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The Three Angels’ Messages and the Triumph of the Gospel Over Legalism — 26 Comments

  1. Thank you, William, for a timely and insightful article. I love the observation that the Sabbath is a reminder that our righteousness is from God, by faith (i.e. that Christ alone is our Righteousness).

    I do have a question about one of your points, however. You said:

    Interestingly the angel says the hour of His judgment has come. What does this mean? It means God is the one being judged!

    From a purely grammatical standpoint, I see this statement as equivocal. That is, "His judgment" could either mean that he is the one on trial, or it could mean that He is the Judge. You may deduce which meaning I believe is intended, by the fact that I could not bring myself to capitalise "he" and "one" in the first half of the previous sentence. When I read about this judgment in Daniel 7, I see that the Ancient of Days is the One seated as Judge. So, as far as I am concerned, the Bible has interpreted itself here.

    As I see it, no one has the power or the authority to put God on trial, notwithstanding you are correct that the vindication of God's character is a major issue in the conflict of the ages. On the other hand, our individual cases can be publicly examined to see whether we (who claim to be Christian believers) have truly believed into Christ or not.

    I do agree the Bible teaches that our eternal destiny will depend on our individual choices. However, I do not see the teachings of the apostles supporting the idea that it's all about our acceptance of God. God will accept us, if we comply with His conditions -- primary among which is that we throw ourselves on His mercy as brought to us by the blood and merits of Jesus Christ.

    Glory be to God for His unspeakable gift!

    • I agree with you Brother White. Furthermore, it doesn't make sense to fear God if He's on trial. Why should anyone fear a God that submits Himself to the decisions of finite creatures?

  2. R.G. Thank you for your relevant and insightful comments. My comment about the world is accepting God and God being judged is based on several Biblical concepts. The first is the scapegoat. Once the judgment is complete the responsibility for sin and suffering will be placed on the scapegoat (Satan) instead of many blaming God for everything like they do now. This brings us to another point, and that is the reason why Jesus did not at first reveal Himself as the Son of God. Because the world was angry with God, becuase it had bought into all of Satan's lies about God. The demons approached Jesus shouting "You are the Son of God." Why? Because they wanted to scare the people away from Jesus before they could get close enough to Him to find out what He was really like. Once the world had time to see that Jesus was love, He then revealed to them that He was God and God is love. That is what the Great Controversy is all about. I think this final point ties it all together, when we accept God we accept more than just His forgiveness and eternal life. When we accept God we also accept His life chaninging power and grace to live victorious, obedient lives. Therefore our behavior and obedience, or lack thereof testifies to if we have truly accepted Him or not.

  3. Mr. White,
    I have a problem with a part of your statement, "...if we comply with His conditions...." I understand that His only conditon for us to be saved is to (quoting you), "...thow ourselves on His mercy as brought to us by the blood and merits of Jesus Christ." There are no other conditions.
    Before you start arguing that we need to keep the Sabbath, witness, etc. let me say that all of those things come as part of our acceptance and love for Christ. If we don't do as He asks us to do, we didn't really throw ourselves on His mercy. It's like being in a loving relationship where you WANT to show the one you love how very much they mean to you. You talk about them, you do things that please them, you go out of your way to make life good for them.
    If God requires us to do anything other than throw ourselves on His mercy, there are string attached and it's not unconditional love on God's part. By the same token, if we claim to be saved by His mercy and continue in our sins, we are NOT really giving Him everything, and thowing ourselves on His mercy! It's so much of a relationship--we just can't seem to get that through our heads! It may be because it is so hard to see a truely loving relationship in real life these days that we don't understand the saving mercy and grace of God.
    Concerning the idea (shock to me!) that God is the one on probation, that makes perfect sense. It isn't God the Father that is being judged, but God the Son who is our creator, saviour and sustainer. The time of probation shows the world what God the Son's work is really like in His chosen/followers. OUR behavior, our witness, our closeness to HIM, all tell the other worlds if what God the Son did for this fallen world is worth it, if HE is really a God of love and fairness. That idea, that God the Son is on trial, makes me want to be a better witness for Him who created me, saved me, and loves me unconditionally.

    • Ruby, there is just one thing in your comment that I would like to say something about. You said, "It isn’t God the Father that is being judged, but God the Son who is our creator, saviour and sustainer." To me that tends to separate Jesus from the Father. As I see it the Godhead is a unity (Deut 6:4) as Jesus said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9 NKJV) or as Isaiah put it, "His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isa 9:6 NKJ). Jesus also said that His relationship with the Father was such that He was in the Father and the Father in Him (Jn 17:21). They are one in purpose and thought, therefore, as far as I am concerned if one judges the Son he is also judging the Father.

