Miraculous Change

“Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.”

1 Timothy 3:16

“The Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:1, 14

From these scriptures we can see that there was a time when Jesus was not a fleshly being, but a spiritual one. It was when He was born of Mary that He became flesh.

These scriptures would not be so difficult to understand or explain except for one other scripture found in Romans. “For 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.” Romans 8:3. God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. We need to clearly understand this scripture.

Mrs. White says that Jesus was just like we are, so Adventist preachers for decades have gone to the moon and back with this verse preaching that Jesus had a fallen, sinful, human nature, which, of course, means that He had a carnal mind. They are preaching that He had to fight selfishness just like you and I have to fight it. From this scripture, preachers and laity alike have decided that Jesus came in sinful flesh, but Romans 8:3 doesn’t say that He came in sinful flesh. It says He came in the likeness of sinful flesh.

Paul wrote Romans 8:3 the way he did for a reason, so let’s do some research to understand what he was trying to tell us when he said that Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh. This subject is very controversial, spawning much argument, but rather than arguing, we need to search the inspired writings and let Inspiration tell us what is true about Christ’s human nature.

“Even the moral law fails of its purpose unless it is understood in its relation to the Saviour. Christ had repeatedly shown that His Father’s law contained something deeper than mere authoritative commands. In the law is embodied the same principle that is revealed in the gospel. The law points out man’s duty and shows him his guilt. To Christ he must look for pardon and for power to do what the law enjoins.” The Desire of Ages, 608

Romans 8:3 has been misapplied by many Adventists who fail to see the relationship of the humanity of Jesus Christ to the law. Notice the first sentence of the previous quote “Even the moral law fails of its purpose, unless it is understood in its relation to the Saviour.” The reason so many are confused is because they do not understand the far-reaching principle of God’s law and what constitutes sin. It is important to understand both, but it is also necessary to understand what the word sinful means and to what the word likeness refers. Let’s be sure we understand the meaning of the terms that we are using.

The word flesh can refer to one of two things—the physical body or the carnal mind—depending on the context. Flesh is sometimes used when referring to the physical body of man, the living machinery through which sin or righteousness is manifested. The body itself cannot act contrary to the will because the body is controlled by the mind, the will.

“The mind controls the whole man. All our actions, good or bad, have their source in the mind.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, 426

So the body, the flesh, the house in which we live, is not sin, but is affected by sin. However, if the word flesh is used in relation to the natural or carnal mind, then that is sin. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Romans 8:7

The carnal mind is enmity against God and, therefore, is most certainly sin. It is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be.

Texts that use flesh in reference to the physical body have been interpreted to mean the mind. It is the failure to recognize in inspired writings that the word flesh can have two different applications, depending on the context, that has confused so many people and resulted in much controversy.

As for the far-reaching principles of God’s law, David said that God’s commandments are exceedingly broad (Psalm 119:96). The ten commandment document is really one of the most amazing that was ever written—so short that a child can learn it, and yet so all-encompassing that it involves the entire will of God for the human family.

“It is so brief that we can easily commit every precept to memory, and yet so far-reaching as to express the whole will of God, and to take cognizance, not only of the outward actions, but of the thoughts and intents, the desires and emotions, of the heart.” The Signs of the Times, April 15, 1886

God’s law is to govern not only my actions, but every thought, intent, desire, and emotion of my heart. If I have a sinful desire, even if it has not yet manifested in action, that also is sin.

Human laws cannot do this. They can deal only with the outward actions. A man may be a transgressor, and yet conceal his misdeeds from human eyes; he may be a criminal—a thief, a murderer, or an adulterer—but so long as he is not discovered, the law cannot condemn him as guilty.

“The law of God takes note of the jealousy, envy, hatred, malignity, revenge, lust, and ambition that surge through the soul, but have not found expression in outward action, because the opportunity, not the will, has been wanting. And these sinful emotions will be brought into the account in the day when ‘God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.’ ” Ibid.

“Christ, in His teaching, fully developed the principles of the law, making it plain that it does not concern the outward actions merely, but has to do with the heart, reaching even to the unspoken thoughts.” The Signs of the Times, June 5, 1901

“God does not deal with actions so much as with the heart that prompts them.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 4, 440

Sin is not determined only by what I do, but by the motives in my mind and heart that cause me to do the things I do. Think about that: a single action could be good or evil depending on the motive in the heart. The far-reaching principles of God’s law embrace the heart, the mind, and the sinful emotions that have not found expression in outward action because of lack of opportunity. The requirements of God’s law go beyond what I choose to do.

