God does not play word games when He goes about saving men. The issue has always been faith that attitude on man's part that trusts God and acts accordingly. The opposite of faith is rebellion. The rebel does not trust God; consequently, he does not obey Him at least willingly and is forever looking for ways to justify himself when he chooses not to obey Him. The sinner is simply a rebel who wants to have things his own way; he may be a very religious rebel, very respected in fact, but he will decide where, when, and how far he will obey God. The sinner is simply a person who makes himself "lord" over what he will do, whenever desire and duty are in conflict.
The tragedy is that man has ingeniously worked out religious formulas whereby he hopes to guarantee to himself God's acceptance and eventual salvation. Men and women have tried the austerity route (monasticism, deprivation of all kinds); the religious duties route (good works of all kinds); the information route (expertise in theological knowledge, in Bible studies on all aspects of "present truth," as if "faith" were to be equated with doctrine); even the "reverse formula" (God has done it all, salvation is by grace alone, thus minimizing human responsibility).
These man-made avenues to salvation possess certain worthy aspects that cannot be written off but their weakness and ineffectiveness in dealing with the sin problem lie in the fact that in such humanly devised solutions man is controlling his destiny, still doing it his way, still missing the whole point of the plan of salvation by evading the total surrender involved in trusting, loving obedience.
If sin began when created beings distrusted God (that is, when they thought they knew a better way), then sin is removed from the universe only when men and women of faith develop a life pattern that always responds, spontaneously, with a Yes to whatever God tells them to do.
Sin is not removed merely by forensic justification. The wonderful news that God forgives penitent sinners brings peace beyond all understanding, but this does not in fact,dispose of sin. There is more to the plan of redemption than forensic justification or Satan would truly have the last laugh. Such word games would not defeat him or prove that God's way of life is superior. In fact, all that is thus justified (made righteous) is sin, not the sinner. That is very cheap grace.
The forgiven saint needs some thing more than a cloak over his past he needs power to refrain from sin, a power that will indeed cleanse him from all sin and set him forth as a product of the grace of God. Especially for us in the twentieth century, the cleansing time, the "washing and ironing time," is now, "the time when we are to cleanse our robes or character in the blood of the Lamb. John says, 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' . . . Shall we not let Him take them away? Shall we not let our sins go?" The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on John 1:29, p. 1131.
This is what Ellen White means when she says in so many ways: "The religion of Christ means more than the forgiveness of sin; it means taking away our sins, and filling the vacuum with the graces of the Holy Spirit." --Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 419, 420.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been sent forth with a unique and urgent mission. No other church is telling the world plainly, frankly, and we hope convincingly, that Jesus delays His coming until mankind has had a fair chance to see that God can wipe out the sin problem, that God's way of life is irrefutably better, that God is right and sinners are wrong.
For this reason becoming a Seventh-day Adventist is not an isolated act or a private arrangement with God it is a whole new life experience that is distinctively different from that of our contemporaries. No previous church relationship can compare. There is no phase of the Adventist life that does not immediately come under the Lord's direct concern. It is more than merely tinkering with a day of worship, and publicly voicing a commitment to Jesus.
Our uniqueness is summed up in our understanding of righteousness by faith, an expression often used to describe the process by which God and man dispose of the sin problem so that God can be "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26).
In a nutshell what we believe is this: on one hand in the process, the righteousness of Christ's own sinless record covers a man's past; on the other hand, the righteousness of Christ's sinless life is woven into a developing habit pattern that eventually produces a mature, Christlike person.
To receive both the cloak of Christ's righteousness to cover a man's past and the power to reflect truly His righteousness in a consistent life pattern requires faith the trust and willingness of a man to do whatever God wants him to do. This total life response, which is embodied in the word faith, is the method by which Jesus lived a sinless life in fallen human nature.
Jesus is delaying His Advent until His people exhibit His kind of faith, thus vindicating the fairness and wisdom of God's dealing with man. The life-style of these people "that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12), winsome to the honest-hearted and an affront to the self-serving, will demonstrate to the world that man need not remain a sinner, that man may attain a sinless, righteous experience by the same faith that Jesus exercised, that is, righteousness by faith.
The Adventist invitation to the world is to "come and see," just as Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. Jesus means what He says, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18). Jude also: "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling" (Jude 24); and Paul: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25); "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Rom. 6:22).
The point of it all, Paul said, the function of the church as the body of Christ to which every new believer automatically belongs when he accepts Jesus as his Saviour, is to assist each member to "attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13, R.S.V.).
The last generation will "happen" when the church realizes what its primary mission is to let God work in the lives of church members as He has never been given the chance before on such a worldwide scale so that He can vindicate His honor and government. "Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will claim them as His own."--Christ's Object Lessons, p. 69.
Only then will the gospel (the good news that God can save men from sin) truly go forth and force the day of decision for all mankind. Only then will people truly see evidence that what Christianity has talked about for 2,000 years really works.