  4. Dear Brother R G White,

    I appreciate your stand that nobody has the power to put our sovereign God on trial. He is a sovereign God which means He is not answerable to anyone. That's what sovereignity is all about. However, the preadvent judgement will inevitably vidicate the character of God. The little horn power has defiled the sanctuary of God by casting down truth to the ground and hence the sanctuary needs to be cleansed and the name / character of God be vindicated. However, I respectfully disagree with the following statement which you made. You wrote: {God will accept us if we comply with His conditions.} This statement renders the gospel condition good news. The gospel is the unconditional good news of salvation to all men in Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11; Rom 5:18; John 3:16). God loved us when we were unlovable (John 3:16); He accepted us when we were unacceptable (2 Cor 5:18-19; Rom 5:6,8,10). Jesus didn't stipulate any condition when He decided to go to calvary. In fact, He knew full well that His disciples would abandon Him and even Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crowed, yet He made up His mind in the garden of Gethsemane to die for the unthankful, unfaithful & selfish humanity. He died for us while we were still His enemies (Rom 5:8). God reconciled us to Himself in Christ Jesus unconditionally (2 Cor 5:18-19). But the question is are we reconciled to God? Reconciliation is a two way process. As far as God is concerned, He has already reconciled us to Himself in Christ Jesus, but the question is have we accepted the reconciliation? This is what the preAdevnt judgement is all about. The investigative judgement is not for God to decide whether He should accept us or not, but rather it is all about showing the universe whether we have accepted His offer of reconciliation or not.

    "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Cor 9:15)

    • True we cannot put God on trial, but God has put Himself on trial in order to be vindicated from Satan's lies. Believe me, people who have been misrepresented and lied about long for a trial to have themselves vindicated. The fact that God puts Himself on trial shows He is not the control freak tyrant Satan says He is. A control freak tyrant would claim to be above law and above a trial. God showed us He is under the same laws we are. The Ten commandments are all about putting others first. When Jesus gave His life He was showing the universe that He is under that same law of others first, when He died and put the human race first. God is not a tryant and He wants a trial to have His name cleared from all of Satan's lies. When God's name is cleared, all the blame will rest on the scapegoat, which is Satan. God could escape a trial and just use force to get rid of Satan and force us to not believe Satan's lies, but God gives us free choice to believe what we want. Thus the trial. Like I already said, innocent people want a trial so everyone will know they are innocent.

      • Dear William,

        Once again, I love your ideas, but I fear that you may have taken them just a little bit too far. Can you give me a Scripture reference to show that God has put Himself on trial? To me this would mean that He had stepped down from His throne. God has shown Himself willing and able to sacrifice Himself for the salvation of mankind, but I don't see what purpose could be served by His sacrificing the well-being of the universe by stepping down from His throne and putting Himself on trial.

        Nor do I believe that God is "under" (i.e. subject to) law, as you have suggested. The law is a transcript of His character, and He is the supreme Lawgiver. Please do not try to bring Him down to the level of His creation.

        Is it possible that you have something else in mind here? Perhaps the wording, that God has "put Himself on trial" (which I don't think was original with you) was an attention-getting exaggeration. If so, I wonder whether it was really such a good idea.

        • Hi R.G. thanks for writing again. The scriptural reference is in the main text “the hour of His judgment.” You bring up an interesting point I had never thought of before. I never imagined God stepping down from the throne during the trial. In the United States Bill Clinton never stepped down from being president while on trial for perjury. In the work place, while someone is being investigated they keep their position during the investigation most times, except I know police officers will often be suspended while a shooting is being investigated. I guess a lot would depend upon how, as you say, far you want to take it. I don’t know that it is a formal trial as we think of formal trials. We relate to formal trials so that is what we have in our mind to compare it to. Hence why we get so legalistic. As humans we can relate to legalism, so in our minds we create the investigative judgment as if it were an earthly trial. Right now in the United States people are deciding and judging President Obabma and whether or not they think he is fit to be president again. While this “investigation” continues Obama continues to do his job and does not step down. Even if not re-elected he fulfills the term the country asked him to fulfill.
          Yes God is the lawgiver, but He is still subject to love. He can’t be evil and still be love. People who believe in an eternally burning hell, tormenting sinners for eternity, have told me personally, “well He’s God and can do whatever He wants and still be just.” That is one of Satan’s lies! And the idea that God could torment sinners for eternity and still be love totally more than skews our concept of love and of God! “What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” Romans 9:14. There is no unrighteousness with Him because he is love. If He did unrighteousness then He would not be love. Fact is, God is being judged all the time. We judge and investigate by nature. As soon as you walk into a new restaurant the judgment and investigation begins. Is it clean? Is the service good? Is the food good? All this goes on while the cooks and waiters keep their jobs.

