“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifested in the flesh.”
1 Timothy 3:16
In the old covenant, God’s law was written on stone, but in the new covenant, His law is written on a fleshly tablet—the heart. “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.” 2 Corinthians 3:2, 3
Jesus is a perfect, living example of the ten commandments written in the heart and lived out in the life. We can read this in Psalm 40:8. “I delight to do Your will, O My God, and Your law is within My heart.” The context of this verse makes it clear that this is a prophecy regarding the Messiah.
Since Jesus is our perfect, living example of how the ten commandments are to be lived out in the life, anything that is in my life, anything that I think or say or do that is not Christlike is a violation of the ten commandments, and therefore is sin. This is the new covenant understanding of what sin is.
Just as God was manifested in the flesh of Jesus Christ, He wants to be manifested in my flesh and in your flesh. In fact, unless this happens in your life and my life, we will never be in the kingdom of heaven. Let me repeat that. If God is not manifested in your flesh and my flesh, as He was in the flesh of Jesus Christ, then we will not be in the kingdom of heaven.
Mrs. White wrote the following regarding the purpose of the plan of salvation. “In order to understand what is comprehended in the work of education, we need to consider both the nature of man and the purpose of God in creating him. We need to consider also the change in man’s condition through the coming in of a knowledge of evil, and God’s plan for still fulfilling His glorious purpose in the education of the human race.” Education, 14, 15
There are four things in this quotation we need to study:
- The nature of man
- The purpose of God in creating him
- The change in man’s condition through the knowledge of evil
- God’s plan for fulfilling His purpose in the education of the human race
When God created man, He said, “ ‘Let Us make man in Our image, and in Our likeness.’ ” The purpose of the plan of salvation is to restore in mankind, in all who will accept His salvation, the image of God.
When I was seven years old, I began reading my Bible through for the first time. I read the first chapter of Genesis and contemplated that man was created in the image of God. I thought that we must then look like God. I have hands and eyes, feet and ears, so God must have those, too, I thought. But I was a child, and as I grew into adulthood, I started thinking differently about the terms likeness and image.
Being in the likeness of something has to do with resemblance, being a copy, representing someone, acting like someone, specifically bearing the character or power of another. Children may have the same color eyes and hair as their parents, but they also may adopt their parents’ mannerism and habits, they may sound like them, walk like them, they may have the same moral character and spiritual beliefs as their parents. People will say of them, “You are just like your mother,” or “You are just like your father.”
God wants you to become like Him. He wants people to look at you and me and see Him in our words and actions, in our compassion and love. “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness—godlikeness—is the goal to be reached.” Ibid., 18
“When Adam came from the Creator’s hand, he bore, in his physical, mental, and spiritual nature, a likeness to his Maker. ‘God created man in His own image’ (Genesis 1:27), and it was His purpose that the longer man lived, the more fully he should reveal this image—the more fully reflect the glory of the Creator. All his faculties were capable of development; their capacity and vigor were continually to increase. Vast was the scope offered for their exercise, glorious the field opened to their research. The mysteries of the visible universe—the ‘wondrous works of Him which is perfect in knowledge’ (Job 37:16)—invited man’s study. Face-to-face, heart-to-heart communion with his Maker was his high privilege. Had he remained loyal to God, all this would have been his forever. Throughout eternal ages he would have continued to gain new treasures of knowledge, to discover fresh springs of happiness, and to obtain clearer and yet clearer conceptions of the wisdom, the power, and the love of God. More and more fully would he have fulfilled the object of his creation, more and more fully have reflected the Creator’s glory.” Ibid., 15.
That was God’s purpose when man was created, but when man sinned, it seemed to the whole universe that God’s plan would never be fulfilled.
