switch sides. Before the Flood, God provided a 120-year period of probation. (Gen. 6:3) Jesus told a story of waiting till the harvest before separating the weeds from the wheat in Matthew 13:36-43. The “close of probation” before Christ’s Second Coming is suggested in Rev 7:1-4 and in Revelation 14:6-20 where a judgment hour message is to be given to the whole world, separating those who have the faith of Jesus from those who receive the stamp (mark) of the beast. Also see “The Judgment of the Living & the Close of Probation” ] Now let’s look at the paragraph that brought me so much encouragement.
“Jacob’s history is also an assurance that God will not cast off those who have been deceived and tempted and betrayed into sin, but who have returned unto Him with true repentance. While Satan seeks to destroy this class, God will send His angels to comfort and protect them in the time of peril. The assaults of Satan are fierce and determined, his delusions are terrible; but the Lord’s eye is upon His people, and His ear listens to their cries. Their affliction is great, the flames of the furnace seem about to consume them; but the Refiner will bring them forth as gold tried in the fire. God’s love for His children during the period of their severest trial is as strong and tender as in the days of their sunniest prosperity; but it is needful for them to be placed in the furnace of fire; their earthliness must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected” (Great Controversy p. 621).
As we unpack this single paragraph please notice the following:
1. This is addressed to those who have been deceived and betrayed into sin. It is for those who have not been squeaky clean, who have failed in their walk with Jesus. And yet these failing ones are not cast off or forsaken. God knows the big picture and He recognizes their sincere repentance and their heart’s desire to serve Him. If you have been struggling in your walk, take hope. This passage is for you.
2. During this time of stress, angels come to help “those who have been deceived and tempted and betrayed into sin.” God’s people are not left on their own without divine help during this difficult time.
3. The Lord’s eye is upon his people. His love is as strong and tender at this juncture as it was in times when prosperity shone on us. Jesus is always for us till the very end.
4. Even though mediation has ceased for the world, God hears the heart cries of His people. There is no need for a “Mediator” for those who have become His friends. He not only hears, He answers. “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). As I read the comforting words in this paragraph, a ray of light pierced the darkness and I began to weep. Even though, as Revelation 15:8 notes, “no one can enter the sanctuary,” He has donned his kingly robes and is on His way to take us to be with Him forever! I realized that it was those who have rejected God’s grace who have no help.
5. However, it was the last part of the paragraph that more fully answered my questions about perfectly reflecting God’s character. The paragraph concludes “…but it is needful for them to be placed in the furnace of fire; their earthliness must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected.” Wow! A purification process is necessary after the close of probation? Why? Because they do not yet perfectly reflect Christ’s character! That will only take place when this mortal shall put on immortality. I am reminded of another statement by White: “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 lifelong obedience” (The Acts of the Apostles, 559-561). It is clear that Satan still reigns “For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” (Revelation 12:12) Thus there is still self to subdue.
I pondered, “What does earthliness after probation closes” mean? The context indicates that it needs to be consumed. It dulls the image of Christ! There is room for God’s people to grow, even then.
I realized that we can never duplicate Christ’s perfect righteousness, even if the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Not only is it impossible, but it seems blasphemous to believe we can and must equal Him. Doesn’t He say “there is none Good but God.” (Mark 10:18) Furthermore, it does not square with the larger picture that White had of perfection. She taught: “We cannot equal the pattern; but we shall not be approved of God if we do not seek to copy it.”
No one will ever duplicate the righteousness of Jesus. His was a one-time, forever, finished accomplishment.
So is obedience important? Absolutely! Remember that God looks at the heart. Those who love Him will obey Him. John is clear that a person who says he knows God but disobeys his commandments is a liar! (1 John 2:4). This has always been true for God’s true followers, not just last-generation individuals. By God’s grace we will be victorious conquerors. No one will be willfully sinning. We would rather die than sin. Neither should we be committing known sin now. But sin is not merely an act. We all struggle with a sinful nature. That is why Paul says, “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). We all fall short of God’s ideal. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
One last quotation connects me to confidence in Christ’s perfection, not my own righteous achievements. This is the true gospel, according to Scripture.
“The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin, ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary: but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God…. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ’s propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable.…O, that all may see that everything in obedience, in penitence, in praise and thanksgiving must be placed upon the glowing fire of the righteousness of Christ” (God’s Amazing Grace, p. 154).
This is true now and will be true even after probation closes. Our title to heaven will never be how completely we are sanctified, even through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It will always be the doing and dying of Jesus and His covering righteousness.
Finally, we need to understand that a reflection is never as bright as the reality. Like the moon perfectly reflects the sun it will never equal it in brightness. At best we are a dim demonstrations of the perfection of Jesus. Thank God that we are not required to be as good He was. He accomplished that for us once and for all. In reading the New Testament more carefully, I discovered that individuals in this generation are not the only ones who are to perfectly reflect Jesus. Those who were raised from the dead at the time of Jesus’ resurrection were perfect reflections of Him in God’s eyes. Enoch, Moses, and Elijah are perfect reflections. They were all examples of mature Christians, even without the absolute external flawlessness we associate with “perfection.”
I love the encouraging news in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that helps us know that all will be blameless before Jesus in love. “For he chose us (speaking of the Ephesians) in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight in love” (Ephesians 1:4). Blameless in Christ is not merely a last-day experience. In fact, every person who is saved will be there not because they have achieved a kind of personal perfection, but because of the perfect righteousness of the One who died to exchange our sin for His perfect righteousness. “This robe, woven in the loom of heaven, has in it not one thread of human devising. Christ in His humanity wrought out a perfect character, and this character He offers to impart to us. ‘All our righteousness is as filthy rags.’ Isaiah 64:6” (Christ Object Lessons, p. 311). “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).