“Many mistakes were made by the Jewish teachers in regard to the true character and far-reaching principles of the law. Its relation to sin was misconceived and misapplied. The outward action was dealt with, but inward sins were not touched. …

“In His sermon on the mount, Christ made known the comprehensive and far-reaching character of the law of God. He applied its great principles to the thoughts and the desires. He taught that all wrong thoughts and feelings, though unknown to any human being, are a transgression of the law of God, and that those who cherish them must suffer the penalty. Thus the law was shown to reach the inner life.” The Review and Herald, May 3, 1898

The word sinful means being tainted with, full of sin, being wicked. Being tainted means to be contaminated by or infected with, ruined or corrupted by something. An example would be a body full of cancer with no human way to eradicate it.

Being sinful isn’t just doing bad things, any more than being righteous is not doing bad things. It involves the very being of man. The heart and mind, thoughts and desires totally consumed by sinfulness, will do nothing but wickedness.

“And He said, ‘What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For 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 7:20–23

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9

“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. Man is sinful, corrupted, so thoroughly infected with sin that it renders him incapable of meeting the claims of God’s holy law.

Did Jesus have this kind of heart and mind? Look again at these texts. In describing the nature of man’s heart and mind, were Mark and Jeremiah describing Jesus’ heart and mind as well? If His mind was tainted and infected with sin as ours are, how could He have been our Saviour?

When people say that Jesus had our natural tendencies toward sin, but that isn’t sin because He never actually committed sin, they speak directly against the word of God and inspired writings. We know this from 1 John 3:15: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” And Matthew 5:27, 28: “ ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ ”

These both describe the thoughts and motives of the mind and heart of sinful man. A man who lusts after a woman is breaking the law just as if he had physically laid down with her and committed the act. A man who hates a brother, or anyone, is breaking the law just as though he had taken his life. Is this what was in the mind and heart of Jesus?

“All sin is selfishness.” The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 1763. The person who has a selfish heart is living in sin. Every thought, every word, every action that he does is sinful because it proceeds from a selfish heart and therefore, is motivated by selfishness, which is sin. It is my nature, as a son of Adam, to be inherently selfish, and, therefore a sinner by nature which results in sinful action. It is who I am. Reason then says, that if Jesus had a nature like mine, He would be inherently selfish and thereby a sinner though He never committed a sinful act.

“One unsanctified act on the part of our Saviour would have marred the pattern, and He could not have been a perfect example for us; but although He was tempted in all points like as we are, He was yet without one taint of sin.Sons and Daughters of God, 148

The word nature also is used in reference to two different things. Sometimes it is used to reflect or describe the physical nature of man, and other times to describe his mental nature. In the context of Romans 8:3, the word flesh means man’s sinful nature that cannot keep the law. Flesh then equals sinful nature. Paul makes it very plain in Romans 8:5. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Here Paul is still speaking of the same sinful flesh that he has been speaking of in verses 3 and 4, but now he specifically identifies this sinful flesh. “For to be carnally [fleshly] minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Verses 6–8

“ ‘The carnal [or natural] mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ Human nature could not keep the law, even if it would.” The Signs of the Times, May 30, 1895. When someone tells you they cannot keep the law, they are telling the truth, for sinful human nature cannot keep the law of God no matter how much a person might want to.

That which Paul calls sinful flesh God’s modern-day prophet calls sinful nature and human nature. Therefore in this context, sinful flesh, human nature, and sinful nature are used synonymously to refer to the carnal mind which cannot keep the law of God.

In Zechariah 3, we find the vision of Joshua the high priest, the leader of God’s people, standing before the angel in filthy garments. Mrs. White says the setting of this vision is just before probation closes. What are these filthy garments? “The fact that the acknowledged people of God are represented as standing before the Lord in filthy garments should lead to humility and deep searching of heart on the part of all who profess His name. … we should realize our sinful condition.” Testimonies, Vol. 5, 471

“Your sinful condition demanded a sacrifice. In your spiritual destitution you had nothing to offer.” The Review and Herald, May 28, 1901. Our filthy garments, our sinful condition, is the result of our spiritual poverty. “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.” Steps to Christ, 43

We are carnally-minded. Our sinful human nature is spiritually destitute and at war with God. Our sinful condition demanded a sacrifice that was not spiritually destitute, nor hostile toward God.

“Christ is called the second Adam. In purity and holiness, connected with God and beloved by God, He [Jesus] began where the first Adam began. Willingly He passed over the ground where Adam fell, and redeemed Adam’s failure.” The Youth’s Instructor, June 2, 1898

“He humbled Himself to become a man, so that a body should be found, a Lamb without blemish should be provided as a sinless offering, that God might be just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” The Signs of the Times, June 18, 1896

Every mind is controlled either by Satan or the Holy Spirit. Therefore, our condition is sinful because the carnal mind is held captive to the power of Satan. The body alone is not evil. The sin is in the mind and the body simply responds to its direction.

