“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
2 Timothy 2:15
Is it possible to wrongly divide the word of truth? Paul’s specific wording to rightly divide tells us that God’s word can also be wrongly divided. As we study the subject of the mystery of godliness, we must be careful to rightly divide what we study. The Spirit of Prophecy tells us that this subject will be the study of the saved throughout eternity. In its completeness, it is a subject that is meant to be a mystery to us, but there are things that we can study and understand, and God means for us to study and rightly divide what He has revealed in His word.
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
So Paul is saying that to understand the deep things of God, we must wholly and continually rely upon the Holy Spirit to make plain that which we cannot grasp with our human mind. This has led to great debate and controversy in the Adventist church regarding the human nature of Christ.
One of the most wonderful verses in all of Scripture is found in Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.” However, this verse is so difficult to understand that it will not be understood until we get to heaven; and we might not fully understand it even then.
In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “ ‘And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son … He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?’ And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ ” Verses 31–35 KJV
Mrs. White wrote to Elder Baker, an Adventist minister, about “that Holy Thing.” “These words [that Holy Thing] are not addressed to any human being, except to the Son of the Infinite God. Never, in any way, leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to corruption rested upon Christ, or that He in any way yielded to corruption. He was tempted in all points like as man is tempted, yet He is called that Holy Thing. It is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals that Christ could be tempted in all points like as we are, and yet be without sin.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 13, 19
When God’s prophet quotes a verse from the Scriptures and, without reservation, says that it is a mystery that is left unexplained to man, there is no human explanation that can be trusted.
Mrs. White also wrote, “The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever remain a mystery.” Ibid. Even in heaven, the saved will be unable to fully explain the incarnation of Christ.
However, God has given us some things that can be understood regarding the human nature of Christ. “That which is revealed, is for us and for our children, but let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such an one as ourselves: for it cannot be.” Ibid.
The best way to understand how Christ could be tempted like us is to understand how we are tempted. When I was a young preacher, I never preached about this, because I thought everyone understood how we are tempted. But I have since learned that there are many things in the spiritual world that we think everyone understands, but almost no one does. So, to be confident in our study of how Christ was tempted, let’s first study how we ourselves are tempted.
We have already studied that the nature of man before the fall was governed by the principles of righteousness; that the nature of man after the fall was, and continues to be, governed by the principles of selfishness. And what is sin? Sin is not just an action, but also a state of being—the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23
“As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man.” Proverbs 27:19
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
“All sin is selfishness.” The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 1763
“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
When I am tempted, but do not yield to the temptation, I have not committed a sin. However, if my temptation, for example, is to be angry with a fellow brother, and if I yield to that temptation and express my anger, the Bible says that I am guilty of breaking the sixth commandment (Matthew 5:21, 22). Why is it that if I hate my brother, even though I do him no physical harm, I still am guilty of breaking the ten commandments? Because human nature is now governed by the principle of selfishness. Selfish is what we are to the core and, without a miracle of transformation effected by the power of the Holy Spirit, selfishness directs everything we think, say, and do.
My brother Marshall and I both attended Seventh-day Adventist schools for over 20 years, including Loma Linda University where we both obtained master’s and doctor’s degrees, and also a year at Andrew’s Theological Seminary for Ministers. We both entered the ministry.
Over 40 years ago, Marshall was living on the East Coast while I was living on the West Coast. We had a difference of understanding regarding the incarnation of Christ. We would write back and forth, each trying to convince the other of our understanding. After a few years of this back-and-forth dialogue, we stopped the discussion, realizing that neither of us was going to be able to convince the other to change what we believed to be true. For the last ten years of my brother’s life, I do not recall that we ever discussed it again. We knew we agreed on the important things—that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient, that He did not sin, and that we must overcome sin as He did in order to be saved. On the rest, we just did not discuss it.
During the time of our discussions, I wrote a paper on the subject of sin. Marshall liked my explanation of sin so much, and believing that it needed to be published, he sent it to the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference (BRI). The BRI director at that time happened to be a personal friend of mine, whom I had known for many years. But when he received and reviewed my paper, the BRI would not print it. The BRI is supposed to be a collection of the best theological minds in the Adventist church, but they had a different opinion about sin.
So how is it that two men, having received the same education, both ministers in good standing with the Seventh-day Adventist church (at that time), both totally committed to studying, knowing, following, and preaching the truth, along with a collection of the best theological minds of the Adventist church be so opposite in their understanding of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy on the subjects of sin and the incarnation of Christ?
In addition to the texts and quotations above, let me add what I feel is the best definition of sin that I have ever found in the Spirit of Prophecy.
