There Must Be Death Before Burial

The old man must be dead before we have a burial.

Robert H. Pierson is president of the General Conference of Seventhday Adventists.

 

ELLEN WHITE was in Napier, New Zealand, April 9, 1893, when she wrote to A. T. Jones, one of the speakers on righteousness by faith at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference session. Elder Jones had presented some powerful, Spirit-filled messages from God to help prepare a people for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the loud cry, and the finishing of the work. The Lord's messenger strongly endorsed those mes sages.

Evidently, however, A. T. Jones went further than the Lord intended him to go in disassociating works from faith. He had swung the pendulum so far from legalism that some of his remarks, at least, left his hearers with the impression that works play absolutely no part in the Christian's quest for eternal life. This was the "cheap grace" of the 1890's.

Ellen White had a message from the Lord dealing with this "too-easy salvation." Listen:

"I was attending a meeting, and a large congregation were present. In my dream you were presenting the subject of faith and the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith. You repeated several times that works amounted to nothing, that there were no conditions. The matter was presented in that light that I knew minds would be confused, and would not receive the correct impression in reference to faith and works, and I decided to write to you." —Selected Messages, book 1, p. 377.

Notice these words, "I knew minds would be confused." The Lord's messenger did not accuse Elder Jones of wrong motives or insincerity because he had left the impression "that works amounted to nothing, that there were no conditions" laid down by God for the reception of Christ's righteousness. But she was concerned about the confusion that his unscriptural position might bring in among the people.

The Word of God is clear—"If we con fess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). When we confess we are forgiven. There is no long probation during which God holds us at arm's length to make sure we are truly repentant and that we are going to maintain our experience.

We must be certain, however, that our confession has been born in a truly repentant heart—that we hate the sin that caused us to fall. If this is our experience God fulfills His promise. We are forgiven. At that moment we stand justified before God because His Son's death has paid the penalty for our con fessed sins. For us eternal life begins then. This is imputed righteousness.

Is this all? No, it is only the first step. But it is a most important step.

Justification through faith in Christ's atonement cares for the sins of the past. What about sin as an ever-present power? What about our need for daily victory in our lives? This too is vitally important. From the point in time when justification is first received the work of sanctification begins. We are but babes in Christ when we are born into the family of God. If we live we shall grow and develop. Our characters are to be come like our divine Pattern—Jesus.

Accepting Christ is the first step on the road to the kingdom. Repentance, confession, restitution, obedience, are of utmost import. We are to "follow on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3). Jesus makes clear that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15).

While we are not saved by keeping the commandments, he who is saved will choose to keep them. The law points out sin (Rom. 3:20). The Holy Spirit through the broken law points us to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing (Gal. 3:24). Our commandment keeping will be prompted by a great love for Him. We love Jesus. We have committed our lives to Him. With the indwelling power of His Spirit we bring our living into harmony with His will.

It is true that during the initial contact with an unsaved person we do not need to explain the twenty-three hundred days, the state of the dead, the Sabbath question, et cetera, but we should reveal the part that repentance, confession, and even restitution play in the new convert's walk with Christ. These important steps in their quest for eternal life should not be passed over lightly.

First Steps Only the Beginning

As he takes these first steps the repentant sinner should know that this is just the beginning, that there is much more to follow! It will be a glorious be ginning, and that which follows will be filled with help and hope through Christ. This loving frankness will not turn men and women away nor cause them to make an unfavorable decision. Candor, when Christ-centered, can beget confidence!

In her letter to A. T. Jones from New Zealand, Ellen White underscores the need for making clear the close relation ship between faith and works: "There are conditions to our receiving justification and sanctification, and the righteousness of Christ. I know your meaning, but you leave a wrong impression upon many minds. While good works will not save even one soul, yet it is im possible for even one soul to be saved without good works."—Ibid. (Italics supplied.)

