How the Great Controversy Will End

Man's restoration to the divine likeness will always begin at the foot of the cross.

Carl Coffman is chairman, Department of Religion, Andrews University

WHAT WILL THOSE who welcome Christ at His return be like? Why is it that they have been able to achieve in spiritual things what multitudes of others seem to have failed in achieving? Will they really be "like him" (1 John 3:2), and if so, in what respect? How can a sinner gain the victory over all sin? Is it possible for all to do so, or for just a fortunate few? Can God really make of me what Scripture says He can?

A clear understanding of the sin problem, of the issues involved in the very old controversy between good and evil, of what happened to man when he yielded to the tempter, and of the changes that God is very capable of making in the lives of yielded sinners, will help us to understand more accurately the answers to these questions.

The Word of God clearly reveals where the terrible mess we call sin began. We do not have all of the details, of course, but enough to form a revealing picture. Jude and Peter combine to tell us of the "angels which kept not their first estate" (Jude 6), and that "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell" (2 Peter 2:4). Revelation 12:7, 9 makes it clear that there was war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the devil and his angels, and that they were cast to the earth.

It is much easier to accept the fact that the devil has worked diligently to deceive and destroy on this earth than it is to comprehend how a once-sinless angel, in the very presence of God in heaven, could become the author of wrong. A large number of Bible commentators recognize a further description of this sad event expressed in the imagery of the kings of Babylon and Tyrus in Isaiah 14:4, 12-14 and Ezekiel 28:11-19. Lucifer, a perfect angel in the courts of God (Eze. 28:15), attempted to become like God (Isa. 14:13, 14).

In answering those who ask how this could happen in God's holy heaven we must avoid the danger of conjecture and admit that we are dealing with that which is unexplainable. The clear record of Scripture reveals that it did happen this way, but makes no attempt to ex plain why.

In Revelation 12 we read that Satan was cast out to this earth. God placed two perfect people on this earth at the time He created it, and the Creation narrative is followed by a brief record of the deception of this first man and woman, as the devil spoke through the medium of a beautiful serpent at the tree of testing. Further insight into the nature of the adversary is found in this passage. The serpent questioned Eve, "Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Gen. 3:1). His very first temptation was to lead Eve to doubt the authority of her Creator.

Focus of the Great Controversy

The great controversy between good and evil has focused and will always focus on the supreme authority of God and the insinuations of the unfairness of that authority by the author of sin. The controversy will be concluded only when it has been sufficiently demonstrated in history and in the lives of Christ's followers that God is the sole Ruler of all, that His rule is absolutely fair, and that because He is love (1 John 4:8) He treats all men fairly and for their best good at all times and in all circumstances. Only then can God set up an eternal kingdom where sin will not rise again.

We can only speculate as to what degree man was made physically and men tally like his Maker. Undoubtedly he was superior to later generations in these respects. The important aspect of man's created likeness to God is that he was holy, righteous, and pure as God is pure. The crucial point is that he could love perfectly, first his Creator, then his partner, then all of creation.

The record of the Fall in Genesis 3 details the impairment of ability to love. When Eve believed the voice speaking through that serpent and disobeyed the clear command of God, she instantly suffered a fractured love relationship with her Creator. Love and obedience are inseparable.

Next she led her husband to share in that disobedience. In just a few moments of time she demonstrated that when one ceases to enjoy an undivided love relationship with God, there comes a confusion in the love relationships that must exist with people. Herein is the disease of sin. And without divine help, this disease is incurable.

So many see sin as a matter of book keeping by God and recording angels. God keeps accurate books; a man sins, it is recorded, he says he is sorry, and God writes "forgiven" as He draws a line through it. The Scriptures speak of books in heaven (see Rev. 3:5; Mal. 3:16; Isa. 65:6, 7). But the sin problem can be truly understood only in the sense of deteriorating love relationships. Thus the solution to the sin problem and the ending of the controversy that has so long existed in God's universe comes only as man finds restoration to the ability to love again as God loves—possible only as one yields to the miracle- working power of God's grace in an otherwise loveless life.

As a result of sin, man was sent by God "from the garden of Eden" "and a flaming sword which turned every way" kept him from eating of the tree of life (see Gen. 3:22-24). Not only did he lose these privileges but also he saw his do minion over the other created things slipping from his hands, the tilling of soil became a burden, and even that lovely relationship between husband and wife ere long was filled with strain and sorrow. Love problems with God always create love problems with people. With the passing of time, separations between husbands and wives, plurality of wives, and immorality became rampant.

Deterioration might be the most descriptive world to apply to the results of Adam's fall as we survey the history of the human race recorded in Scripture. Adam and Eve were created physically perfect and beautiful. Though it took time for superior people to change, we do not read far before finding shortened lives (Gen. 5 and 11), records of illness (chap. 48:1) and physical deterioration. The Bible also contains evidences of mental deterioration, of dwarfing of the intellect, of the possession of the mind by evil thoughts and evil spirits.

