Editor’s Note: Last month we looked at what kind of character the 144,000 must have and how they must obtain it. This month we will continue on with our study of what you and I must do to be among the 144,000 and what sanctification really means.
The closer we come to Christ, the more we will realize that within us there is no good thing. Self must be crucified every moment of every day.
Our will must be surrendered to God’s will. And we must allow God to live out His life within us. There is no one so weak that he cannot be saved, because all the power to win the victory comes from Christ. However, there also is no one so strong that he can be saved in his own strength. From the weakest to the strongest we must crucify self and turn to God for strength.
This crucifixion of self is a painful process. I wish I could give you some pleasing doctrine that would just open up the gates of heaven for you without any suffering or pain, but God in His wisdom did not make such a way. There is no way except the bloodstained path of the cross. Since this was true for Christ, should it be any different for us? Paul wrote of Christ’s experience, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Hebrews 2:10. “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Hebrews 5:8. Christ suffered with temptations. He had to daily crucify self, and having been perfected, “He became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him.” Hebrews 5:9.
I propose that this is good news! Now it may not be good news to think that you have to go through some suffering, but it is good news that you can be perfected by it. And we have the promise that we will not have any temptations but those which are common to man, and God who is faithful “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13.
What type of temptations did Christ suffer? Peter wrote, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.” 1 Peter 4:1. Christ suffered in the flesh, what the Bible calls our fallen nature, and He overcame! That is wonderful to know, because all of us have sins of the flesh, which seem to bind us.
Some people say, “I know I lose my temper, but you have to realize that is the way I was born. You must take the good with the bad.” This is the fleshly nature, and the Bible says that if you live according to the flesh, (according to your inheritance) you will die! (See Romans 8:13).
So what do we do since we all have inherited sinful tendencies? We do not all have the same problems. Some have inherited a temper, others discouragement and others selfishness. However, in every life there is some special sin that will require a life and death struggle to overcome. These are what Paul called besetting sins (Romans 12:1), and the devil has been cultivating them in our lives since we were born.
When a baby is born the Lord says, “I died for this baby. He is mine.” But the adversary of souls says, “No, he is mine.” And the battle begins. The Lord works to keep that baby, but the devil begins to work from the day that baby is born to hold him in the bonds of sin. He seeks to develop within that little child’s heart some special desire for sin. Even if the baby is born into a worldly home, the devil does not know when he might someday have the opportunity to hear the gospel and be inclined to accept it. So he works every day to cultivate in that child a love for some besetting sin.
A Struggle to Overcome a Besetting Sin
I remember holding an evangelistic series in one of my first churches. About twelve had accepted the Lord and were preparing for baptism. In the baptismal class, I was reading some Bible verses on Christian adornment and jewelry. Suddenly, one young lady, who had been married for only six months, caught the drift of what the verses were saying. It was too much for her and she said right out loud, “If I have to take off my jewelry to get to heaven, I cannot go!” And she left!
I suppose that from the time she was born, Satan had tried to develop that desire within her. What is jewelry? A worthless piece of stone cut into a beautiful shape. I could cut a piece of glass and most people could not tell it from a diamond, but, for some reason, people have placed a special value on certain little stones. They are willing to pay thousands of dollars to wear them around on the fingers.
So it was for this young women. If you could review her life, I think you would find that the devil had arranged affairs throughout her childhood so that she had heard people comment about various ladies’ jewelry. In her mind, jewelry had come to signify success and being a woman, happily married, and all those ideals.
A few days later, I went to her home to visit her. I was surprised, when I stepped inside, to find two non-Adventist ministers standing in her living room. She had called these other preachers to tell her that she could keep all her jewelry on and still go to heaven. When I came in, it was like waving a red flag before a bull. They turned on me—this crazy, fanatical, legalistic fellow who thinks people must take off their jewelry to get to heaven.
I was not very interested in trying to discuss jewelry with these two preachers who were not really interested in the truth anyway, so I changed the subject. I said, “I can understand why you do not see any importance in jewelry. You do not even see any importance in keeping the Sabbath.” That turned the subject, and since they were little match for the Sabbath truth, they soon left.
