Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Nitty-Gritty of Perfectionism

What is perfection? The answer depends on who is answering the question.

The Bible Says in 1 Peter 1:19 "It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God." Perfection is Jesus.

According to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, perfection is the ability for sinful man to live a sinless life prior to Christ's second return.

Why is there such a disparity in definition and why don't Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible for what it clearly reveals? I suggest that the reason for this disparity is because the Seventh-day Adventist Church's leadership teach that "the Voice of the General Conference" – or the Official Decisions and Recommendations of Their Highest Administrative Body – Represents "the Voice of God" on Earth!

In the Book, 'Testimonies for the Church,' Vol. III, p. 492, Mrs. Ellen White says" "I have been shown that no man's judgment should be surrendered to the judgment of any other man. But when the judgment of the General Conference, which is the highest authority that God has placed upon the earth, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be maintained, but be surrendered." (In the book, "Testimonies for the Church," Vol. IX, pp. 260 and 261, the same author refers to 'the voice of the General Conference' as the voice of God.")

It is noteworthy that Mrs. White said that the Lord told her ('I have been shown') that when the General Conference speaks, private independence and private judgment must be surrendered. Are we to surrender what the Holy Spirit reveals to us personally or privately to the General Conference? Is not the General Conference a collection of fallible men? Is her revelation biblical?

The Bible Says in Hebrews 1:1-2: "Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe."

The Bible Says in Matthew 17:5: "But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him."

The Bible Says in Ephesians 1:22: "God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church."

The Bible Says in Colossians 1:18: "Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything."

According to the aforementioned texts, 'in these last days' God speaks to us through His Son and the Father has instructed us to listen to His Son, not the General Conference.. Furthermore, The Bible Says that God has put His Son in charge of everything, which means the church or body of Christ is under His authority. The Adventist church is blinded by the fact that the church is a Spirit-born organism, thereby Spirit led, and it is not subject to nor restricted to human dictatorship and administration as other misguided churches have done.

Let's look at a few of Ellen White's quotes regarding perfection. Some of her die-hard supporters are still defending these quotes even today! Also, remember that the newly elected General Conference President, Ted Wilson, is a STRONG advocate of Ellen White and is seeking to shower targeted communities with free copies of The Great Controversy authored by Ellen White, instead of Bibles.

"Christ died to make it possible for you to cease to sin, and sin is the transgression of the law" (Review and Herald, vol. 71, No. 35, p. 1, August 28, 1894.)

"To be redeemed means to cease from sin" (Review and Herald, vol. 77, No. 39, p. 1, September 25, 1900).

"Those only who through faith in Christ obey all of God's commandments will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression. They testify to their love of Christ by obeying all his precepts" (Manuscript 122, 1901, quoted in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1118).

"To every one who surrenders fully to God is given the privilege of living without sin, in obedience to the law of heaven. ... God requires of us perfect obedience. We are to purify ourselves, even as he is pure. By keeping his commandments, we are to reveal our love for the Supreme Ruler of the universe" (Review and Herald, September 27, 1906, p. 8).

I cannot help but ask, "How do we purify ourselves? Why did Christ come to shed His blood and die for us if we can obey perfectly? Where in the Bible does it tell us that Christ died to make it possible for us to cease to sin?" I thought that to be redeemed means to be bought back for a price, but Mrs. White says "To be redeemed means to cease from sin." Why would God reveal to Mrs. White statements that are contrary to His Word?

Now let's look at what The Bible Says about perfection....

The Bible goes straight to the heart of the matter. The Greek word for heart in the New Testament is 'kardia', yet each time it is used, it is not talking about our blood pumper. When the Bible talks about your heart, it is speaking of your core – your inner being.

When Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, He wasn't talking about the surface of your mind. He meant you are to love God with the core of your being. Your love for God is to come from the very center of your soul.

The Bible Says in Proverbs 4:23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

The Bible Says in Proverbs 21:2: "All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart."

The Bible Says in 1 Samuel 16:7: "…..Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

The Bible Says in Jeremiah 17:9: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; Who can know it?"

God wants us to understand that from His perspective, He looks beyond our body language, our words and our deeds. He looks at motive because we can honor Him with our lips while our hearts are far away from Him. The Bible Says in Matthew 23:25, "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!"

God's task is to go beyond the nitty-gritty of what we think we are, who we think we are and what we say we are in our minds. He determines what we really are in the core of our being…. our Heart!  

The Bible Says in 1 Corinthians 4:5 "….. wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts…"

If the heart is desperately wicked and only God can know it, how can a wicked heart be perfect? The Bible Says in 1 Chronicles 16:9, "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him…" A perfect heart is a heart fully committed to God.

