What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk after the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3, 4
“The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us. It is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God. This is to be our study. Christ was a real man; He gave proof of His humility in becoming a man. Yet He was God in the flesh. When we approach this subject, we would do well to heed the words spoken by Christ to Moses at the burning bush, ‘Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ We should come to this study with the humility of a learner, with a contrite heart. And the study of the incarnation of Christ is a fruitful field, which will repay the searcher who digs deep for hidden truth.” The Youth’s Instructor, October 13, 1898
Christ was born as a real man, but He was also God in the flesh. Inspiration tells us that this is so important that as we study it, we should do so as though we, like Moses, were standing on holy ground.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Romans 8:7
Paul is simply saying that the law cannot justify man because, in his sinful nature, he is unable to keep the law perfectly, no matter how much he might want to. (See also Patriarchs and Prophets, 373.)
Remember, sinful nature, sinful flesh, and human nature are used interchangeably with reference to the carnal mind. The context determines the exact meaning.
We have seen that the word likeness means “a resemblance in form” which refers to the physical nature. Because of Adam’s fall, man has inherited sinful flesh and a carnal mind. These are manifestations of sin and sin is the cause of physical degeneration. When God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, He did not take the same carnal mind, but He took the likeness—the physical form—of sinful flesh. In other words, He inherited the same kind of physical body, ruined by the degenerating effects of 4,000 years of sin, but He did not inherit man’s carnal mind.
“Christ, who knew not the least moral taint or defilement of sin, took our nature in its deteriorated condition. This was humiliation greater than finite man can comprehend. He was the Majesty of heaven, but in the divine plan He descended from His high and holy estate to take humanity, that humanity might touch humanity, and divinity, combined with humanity, could take hold upon divinity.
“God was manifest in the flesh. He humbled Himself. What a subject for thought, for deep, earnest contemplation; so infinitely great that He was the Majesty of heaven, and yet He stooped so low without losing an atom of His dignity or glory! Christ stooped to poverty and to the deepest abasement and humiliation among men.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 16, 115
Unfortunately, many Adventists have interpreted Romans 8:3 to say that the word likeness means the same sinful flesh. Then they say that He had all the propensities for selfishness, lying, stealing, adultery, and murder that you and I have in our fallen human nature. In essence, they are teaching that Christ had our carnal mind, because the Bible says that the things that defile a man come from the heart and mind, and not the body.
“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man … .” Matthew 15:19, 20
“From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Mark 7:21–23
Jesus made it very clear that none of these things were found in Him. “For the ruler of this world [Satan] is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” John 14:30
The issue is that most Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists, do not understand the relationship between Jesus’ humanity and the law of God. So, let’s start by discussing justification and sanctification.
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. … Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.” Jude 3, 4, and 8
The word dignitaries could also be translated as glories. The men in verse 8 are speaking evil against the glorious Ones. They are speaking evil against the Godhead.
Inspiration is clear that justification is one of the truths that Paul addresses in Romans 8. She also reveals the danger regarding false ideas of justification by faith, which lead to a spurious sanctification, and in turn prevents true Sabbath worship. We will see, as we continue, how Jesus’ relationship with the law makes it possible to properly worship on the Sabbath.
“The danger has been presented to me again and again [through the Holy Spirit] of entertaining, as a people, false ideas of justification by faith. I have been shown for years that Satan would work in a special manner to confuse the mind on this point. The law of God has been largely dwelt upon, and has been presented to congregations, almost as destitute of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His relation to the law as was the offering of Cain.” The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 810
Notice, Mrs. White says that where false ideas of justification by faith are entertained, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the relationship between the humanity of Christ and the law of God. Mrs. White gives us several warnings regarding this lack of knowledge.
“The Lord has presented before me the dangers that are threatening His people who have the sacred work of proclaiming the third angel’s message with clearness and distinctness.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 18, 27
“Several have written to me inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in verity [reality].’ ” The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890
“The third angel’s message is to be sounded by God’s people. It is to swell to the loud cry.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 9, 212
The third angel’s message is the message of justification by faith, the message that God’s people are to give at this time. We must understand that if we lack knowledge concerning the relationship between the humanity of Christ and the law of God, we are in danger of being ensnared by unsanctified propositions.
“We are in danger of giving the third angel’s message in so indefinite a manner that it does not impress the people. … The Sabbath question has been touched upon but has not been presented as the great test for this time. While the churches profess to believe in Christ, they are violating the law which Christ Himself proclaimed from Sinai. The Lord bids us: ‘Show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.’ Isaiah 58:1. The trumpet is to give a certain sound.” Testimonies, Vol. 6, 60, 61. This warning links the third angel’s message with the Sabbath.
“Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world. The proclamation of the third angel’s message calls for the presentation of the Sabbath truth. This truth, with others included in the message, is to be proclaimed; but the great center of attraction, Christ Jesus, must not be left out. … The sinner must be led to look to Calvary; with the simple faith of a little child he must trust in the merits of the Saviour, accepting His righteousness, believing in His mercy.” Gospel Workers, 156, 157
“In all ages, the Sabbath has been the test of loyalty to God.” Ibid., 148
So while justification by faith is the third angel’s message in verity, the Sabbath—the great test of loyalty for this time—is also a key part of the message, inseparably linked with justification which cannot be separated from loyalty to God. The Sabbath then involves far more than just which day one goes to church. It is the test of loyalty for God’s people. Sadly, many Adventists have forgotten the spiritual nature and far-reaching principles of the law of God and how the humanity of Christ is related to it.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Hosea 4:6
“Even the moral law fails of its purpose, unless it is understood in its relation to the Saviour.” The Desire of Ages, 608
The purpose of the moral law is to convict mankind of sin. If the law fails in this purpose, then instead of accomplishing the work that God has called His people to do, they will be working with Satan and ascribing his evil attributes to the humanity of Christ. Satan has done this so effectively that people now have a false idea of who Jesus really is.
What is justification by faith? A full, complete pardon of sin. “The moment a sinner accepts Christ by faith, that moment he is pardoned. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to him, and he is no more to doubt God’s forgiving grace. …
“It is only through faith in His blood that Jesus can justify the believer.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, 1071
Too many people believe that justification is accomplished right before you are baptized and then you just move on to the process of sanctification. However, justification is not a once-and-done action.
There are two parts to justification by faith. First, an instantaneous, full, and complete pardon for sin through faith in the blood of Christ. Second, the righteousness of Christ is then imputed or put to your account. However, there is a prerequisite to being justified. To be justified you must first make a thorough confession. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
While many believe that we are born into sin, they do not believe we are sinners until we commit an act of sin. Inspiration says that Adam entailed a sinful nature upon his posterity, and thereby, we are alienated from God, and unable to be in harmony with the precepts of His law (Steps to Christ, 43; Romans 8:7).
How does our sinful condition—our carnal mind—measure up to the requirement of the great moral standard? Paul says, “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one.’ ” Romans 3:10
“The law requires righteousness—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God’s holy law.” The Desire of Ages, 762
“The law requires us to present to God a holy character. It demands of men today just what it demanded of Adam in Eden—perfect obedience, perfect harmony with all its precepts in all relations of life, under all circumstances and conditions. … The standard of the law cannot be lowered to meet man in his fallen condition. No compromise can be made with the sinner to take less than the full requirement of the law.” The Signs of the Times, May 30, 1895
Human nature is alienated from God because the mind is naturally carnal and not in harmony with the precepts of God’s law. “When man sinned, all heaven was filled with sorrow; for through yielding to temptation, man became the enemy of God, a partaker of the satanic nature … [and] out of harmony with the character of God; for through sin man became carnal, and the carnal heart is enmity against God, is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Ibid., February 13, 1893
“By nature we are alienated from God. The Holy Spirit describes our condition in such words as these: ‘Dead in trespasses and sins;’ ‘the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint;’ ‘no soundness in it.’ We are held fast in the snare of Satan, ‘taken captive by him at his will.’ Ephesians 2:1; Isaiah 1:5, 6; 2 Timothy 2:26. God desires to heal us, to set us free. But since this requires an entire transformation, a renewing of our whole nature, we must yield ourselves wholly to Him.” Steps to Christ, 43
Every human mind is controlled either by the Holy Spirit or by an evil spirit. The carnal mind is controlled by the power of Satan and is the very essence of the satanic nature. Those who do not believe that we are born sinners, partakers of the satanic nature, have changed Paul’s words and attributed to the humanity of Christ the same sinful flesh that man inherited from Adam. This clearly shows that they are lacking knowledge regarding the relationship between Jesus Christ and the spiritual nature of the law.
We must recognize our sinful, fallen condition. It is this condition that constitutes our unrighteousness. Our condition is our state of being. Let’s say I was born blind. This is my condition, my state of being, and I cannot make myself to see. I didn’t do anything to make myself blind. I am simply blind because I was born this way. This describes our sinful condition. Our state of being is sinful because we were born with the sinfulness that Adam entailed upon us, and we cannot make ourselves sinless. We are simply sinful.
But the Bible gives us good news. If we confess our sins, God is not only faithful to forgive and justify us, but He will also cleanse us from all unrighteousness—not only our sinful condition, but also the deeds that are the fruit of it. Justification by faith begins by confessing the sinfulness of our nature and believing in the spotless, unblemished righteousness of the Lamb.
