A Sinner from Birth
Jesus: The Carrier
By Larry Kirkpatrick
Isaiah 53:4 Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
Jesus carried our griefs and sorrows, and that he was considered God-cursed.
As we’ve considered our Lord in the previous verses of this chapter we’ve been almost shocked by the truth of not only His divinity, but yet more His humanity. He came as a Root out of dry ground, a divine character bearing the very flesh of a dry, twisted, fallen humanity. Never sinning (for we are plainly told that He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” Hebrews 4:15), ever bearing in His body daily crucifixion of the nature He had taken, He walked through this world with one purpose: to glorify His Father by bringing the applied power of the gospel to the human race. His life offered, the benefits of the atonement applied, empowered God to be both just and Justifier in His redemption of man (Romans 3:26).
How deeply entwined in our salvation is the fact and nature of Jesus’ incarnation for us? We are not left in doubt. We are told unequivocally, “The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us” Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 244. Who having studied out this issue, can disagree with J. R. Zurcher’s recently published work, Touched By His Feelings, from the Review and Herald Press, when he states: “The triumph of the plan of salvation depends entirely on the Incarnation, upon the Word becoming flesh, and upon the Son of God made into man” (Touched by His Feelings, p. 54)? I cannot. Did you ever read this, from the pen of Mrs. White: “The completeness of His humanity, the perfection of His divinity, form for us a strong ground upon which we may be brought into reconciliation with God” (Letter 35, 1894. Quoted also in SDABC vol. 7-A, p. 487).
Those are strong words, not necessarily politically-correct in some quarters of the church today. But they are, I believe, the words of inspiration. What then of these words of inspiration found in Isaiah 53:4?
Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs
When you delve into this verse, you find some very interesting material. The literal meaning is that it is a certainty that Jesus carried our sicknesses. “Griefs” here is a translation of the Hebrew word khol-ee, meaning to be sick, worn-down, diseased. It is the same word found in our last verse, Isaiah 53:3, where it says that Jesus is “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” That adds to our conception of our Savior, doesn’t it? He was acquainted with grief, both as we tend to think of it, in terms of general emotional grief; but cutting yet more closely, He was acquainted with the inward frailties of humanity. The impacted flesh that was His own was our own.
Was He really bearing our sicknesses, or was He pretending to? Did He really experience our grief, or did He with measured knowledge of theatrical technique merely portray the idea that He experienced it? There is no real question when we look at the Scriptures. Jesus was not a Hollywood Savior; He was a suffering Savior. And He was a suffering Savior because He knew firsthand what His people knew. He knew the lot of man. He experienced temptation. He never sinned. But He was continually tempted.
The devil did not stop out there in the wilderness. He did not give up. After His temptation of Christ in the wilderness, the Scriptures tell us not that he went away never to return, but that “he departed for a season” (Luke 4:13). He never stopped going after Christ. Never. If Jesus couldn’t be tempted, Satan wasted a lot of energy on the project.
For centuries brothers and sisters, Christianity has taught a very different Christ than the Bible-Christ. Protecting the theological point of Augustine, that man’s very nature contained guilt, it has been taught that Jesus couldn’t be human like us, because then He would have sin in Him. The divinity of Christ was focused upon; so much so that the Roman Catholic Church began to present a train of additional mediators between man and Jesus! But even they were not the first to strip away the humanity of the Savior.
Centuries before Augustine, the Jews looked for a conquering Messiah, a glorious flaming God ready to smite the Romans. Alfred Eidersheim makes a fascinating observation on this: “The messiah of Judaism is the Anti-Christ of the gospels,” The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 3, p. 293. He is telling us that the way Jesus came, He appeared to many Jews to be the anti-messiah; He was the opposite of what they had been expecting. (That Edersheim does not fully grasp the issue of the humanity of Christ is evident in the surrounding pages of that volume.)
Friends, for you and for me, Jesus took a human body to the Cross. He “took” it “to” the Cross. That was a 33 year process—it was not done by Overnight Express. Some say that Jesus did bear our sicknesses, but only in the hours clustering about His death at the cross. Not so. Isaiah insists “surely He hath borne our sicknesses.” Not for but a moment. Do not forget your second verse: Jesus grew up “as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground.”
And Carried Our Sorrows
The parallel statement to His carrying our sicknesses is that He carried our “sorrows,” from the Hebrew word makob, meaning “pain.” Jesus carried our pains.
Pain doesn’t happen in the broken finger or in the tooth numbed for the dentists’ drill. Pain happens in the mind. Nerve-endings send their signals to the brain which translates them into the sensation of pain experienced in your conscious brain. We wonder how it could be that Jesus “carried our sorrows.” How could the pain associated with our sin translate into pain in His brain and mind? Remember, He was “undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). And yet God “made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin [Jesus, that is]; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He carried our sorrows. He carried what we carried. Jesus was a Carrier.
Although He was the sinless Son of God — although His was a divine character, it was biologically and psychically participant in our humanity. The brain that His mind, His character (forgive the crude and imprecise illustration), the software of His personality and character functioned on, was a human brain impacted by the fall. It was a brain just like ours.