Jesus and inspired writers of the Word always sought to make the way to eternal life plain. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and fol low me" (Matt. 16:24). There is self-denial in following Him. Denying self is no easy matter. It may well involve a bitter struggle. Following Jesus means bearing a cross. Cross-bearing is an agonizing experience, for crosses "cut across" our natural inclinations and tendencies.

"The foxes have holes," Jesus said, "and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (chap. 8:20). The Saviour did not hold out an easy life as a reward to those who would follow Him. Walking in the Master's steps involves, at times, bearing the self-denial cross, and even physical discomfort. Candidates for the kingdom need to be given the truth about these facts.

"While good works will not save even one soul, yet it is impossible for even one soul to be saved without good works." This is very plain. Jesus, Bible writers, Ellen White, all give works their proper place—they are the fruit of faith.

Sanctification is the experience of be coming like Jesus. While justification is the work of an instant, our character-developing process will continue for a lifetime. Our ultimate goal is the development of characters like our Saviour's.

To develop such characters we need to learn about the spotless One and what He requires of those who follow Him. We must know what is right and what is wrong. We need to know what Jesus did. This means we must be taught. The Word of God, the Gospels, His perfect law, all point us to Him and reveal the attributes of His sinless character. "The principles of the law of God were wrought out in the character of Jesus Christ, and he who cooperates with Christ, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, will develop the divine character, and become an illustration of the divine law." —God's Amazing Grace, p. 58.

That is why Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19, R.S.V.). Note well that a person becomes a disciple before he is baptized. This is Jesus' order of experience. But what does it mean to become a disciple and how is it accomplished? The Greek word used for making disciples means to instruct, train, teach, and discipline. Disciples are made by thorough instruction and teaching. A disciple is one who has "professed to have learned principles from another" (Unger's Bible Diction ary). This must precede baptism.

Before a person is baptized, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit he is led to repentance and confession of sin. Then comes the teaching, the instruction. The candidate should understand what it means to be baptized "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." For this reason Jesus amplified the disciples' mission by instructing them to teach the people to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded (verse 20).

There are many things that God has reminded us to observe. Call them externals, call them works, call them any thing we may choose; but Jesus said, "teach all nations," "observe all things," and the teaching is before the baptizing. There should be the outward evidence of a transformed inner life before a person is baptized. The old man must be dead before he is buried. With some it may take a few days, with others it may re quire a few weeks or even months—but there must be every evidence of a death before there is a burial.

The Lord's messenger places emphasis on this order of events: "The ac cession of members who have not been renewed in heart and reformed in life is a source of weakness to the church. This fact is often ignored. Some ministers and churches are so desirous of securing an increase of numbers that they do not bear faithful testimony against unchristian habits and practices. Those who accept the truth are not taught that they cannot safely be worldlings in conduct while they are Christians in name. Heretofore they were Satan's subjects; henceforth they are to be subjects of Christ. The life must testify to the change of leaders." —Testimonies, vol. 5 p. 172.

We all desire to see men and women accept Christ and His last-day message and join the ranks of His remnant church. These numbers will continue to increase until "thousands in a day" will find their way through the door of the church—and into the kingdom of heaven. Coming into the front door of the church is not enough. They must come with an experience in Christ that assures that they are also candidates for the kingdom.

"Only when the church is composed of pure, unselfish members, can it fulfill God's purpose. Too much hasty work is done in adding names to the church roll. Serious defects are seen in the characters of some who join the church. Those who admit them say, We will first get them into the church, and then reform them. But this is a mistake. The very first work to be done is the work of reform. Pray with them, talk with them, but do not allow them to unite with God's people in church relationship until they give decided evidence that the Spirit of God is working on their hearts." —Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, May 21, 1901.

We must see the fruits of righteousness in a candidate's life before we baptize him. The evidences of the new life must be apparent to all. The old man must be dead before the new man can truly live.

We must be as certain as we can be that there has been a death before we have a burial.


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Robert H. Pierson is president of the General Conference of Seventhday Adventists.

December 1976

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