Two days later, we had a baptism with all the other candidates and this lady came with her husband and all her jewelry on, but with a towel. She came up to me and said, “Could you go over those things again?” The church was full and everyone was there, ready for the baptism to begin, but we went into another room and we started going over the Bible texts. We were there for two hours as she struggled with a spiritual battle. Finally, the tears came to her eyes and she said, “I surrender.” She took off her jewelry and she and her husband were baptized along with the ten others.
For this dear lady, giving up jewelry was a trial. She had to suffer and sacrifice to give up this besetting sin. Your besetting sin may not be jewelry, we all have different weaknesses. But for each of us, the way to heaven is the way of the cross. We cannot just sit back and say, “Lord, make me clean.” That is not the way it is.
When Jesus cleansed the Jewish temple, He went in, uninvited, and drove all the wickedness out, but inspiration tells us that He does not cleanse the soul temple that way. (See The Desire of Ages, 161.) He is very willing to cleanse our soul temples, but He cannot do it without our invitation and cooperation.
The Right Use of the Will
“The expulsion of sin is the act of the soul itself. True, we have no power to free ourselves from Satan’s control; but when we desire to be set free from sin, and in our great need cry out for a power out of and above ourselves, the powers of the soul are imbued with the divine energy of the Holy Spirit, and they obey the dictates of the will in fulfilling the will of God. God gives the power, but we must exercise the effort.” The Desire of Ages, 466.
We cannot do what God must do for us, but neither will God do what He has asked us to do. Ellen White wrote about a man that she was asked to anoint. She did not feel that she could do that until she had taken the matter before the Lord. During the night she was given a vision, and the Lord showed her that this man had a besetting sin which he had developed in adolescence. He knew it was a sin and he had tried to overcome it by fasting and prayer, but he was still bound by it. God showed Sister White that this man’s prayers had been answered and God had given him the power to overcome, but he had to put forth the effort. God would not do for him what He had given him the power to do for himself.
“Everything depends on the right use of the will.” Steps to Christ, 47. We must learn that we have to choose to do what is right and refuse to do what is wrong. Then God can help us. It takes our effort and God’s strength.
The Secret of Samson’s Strength
The story of Samson, in the Bible, fitly illustrates this important spiritual lesson in physical terms. Samson had incredible physical strength. He could conquer every physical difficulty. One time he carried the iron gates of a city to the top of a hill and left them there. But was it really Samson who lifted those gates? Was the power really his own? No, he had no more natural strength before his hair was cut than after his hair was cut. It was the angels who were lifting those gates. But, the angels did not help without Samson putting forth all the effort he had.
Think of this promise. “All His [God’s] biddings are enablings.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 333. If God asks you to do something, He will provide the strength for you to do it. Nothing is impossible for Him. But He will not do anything, until you put for the effort.
“God saw it was impossible for man to overcome in his own strength, with his own feeble moral power; yet man is required to exercise all the capabilities and powers that God has given him in order to overcome, and then he needs a higher power, and help has been laid upon One who is human effort, that through Jesus man may stand free, a conqueror.” The Review and Herald, June 10, 1890.
“The pleasing fable that all there is to do is to believe, has destroyed thousands and tens of thousands, because many have called that faith which is not faith, but simply a dogma. Man is an intelligent, accountable being; he is not to be carried as a passive burden by the Lord, but is to work in harmony with Christ. Man is to take up his appointed work in striving for glory, honor, and immortality. God calls upon men for the use of every talent He has lent them, the exercise of every power He has given; for man can never be saved in disobedience and indolence.” The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.
“There must be an earnest effort to conquer through the grace freely given of God.” The Review and Herald, January 24, 1893.
“The help of God is held in reserve for all who demand it. Divine help is to be combined with human effort, aspiration, and energy. But we cannot reach the battlements of heaven without climbing for ourselves . . . Not even divine power can lift one soul to heaven that is unwilling to put forth efforts in his own behalf.” Signs of the Times, August 14, 1884.
Any doctrine that is teaching people that they do not need to put forth effort to overcome sin is preparing people to be eternally lost. This was the type of doctrine Judas held. Look for a moment at how his story is told in The Desire of Ages, and let us trace the steps that he took before his great fall.