Just like ours but in one respect, and one respect only. He had never sinned. He never built-up a set of nerve-bundlings within His brain that make so easy the repetition of the sins that so easily beset us. Always He said no to that. We may rest assured that His own body sent its signals into His brain: its sensory reaction to pheremones, its built-in distorted, craving calling to fulfill all of its sensory-perceived “needs.” And yet He responded by denying the subtle, snakelike-entwining sinful call. It wasn’t His. He never let it own Him. He sought after His Father’s will, He knew that will, and at every step, at every place where His nature urged Him to take a slight opportunistic, rationalized shuffle, He didn’t. With His humanity slamming Him in the face again and again, He kept the channel open and was led by the Spirit. He overcame because He let the Spirit fill His degenerate human vine with its divine sap. He clung to the Father. He obeyed. And so as the Scripture says, “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory!” (1 Timothy 3:16).
He carried the virus of sin because He was born into this world that way. But He carried the cure of the Spirit, because He was willing to let the inoculation take hold. He was willing to be “justified in the Spirit.” And so we may ask ourselves, are we willing to be “justified in the Spirit?” Have you considered Galatians 5:16 in relation to this? “This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” If we are willing to respond to the Spirit at every point, we’ll know God’s will, we’ll receive His power, and we’ll overcome in the same through the blood of Jesus. His sacrificed body and blood make available to us, through faith, “all the fullness” of His power.
By partaking of His “exceeding great and precious promises,” we can be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). We may receive largely of His power, i.e. largely of His grace. Receiving largely, we ask the Spirit to employ it in our need for victory. And in all this the power of Jesus is “believed on in the world!” Make no mistake: Jesus carried our sicknesses, infirmities identical with our own fallen nature, and conquered through the Spirit in the same. He was a Carrier, but through His carrying of the curse cure was wrought. A cure not locked altogether away on the other side of the second coming, but available now, that we may live for Him now, that we may overcome through Him now, that He might redeem us from this present wicked age, and send us shining out, into the darkness to bring the cure to others.
Ellen White says: “Christ’s work was to reconcile man to God through His human nature, and God to man through His divine nature” (Confrontation, p. 38). We are repeatedly told that the matter of Christ’s humanity has been “left open,” that the church has never taken a stand on it. But what are we told here? That it is “Christ’s work” to “reconcile man to God through His human nature.” Now did I miss something, or is that like, extremely important? The matter, friends of whether we are indeed reconciled to God or not reconciled to God hinges on it! So what are we being told then really? That (supposedly) whether man has or has not been reconciled to God through human nature is an item that’s been left hanging. Brothers and sisters, it’s not so. It’s not so. Through Christ we have received the atonement (Romans 5:10-11), because through His humanity, Christ has reconciled us with God. Through the life of Jesus, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
“Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Jesus carried our sicknesses. He experienced our pains. He took it all to the cross and crucified it on the tree, just as He crucified it in His life, condemning “sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Let us not react as did the Hebrews, who thought that a Jesus like this wouldn’t be the Savior they were after. He may not have been the savior we were after. But He is all the Savior we need. He carried sin away to the Cross in the crooked nature, and overcame. He came too close for us. He made us responsible. We are responsible because now there is an antidote for sin.
Now His people must take the antidote, the anti-venom.
Today we remember what He has done. In symbol we drink in what in flesh-and-blood Jesus wrought out. We continue our service this day in realization and thanksgiving that Jesus was and still is our Carrier. And that just as He carried sin to the Cross and put it away, so He opens His arms and urges us to roll-off the burden we are carrying, receive largely of His Spirit, and become His children. Sons and daughters of the King, today cast yourself at His feet in worship. He is coming back very soon, “without sin, unto salvation.” May we all be there and rejoice that He came here and walked through the hell of our humanity opening wide to us the waiting gates of glory.
Jesus: The Unesteemed
By Larry Kirkpatrick
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:3
He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.
Despised and Rejected by Men
According to the dictionary, the word “despised” comes from the Latin word “de- (down) spicere (to look).” The word “rejected” also comes from Latin, “reiect,” meaning “to throw back.” Jesus was despised and rejected by humanity.
Remember, as we’ve studied in Isaiah 53, we’ve observed that Jesus didn’t come as a glowing special-effect; He didn’t come with the glory that He had with God before the world was (John 17:5). He didn’t come in such outward radiance or even ostentatious display of intellect that humanity would be forced to receive Him.
Isaiah asked “who has believed our report”(Isaiah 53:1) precisely because the response of Israel to her Maker was so poor. When we looked at that initial verse showing that Jesus is truly our first Need and last Hope, we saw that they insisted on looking somewhere else. “To whom had the arm of the Lord been revealed” but to Israel? Yet because He refused to parade an outward glory, refused to come in stature and pomp and purple and beauty, He was not received. He came humbled in form and placid of character. He presented a kingdom cutting directly across the twisted self-nature of humankind. And our response was dark, if predictable.