“God will accept only those who are determined to aim high. He places every human agent under obligation to do his best. Moral perfection is required of all. 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. …
“And those who would be workers together with God must strive for perfection of every organ of the body and quality of the mind.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 330
Notice that moral perfection is not optional. It is a requirement, an obligation to do our very best. This is a frightening thought. I am a terrible sinner and I cannot make myself better, let alone perfect. But there is a way that you and I can reach that required, perfected character.
“All righteous attributes of character dwell in God as a perfect, harmonious whole, and everyone who receives Christ as a personal Saviour is privileged to possess these attributes.” Ibid.
Unless Christ delivers me, I have no hope. He, the promised Saviour, is my only hope. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25. Another literal Greek translation of this verse is, “He is able to save perfectly those that come to God by Him.”
There is no need to be afraid or feel anxious about your imperfect character, for we have a Saviour who is able to save every soul, even those at the very bottom of the pit of sin. He has promised to pull us, each one, out of the darkness of sin and to perfectly save us. In your heart, you may feel that you are nothing, filthy, and that your mind is all wrong, but you can call upon Him, and trusting in Him alone, He will work out the plan of salvation in your life.
God’s law is holy, just, and good, and broad in its requirements. It reaches to the very thoughts and feelings of the soul (Manuscript Releases, Vol. 10, 287). Notice that God’s law reaches to my thoughts and feelings. Why? Because that is where the sin is. It is not just what I do, but what I am. I, my thoughts, feelings, and intentions, are not in harmony with God’s law. Just because I have not committed an act of sin does not make me any less of a sinner. If I am, in any way, out of harmony with the law of God, then I am sinning because I am living in a state of sin.
“They [the law of God, the ten commandments] lay men under obligation to God: they reach to the thoughts and feelings of the soul; and they will produce conviction of sin in everyone who is sensible of having transgressed them. If the law extended only to the external conduct, men would not feel guilty over their wrong thoughts, desires, and designs. But the law requires that the soul itself, the spiritual agent, be pure.” Ibid., 287, 288. We must accept Christ as our Saviour, surrendering to His transforming power, or we will remain impure, unholy, and sinful, because alone we are unable to be anything else.
The Spirit of Prophecy makes it very clear that the expression “that Holy Thing,” was referring to Jesus’ humanity not His divinity. Jesus was to be the physical walking, talking, breathing example to man of the character of God. “The Lord Jesus is the embodiment of the glory of the Godhead.” The Signs of the Times, December 12, 1895
Webster’s dictionary defines embodiment as “the act of embodying or a state of being embodied.” Embodied means to “cause to become a body or part of a body”; in other words, incarnate. When Mrs. White wrote that Jesus is the embodiment of the glory of the Godhead, she was speaking about His body.
“What speech is to thought, so is Christ to the invisible Father. 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, that man might bear the image of the invisible God. He made known in His words, His character, His power and majesty, the nature and attributes of God. Divinity flashed through humanity in softening, subduing light. He was the embodiment of the law of God, which is the transcript of His character.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1131
“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. …
“He was manifesting God in humanity. Yet He was the humblest of all the prophets; and He exemplified in His life the truth that the more perfect the character of human beings, the more simple and humble they will be.” The Youth’s Instructor, September 16, 1897
Jesus came to this world as a human being, “not to reveal what a God could do, but what a man could do, through faith in God’s power to help in every emergency. Man is, through faith, to be a partaker in the divine nature, and to overcome every temptation wherewith he is beset. The Lord now demands that every son and daughter of Adam through faith in Jesus Christ, serve Him in [the] human nature which we now have.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 140
The devil was jubilant. He was sure that finally he would win the great controversy. And if he were to win, every son and daughter of Adam would perish. Christ would perish, too, because if the devil had won, Christ would have lost His divinity. Divine wrath would have come upon Christ.
“Satan and his angels exulted as they discovered that the Son of God had taken upon Himself the nature of man, and had come to be man’s substitute, to engage in the conflict in our behalf. The human family had been overpowered by the deception of the enemy; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, and the enemy hoped that Christ also would become a victim to his seductive wiles. Satan gloried in the opportunity of besieging the Son of God with fierce temptations. Because He had taken upon Himself the nature of man, Satan deemed that his victory was certain, and with every malignant device in his power he strove to overcome Christ. The steadfast resistance of Christ to the temptations of the enemy brought the whole confederacy of evil to war against him. Evil men and evil angels united their forces against the Prince of Peace. The issues at stake were beyond the comprehension of men, and the temptations that assailed Christ were as much more intense and subtle than those which assail man as his character was purer and more exalted than is the character of man in his moral and physical defilement. In his conflict with the prince of darkness in this atom of a world, Christ had to meet the whole confederacy of evil, the united forces of the adversary of God and man; but at every point he met the tempter, and put him to flight. Christ was conqueror over the powers of darkness, and took the infinite risk of consenting to war with the enemy, that he might conquer him in our behalf.” The Signs of the Times, February 20, 1893
Christ was tempted far more than any of us will ever be tempted. If He had lost, we, too, would have been lost. Yet, He took an infinite risk, coming to this earth as a man to face the devil, and to save mankind. Imagine the difference of the level of temptation between Jesus and us. One demon comes and whispers a suggestive thought to us and have we not given in to the temptation many times? Jesus met Satan and “the whole confederacy of evil, the united forces of the adversary” and stood fast.
