In this continuation of “The Worthlessness of Creature Merit,” the writer will attempt to deal with the problems that arise in the minds of many Seventh-day Adventists, as they arose in the minds of the church pioneers, when the gospel as presented in Parts I and II was the major part of the presentations in 1888. It was the way Ellen White understood the gospel and what she presented.
Many of the pioneer Adventists objected to this; “You are throwing out the law,” they accused. “This means that you do not believe in good works, and you do not believe in sanctification.” They almost accused Jones and Waggoner of trying to destroy the church. These very same objections still come up among Seventh-day Adventists today. Through this series it is hoped that we will see some connections.
The gospel does not do away with sanctification. It makes it possible. The problem was, and still is for many people, that, like the common saying, we get the cart before the horse. We cannot get the results before we have the cause, and that is one of the reasons many Seventh-day Adventists are utterly discouraged.
Often, I have people contacting me who are afraid they cannot be saved. Now, when a person thinks they cannot be saved, do you know what that means? They do not know the gospel. They do not understand that Christ can save the chief of sinners through His merits, if they will call upon Him and believe in Him. How do they get this misunderstanding?
Hebrews 7:25 tells us: “Whence also He is able to save perfectly those that come through Him to God, always living to make intercession on their behalf.” What a wonderful promise!
The King James Version of the Bible translates the Greek word panteles as “uttermost”; it actually more correctly means, “completely or perfectly,” as translated above. Quite often when the word uttermost is used, people think that God can reach clear to the bottom of the pit of sin to rescue an individual. That is true, but it is also true that He can save you perfectly. In other words, He can get you clear to the top of the pit.
As further introduction to this study, contemplate the following passage from the writings of Ellen White:
“Jesus is officiating in the presence of God, offering up His shed blood, as it had been a lamb slain. Jesus presents the oblation offered for every offense and every shortcoming of the sinner…
“The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God’s right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ’s propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable. Then gracious answers are returned.
“Oh, that all may see that everything in obedience, in penitence, in praise and thanksgiving, must be placed upon the glowing fire of the righteousness of Christ. The fragrance of this righteousness ascends like a cloud around the mercy seat.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 343, 344.
Everything we do, even our prayers, comes from the corrupt channels of humanity. One of the reasons people are confused about this is that they do not understand their sinful condition; they think that they are no longer sinful, but that they are now saints.
To help in our understanding, we will continue to ask questions and answer the questions from inspired writings.
Merits of Christ
What is our only hope of salvation?
We should know the answer to this question. What is our only hope of salvation? Ellen White declared: “My only hope is in a crucified and risen Saviour. I claim the merits of the blood of Christ. Jesus will save to the uttermost all who put their trust in Him.” Review and Herald, November 1, 1881.
Will anybody perish who trusts in Christ’s merits?
“Nothing but the righteousness of Christ can entitle us to one of the blessings of the covenant of grace. There are many who have long desired and tried to obtain these blessings, but have not received them, because they have cherished the idea that they could do something to make themselves worthy of them. They have not looked away from self, believing that Jesus is an all-sufficient Saviour. We must not think that our own merits will save us; Christ is our only hope of salvation. ‘For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.’ Acts 4:12.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 431.
As a human being, I do not understand how all this works. All I know is, according to this statement, God cannot give you what you want, the blessings of the new covenant, as long as you are cherishing the idea that you can do something. You have to reach the point where you realize you are absolutely helpless, and you must have Someone outside yourself save you completely; then God can help you.
“When we trust God fully, when we rely upon the merits of Jesus as a sin-pardoning Saviour, we shall receive all the help that we can desire. Let none look to self, as though they had power to save themselves. Jesus died for us because we were helpless to do this. In Him is our hope, our justification, our righteousness. When we see our sinfulness we should not despond and fear that we have no Saviour, or that He has no thoughts of mercy toward us.” Ibid.
This is a problem that many Seventh-day Adventists are having. The Holy Spirit is speaking to people and revealing to them their sins, their sinful condition. This is good, but because they do not understand the gospel, when they see their sinful condition, they are ready to give up. But Mrs. White says, “When we see our sinfulness we should not despond and fear that we have no Saviour, or that He has no thoughts of mercy toward us. At this very time He is inviting us to come to Him in our helplessness and be saved. …
“If we are conscious of our needs, we should not devote all our powers to mourning over them. While we realize our helpless condition without Christ, we are not to yield to discouragement, but rely upon the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour. Look and live. Jesus has pledged His word; He will save all who come unto Him. Though millions who need to be healed will reject His offered mercy, not one who trusts in His merits will be left to perish.” Ibid., 431, 432.
This is an astonishing promise. Did you get it? How many people who choose to trust in the merits of Christ will perish? Not one! That is wonderful! This is a promise for everybody—even the chief of sinners. It does not matter what your problem may be. It matters not what kind of bad habits you have or what your background is. None of this matters, if you choose to put your trust in Christ’s merits.