The Apostle Paul confessed (Philippians 3:11-14) by saying, "I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."

Paul also said in Romans 3:23-26, "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus."

People who died before Christ came and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice were not sinless, just as we are not sinless. They (believers) died looking for Him to come and pay for their redemption. We all fall short of God's glorious standard, but God has declared us righteous because of what Jesus did; not because we became sinless and are considered worthy to enter into His kingdom. Just as the High Priest was required to offer an unblemished goat for the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement, Jesus came and offered His sinless body, spilled His blood to atone for our sins and rose again. Because of His sacrifice, we are declared 'right in His sight' even though we still have a sinful nature but have a fully committed heart towards God.

Christians are perfect when they are covered by Christ. Look at the faith heroes listed in the Faith Hall of Fame found in Hebrews 11 (Abraham, Noah, Rahab, Sarah, Moses, etc.). No where in the Bible are they said to have been sinless. They were declared righteous because they believed what Jesus was going to do to redeem them. The Lord bids us in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." 1John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  If we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, that means we are righteous.If we are sinless, there is never a need to confess, so why would John tell us to confess if we never sin?

We can have a perfect heart towards God. I did not say a sinless heart but a heart focused and uplifted towards God. When we are born again, it is a spiritual rebirth. Flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. The purpose of the rebirth is to have our sins forgiven and have a relationship with God

Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) was a prominent Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin and a man who needed a heart change – a spiritual transformation, a new birth. Being born again is the act whereby God imparts eternal life to the person who believes. John 1:12, 13 indicate that being 'born again' also carries the idea of becoming children of God through trust in the name of Jesus. So, how does the new birth take place?

The Bible Says in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." When one is "saved," he/she has been born again, spiritually renewed, and is now a child of God by right of the new birth. Trusting in Jesus Christ, the One who paid the penalty of sin when He died on the cross, is what it means to be "born again" spiritually. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Cor. 5:17.

Does this new birth mean we are sinless, that we cease to sin? The natural man – this physical man on the outside – still contacts the natural world with its five senses. The spirit man on the inside contacts the spirit world through the spirit. If we have been born again, our spirit is in contact with God. But even if we have been born again, the natural man on the outside – our body – has NOT been born again. Our body is the house we live in. The real you is the spirit man on the inside. The Bible Says in Roman 8:7 (NLT), "For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God's laws, and it never will." As long as we have a sinful nature, we will sin, BUT we, by grace through faith, can allow the Spirit to control our sinful nature.

The Bible Says in Romans 8:9, "But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) NLT

To believe that we no longer have a sinful nature and can live a sinless life is heresy. But the Good News is that IF we believe the Good News of the Gospel we will be saved.  The Bible Says  in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  "Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said."

We are not on a 'works' system but a 'belief' system. It is not about 'outward ' behavior but 'inner' yielding to God. It is not about 'religion' but it is all about 'relationship'.  

God sent His Son to be the covering for our sins and imperfections. When God looks at us, He sees Jesus and the nail prints in His hands! Contrary to Ellen White, God never asked us to be sinless neither does He expect it. He can be trusted to save us if we believe the Good News!

The Bible Says in 1 Peter 1:9,  "The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls."  Please note that the verse says 'salvation of your souls' (spirit) and not 'bodies" (sinful); but that's a whole other topic!

Ellen White's gospel is not the Gospel of the Bible. In fact, trying to serve God and trying to obey Ellen's 'Handwriting of Ordinances' cause conflict and duplicity in the lives of Christians because it places us in a position of trying to serve two masters. What I mean is this: If the Holy Spirit convicts us on a certain matter and the church (under the influence of Ellen White) tells us to do otherwise and we obey the church and not the Holy Spirit, we have seared our conscience and it is sin.  On the other hand, if we obey the voice of the Holy Spirit and not the church, the church will judge us and in some cases punish us by demotion if we have a certain position in the church. Who or what caused this need to balance what the church says with what God says?  Shouldn't they speak the same language?

God is our Master and as our Master, we are accountable to Him only. With outstretched arms, our Master and Savior pleads with us, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavily laden and I will give you rest…." It's okay to stop trying; it's okay to stop fearing; it's okay to stop checking your spiritual progress only to be disappointed; it's okay to listen to the Holy Spirit and ignore church dogma if there is a conflict. Just give it ALL to Jesus. Jesus can handle it and only Jesus can give you salvation. You are covered from head to toe in His righteousness because He was the PERFECT sacrifice and He is faithful who promised. Now that's the gospel truth!

With much Christian love,
Patricia Allen

(For further elaboration, please check January's 2011 archived article: 'Are Believers on Probation? Can Believers Be Perfect?")

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