“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 law cannot acquit the guilty, it cannot cleanse the sinner, or give power to the transgressor to raise himself into a purer, holier atmosphere.” Ibid., May 30, 1895. How then is it possible for me to be saved? It is impossible unless a divine miracle takes place in my life.

For the unconverted person, every thought, word, emotion, everything that he or she says or does, is sinful. Remember when Adam was first created, the law of righteousness was written in his heart and his life was governed by this law. But when he sinned, the law of selfishness became the governing power and his heart became permeated with selfishness. Because selfishness is sin, then a man’s motives are selfish, and everything he thinks, says, and does is sin.

Paul first realized this and wrote about it in Romans 7. He was one of the strictest of Pharisees, and while he lived without the law, he considered himself to be blameless regarding the law. No one could accuse him of committing a wrong action. Paul knew the law, had memorized it, but he did not yet understand the far-reaching claims of God’s law. He believed that if he did all the right things, then he was following the law.

But the day came when, on the Damascus road, Paul met Jesus. It was then that he realized that God’s law especially had to do with the motivations of his heart, his thoughts, and desires. Having been “alive once without the law,” Paul now recognizes that our inward, fallen condition, prompting our outward, sinful acts, is the transgression that is being condemned.

We are born into this world with sinful flesh which is hostile against God, and all of Adam’s posterity have and will inherit from him sinful flesh. This inherited condition is out of harmony with God’s law, making all of Adam’s posterity transgressors by nature, even before they are born (Psalm 51:5; Isaiah 48:8; Psalm 58:3), and guilty of not keeping it. Selfishness is the governing principle in the life of every man and woman, and selfishness is sin. “Adam disobeyed and entailed sin upon his posterity; but God gave His Son for the redemption of the race.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 6, 3

Man is selfish by nature, a sinner at enmity with God, unless a miraculous transformation is accomplished in the mind, heart, and soul.

“The perishing sinner may say: ‘I am a lost sinner; but Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost.’ He says, ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (Mark 2:17). I am a sinner, and He died upon Calvary’s cross to save me. I need not remain a moment longer unsaved.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 392

Paul tells us that he was ignorant of sin and the true principles of the law, even though he had memorized the law and was a “strict” law keeper, but then he saw that God’s law, His great standard of righteousness, condemned sin in the flesh. Suddenly Paul saw himself as God saw him—a sinner. He accepted the truth found in the gospel, laid hold of the Saviour, and the Holy Spirit immediately began the work of purification in his life.

The person in the most dangerous spiritual condition is not the man who knows he is a great sinner and sees that he is lost unless he surrenders all of himself to this work of purification. It is the man who believes he is rich and needs nothing who is in the most dangerous spiritual condition.

“When man [Adam and Eve] fell, the law of self was set up. This law harmonizes with the will of sinful humanity.” The Signs of the Times, January 25, 1899

“The sowing of seeds of selfishness in the human heart was the first result of the entrance of sin into the world.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 7, 233

We must understand that selfishness is the root of all sin, the most deeply-engrained, natural trait of man’s character. It must be purged if we expect to be in the kingdom of heaven. “It is a weakness of humanity to pet selfishness, because it is a natural trait of character.” The Faith I Live By, 140

“Never should we lower the standard of righteousness in order to accommodate inherited or cultivated tendencies to wrong-doing. We need to understand that imperfection of character is sin.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 330

If I am to be saved, I must go to the foot of the cross, recognizing that I am ruined and unable to change myself. I must surrender myself to the Lord and ask Him to help me, for He has promised to send the Holy Spirit to begin the process of transformation in my life if I will but ask. I cannot, by my own efforts, be born again because it is a creative act that only God can perform. Everything must become new. This is the change that the Holy Spirit makes in my heart and mind.

Mrs. White says that we must pray day by day asking the Lord to cast out all selfishness from our hearts. This is the Christian’s warfare. The Holy Spirit will implant a new nature within us, but we still must overcome our carnal nature by His power and grace.

“God desires everyone to understand the evil of selfishness, and to cooperate with Him in guarding the human family against its terrible, deceptive power.” Manuscript Releases, Vol, 7, 233

“Christ will not permit one selfish person to enter the courts of heaven. No covetous person can pass through the pearly gates; for all covetousness is idolatry.” The Review and Herald, July 11, 1899

Friend, this is an overwhelming problem in Adventism today. People do not know what sin truly is. They believe our actions alone are sin. But selfishness permeates man’s mind and heart, and it is selfishness that directs his sinful actions.

When we understand our true condition, then we can understand that we must surrender everything to the Lord, choosing to follow Him because nothing short of a miracle can ever change us. The God whom we serve is a specialist in miraculously doing the impossible. He who is mighty to save will never turn away anyone seeking salvation. The conversion of a sinner is God’s greatest miracle of all.

“The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” John 6:37, last part

[Emphasis supplied.]

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: historic@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.