When we gathered together and considered Jesus in Isaiah 53:2, The Root, we looked at the nature of His humanity. We saw that He had immeasurably humbled Himself in taking the fallen nature of man. We saw that He faced real temptation, and lived through real struggles, just as we do. He did not come “to our world to give the obedience of a lesser God to a greater, but as a man to obey God’s Holy Law, and in this way He is our example” (MS. 1, 1892).
How I appreciate these facts. Through the Holy Spirit, Ellen White says:
Christ came to this earth to show the human race how to obey God. He might have remained in heaven, and from there given exact rules for man’s guidance. But He did not do this. In order that we might make no mistake, He took our nature, and in it lived a life of perfect obedience. He obeyed in humanity, ennobling and elevating humanity by obedience. He lived in obedience to God, that not only by word of mouth, but by His every action, He might honor the law. By so doing, He not only declared that we ought to obey, but showed us how to obey.
Our only safety is in dying to self, and depending wholly on Christ. We need to keep ever before us the reality of Christ’s humanity. When He became our Substitute and Surety, it was as a human being. He came as a man, to render obedience to the only true God. He came not to reveal God as wanting in power, but God in all His fulness. He came to show what God is willing to do and what He has done that we might be made partakers of the divine nature. While enduring the contradiction of sinners against Himself, our Saviour lived a perfect human life. This He did that we also might be perfect. He is everything to us, and He bids us look to Him, for “without Me,” He says, “ye can do nothing.”
The obedience that Christ rendered is exactly the obedience that God requires from human beings today. It was the obedience of a son. He served His Father in willingness and freedom, and with love, because it was the right thing for Him to do. “I delight to do Thy will, O My God,” He declared; “yea, Thy law is within My heart.” Thus we are to serve God. Our obedience must be heart-service. It was always this with Christ. If we love Him, we shall not find it a hard task to obey. We shall obey as members of the royal family. We may not be able to see the path before us, but we shall go forward in obedience, knowing that all issues and results are to be left with God. . . .[I’m leaving out a wonderful paragraph about the law here]. . . .The grace of God is the line of demarcation between God’s children and the multitude that believe not. While one is brought into captivity to Christ, another is brought into captivity to the prince of darkness. The heart of the one who responds to the drawing of Christ glows with the Saviour’s love. He shows forth the praises of Him who has called him from darkness into marvelous light. He can not help using his talent of speech to tell of the grace which has been so abundantly bestowed on him; for he has enlisted with those who are striving to advance the glory of God, and has thus become a channel of light. Willing and obedient, he is one of the number called by Inspiration “a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” Ellen G. White, ST January 25, 1899.
Jesus “took our nature, and in it lived a life of perfect obedience.” I guess we were looking for something altogether different. We so preferred the alien, fictionalized, “almighty” God—a God who was so far above and so far away that we could be excused from our responsibility to obey! We didn’t want to have to choose. We didn’t want to have to stand on one side or the other of the grace-line—”the line of demarcation between God’s children and the multitude that believe not.” It is unquestionably because of this—because God came too close for our comfort—because He truly became one with us and one of us—that “He is despised and rejected of men.”
We looked down upon Him, because in Him we saw a dusty man. We wanted to see a God obeying God but we were given God willingly humbled to the level of fallen man and then we saw this Being obey God.
No wonder we were offended.
We couldn’t bear that. We didn’t want that. We wanted sin. We wanted release from responsibility. We wanted “our rights” as fallen men! We sought for a gospel with a free-ride. As if heaven owed us one.
We are a race of sinners. We are wicked. We are evil. We are darkness. So what does the Holy God care about us for? Why does He plan to win the race with us? Is heaven hung up on making it into Ripley’s “Believe it or Not?” Is our Father in heaven doing this just because even He needs a cheap thrill some of the time?
God forbid. Heaven is not just showing-off to be showing-off. Heaven has an agenda and it must be our agenda. Heaven is embarked upon ending sin for eternity. It won’t happen again. That’s why Jesus, although despised and rejected of men, came to this world, His world. He’s not just climbing a mountain because its there; He’s ending sin because its there.
And it doesn’t belong there.
It doesn’t belong anywhere.
A Man of Sorrows, and Acquainted with Grief
The easy way out is not Jesus’ way out. He humbled Himself to death, “even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). If Jesus took the nice nature of pre-fall Adam, then why did He walk into the garden of Gethsemene and pray to His Father to take the cup of suffering from Him? Why did He say not His will, but His Father’s be done? Because in the humanity that He set up His tent in—that He lived in—there was a strange, alien pull. Although His character was unselfish to its core, the nature He bore as a human was awry; it had as much built-in distortion and brokenness as ours does, because it was our nature. Deep down inside there arose from the mysterious place of His humanness a pull toward self. He never indulged this pull, but fought it every step of the way. It was always there, lurking, just revving. It was like a cold winter’s morning when you go out early, before leaving for work, to start the car and get it warmed up and its heater running before leaving. There it is running, ready to roll, ready to put into gear, ready to back out of the drive-way and onto the street. But Jesus never let His nature take Him for that ride. Instead, He “condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).
Oh yes; make no mistake, Jesus was a man of sorrows. He fought back daily, even hourly, against a poisonous nature when His saying just one tiny “yes” to it would have given Him such great relief. But it would have killed His conscience and ended the government of God.