        • R.G. I probably shouldn’t, but I am going to stick my big nose in here and side with William. The Bible is a collection of writings designed as a manual for human salvation. As such there are many details that it does not get into but rather handles broad principles. As John states," And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25 NKJV). So we are not dealing here with every single aspect of the controversy by rather only those things that pertain to our salvation.

          The simple fact that revelation 12 tells us about a war in heaven reminds us that there is a conflict over God's government and the minds of intelligent beings concerning it. Furthermore, we have abundant testimony from many sources that Satan is alive and well which means that God did not choose to destroy him at the very beginning of the controversy. This raises a question as to why God chose to do that. As Seventh-day Adventists we are told of a controversy in which God has chosen to allow us to choose which side we are to be on as Joshua 24:15 states. That automatically implies a judgment on our part and since there was a war in heaven where Satan was kicked out that further implies a judgment on the part of Angels as well. In fact what happens here on earth is a testimony to what the two great governments in the universe are all about which is one of the great reasons for the cross (Ref. 1 Cor 4:9). The great controversy therefore is about answering questions and settling issues and that all requires a judgment on our part as well as the Angels.

          I, therefore, believe that what William said about God being on trial is actually correct. That doesn't mean that he goes through a judgment as we go through it, but it does mean that God has put Himself up for examination by his intelligent creatures in order for us to choose which camp we are to be in which is the same as judging God and his government.

        • The concept of God being on trial is inherent in the concept of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. God is allowing Satan to demonstrate the fruits of his form of government. The outcome decides whether God is, indeed, righteous, or whether he is self-serving as Satan claims. This is possibly more explicitly taught by Seventh-day Adventists than by other Christians.

          Paul quotes Ps 51:4 in an interesting way in Romans 3:4 when he wrote, "Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: "That You may be justified in Your words,
          And may overcome when You are judged." (Rom 3:4 NKJV) The context also supports the idea of God being "judged," as Paul continues "But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath?" (Rom 3:5 NKJV)

          The idea here is that God is "demonstrated" to be righteous to the onlooking world and universe, so all created beings can "judge" whether God is righteous or His accuser is right. Not all "judgments" are formal, with a seated judge and jury. We "judge" matters every day without going to court.

        • God keeps His own laws.
          He is not an arbitrary "Lawgiver" who is above scrutiny. Everything God did and does flows out of His character. He does not do things any other way.

          As such putting Himself on trial came very naturally to God; particularly as He desires our free and intelligent service. There is no other way to attain that than to be transparent enough to win our trust.

          "But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant": (Matthew 20:25-27 KJV)

          It seems many of us are still operating under worldly assumptions and paradigms surrounding the concepts of "sovereignty" and "authority".
          God is not diminished in any way by our scrutiny or judgment. In fact the more we investigate, the better He looks. The facts are on God's side.

    • Dear Mathios,

      I agree with the major thrust of your comment, but I do have a problem with one statement. You said:

      The gospel is the unconditional good news of salvation to all men in Jesus Christ.

      Then you cited (among other texts) Titus 2:11, which reads (in the NKJV):

      "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,"

      Now, that's just the beginning of the sentence. Here is the rest of it, from verses 12-14:

      "teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works."

      So, in the process of bringing salvation, the grace of God (which has appeared to all men) also teaches us to do a number of things. If we ultimately refuse to learn to do these things, will the gospel really be good news for us?

      I don't believe it's legalism to say that there are things for us to do in the process of being saved.

      • I must agree with R.G. White...If you give me a million dollars there is nothing you can do for me worth a million bucks. But there are things you must do to benifit from the check. First you must beleive it is good. Then you must take it to the bank, sign it, and give it to the teller. None of these things EARN you the money, but you still must do them. The same way with salvation. Signing the check I equate with the commitment to live as Christ lived. E.G. W. says that wearing His robe of richousness is "living His life..."

  5. Dear William,

    That scriptural reference is the one which has already been shown to mean something else, as far as I am concerned -- that God is the One seated as Judge. The idea of God on trial would seem to be nothing more than a human theory (or worse). Please allow me to explain.