Did you notice in this passage that Mrs. White used words such as helpless and helplessness? So, when we realize our sinfulness, we need to pray, “Lord, I know I am bad. I know I am helpless.” We need to come to Christ and say, “Lord, I know I cannot save myself. I know I am helpless. I know there is nothing I can do, but I am choosing to trust in Your merits.” And the promise is that if we trust His merits, we will not be lost.
“God thus taught His servant [the night when Jacob had the fight with the Lord at the river Jabbok] that divine power and grace alone could give him the blessing he craved. Thus it will be with those who live in the last days. As dangers surround them, and despair seizes upon the soul …” Friends, that is happening right now. We are approaching the end of time. There are dangers all around us, and when we begin to realize how helpless we are, we become scared. Have you ever seen a Seventh-day Adventist who was scared? Have you ever been scared yourself?
She continues, “As dangers surround them, and despair begins to seize the soul, they must depend solely [that is, entirely] upon the merits of the atonement.” Ibid., 202, 203. When we realize how sinful we are and that we cannot overcome on our own, what are we supposed to do? We are supposed to depend completely, “solely upon the merits of the atonement.”
Then she says, “We can do nothing of ourselves. In all our helpless unworthiness we must trust in the merits of the crucified and risen Saviour. None will ever perish while they do this.” Ibid., 203. How wonderful!
If we realize we are helpless, well, thank the Lord we have got that figured out! That is one of the biggest problems with a number of Christians; they do not know that yet. But if we realize we are helpless, then, she says that we should put our trust in the merits of the crucified and risen Saviour and we will not perish. That is an absolute promise.
Stand in Favor
How can we stand in favor with God?
“We stand in favor before God, not because of any merit in ourselves.” Faith and Works, 107.
“… not because of any merit in ourselves.” In other words, not because of anything we have done or are doing. That is not what brings us into favor with God. Well, what is it, then?
“We stand in favor before God, not because of any merit in ourselves, but because of our faith in ‘the Lord our righteousness.’” Ibid.
How may we stand unscathed amid the fires of temptation and trouble?
“If we are conscious of the weakness of self, we shall not be self-confident and reckless of danger, but we shall feel the necessity of seeking to the Source of our strength, Jesus our Righteousness. We shall come in repentance and contrition, with a despairing sense of our own finite weakness, and learn that we must daily apply to the merits of the blood of Christ, that we may become vessels fit for the Master’s use.
“While thus depending upon God we shall not be found warring against the truth, but we shall always be enabled to take our stand for the right. We should cling to the teaching of the Bible and not follow the customs and traditions of the world, the sayings and doings of men.
“When errors arise and are taught as Bible truth, those who have a connection with Christ will not trust to what the minister says, but like the noble Bereans, they will search the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so. When they discover what is the word of the Lord, they will take their stand on the side of the truth. They will hear the voice of the True Shepherd saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.’ [Isaiah 30:21.] Thus you will be educated to make the Bible the man of your counsel, and the voice of a stranger you will neither hear nor follow.
“If the soul is to be purified and ennobled, and made fit for the heavenly courts, there are two lessons to be learned—self-sacrifice and self-control. Some learn these important lessons more easily than do others, for they are exercised by the simple discipline the Lord gives them in gentleness and love. Others require the slow discipline of suffering, that the cleansing fire may purify their hearts of pride and self-reliance, of earthly passion and self-love, that the true gold of character may appear and that they may become victors through the grace of Christ.
“The love of God will strengthen the soul [that is the result of putting your trust in the merits of Christ], and through the virtue of the merits of the blood of Christ we may stand unscathed amid the fire of temptation and trial; but no other help can avail to save but Christ, our righteousness, who is made unto us wisdom and sanctification and redemption.
“True sanctification is nothing more or less than to love God with all the heart, to walk in His commandments and ordinances blameless. Sanctification is not an emotion but a heaven-born principle that brings all the passions and desires under the control of the Spirit of God; and this work is done through our Lord and Saviour.
“Spurious sanctification does not glorify God but leads those who claim it to exalt and glorify themselves. Whatever comes in our experience, whether of joy or sorrow, that does not reflect Christ and point to Him as its author, bringing glory to Him and sinking self out of sight, is not true Christian experience.
“When the grace of Christ is implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit, its possessor will become humble in spirit and will seek for the society of those whose conversation is upon heavenly things. Then the Spirit will take the things of Christ and show them unto us and will glorify, not the receiver, but the Giver. If, therefore, you have the sacred peace of Christ in your heart, your lips will be filled with praise and thanksgiving to God. Your prayers, the discharge of your duty, your benevolence, your self-denial, will not be the theme of your thought or conversation, but you will magnify Him who gave Himself for you when you were yet a sinner. You will say: ‘I give myself to Jesus. I have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write.’ As you praise Him you will have a precious blessing, and all the praise and glory for that which is done through your instrumentality will be given back to God.” Ibid., 86, 87.
