Along with Christians since the first century, Seventh-day Adventists have had their struggles with the question of what kind of nature Jesus took when He, "the Word," became "flesh" (John 1:14). Our question has been, To what extent and in which ways did Jesus possess a sinful human nature versus a sinless divine nature, and how do these two natures meet in Him and relate to human salvation?
The soul mate of the "nature-of- Christ" issue (at least when it comes to the Adventist dialogue over these things) is the question, of course, of the role of Christ's imparted sinless perfection, worked out in the heart and behavior of the Christian believer by faith, versus the role of Jesus' own personal perfection, "credited to the account" of the Christian by faith (imputed), through an outright gift of God's grace. These particular issues and the way they relate to one another, are particularly potent in the Adventist mind and heart when coupled with the close of "probation," the final judgment, and the second coming of Christ.
Seventh-day Adventists, many at least, are divided when it comes to these things. While there is a profound fatigue within the Adventist soul when it comes to such discussions and the tensions and divisions they tend to bring, there is also a compelling significance to aspects of the dialogue. The publication of two articles in this journal have and will inevitably raise questions about these things among some of our readers.
First, there is Roy Naden's doctrinal study, "The Nature of Christ: Four Measures of a Mystery." Then there is Woodrow Whidden's important article in this issue, reporting and commenting on the republication of the book Questions on Doctrine.
Given these articles, we felt it would be both helpful and interesting to republish an insert that Ministry first presented 33 years ago in its October 1970 issue.
While volumes of water have passed under the theological bridge of our Church since 1970, we at Ministry find ourselves in basic agreement with the positions that were taken on the issues discussed by the three essayists in this insert. For instance, both the collection and especially the correlation of Ellen White citations found on and around page 12 of the insert are some of the most well-balanced and revealing that could be presented.
Even when these are carefully placed next to similar statements that emphasize other important aspects of these matters, they stand as sentinels unabashedly affirming the absolute sinlessness of the human nature of Jesus Christ, who as such is both qualified and entitled to stand before God in our behalf, so that in Him we may have a well founded confidence before God (1 John 2:28), even after the close of "probation" and at the moment of final judgment.
On the other hand, in this insert there is much to substantiate the superb truth that Jesus, as a through-and-through human being, facing all the temptations common to humans, and living each day with our fallen human nature upon Him, demonstrated that through faith in His Father, sin could by all means be overcome, and so verified that, through the inner work of the Holy Spirit, every struggling Christian may do as He did, in the way He did it.
Yet it is important to clarify that when all this has been done in the life of the Christian, the resulting goodness, having passed through a defective human channel, can be acceptable only when hidden by faith in the absolute perfection of Jesus Himself (see, for example, Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 344). This is and indeed must be, because His nature is and was completely sinless.
It seems to me that one of the great est challenges in all this is to embrace the fact that, regardless of where we stand in any dialogue, there is a defiantly frustrating mystery to Jesus' nature. This is especially so when we seek to understand its finer implications.
For example, none of us has had, and therefore cannot know what it really means to have a divine side, as such, to our natures, whether quiescent or not. Further, it is clear that Jesus was born and came to this earth under entirely unique circumstances, different from ours, and therefore received a one-of-a-kind nature, the Holy Spirit being as literally His progenitor for His human incarnational sojourn as human words could ever describe such a reality (Luke 1:35).
But when all is said and done, the evidence, experience, and also the quality of the Seventh-day Adventists that form the ecclesiastical fault lines com posing the sides in our struggle over these questions, are such that it is crucial for us to cease considering someone less than authentically Christian or Adventist if they take a position different from the one we take.