Man was created to be like his Creator in every way, and it was God’s plan that as he continued to live, he would more and more fully reveal or reflect His image. “The glory of God is His character. While Moses was in the mount, earnestly interceding with God, He prayed, ‘I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory.’ In answer God declared ‘I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’ ” The Signs of the Times, September 3, 1902
“In the beginning, man was created in the image of God. He was in perfect harmony with the nature and law of God; the principles of righteousness were written upon his heart.” The Great Controversy, 467
In his original state, Adam was in perfect harmony, not only with the law of God, but also with the nature of God. The principles of righteousness were written on his heart. You will recall that nature, heart, mind, and character are used synonymously in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. It is the natural thoughts and feelings, the disposition and affections that make up a person’s character. Adam’s natural thoughts and feelings, his disposition and affections were in harmony with the nature and law of God; he reflected the character of God.
First John 4:16 tells us that “God is love.” This is His nature. Adam was in harmony with the nature of God because the principles of righteousness were written in his heart. A principle is “a law of action in a human being,” in other words, an innate propensity common to the human species. And when man was created, his nature was in harmony with the nature of God.
Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is about the ten commandments. Verse 172 says, “My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness.” The principles of righteousness are the principles of God’s commandments. Paul says, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10. Ellen White describes it like this: “Love must be the principle of action. Love is the underlying principle of God’s government in heaven and earth, and it must be the foundation of the Christian’s character. This alone can make and keep him steadfast. This alone can enable him to withstand trial and temptation.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 49
So, what causes the Christian to obey God? Obedience is the outworking of a principle within. “The essence of all righteousness is loyalty to our Redeemer, doing right because it is right.” That I May Know Him, 118
“Love is power. Intellectual and moral strength are involved in this principle, and cannot be separated from it. The power of wealth has a tendency to corrupt and destroy; the power of force is strong to do hurt; but the excellence and value of pure love consist in its efficiency to do good, and to do nothing else than good. … Love is of God. The unconverted heart cannot originate nor produce this plant of heavenly origin, which lives and flourishes where Christ reigns.
“Love cannot live without action, and every act increases, strengthens, and extends it. Love will gain the victory when argument and authority are powerless.” Gospel Workers, 311, 312
After man sinned, when he was no longer in harmony with the character and love of God, we are told that, “Christ came to our world to represent the character of God as it is represented in His holy law; for His law is a transcript of His character.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 1, 44
Christ came and lived the very principles of the law of God; the principles that are the very nature of God (Steps to Christ, 60). It is God’s purpose that as the law was written in the heart of Jesus (Psalm 40:8), so they will be written in our hearts. This is His promise to His people under the new covenant. “ ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put My law into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.’ ” Hebrews 8:10
To be in the kingdom of heaven, the law of God must be written in your heart. It was once a natural part of the nature of man, but once man sinned, selfishness took its place and became the all-governing principle of the human heart and mind.
“All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.” The Desire of Ages, 668
Imagine it! To be so aligned with Christ that you would rather die than sin; that all you want, all you think about is to do the will of God. To know God so well that you literally hate sin. Have you ever eaten something and hated it so bad you would never eat it again? I’m reminded of a child with their lips firmly closed together, absolutely refusing the food mom is trying to spoon in their mouth.
If sin isn’t like that for me, then I don’t know God. If there is any sin that has not become hateful to me, if I have chosen to become a Christian, but there is still some darling sin that I am hanging on to, then I do not know God. But once the sinful things I used to love become hateful and terrible to me, then I can say that I know God and that He has changed me so that I now hate sin and once again love righteousness.
As part of his nature, Adam also had other powers of mind that were created in the image of God, such as his judgment, his reason, his intellect, and his affection, but these, too, were ruined when Adam sinned.
“When man came from the hand of his Creator, he was perfect in organization and beautiful in form.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 1, 1082. What does it mean that “he was perfect in organization”?
“Those who would have clear minds to discern Satan’s devices must have their physical appetites under the control of reason and conscience. The moral and vigorous action of the higher powers of the mind are essential to the perfection of Christian character.” Messages to Young People, 236, 237
This speaks of the higher powers of man’s mind. His will, judgment, reason, and conscience were regulated according to the truth, the law or the will of God, and therefore, they controlled the lower powers of the body.