    Unlike U.S. presidents and restaurants, God is not elected by anyone. The fact is that we have no choice in regard to whether He will rule the universe or not.
    Had God immediately destroyed Satan, that would not have affected the stability of God's throne. That is absolutely untouchable. It's our well-being that would have been adversely affected. In His infinite wisdom, God is pursuing the course which will ensure the eternal security of the universe, not His own security or the security of his throne! That's the problem with speculation and theories -- such as the one that God is on trial. We end up with subtle distortions, like the distortion that God is somehow dependent on us! What spirit do you really think is behind all of that? God is sovereign, whether or not Satan or anyone else likes the fact.

    To be on trial, by any reasonable definition, would seem to imply that one is somehow subject to the decision of judge and/or jury. If you or I (or anyone else) were to reach a negative conclusion in regard to God's character, that would not in the least affect His right to rule the universe. He is wisely allowing things to run their course, so that we all (the entire universe) can benefit from the opportunity to see His true character in contrast to the character of the adversary. This is a gracious act, on His part. He is by no means on trial! Actually, I find that suggestion highly offensive, notwithstanding I support your basic idea that the final vindication of God's character will be a decisive event in the conflict of the ages.

    Yes, we are free to choose which side we are on. This will affect our eternal destiny, not God's. The consensus of the universe will be on God's side, not out of fear, but out of sheer wonder and admiration. Satan's monstrous lies, such as the eternally burning hellfire, will be fully debunked. Meanwhile, the truth about God remains truth, regardless of whether anyone believes it, wouldn't you say? God is not on the defensive.

    • God's "well being" is tied in with ours. It would hurt Him very much to see us suffer. So you cannot say He would be unaffected by rebellion in the universe. After all He gave His Son for us. That is how much He cares.

  6. I could not agree more with the comments by R.G. Deducements from scripture which are then tied to metaphor can present unique challenges. The resulting metaphor will likely have limited generalizability, or be prone to misapplication (usually overapplication). Judgment does bring to mind our Western judicial system. There is formal judgment where the one on trial is subject to the powers who are doing the judging. Then there is evaluating or developing a belief about another based on evidence or our "judgement" of the evidence. Questions such as "Is God fair?". "Can He be trusted?". These are evaluative questions which imply no power over the One being evaluated. I would suggest humans are making these type of evaluations daily. There is no specific formal timeframe in which we will sit and evaluate God. Now before that statement is seized for comment, let me add that reviewing the things that God has done since the beginning is a little different then the point I'm trying to make. The Bible does support a time when the books will be opened and we will review, however, by that time,our evaluation (as evidenced by our decision to have made Christ our Lord and Savior and accept His robe of righteousness) has long been decided.

    The fact that one day " every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" describes a post hoc evaluation, sadly too late for many.

    We will not judge God in a manner consistent with our legal system. The irony is that the evaluation is where we decide who will be seated on the throne of our hearts. God doesn't climb down off His throne for us to temporarily take the gavel and Judge Him. Great discussion!

  7. Thanks everyone for all your insights, and for making things in the Bible more clearly understood. R.G. I agree with what you are saying while at the same time don't really see a conflict with what the rest of us are saying. You are right, God is God no matter what. But a dictator is a dictator of a country no matter what, and there may be no elections, which is why many of the people will flee and come to the United States. So they still reject the dictator with a trial that may only take place in their minds, much like the war in heaven was a war of the minds. God simply wants us to know that He is love so we will not be on the defensive. He wants us to love and accept Him and not run away from Him. It is for our own good that we see His true character.

    • If God is to have love He cannot force it from His creatures. Proposing a universe where God gives up on free will (and thus love) and just "remains God" is entirely fictitious.
      God rules by the influence of His character and not by force. That requires trust and Calvary shows that God is willing to give up everything for that.

      The Great Controversy is no mere "game" God is playing for fun. It means everything to Him.

      As someone put it "Freedom is sacred to God."

  8. God is the deliverer during the old times and He is still now. He made the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore everyone has to accept it whether he/she likes it or not.

    I do, most of the time, violate Sabbath and that is the work of Satan to divert our minds from the Sabbath.

    • No. God is not like that. God gives man free choice and will not force people to accept anything just because He says so or wants it to be so.
      Ironically, the Sabbath is actually about God's freedom.