“By virtue of His blood the enmity is abolished.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1109. Faith in the blood of Christ will abolish the enmity of man’s sinful condition.
Relationship of Jesus’ Humanity to the Law
- “All Your commandments are righteousness.” Psalm 119:172, last part
- “Your law is truth.” Verse 142, last part
- “All Your commandments are truth.” Verse 151, last part
- “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” Romans 7:12
The word just in Romans 7:12 means “equitable in character or act” and it implies innocence or holiness. The combination of thoughts and feelings develop character, “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” Therefore, character relates to the mind.
“Such a law [the ten commandments], being an expression of the mind and will of God, must be as enduring as its Author.” The Great Controversy, 467
Luke 1:35 (KJV) calls Jesus “that Holy Thing.” Mrs. White tells us that those words refer only to Jesus Christ. “The humanity of Christ is called ‘that Holy Thing.’ The inspired record says of Christ, ‘He did no sin,’ He ‘knew no sin,’ and ‘in Him was no sin.’ He was ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.’ He tabernacled among men. This testimony concerning Christ plainly shows that He condemned sin in the flesh.” The Signs of the Times, January 16, 1896
“As speech is to thought, so is Christ to the invisible God. He is the manifestation of the Father and is called the Word of God. God sent His Son into the world, His divinity clothed with humanity, to make known in His life and character the attributes of the Father, that men might bear the image of the invisible God. He [Christ] was the embodiment of the law of God, which is the transcript of His character.” The Signs of the Times, November 15, 1899
“To human eyes, Christ was only a man, yet he was a perfect man. In his humanity He was the impersonation of the divine character. God embodied His own attributes in His Son—His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His purity, His truthfulness, His spirituality, and His benevolence. In Him, though human, all perfection of character, all divine excellence, dwelt.” The Youth’s Instructor, September 16, 1897
- God’s law is holy and righteous.
- Jesus was that Holy Thing, who did no sin, knew no sin, was no sin.
- Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
- Jesus was and is the embodiment of God’s law.
- All perfection of character, all divine excellence dwelt in Him even though He was human.
- Jesus inherited the attributes of His Father. He was the personification of the law of God, the very righteousness and holiness of God.
For His life on this earth, Jesus put on, if you will, a cloak of sinfulness—our physical human form ruined by 4,000 years of sin—that He might know and understand what sin had done to man. It enabled Him to sympathize with man’s struggles against his sinful nature and the outside enticements brought to him by the devil, but inside, His nature was holy.
Satan is still trying to clothe the Father with his own attributes. Through those who say that God sent His own Son into this world in the same sinful flesh that we have, he is attempting to make people believe that Jesus had the same selfish nature controlled by Satan that we inherited from Adam. This is so wrong, and those who believe and teach it are unwittingly fostering the work of Satan, attributing to the Godhead the attributes of Satan.
“Satan has worked against God and His government, leading men to attribute to God the traits which belong to the power of evil. Christ came to this world to reveal the Father.” The Review and Herald, March 12, 1901
“Satan had clothed the Father in his own attributes, but Christ represented Him in His true character of benevolence and love.” The Signs of the Times, June 27, 1892
“God is love, and His law is love. Its two great principles are love to God and love to man. ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law.’ The character of God is righteousness and truth; such is the nature of His law.” The Great Controversy, 467
“Jesus volunteered to meet the highest claims of the law, that He might be the Justifier of all who believe on Him. We look to the cross, and see in Jesus a fully satisfied and reconciled God. Jesus is righteousness. What fullness is expressed in these words!” The Review and Herald, September 2, 1890
To meet the highest claims of the law, Jesus had to begin with righteousness, a perfect character in harmony with all the precepts of the law because the law requires these things.
“Christ is called the second Adam. In purity and holiness, connected with God and beloved by God, He began where the first Adam began.” The Youth’s Instructor, June 2, 1898
“He began life, passed through its experiences, and ended its record, with a sanctified human will.” The Signs of the Times, October 29, 1894
“Christ exalted the law, holding it forth in its original purity as a perfect system of morality. His life was a living illustration of the law of God.” The Signs of the Times, June 5, 1901
“He [Christ] made this law honorable by His perfect conformity to its requirements.” Ibid.
The law is just and righteous and it demands a righteous and holy life, a perfect character, and in meeting the highest claims of the law, Jesus became our Substitute. His righteousness substituted for our unrighteousness, and if we confess our sins and accept by faith the fullness of His righteousness, our sins will be forgiven, and we will be cleansed from all unrighteousness. Jesus is our substitute in justification and our example in sanctification. His human nature is the example of what sanctified human nature is to be, and and His divine nature is the example of what we can become by His power and grace.