Every Adventist who is studying Bible prophecy knows that we are drawing near the end of time; we cannot help but see it. Just look around at what is happening, and we know, as a result, what is to come. We have prophecy, but so many Adventists are scared to death. “What are we going to do? How are we going to get ready? How are we going to be ready?” The only answer is given: “. . . no other help can avail to save but Christ, our righteousness.” There is no one else. There is nothing else. That is it. That is where we must put our trust.
How does this relate to 1844 and the atonement? This is a question that Seventh-day Adventists ask.
In Faith and Works, 100–102, Mrs. White discusses this in detail. We will here only look at several short passages from those pages.
“Without the grace of Christ, the sinner is in a hopeless condition; nothing can be done for him; but through divine grace, supernatural power is imparted to man and works in mind and heart and character. It is through the impartation of the grace of Christ that sin is discerned in its hateful nature and finally driven from the soul temple.” Ibid., 100. Notice that unless we receive Christ’s merits, we will never overcome sin. It will never happen.
There are Seventh-day Adventists who have been struggling for years and have become discouraged to the point that they want a different gospel, because they do not understand how atonement works.
“The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner’s account. …
“Again: it is written, ‘But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:12, 13). Jesus declared, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3). ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ (verse 5). …
“Many are losing the right way, in consequence of thinking that they must climb to heaven, that they must do something to merit the favor of God. They seek to make themselves better by their own unaided efforts. This they can never accomplish. Christ has made the way by dying our Sacrifice, by living our Example, by becoming our great High Priest. He declares, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ [John 14:6.] If by any effort of our own we could advance one step toward the ladder, the words of Christ would not be true. But when we accept Christ, good works will appear as fruitful evidence that we are in the way of life, that Christ is our way, and that we are treading the true path that leads to heaven.” Ibid., 101, 102.
We absolutely cannot get the cart before the horse. When we accept Jesus, when we receive His merits, when we receive His grace, when the Holy Spirit works on our minds, good works result. Do not ever get confused. The works are the result of the Holy Spirit working on our minds and our hearts; they are never the cause of our salvation. It is not something we can work out. It is the result of God working in us. This is why we must get the emphasis on receiving the merits of Christ, on receiving the grace of Christ. Good works will result.
“Christ looks at the spirit, and when He sees us carrying our burden with faith, His perfect holiness atones for our shortcomings. When we do our best, He becomes our righteousness.” Ibid., 102.
Hopefully, we will now better understand how this relates to the atonement. It is more important at this time to receive the grace and merits of Christ than at any time before, because only the grace and merits of Christ can result in the good development of character—ultimately in perfect character.
Should we wait for repentance before we take hold of Christ’s righteousness?
The answer is no. Do not wait. We cannot repent. Repentance is a gift. Speaking of this, Ellen White wrote: “He who will lay hold of Christ’s righteousness need not wait one moment that he himself may blot out his own sins. He need not wait until he has made a suitable repentance before he may take hold upon Christ’s righteousness. We do not understand the matter of salvation. It is just as simple as ABC. But we don’t understand it.
“Now, how is it that a man will repent? Is it anything of himself? No; because the natural heart is at enmity with God. Then how can the natural heart stir itself up to repentance when it has no power to do so? What is it that brings man to repentance? It is Jesus Christ. How does He bring man to repentance? There are a thousand ways that He may do this.” Ibid., 64.
We can come to the Lord; we can claim His righteousness; we cannot repent. Only the Lord Jesus can bring us to repentance. We should not wait until we experience repentance or feel sorry; do not wait for some kind of a feeling. We must just come to the Lord the way we are. Do not wait for repentance.
What is the only thing that will obtain salvation for you?
Here is the answer:
“Your birth, your reputation, your wealth, your talents, your virtues, your piety, your philanthropy, or anything else in you or connected with you will not form a bond of union between your soul and Christ. Your connection with the church, the manner in which your brethren regard you, will be of no avail unless you believe in Christ. It is not enough to believe about Him; you must believe in Him. You must rely wholly upon His saving grace.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 48, 49. [Author’s italics.]
Nothing else will help. Nothing else will avail, unless we lay hold, by faith, on the merits of Jesus Christ. That is the only thing that will obtain salvation for us.
When you read this, you may be aghast. You may say, “How can this be? How can it be that this is the way to get salvation? Most of the world is going to be lost.” Friends, I cannot explain all that.
When we see how simple salvation is, it does cause us to question, “Why does not everybody accept it?” We cannot stop the majority of the people in the world from going to destruction, just as Noah could not. But we can make a decision for ourselves, and we can encourage people around us and show others how they can be saved. There are people all around us who are attending churches, but who do not know how to be saved.
“In every congregation in the land there are souls unsatisfied, hungering and thirsting for salvation. By day and by night the burden of their hearts is, What shall I do to be saved? They listen eagerly to popular discourses, hoping to learn how they may be justified before God. But too often they hear only a pleasing speech, an eloquent declamation. There are sad and disappointed hearts in every religious gathering.” Faith and Works, 32.
What do we do? We choose to put our trust in the merits of Christ. Like Paul said to the Philippian jailer, “You believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31.)
Salvation is too simple, is it not?
To be continued …
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.