“Before his fall Adam was free from the results of the curse. When he was assailed by the tempter, none of the effects of sin were upon him. He was created perfect in thought and in action.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 141
Our actions, good and bad, have their very foundation in the mind. The thought must exist before the action can take place. People must sin in their mind before they can sin with their lips or their hand. “Man was originally endowed with noble powers and a well-balanced mind. He was perfect in his being, and in harmony with God. His thoughts were pure, his aims holy.” Steps to Christ, 17
“In the counsels of heaven God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him.’ The Lord created man’s moral faculties and his physical powers. All was a sinless transcript of Himself. God endowed man with holy attributes, and placed him in a garden made expressly for him.” The Youth’s Instructor, July 20, 1899
“God did not create man sinful. Adam came forth from the hand of his Maker without the taint of evil.” The Signs of the Times, August 26, 1897
All moral evil is sin. Therefore, the taint of evil can also be called the taint of sin. To be tainted with evil or sin means to be sinful. So, God made man upright with intellectual and moral powers. He was not created sinful, but was created without the taint of evil. “God made man upright. He gave him noble traits of character, with no bias toward evil. He endowed him with high intellectual powers, and presented before him the strongest possible inducements to be true to his allegiance.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 49
When Adam came from the Creator’s hand, he bore in his physical, mental, and spiritual nature a likeness to his Maker. He was noble, pure and holy, with no tendency to evil. The purpose of the new covenant is to restore men and women to the perfection they possessed when created. Christ alluded to the significance of this restoration in His conversation with the scribes and Pharisees.
“ ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.’ ” Matthew 23:25–28
Notice, the people who crucified Jesus appeared clean on the outside, but on the inside they were unclean and full of wickedness. They worked to look good to the world, but they had failed to do the heart work necessary to make the inside clean so that the outside would then be truly clean.
Let’s say a bomb exploded inside your house and caused a lot of damage—ruined your furniture, blew out a couple walls and made holes in the ceiling, broke all the windows and left burn marks and peeling paint outside. You hurriedly replaced the windows and had the exterior of the house repainted, making sure that all signs of the damage were no longer visible. You stand back and smile because now everyone will see that the outside looks like new again. But inside, you just cleared a path and made do, making no repairs, not even making sure that the house was still in stable condition.
That’s what the scribes and Pharisees were doing. Sin had made a horrible mess on the inside of their lives, but they were only concerned with cleaning up what people could see.
God doesn’t work that way. He is determined to clean up the inside first. In our spiritual lives, with the inside clean, the outside actions and words will be clean also. When God gives us a new heart and mind, then our character will be like Christ’s character. This is the purpose of the plan of salvation under the new covenant. God’s purpose is to restore perfection in man’s physical, mental, and moral nature so that it once again reflects the likeness of his Creator.
Remember, the image of God is His glory and the glory of God is His character. God’s character was reflected in the character of Adam because the law of God, the principles of righteousness, were written upon his heart, and the Holy Spirit was the ruling power in his life. The law of God is a transcript of His character, and it is also, Ellen White says, an expression of His very nature.
Lucifer told God that he wanted a change in the law, but what he was actually telling his Creator was, You change. And today, people are still saying that. They look at the ten commandments as rules too restrictive to bear and they want to be free to adjust or do away with them as they please.
But the ten commandments are a transcript of God’s character, His very nature, the embodiment of the great principle of love that prompted God to create man in the first place. When God made man, He placed these precepts in his heart. They were a part of his very nature. Obedience to the law kept every thought and action in harmony with God’s own nature.
After man sinned, however, man’s nature was governed by selfishness, and it became necessary for God to write the ten commandments in stone so that man could read them and know what God required of him. But it wasn’t enough to have the law written down. So God sent His Son, in person, so that we, sinful man, could see Him live out the principles of God’s law—principles of righteousness and love so strong that Jesus was willing to die to redeem us, so that we might once again have these principles written in our hearts and perfectly reflect the nature of God.
“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:1–6
Jesus Christ was a perfect reflection of the glory of God, the law of God, the nature of God. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Verse 6. The purpose of the new covenant is to restore in you and me a perfect reflection of the law of God, the nature of God, the thoughts of God, the character of God.
Let it be our constant prayer to be changed so that the new covenant can be worked out in our lives; that the law may once again be written in our hearts, so that our lives will be in harmony with God and our characters will be like Jesus.
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: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.