“He [Jesus] came to our world on a mission from the Father. He came to bridge the gulf that sin had made between God and man. There was to be made a provision for a reconciliation, for a union of the human with the divine nature. Christ would sanctify all who believe in Him. In the gift of Christ to our world, God has provided for everyone a power to overcome evil.” The Upward Look, 149
“He [God] could save the human race only through His Son, who combined humanity with divinity. In His divine plan of salvation, God gave His only begotten Son that every voice may be silent upon the point that it is not possible for humanity to keep the law of God. In Christ, divinity and humanity bore every test of temptation … . In Christ, man is privileged to become a partaker of the divine nature.” The Review and Herald, November 29, 1898
If God’s people believe that sin is limited simply to a choice that a person makes, then they are rejecting the knowledge regarding the far-reaching principles of the spirituality of God’s law.
How does the Sabbath fit with justification by faith, the third angel’s message, the law of God, and the humanity of Christ?
What is the purpose of the law of God? “The law was our school master to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24. The law brings us to Christ that we might be justified, but unless we understand how the law is related to the humanity of Christ, it cannot bring us to the point of justification by faith.
The law also has a role in the judgment. “He who becomes a partaker of the divine nature will be in harmony with God’s great standard of righteousness, His holy law. This is the rule by which God measures the actions of men. This will be the test of character in the judgment.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 314
The gospel does not nullify the law nor does it detract one jot or tittle from its claims. It still demands holiness, and it is by this just and holy law that all will be judged in the last day.
“The law is the great standard of righteousness. It represents the character of God.” The Youth’s Instructor, February 19, 1903
Jesus had the character of God in both His divine and human natures. Studying Christ’s life shows us God’s character—what He is like. The law is a reflection of God’s character, an expression of His perfect holiness. It is the test of our loyalty to His government. The law brings us to Christ, showing us that it was exemplified in His humanity, written in His human heart.
Under the new covenant, God has promised that He will write the law in our hearts. Thus, as we surrender our lives to Him, repent of our sins, and allow the Holy Spirit to effect a complete transformation in our lives, we can be a living example of His character, just as Christ was.
It is by understanding this intimate relationship that Jesus had, in His humanity, with the law of God, that we will have an accurate understanding of justification by faith.
Justification by faith leads to sanctification. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s law, and it is He who is both the Justifier, according to the law of righteousness, and Sanctifier of His people, enabling them to live as He lived, and the Sabbath was given as a sign, a promise, that He will sanctify them.
The Sabbath, God says, is “a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” Exodus 31:13
“Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” Ezekiel 20:12
“The Sabbath given to the world as the sign of God as the Creator is also the sign of Him as the Sanctifier. The power that created all things is the power that recreates the soul in His own likeness.” Testimonies, Vol. 6, 350
“True sanctification is harmony with God, oneness with Him in character.” Ibid.
“ ‘I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them,’—make them holy. Then the Sabbath is a sign of Christ’s power to make us holy.” The Desire of Ages, 288
Do you see the connection between the Sabbath, justification, and sanctification in the third angel’s message? “The Sabbath is a sign of Christ’s power to make us holy. … It is given to all whom Christ makes holy. As a sign of His sanctifying power, the Sabbath is given to all who through Christ become a part of the Israel of God.” Ibid.
“No other institution which was committed to the Jews tended so fully to distinguish them from surrounding nations as did the Sabbath. God designed that its observance should designate them as His worshipers. It was to be a token of their separation from idolatry, and their connection with the true God.” Ibid., 283
“The human heart is naturally inclined to idolatry and self-exaltation.” The Signs of the Times, April 21, 1881.
Where love to God is, natural self-idolatry will not exist. Practicing self-idolatry makes us unable to keep the Sabbath. “It is the love of self that brings unrest.” The Desire of Ages, 330
True sanctification is a daily dying to sin and our natural selfishness, crucifying our natural self-idolatry, and becoming one with Him in character. Christ is our perfect example of sanctification, and keeping the Sabbath is a sign of true sanctification.
“To all who receive the Sabbath as a sign of Christ’s creative and redeeming power, it will be a delight. Seeing Christ in it, they delight themselves in Him. The Sabbath points them to the works of Creation as an evidence of His mighty power in redemption. While it calls to mind the lost peace of Eden, it tells of peace restored through the Saviour. And every object in nature repeats His invitation, ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ ” The Faith I Live By, 33
“Great peace have those who love Your law.” Psalm 119:165. This peace was completely His own; no one could give it, no one could take it away.
Concerning Jesus, the Bible says, “I delight to do Your will, O My God, and Your law is within My heart.” Psalm 40:8
“The practical lessons of Christ are to be often repeated. Christ and His righteousness are to be so blended with the third angel’s message that the whole world may be lightened with His glory.” The Review and Herald, July 14, 1891
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.