“He [Judas] witnessed the Savior’s mighty works in healing the sick . . . He felt in his own person the evidence of Christ’s power. He recognized the teaching of Christ as superior to all that he had ever heard. He loved the Great Teacher, and desired to be with him. He felt a desire to be changed in character and life, and he hoped to experience this through connecting himself with Jesus.” The Desire of Ages, 717.
This sounds pretty good. Judas loved Jesus and he wanted to be with Him. He wanted to be changed and he believed that if he associated with Jesus he would be changed. Doesn’t that sound like pretty good theology? Today a lot of preachers are telling people that if they will just spend time reading the Bible and studying every day they will be changed. But there is something more required than just reading and praying. There must be a crucifixion of self. When we are tempted to sin, we must refuse to sin with the power God has given us.
Continuing on with Judas’ story, it says, “He gave him a place among the twelve . . . He endowed him with power to heal the sick, cast out devils. But Judas did not come to the point of surrendering himself fully to Christ.” Ibid. That was the problem. Judas was no worse than any of the disciples in the beginning, but he never surrendered himself to Christ. He never went through the struggle, agony and the suffering of crucifying self. He never took up his cross. It makes me sad when I hear the doctrine of Judas being taught today, because I know that there are many people that will be as disappointed as Judas was.
Sanctification—More than Overcoming
A crucifixion of self is only half the Christian experience. It is not enough to get you to heaven. No one can ever get to heaven by simply overcoming sin. Sanctification is our goal. But what really is sanctification? Many people have been perplexed because they have equated sanctification with the process of overcoming sin, and they also know that sanctification is the work of a lifetime. Are we then supposed to spend our whole lives focusing on sin? No!
Sanctification is not the work of overcoming sin. That is only the beginning. When you overcome sin, your Christian life has just begun. We are all to go on to develop characters of righteousness. Adam, in the very beginning, although he had never sinned, had to develop a character. Jesus never sinned but His character had to be developed.
This development of character is something that is to go on as long as life lasts and will continue on throughout eternity. (See The Great Controversy, 678). There is so much more to living a Christian life than not sinning. It is not enough to quit stealing. We must go far beyond not stealing to giving unselfishly. We will not be saved because we do not curse. We must go far beyond not cursing until we are praising the Lord. We must go far beyond not hating our brother, we have to learn to love our enemy. We have to go far beyond not sinning. We have to go on in the path of righteousness.
We know that this is not an easy path. It requires us to struggle with agonizing efforts. (See Faith and Works, 48, 49). But, although it is a blood-strewn path, although it is the way through Gethsemane and Calvary, it is the only way to go that is worth living. For there is only one reason to live and that is to live forever.
There is nothing in this life. Soon we will see the final signs of Jesus’ Second Coming. And then we will see that cloud coming closer and closer. We will see the dead arising and we “shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
When we get to heaven we will renew acquaintances. We will find people and make friends that have lived hundreds and thousands of years ago. I will look for my wife and children, my brother and sister, my parents. I will look for my friends and my church members whom I have learned to love. I will look for those with whom I have given Bible studies. Heaven will be very happy when I find someone there that I hoped would be there. It will be very sad every time I find someone not there.
I will go to the sanctuary because there is the greatest history class of the ages. A history that is in living color. I can see the battles that have been fought and I can go into the Councils with the Popes. I can see back before the flood or go to the angels and find out what happened in the great controversy in heaven. That will be so interesting! This life is passing away. It is not an easy way to heaven, but it is the only way out of this earth. It is the way of the cross. By God’s will and grace, I am willing to walk the bloodstained path. We must crucify self, every moment of every day. We must suffer in the flesh and yet we will have joy. That is one of the mysteries of the gospel. It is the only way of joy and yet it is the way of suffering.
There is no special time when God will send some mighty working miracle and all of a sudden you will be a different person. The only time there is to change character is today! There will never be any more power available than what has been given to us today.
If you cannot overcome today, you cannot overcome tomorrow. Right now in your present situation you must overcome the flesh. But you can do it! Jesus had all your weaknesses, and no more strength than He offers you and He was victorious. And you can be too. The very weakest Christians can be “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Romans 8:37.
Let us commit ourselves to the Lord. My prayer is that you will not be missing on that great day.