He was acquainted with grief. Yes, He knew what it was to loose loved ones, to experience poverty and hardship, to be called a worker of miracles by the power of demons. He knew what it was to be taunted as a child and to be an outcast in those years when humanity most longs for companionship and the acceptance of other youth. As a virile young man He denied the carnal and abstained from all impurity, no matter how inviting to the unfulfilled inward-pulling nature He wore more closely than skin-tight. His character was preserved untainted. He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was acquainted with the grief of resisting a downward-spiraling nature that was ever at war with the unselfish kingdom He had come to reveal. From within a broken nature, Jesus unfurled the flag of the kingdom of God. He climbed the mountain of sin with His Father and the Holy Spirit, and put up heaven’s stars and stripes. He restored our freedom. Because of who He was and what He lived, we can become sons and daughters of the King. John 1:12-13.
We Hid Our Faces From Him
We hid our faces from Him. At the cross, all the disciples, even the beloved John, ran and fled. They couldn’t believe that Jesus was Jesus but He was also on the cross. That was a non-sequitor—an illogical assumption—to them. How could this be the fate of their beloved Jesus? Peter grasping what Jesus said was coming, urged, “Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus recognized in Peter’s well-meaning but hijacked sentiments the subtle suasion’ of the devil, and responded firmly, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: for thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:23).
Peter didn’t realize it, but He was hiding his face from Jesus when he urged Christ to stop short of the sacrifice before Him, “even the death of the cross.” We are like Peter. We don’t want to contemplate the consequences of the kind of self-sacrifice beheld at the cross. How much more we would prefer that Jesus “do it all” for us, than that we might do anything at all for Him. How we wish that the pathway to heaven was greased with oil and butter and we could just slide in to home-plate in the vaguely self-serving glory that God loved us so much that He somehow just couldn’t live without us. His love was so “great” that He “bent the rules for me” is, I guess, what we would like to think. Because we sure don’t seem inclined to live as if we thought otherwise.
The Jews didn’t—and we don’t—really want to lay claim to a “God” who hangs naked and defeated on a cold wooden cross and dies just at the grand finale! We don’t want to let Him shine His light on our conscience in any intimate way, because there are dark things in there and we’d just prefer that He “leave them alone.” The old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We don’t want to admit that it’s broke, nor do we want to lift a glove to fix it. Maybe God can give us a pill or something and that will fix it; but we sure hope there is nothing that He wants us to do.
Jesus: The Unesteemed
In His rebuke of the devil, Jesus pointed out that Satan did not value the things of God. The last part of the text we’ve chosen today reads: “He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:3). That is, we refused to rightly value Him. This all boils down to the utterly different values of selflessness and selfishness. It is only love that can value another above one’s self.
Satan charged that all beings were selfish, even God. He claimed that His (God’s) requirements were self-serving, that no truly selfless service can exist. Do you recall Satan’s claim in the dialogue with God over Job? Both of his claims were that Job’s motivations were selfish (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5). Jesus also warned us about our own motivations:
If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? Luke 11:11-13
Jesus pointed out that even evil people value the well-being of their children. And we are evil. Don’t we value the well-being of our loved-ones? But when it came to the Lord of glory, we esteemed Him not. We refused to value Jesus and what He stood for. His kingdom is so different from that kingdom so naturally envisioned by we who are evil. And therein lies our joy and hope today. Because Jesus did not consent to leave us in our twisted and self-serving value-system. He came to set us free.
Job was born with the same kind of perverse nature as us. He too was inwardly twisted, predisposed to love evil and hate the good. But as he walked through life something happened. He began to live God’s way. How interesting it would be to have a record of his childhood and youth; unfortunately, inspiration has not granted that to us. We don’t know the details about his youthful years. But something happened back there that changed his life. And Satan’s claims were refuted by Job’s reaction to the calamities he experienced. We know that in eternity Job will be thankful for what God did when He intervened and helped him to see His kingdom.
Jesus was unesteemed. He was unvalued by a world that owed Him everything. The record of John reads, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). But it wasn’t just His coming to the Jewish nation. The first verses of John chapter one speak in global terminology, not national or local. “All things were made by Him” (John 1:3); “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4); “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).
Jesus was unvalued. His values are contrary to the values of the world. If we do not count Jesus as all-valuable, if we are not willing to set aside everything interfering with our communion with Him, then we are still clinging to our old value-system. We need not keep it. It is outdated for you and for me. We have changed kingdoms. We have been translated to the kingdom of Jesus (Colossians 1:13).
Jesus has been unvalued. But that was then. What about now? Cannot we see that only because of His intervention, today we enjoy the hope of eternal life, and can live heaven on earth in the here and now?
Yes, ‘tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease,
Just from Jesus simply taking,
Life, and rest, and joy, and peace.
Today, as we partake in this communion service, we know that Jesus is coming back for us. In the meantime, let us receive His heartwork within, receiving Him who we had counted Unesteemed, now as Esteemed. Let us receive, in this bitter, sin-poisoned world His sweetness and trust in Him. Let’s simply take from Him, what He so simply gives to us: life and rest and joy and peace.