Very few Adventists understand what happened to mankind when Adam sinned. “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. The image of God in which He had been created was marred and distorted. The character of man was out of harmony with the character of God; for through sin man became carnal [fleshly].” Ibid. February 13, 1893. The entire human race became carnal.
Man’s carnal flesh must be crucified, and he must be born again. Paul speaks repeatedly that the old man, our carnal nature, must be crucified.
“That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22–24
Your carnal nature is to be crucified, but a crucified person can come down from the cross. That is what they said to Jesus. “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down [from the cross].” Matthew 4:6. Mrs. White says that Christ could have come down from the cross and gone back to His Father, but had He done so, you and I would be lost (The Desire of Ages, 145). Have you let your carnal man get down from the cross?
Because of Adam’s sin, the whole human race became carnal, therefore, we are all partakers of the satanic nature, and if we are to be in heaven, three things must occur. “Since the divine law is as changeless as the character of God, there could be no hope for man unless some way could be devised whereby his transgression might be pardoned, his nature renewed, and his spirit restored to reflect the image of God.” That I May Know Him, 18
God’s law requires a perfect character. “Even the thoughts must be brought into subjection to the will of God, and the feelings under the control of reason and religion. Our imagination was not given us to be allowed to run riot and have its own way, without any effort at restraint and discipline. If the thoughts are wrong, the feelings will be wrong; and the thoughts and feelings combined make up the moral character. When we decide that as Christians we are not required to restrain our thoughts and feelings, we are brought under the influence of evil angels, and invite their presence and control.” The Review and Herald, April 21, 1885
God’s law requires that we present to Him a holy character. What constitutes a holy character? “The law requires us to present to God a holy character. It demands of men today just what it demanded of Adam and Eve in Eden—perfect obedience, perfect harmony with all its [the law of God] precepts in all relations of life, under all circumstances and conditions. No unholy thought can be tolerated, no unlovely action can be justified. As the law requires that which no man of himself can render, the human family are found guilty before the great moral standard.” The Signs of the Times, May 30, 1895
The thoughts and feelings in all relations of life, under all circumstances and all conditions must be holy, in harmonious agreement with all the precepts of God’s law; anything less is transgression of God’s law and therefore, sin.
“Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” James 1:14. So what is temptation?
“It [temptation] is the means by which those who claim to be the children of God are tested and tried.” The Signs of the Times, May 27, 1897
When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, the temptation involved three parts:  distrust in God’s love,  doubting His wisdom,  and transgressing His law (Patriarchs and Prophets, 57). “Satan exulted in his success. He had tempted the woman.” Ibid. Eve failed in all three, and if you or I fail on the first two parts, we will fail on the third—every time. We must be vigilant, because the devil is still using this same temptation on God’s people all over the world today.
Someone might say, “I know that God loves me and everything He does is wise and best. I would never distrust His love or doubt His wisdom.” But what if that same person had a loved one in the hospital dying of cancer, and they say, “This person is a Christian, how can this happen? If there was a God in heaven, this couldn’t happen.” Do you see? The devil is tempting them to doubt God’s love and wisdom. The devil whispers in the ears of those suffering some trial, “If there was a God who had infinite love, infinite wisdom, and infinite power, He wouldn’t let this happen.”
The time of trouble is coming, and if I do not trust in God’s love and wisdom now, then I will not keep His law, and I will be unable to make it through that terrible time.
If I am to survive the temptations that are coming, then I must be rooted and grounded in the truth so that I have perfect trust and confidence in God’s love for me. Whether I am sick and no one can say why, or everything seems to be going against me and nothing makes sense, still I must have faith in God’s love and wisdom now.
An army of soldiers came to the home of a Waldensian family. They killed the sons, cut off their heads, tied them around their father’s neck, and then marched the father to his death. Could you trust that there is a God in heaven who has infinite love and wisdom for you in a situation like that? Can you trust God’s love and know that He is wise and He is going to work all things out for your good in the end even when everything’s going wrong and you can’t understand it?
Friends, we must practice trusting in God now, every day, in all things—because trust in God will not just magically appear when things get tough. We must trust in Him or we will fail and be lost.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.