  9. Dear Brother White,

    I'm glad we are having this discussion. I will reiterate my position once again that the gospel is the unconditional good news of salvation to all men in Christ Jesus. The two aspects / dimensions of the gospel are called the objective gospel and the subjective gospel. And these two aspects of the gospel have four crucially important characteristics which I will explain hereunder. The objective gospel which the apostle Paul refers to as 'you in Christ' is all about what God did for us in Christ 2000 years ago. It refers to the perfect and finished work of Christ. And this aspect of the gospel is 1) Complete: “in Christ,” we stand complete and perfect in all righteousness [see 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 2:10]. 2) Universal: “In Christ,” all humanity was redeemed — legally justified and reconciled to God [see Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2]. 3) Outside of us: “In Christ,” the righteousness accomplished is without any help or contribution from us [see Romans 3:21, 28; Philippians 3:9]. 4) Meritorious: Righteousness “in Christ” is the only means of our salvation and, unless we resist and reject it, it fully qualifies us for heaven both now and in the judgment [see Acts 13:39; Romans 3:28; 10:4; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5]. The subjective gospel which the apostle Paul refers to as 'Christ in you' is all about what God accomplishes in us through the process of sanctification. And this aspect of the gospel is 1) Incomplete / Progressive: Subjectively, “Christ in you” is an ongoing, growing process of sanctification, to be realized before the second coming, and the glorification of our bodies and natures, to be experienced at the second coming [see Romans 5:3-5; 8:18-23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Philippians 3:12-14, 20-21; Colossians 1:27; 2:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Peter 1:3-8]. 2) Particular: “Christ in you” applies only to believers who have by faith experienced the new birth [see John 3:16; Romans 8:9-10; 1 Corinthians 6:17-20; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 6:14-16; 1 Timothy 4:10]. 3) Allied: “Christ in you” involves the cooperation of believers who by faith are walking in the Spirit [see John 15:1-5; 17:23; Romans 8:9-14; 13:12-14; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:23-24]. 4) demonstrative: “Christ in you” witnesses to — or gives evidence of — our salvation in Christ, but it is not meritorious [see Matthew 5:14-16; John 13:34-35; 14:12; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8].

    Now, what you my brother quoted in Titus 2:12-14 falls in the second aspect of the gospel which is the subjective gospel which Paul refers to as 'Christ in us'. And this work which God does in us is simply the fruit of the objective gospel but it is never the means of our salvation. Our salvation full and complete has been realised in the holy history of the birth, life, death & resurrection of our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. What God does in us today through the power of the Holy Spirit makes no contribution towards our salvation. This work is simply the result of our salvation in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we must never attribute our salvation to any work which we do, including the work God does in us today. The basis of our salvation is simply the Agape love of God and the holy history of our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ. We are saved on the basis of the perfect & finished work of Christ. The apostle Paul is crystal clear on this teaching in the book of Romans & Galatians.

    God bless,

    • Dear Mathios,

      I'm inclined to agree that the distinction between the objective gospel and the subjective may be valid and useful. Thank you for clarifying that nothing we can do will ever give us merit or earn us God's favour. Yet I am equally convinced that good works are an integral part of the process of our being uplifted from the pit of sin and ultimately saved. I appreciate the way Ellen White puts it.

      There are two errors against which the children of God—particularly those who have just come to trust in His grace—especially need to guard. The first, already dwelt upon, is that of looking to their own works, trusting to anything they can do, to bring themselves into harmony with God. He who is trying to become holy by his own works in keeping the law, is attempting an impossibility. All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin. It is the grace of Christ alone, through faith, that can make us holy.

      The opposite and no less dangerous error is that belief in Christ releases men from keeping the law of God; that since by faith alone we become partakers of the grace of Christ, our works have nothing to do with our redemption.

      Steps to Christ, pages 59 & 60

      What do you think about this?

  10. I would like to thank William for the "The Three Angels’ Messages and the Triumph of the Gospel Over Legalism" that he shared with us. Very timely and thought provoking as we are in the last stages of His vindication. I would like to share a quote from PP 68, 69 “The plan of salvation had a broader and deeper purpose than the salvation of man. It was not for this alone that Christ came to the earth; it was not merely that the inhabitants of this little world might regard the law of God as it should be regarded; but it was to vindicate the character of God before the universe....The act of Christ in dying for the salvation of man would not only make heaven accessible to men, but before the universe it would justify God and His Son in their dealing with the rebellion of Satan.”

  11. Do we not remove God from His rightful place upon the throne of our lives when we rebel against Him? Do we not through our constant sin and rebellion depose Him from reigning when we set ourselves up as judge and king, or as Israel did...
    1Sa 8:7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
    Of course this does not affect God's overall sovereignty for we must certainly face the consequences of such actions, however in a limited sense God allows Himself to be subject to our judgments and choices.

  12. Praise the Lord, I enjoyed your blog and agree, but my mind was thinking almost all Christians today believe in Futurism or Preterism which removes the Papal system as Babylon. I agree Jesus should be preached in all our beliefs.


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