Jesus: The Root
By Larry Kirkpatrick
“For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”
Jesus: who was He? what was He? what difference does He make to us?
The Scripture spoke of His childhood hundreds of years beforehand: “He shall grow up before Him.” Jesus was scheduled to come, not as conquering warrior bristling in bulging, bicep brawn, but as a vulnerable infant child. Through the doorway of Mary’s womb He would enter this world. His physical form would develop according to fallen human DNA. From His mother He received the genetic code of an after-the-fall human adjusted morally downward by 4000 years of devastating decline separating Him from Eden’s tree of life.
Adam lived to nearly 1000 years of age. By the time of Jesus’ birth, Anna, a widow of 84 years was described as being as “of great age.” Things had changed since the beginning of humankind. But how well do we know Him who was bruised for our transgressions, and whose stripes heal us? After the hero left, in the old Lone Ranger movies they would ask, “Who was that masked man?” In contrast, before Jesus came, Isaiah told us who that “masked Man” would be—what Messiah would be like.
He left His divine power in heaven, emptying Himself (Philippians 2:7) and coming to this earth. The incarnation is so astonishing that Isaiah asked “who has believed our report?” His famous 53rd chapter breaks down into three sections: The first tells of Jesus, and humanity’s reaction to Him; the middle discusses Christ exclusively; while the last verses speak of His victory.
Delve then today with me into this second verse today, as it tells of our Jesus: the Root.
“For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.”
Jesus came not in an alien nature, but according to the Scriptures, in fallen human nature! We find this in Hebrews 2:16.
For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.
(This is rather an interesting verse for Adventists, since our original statement of fundamental beliefs, published in the Review in 1872 quoted it in their teaching on the nature of Christ. It’s been said that we never took a stand on this point, but that is a misstatement of the facts.) Abraham was a descendant of Adam, and Adam’s nature was changed by his choice to sin from unfallen to fallen. Isaiah in his first chapter describes this nature as “a seed of evil-doers” (Isaiah 1:4)—a nature inclined to rebel against goodness and cleave unto badness. It is a distorted, twisted, fallen nature; pulling toward itself rather than naturally turning toward God. Whereas man’s nature (as originally created) was unselfish, oriented outward toward God (centrifugal, literally “fleeing the center”), man in his fallen estate is oriented inwardly, (centripetally, literally “center-seeking”). That is, man’s natural self-control of the intellect and conscience over the senses is reversed in fallen peopl so that we are weakened (Romans 5:6)—pulled toward these sensations. In essence, through sin we have been reprogrammed to seek self-fulfilling instead of other-filling.
The Bible teaches that Jesus was born with this same fundamentally ruined nature we were born with. That’s why, In part, this Scripture describes Jesus as growing up before God, “as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” The ground of humanity is dry. The fallen human nature is a parched wasteland. It naturally desires only to water itself; it naturally inclines one to please only one’s self. It pulls toward the center and not toward that which is outside of itself. When Jesus came in this very nature, and lived without sinning, it was a real mystery to the devil.
When Jesus came into our human flesh, Satan thought, “This is my chance!” He said to himself, “here comes Jesus into this dry ground where I can defeat him.” For 4000 years the devil had been learning exactly how to overcome humanity in its ruined nature. Now, he thought, he would succeed in breaking Jesus who had arrived in a broken nature.
While Jesus may have come out of the dry ground of fallen humanity, He was a living root, a life-filled, “tender plant.” He came in our hard and ruined nature, but He clung to the Father through every step of the journey—just as we must cling to Him through every step we take.
Notice how Ellen White describes His nature in the Youth’s Instructor, YI 20 December 1900:
Think of Christ’s humiliation. He took upon himself fallen, suffering human nature, degraded and defiled by sin. He took our sorrows, bearing our grief and shame. He endured all the temptations wherewith man is beset.
Jesus’ nature is described here as “fallen,” “suffering;” even as “degraded and defiled by sin.” And yet He is “Him who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is described in Scripture as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26), yet “tempted in all points like as we are” (Hebrews 4:15); “in all things…made like unto His brethren” (Hebrews 2:17). He came indisputably “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3).
Some say that “likeness” here means “like but not exactly like.” But the verse itself says that He not only came in the likeness of sinful flesh, but that He, (now listen to this!) “condemned sin in the flesh.” Now if He only condemned sin in a nature that was different than ours, then He only condemned sin in that flesh, and not in ours. And if He didn’t condemn sin in the fallen flesh of Abraham, and if He didn’t condemn sin in the flesh that I bear, then sin has not been condemned in my nature. And if sin has not been condemned in my nature—even by Jesus—then how can I be condemned for sinning in my nature?!! Do you see how significant it is that Jesus came “as a root out of a dry ground?”