Most prominent in the Scripture record is the deterioration of the spiritual nature of man. Students of the Word have often questioned the inclusion of so many lurid stories of sin, particularly in the Old Testament. There are some in the New Testament as well. Through His prophets and apostles, God simply tells it like it was. Man's nature became so weakened through transgression that it was impossible for him, in his own strength, to resist the power of evil. He was made captive by Satan, and would have remained so forever had God not interposed.

First John 3:4 says that "sin is the transgression of the law," or "lawlessness." Christ summarizes what His commandments are really all about in Matthew 22:37, 39—supreme love for God, and genuine, holy love for people. Taking this into consideration, we might then say fairly that sin is lovelessness. Down through the history of man, every sin expresses in some way the deterioration of man's God-given ability to love—first, his divine Creator, and second, his fellow creatures about him on this earth. Thus sin violates the two great eternal aspects of love as they are set forth in the Decalogue.

The Need for Calvary

If the disease of sin is truly incurable on a human level, the need for the intervention of the Great Physician is critical to the destiny of all mankind. Man needed Someone who could teach him not only how to love again but also en able him to do so.

The miracle of miracles is that as soon as there was sin there was a Saviour for Adam and Eve. We call Genesis 3:15 the Lord's first promise. God told the serpent, or the devil, that He would put "enmity" between him and the woman. The only way any man or woman can come to hate sin, and turn away from it, is as he or she turns to the cross and begins to understand that our sins are responsible for the murder of our Saviour. It is Christ's atonement that softens and mellows the heart and makes it possible for the work of grace to take place.

As the first pair offered the first sacrifice and as God clothed their nakedness with the skins of animals (verse 21), man was taught the all-important lesson that it was only through the sacrifice of Christ, an innocent victim, and through man's acceptance of His sacrifice by faith that remission of sins can occur (Heb. 9:22) and sinful man can again be brought into a right relation ship with God.

From Bethlehem to the ascension, Christ demonstrated God's love to man. It is at the cross in particular that we find the cure for the disease of sin—the inability to love as God loves, and as He demands that we must love if we are to be part of the universal family of God. When the deteriorated sinner looks to Calvary, in faith, and senses his need, something happens. First John 4:16,19, reveal that "God is love," and "we love him, because he first loved us."

A Change in Relationship

This change in relationship occurs under the God-given principle that by beholding we are changed. Man has slipped far from the image of God, from the divine likeness in which he was created. His restoration to that likeness will always begin at the foot of the cross. The restoration of Adam and Eve from their fall began there. Every saint of the Old Testament had his beginning there. There we all find our first step from unloveliness to becoming like Him who is love. And as we come back to contemplate and accept the Gift of God each day, divine love will continue to remake and remold us, to restore us to the divine image.

It is for this reason that we need to be continually reminded that the central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God. From Genesis 3:15 to Revelation 22:4, which tells us that God's followers will "see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads," the burden of every book and every pas sage of the Bible is the unfolding of this marvelous theme.

It is sad to note that the failure of the church at Ephesus in the first century of Christianity involved the loss of their "first love" relationship with Christ (Rev. 2:4, 5). The Ephesian church slipped into a condition that was the opposite of restoration—again going downhill toward less ability to love as God loves, rather than experiencing each day a new and greater ability to love. Even today, as through the centuries since Ephesus, many claim to be Christians, they pride themselves that their names are on the books of the church, they may even exhibit to others how much they know. Many claim to be religious who do not have a love relationship to Jesus Christ that daily re stores them to the image of God, to that likeness found in daily contemplating the love of Calvary.

Final Evidence of Restoration

On the night He instituted the first communion service, Jesus told His disciples this: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34, 35). When we are on the road to becoming like Him it will be known.

We talk much about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life. It is one of the great themes of the New Testament. When Paul lists the fruit or results of the working of the Spirit in the life, he begins with "love" (Gal. 5:22). That is the place where the Spirit always be gins. He helps us see our Lord and His truth in the right light. Then, when we do behold and accept a God of sacrificial love, divine love is born in us.

The disease of sin is still found in epidemic proportion in our world. But, on the positive side, there are many who are demonstrating the loveliness of the character of Jesus. Where we see this in the life, it is evidence that the image of God is being restored in humanity, that a new and divine principle of life has been implanted by the Spirit.

Christ counsels us that we should be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). The context of this verse clearly indicates that the kind of perfection Jesus is talking about involves loving even our enemies, and those who curse and hate us, as surely God and Christ do. This message is repeated over and over in the Scriptures. To put it in other words, those who have been redeemed by Christ's sacrifice on the cross will demonstrate the fruitage of His work in their lives. They will have a transforming experience with God and His Son. Their knowledge of grace will be translated into action.

The lives of those who do learn to love, who are being restored in His likeness, will prove to all of God's universe that God has made fair demands on men, that they can, by divine power, live the true Christ life. This demonstration is necessary for the finishing of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. When the controversy is ended God will give the redeemed a home in His new Eden, the privilege of eating again of the tree of life, and the greatest joy of all, living with Him whom they have become like—for "God himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 21:3)

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Carl Coffman is chairman, Department of Religion, Andrews University

May 1976

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