“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”
When Jesus left this world, He gave spiritual gifts to His church. The New Testament enumerates in three places what these gifts of the Holy Spirit were. One is the text above in Ephesians 4, and the other two are found in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Ephesians 4:13, gives the reason why He gave these gifts to the church, “… till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Continuing in Ephesians 4:15, it says, “speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25–27. This is Christian perfection. So, when Jesus comes again, will there be a church that has reached Christian perfection?
We are living in the last days, and now is the time for the church to prepare to be presented to Jesus without blemish. Each of us must be striving to reach this Christian perfection if we want to be part of God’s final church. Isaiah says, “And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 4:3. Pastor W. D. Frazee expressed the same idea when he said, “There are some people who will be cleaned out because they won’t get cleaned up.” God will have a perfected church.
So let’s ask ourselves a question. Does Christian perfection occur in the blink of an eye or is it a process that takes time? If you are fighting the fight of faith, then you know it takes time. Every one of us has sinful habits that must be overcome. It takes prayer and struggle to gain control and overcome them.
Striving for Christian perfection is not to be put off to some far distant time with the expectation of being made perfect at the last minute, all the while continuing to sin and committing the same sinful acts over and over. This is unrealistic thinking, and anyone who studies the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy, and with much prayer struggles to overcome sinful habits knows it.
As we come closer to the end of this world, we should be seeking the Lord more and prayerfully asking for this perfection of character. People all over the world, even in Adventism, say it can’t be done; Christian perfection is impossible. However, Inspiration tells us that regardless of what the world says, there will be a perfected people and they will receive the truth and take it to the world.
“Those who strive lawfully will have complete victory at last, but there is too much striving that is not done in the Spirit of Christ. We should strive to obtain the victory over every unholy passion of the soul, over every spiritual weakness, over every defect of character.” The Signs of the Times, April 14, 1890
“[E]ach one [must] strive with all his might to keep the victory over self and over every besetment, every wrong word and action.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 8, 224
We can see how this happens in this statement from The Great Controversy, 464: “Before the final visitation of God’s judgments [the seven last plagues] upon the earth there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times.”
Religious history records that over the last 2,000 years there have been some very godly people in the world as well as periods of revival and reformation. Probably the greatest reformation in the last 1,500 years occurred in the 1830s and 1840s, but what is coming will be greater than anything since apostolic times.
“The Spirit and power of God will be poured out upon His children. At that time many will separate themselves from those churches in which the love of this world has supplanted love for God and His word. Many, both of ministers and people, will gladly accept those great truths which God has caused to be proclaimed at this time to prepare a people for the Lord’s second coming.” Ibid.
God is building an army and we need to work as hard as we can right now to be a part of it to increase its ranks. This army is to take the three angels’ messages to the whole world, but to be part of that army, we must have primitive godliness given to us by the Holy Spirit.
Let’s look closely at what primitive godliness is. Before Jesus came the first time, the Pharisees believed that if they perfectly kept the law, they would reach this higher level of godliness and then the Messiah would come. They decided that they needed to help the people by creating new rules. In fact, they created books full of rules. These rules were very specific in how the ten commandments were to be kept. For example, you couldn’t spit on a plant on the Sabbath because you would be watering it. You’ve read in the Bible about a Sabbath day’s journey. That simply meant that on Sabbath you could only walk so far and if you went farther, you would be breaking the fourth commandment.
But Jesus said of their rules, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20. They were working their way toward godliness but doing so in a manner in which it would be impossible to keep God’s law.
So here was the problem. “He [Jesus] answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?’ ” Matthew 15:3. In the process of making their rules, those very rules became more important to them than the ten commandments, causing the people to transgress them—the very thing they were trying not to do. How do you end up doing the exact opposite of what you intended? Could we end up doing it again?
The problem for the Jews was that they were keeping all these man-made rules and regulations, but neglecting to keep the most basic rule of all. Jesus said that the whole law hangs on two principles—to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind—the first four commandments—and to love your neighbor as yourself—the last six.
So what is primitive godliness and how do we get it? The word godliness means Godlikeness. What is it like to be like God? Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 18, says, “Righteousness is holiness, likeness to God.” So righteousness is the same as holiness, and holiness is likeness to God. It is conformity to the law of God, for “all Thy commandments are righteousness,” and “love is the fulfilling of the law.” Psalm 119:172; Romans 13:10. The apostle John also tells us that “God is love.” 1 John 4:16. So, righteousness is love. When we love God, we will keep His commandments. In keeping His commandments, we become righteous and holy. We will have a godly nature.
Under the old covenant, the law was written on tables of stone. But under the new covenant, God said, “ ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, … I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.’ ” Hebrews 10:16. This suggests something more than just going to church on Sabbath, not telling a lie, or using bad language. Having the law of God written in your heart means that it becomes a part of you. A miraculous change occurs within you. Yes, you still go to church, and you don’t lie or use bad language, but now the law is no longer a list of dos and don’ts that get checked off on a daily or weekly basis. It becomes as natural to obey the law as it is to take a breath or blink an eye.
Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount that what is in the heart determines whether I am truly keeping the law. He said, “ ‘You have heard that it was said of those of old, “You shall not murder,” … but I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause is in danger of the judgment. He that says to his brother, “Raca!” is in danger of the counsel. But whoever says, “You fool!” is in danger of hell fire.’ ” Matthew 5:21, 22
It isn’t enough that I don’t kill someone. My heart must have no hatred or anger toward my brother. John states the same in 1 John 3:15, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
It took the crucifixion of Christ before the disciples understood this. For over three years, Jesus had taught them by word and action, what it meant to be Godlike. They did not truly understand how to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, nor how to love others as God loves them. After His death, they all realized what true love was, and that they themselves lacked the inward change necessary to be like Jesus. It is at this point that Mrs. White says they had never loved Him more.
Jesus had promised the disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to them. “The Spirit came upon the waiting, praying disciples with a fullness that reached every heart. The Infinite One revealed Himself in power to His church [those in the upper room]. It was as if for ages this influence had been held in restraint, and now heaven rejoiced in being able to pour out upon the church the riches of the Spirit’s grace. And under the influence of the Spirit, words of penitence and confession mingled with songs of praise for sins forgiven. Words of thanksgiving and of prophecy were heard. All heaven bent low to behold and to adore the wisdom of matchless, incomprehensible love.” The Acts of the Apostles, 38
All together in the upper room, in one accord, God’s church waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He brought penitence and confession, unity and incomprehensible love. They now understood the governing principles of God’s law. They loved God with all their being and would spend the remainder of their lives doing His will. This is primitive godliness.
“Lost in wonder, the apostles exclaimed, ‘Herein is love.’ They grasped the imparted gift. And what followed? The sword of the Spirit, newly edged with power and bathed in the lightnings of heaven, cut its way through unbelief. Thousands were converted in a day.” Ibid., 39
Unbelief was a problem that continues to this day. The Spirit of Prophecy tells us that men’s hearts today are harder than they have ever been. Without the Holy Spirit, do you think we will ever be able to convert anyone?
“What was the result of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost? The glad tidings of a risen Saviour were carried to the uttermost parts of the inhabited world. As the disciples proclaimed the message of redeeming grace, hearts yielded to the power of this message. The church beheld converts flocking to her from all directions. Backsliders were reconverted. Sinners united with believers in seeking the pearl of great price. Some who had been the bitterest opponents of the gospel became its champions. The prophecy was fulfilled, ‘He that is feeble … shall be as David; and the house of David … as the angel of the Lord.’ Zechariah 12:8.” Ibid., 48
Mrs. White predicts in Testimonies, Vol. 5 that this prophecy will be fulfilled again—that the feeble will be like David and the strong will be like the angel of the Lord.
When the church is full of the Holy Spirit, when each member is filled with primitive godliness and there is unity and harmony among God’s people, the Lord will work in a way that we have never seen before. Far beyond keeping the letter of the law, we can only be a part of this work if we are filled with the righteousness that comes from loving God supremely and obeying His law. “Every Christian saw in his brother a revelation of divine love and benevolence.” The Acts of the Apostles, 48. Friend, this will happen again, more powerfully than ever before.
“One interest prevailed; one subject of emulation swallowed up all others. The ambition of the believers was to reveal the likeness of Christ’s character and to labor for the enlargement of His kingdom.” Ibid.
The believers had two purposes after the Day of Pentecost: to be like Christ and to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. As powerful as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was at Pentecost, a day is coming when the latter rain will fall and by its power, God’s work will be finished.
When the latter rain falls, it will be just a short time until we will see Jesus in the clouds of heaven. Are you eager to see Jesus come, or are you afraid to see Him?
If we are afraid for Jesus to come, then we are not ready for Him to come. We fear to see His face because we realize that there is something in our character, the way we think, or talk, or act, that must change. We want whatever makes us fearful of His coming to be removed. We cannot be taken to heaven with sin-blighted characters. But He can take our character imperfections away and help us overcome.
We must be overcomers of sin in our lives if we want to receive the latter rain, but we can only receive a perfect character by cooperating with the Holy Spirit. Sadly, Mrs. White says that the latter rain can be falling on people all around and yet we may not realize it. Our best friend in church could be receiving the latter rain and if we ourselves are not ready to receive it, we wouldn’t even know it is falling.
There is one important aspect of the outpouring of the former rain at Pentecost that is not discussed much in Adventist circles today. Acts 2:1 says, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” The Holy Spirit brings unity, but on the Day of Pentecost unity existed among those gathered in the upper room before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
This wasn’t an ecumenical kind of unity, nor the kind where people just don’t talk about their differences, or the kind that covers up sin. Surrendered and united to God, in that upper room, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon each soul and they were made new, bringing a greater unity to this group that would become God’s church.
Friend, we need to pray. We need to have unity in our local church and our families, in our ministries and institutions, and we need to have unity around the world before we can have the power of the Holy Spirit. God will not give His Holy Spirit to us until we have been tested and God knows that He can trust us. We must pray, prepare, and perservere. We must overcome by the grace of God. We must ask the Lord to help us come into a spirit of unity and harmony.
It will take work, but God is equal to the task. He has promised that we are able to do everything He asks by His power and grace, if we trust in Him. He wouldn’t have asked us to do these things were it not His purpose to provide the way. All we must do is cooperate, surrender.
We must have victory in our lives if we want to receive the latter rain. We must love God with all our heart, soul, and mind—to have primitive godliness. The motive for our obedience must be because we love the Lord and our fellow men. We cannot have strife and hatred for each other. We must pray that the Lord will bring us to that condition of unity that we must have so that the Holy Spirit can be poured out and miracles can happen.
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.