If Jesus came as a root out of a wet ground—in the nature of Adam before the fall—a nature naturally inclined to turn towards God, and easily to subdue the lower nature, then He can hardly function as my Example. We’ll come back to this. But let’s look further into Isaiah 53:2:
“He hath no form or comeliness”
Jesus certainly has a “form,” a body. But this part of the verse points out to us that there was nothing commanding about his physical appearance. He did not stand tall as a mountain as did Adam, nor as wide and testosteronized as we suppose Samson to have. When people came to see Jesus they were shocked by His plain and dusty appearance (DA 197).
Back when Israel first chose a king, they chose Saul, who stood a head higher than anyone else in the kingdom (1 Samuel 10:23). Absalom, who stole the hearts of Israel from his father David, was noted for his extraordinarily long hair and physical beauty (2 Samuel 14:25-26; 18:9). Scripture reveals that even Satan was lifted up “because of his beauty” (Ezekiel 28:17). Perhaps his heart was carried away, somehow, with the idea that somehow his beauty was his own doing—we don’t know. People tend to follow those of striking appearance. Many of the famous and infamous leaders and empire-builders through the ages have been tall men. But Jesus didn’t bring any of that. He came bearing the appearance only of a “joe normal.”
Jesus was not a walking special-effect; He was not a glowing space-alien—a Connecticut yankee in king Arthur’s court; He didn’t bring a light-saber, He was and is the Light. He came simply, humbly, appearing only as a common man. He had appeared first to Moses in the lowly, burning bush. When born, tiny Jesus was announced by angels but entered the world in a humble and aromatic cattle-stall. He grew to adulthood not in Athens or Rome or Alexandria or even Jerusalem, but in lowly and despised Nazareth. He didn’t come wearing papal mitre, or long, gold-gilded robes and sceptres and rings. He came in simple guise and travel-worn leather sandles. He could have arrived in fullest regalia, standing tall, commanding a hearing. But He came lowly and simply, carpenters’ calluses on His hands.
He came as a root out of a dry ground, and remained consistent with that. His message was not the brightness of His glory, which He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5), but it was the divine excellence of character that He had with the Father before the world was and which He—now as a human being as human as we are—revealed in all that He said and did. His character was the Ten Commandments lived in fallen flesh. He came to be an Overcomer for a race of failures. He came to turn man back to God—to heal and repair that which was ruined.
He didn’t come to us to receive our bowing and scraping and grovelling, but to lift us up out of the pit of evil. He told us that He has called us by our name. Notice Isaiah 43:1:
But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.
The name “Jacob” means “supplanter,” or “the one who grabs the foot.” The name “Israel” means “prince with God.” Jesus came to us where we dwelt—at the dry ground—and He came to water our parched dryness and turn supplanters like us into princes and princesses with God. He called us by our name, and our name as His children is to be the name “Israel.”
“And when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him”
You do know that we are not just talking outward form and appearance here. When Jesus at last came to Israel, they didn’t like everything they saw. Here was One seemingly capable of doing whatever He wished. He commanded the elements, manufactured food out of nothing, calmed the seas, healed the sick, and raised the dead: some fairly appealing capacities if your agenda is to run the Romans out of town.
Nor would removing the Roman yoke have been such a bad thing. Inspiration records heaven’s view of the Roman government of Palestine:
The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart. DA 509.
So Jesus didn’t use the power at His command as they expected Him to. When they piped, He didn’t dance (Matthew 11:16-19). He came to make possible the regeneration of the heart. He was on a mission from God.
In a scene from a popular movie some years ago, John Belushi was standing with Dan Akroyd as they portrayed small-time blues singers: their attire was dark suits and hats, with dark sunglasses on. Keeping a straight face, Belushi solemnly intoned, “We’re on a mission from God” (apparently to sing the blues). Oh how small and mindless! He died in 1982 in Beverly Hills from an overdose of heroin and cocaine. Belushi hit it big in entertainment, and had a knack for manic comedy. But he fed a poisonous movie industry, which today is an effective distraction from preparation for eternal life. Really, it seems more like he was on a mission from hell. Jesus came on a mission from God. Jesus left His riches behind and came to this pit called earth to release us from bondage. In His kingdom there will be no heroin, no cocaine, no crack. There will be no death from drug overdoses—in fact, no death at all. None shall kill or destroy in all His holy mountain (Isaiah 11:9).
But just stop and think it through: if Jesus didn’t overcome sin in the flesh by actually conquering it in its stronghold—in its lair—then He has provided us no example of overcoming. If Jesus didn’t do battle with sin in our flesh, then He cannot be our legitimate Representative. If our Savior did not identify Himself with us, then how can we identify our salvation with Him?
Jesus brought with Him a kingdom not of this world. It is a kingdom of virtue, goodness, and peace. It is a restoration to humankind of his original centrifugal nature—a nature reaching out in goodness to others, not one looking for self-fulfillment inwardly.
When God was trying to convince Moses that He would indeed accompany him on his mission, one of the things that He had him do was place his hand in his bosom. When Moses drew it out, it was leprous. But when, as God commanded, he placed it back against his chest, it was restored to soundness again. Left to ourselves, we are dry ground—we are ruined and morally leprous; utterly lacking in built-in goodness. But when we receive Jesus, we are changed. That which normally seeks self is transformed, becoming that seeking toward God and others. God takes away our leprosy, but first He had to come into the dry ground—to be born in it. Only by launching His ministry for humankind in the polluted soil of the fallen nature could He conquer sin in its element—in sinful flesh itself. Only in this way could He bring life to those catastrophically wounded through the fall of Adam. Only thusly could He water us, and heal us, and prepare us to see His glory. Only thus could He do a work in us bringing us into readiness to meet Him when He comes (1 John 3:2).
And so there we are: Jesus grew up before God as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He had no form or beauty that would draw us to Him, nor any special exemptions from our nature or its liabilities—any or all of them. The moral kingdom that He still presents to us, is not one that we naturally cleave to or prefer, but that’s because we are warped, not God’s kingdom. It is because we are ruined and need restoring that He Himself likewise took part of the same nature (Hebrews 2:14), and lived in it victoriously, all the way to the bottom: triumphant over sin in fallen flesh.
That’s our Jesus.
Brothers and sisters of Jesus, today some in the church are embarrassed by the idea that Jesus became as human as we are, so that we could become as obedient as He is. When we talk of the Bible’s testimony that we can experience the overcoming of sin here, now, in this life, there is embarrassment. There is pain, among some, when we try to understand our precious Savior in a manner out of vogue with contemporary Christianity.
Well, that’s too bad. It’s a bit late in the hour to start becoming embarrassed by Jesus. You see, the offense of the cross has not ceased. The offense of the cross is not just that Jesus was crucified on that pagan wooden throne, but really, so much more, that daily He took up His cross over a period of thirty-three years, and His plea to us is that daily we take up our cross and overcome.
He has led the way. No, it may not be popular. No, it may not be appreciated in our era of rock-and-roll, easy-time Christianity. But it is what is right. And He will not deny to us His power to overcome. He has left us an example. And so we should follow Jesus, the Root. We should let Him shoot up out of our stoney hearts and sprout. And cause us bloom.
Who was He? He is God, the Creator of the human race and the Recreator of fallen people.
What was He? He is the essence—the very source of unselfishness—come in the flesh.
What difference does He make to me and to you? Because Jesus stepped fully into our nature, receiving the same hereditary liabilities that we do; and because He overcame in our nature, condemning sin in the flesh; He offers to us a life sacrificed in our place, an example of overcoming that should give us hope. The difference that Jesus makes is that He condemned sin in the flesh so that we may condemn sin in the flesh.
So friends, when we need forgiveness, when we need power, when we need hope, let us turn to He who knew what was in man, and has no need that anyone should tell Him. He’s been there and done that. Let us overcome the evil that has been ours with the goodness that is His. Let the Root spring up out of your dry ground.
Helpful Considerations Regarding the Nature of Christ From the Writings of Ellen G. White
By Larry Kirkpatrick
How are We Led to Make Wrong Conclusions?
How are led to make wrong conclusions? What hoary dogma from ages past–an alien teaching inconsistent with Adventism–could be grafted into the very structure of our belief system? What would be the impact upon our understanding of Christ’s humanity?
Signs of the Times 10 April 1893
We are led to make wrong conclusions because of erroneous views of the nature of our Lord. To attribute to his nature a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts with Satan, is to destroy the completeness of his humanity.
Assembled below are some of the plainest Ellen G. White quotations concerning the human-nature of Christ. Careful study of this issue demonstrates that Ellen White had a clear understanding of Christ’s humanity. She clearly portrayed a Christ who was post-fall, and her doctrine of sin is consistent throughout her writings. What she said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit appears so clear that we think even the brief review below speaks most plainly.
The Impact of Grace
A mighty and overarching consideration is her rich understanding of the meaning of grace. Its impact is transforming in the maximum conceivable sense:
1 Mind, Character, and Personality, p. 29
Sin affects the entire being; so also does grace.
Could Christ Be Our Substitute if He was Not Fully Human?
Signs of the Times 17 June 1987, 390
Had He not been fully human, Christ could not have been our substitute. He could not have worked out in humanity that perfection of character which it is the privilege of all to reach.
Signs of the Times 17 June 1987, 390
He took human nature. He became flesh even as we are . . . While in this world, Christ lived a life of complete humanity in order that He might stand as a representative of the human family.
What is Possible for Fallen Humanity?
Review and Herald 24 April 1900
We must learn of Christ. We must know what He is to those He has ransomed. We must realize that through belief in Him it is our privilige to be partakers of the divine nature, and so escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. Then we are cleansed from all sin, all defects of character. We need not retain one sinful propensity.
Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 429
God is love. The evil that is in the world comes not from His hands, but from our great adversary, whose work it has ever been to deprave man, and enfeeble and pervert his faculties. But God has not left us in the ruin wrought by the fall. Every faculty has been placed in reach by our Heavenly Father, that men may, through well-directed efforts, regain their first perfection, and stand complete in Christ.
Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 199
Jesus looked upon the world in its fallen state in infinite pity. He took humanity upon Himself that He might touch and elevate humanity. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He reached to the very depth of human misery and woe, to take man as He found him, a being tainted with corruption, degraded with vice, depraved by sin, and united with Satan in apostasy, and elevate him to a seat upon His throne.
Signs of the Times, 22 December 1887:
God said in the beginning, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness;” but sin has almost obliterated the moral image of God in man. Thsi lamentable condition would have known no change or hope if Jesus had not come down to our world to be man’s saviour and example. In the midst of a world’s moral degradation He stands, a beautiful and spotless character, the one model for man’s imitation. We must study, copy, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ; then we shall bring the loveliness of His character into our own life, and weave His beauty into our daily words and actions. Thus we shall stand before God with acceptance, and win back by conflict with the principalities of darkness, the power of self-control, and the love of God that Adam lost in the fall. Through Christ we may possess the Spirit of love and obedience to the commands of God. Through His merits it may be restored to us in our fallen natures; and when the judgment shall sit and the books be opened, we may be the recipients of God’s approval.
Idea of Christ Overcoming Through a Separate Nature that is Inaccessible to us
Signs of the Times 17 June 1987.
Christ did nothing that human nature may not do if it partakes of the divine nature.
3 Selected Messages, p. 130
He [Christ] was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh… Christ came to live the law in His human character in just that way in which all may live the law in human nature if they will do as Christ was doing.
3 Selected Messages, p. 130
The higher attributes of His being it is our privilige to have, if we will, through the provisions He has made, appropriate these blessings and diligently cultivate the good in the place of the evil. We have reason, conscience, memory, will, affections–all the attributes a human being can possess. Through the provision made when God and the Son of God made a covenant to rescue man from the bondage of Satan, every facility was provided that human nature should come into union with His divine nature. In such a nature was our Lord tempted.
Signs of the Times 10 April 1893
We need not place the obedience of Christ by itself as something for which He was particularly adapted, because of His divine nature; for He stood before God as man’s representative, and was tempted as man’s substitute and surity. If Christ had a special power which it is not the privilige of man to have, Satan would have made capitol of this matter. But the work of Christ was to take from Satan his control of man, and He could do this only in a straightforward way. He came as a man to be tempted as a man, rendering the obedience of a man. Christ rendered obedience to God, and overcame as humanity must overcome.
1 Selected Messages, p. 226
By living a sinless life He [Christ] testified that every son and daughter of Adam can resist the temptations of the one who first brought sin into the world.
Plain Ellen G. White Statements on the Nature of Christ
1 Selected Messages, p. 247
Christ did not make-believe take human nature; He did verily take it.
Desire of Ages, p. 49
It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man’s nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life.
Desire of Ages, p. 117
Satan had pointed to Adam’s sin as proof that God’s law was unjust, and could not be obeyed. In our humanity, Christ was to redeem Adam’s failure. But when Adam was assailed by the tempter, none of the effects of sin were upon him. He stood in the strength of perfect manhood, possessing the full vigor of mind and body. He was surrounded with the glories of Eden, and was in daily communion with heavenly beings. It was not thus with Jesus when He entered the wilderness to cope with Satan. For four thousand years the race had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity. Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation.
God’s Amazing Grace, p. 175
How glorious are the possibilities set before the fallen race! Through His Son, God has revealed the excellency to which man is capable of attaining. Through the merits of Christ man is lifted above his depraved state, purified, and made more precious than the golden wedge of ophir.
Confrontation, p. 31
In the desolate wilderness, Christ was not in so favorable a position to endure the temptations of Satan as was Adam when he was tempted in Eden. The Son of God humbled Himself and took man’s nature after the race had wandered 4000 years from Eden, and from their original state of purity and uprightness. Sin had been making its terrible marks upon the race for ages; and physical, mental, and moral degeneracy prevailed throughout the human family.”
When Adam was assailed by the tempter in Eden, he was without the taint of sin. He stood before God in the strength of perfect manhood. All the organs and faculties of his being were perfectly developed, and harmoniously balanced.
Christ, in the wilderness of temptation, stood in Adam’s place to bear the test he failed to endure. Here Christ overcame in the sinners behalf, four thousand years after Adam turned His back upon the light of his home. Separated from the presence of God, the human family had been departing, each successive generation, farther from the original purity, wisdom, and knowledge that Adam possessed in Eden. Christ bore the sins and infirmities of the race as they existed when He came to the earth to help man. In behalf of the race, with the weaknesses of fallen man upon Him, He was to stand the temptations of Satan upon all points on which man could be assailed.
In order to elevate man, Christ must reach Him where he was. He took human nature, and bore the infirmities and degeneracy of the race.”
Confrontation, p. 78
By experiencing in Himself [Jesus] the strength of Satan’s temptation, and of human suffering and infirmities, He would know how to succor those who should put forth efforts to help themselves.”
How Do we Sin? How Does this Relate to Adam?
Signs of the Times 17 June 1987
As Adam lost the gift of life and immortality by his disobedience, so all born of Adam forfeit this gift.
Notice that Adam lost the gift of life and immortality by disobeying God. And in the same way (that is, by disobeying God) all born of Adam forfeit the gift. Notice from the same article that although “As children of the first Adam, we partake of the dying nature of Adam. But through the imparted life of Christ, man has been given opportunity to win back again the lost gift of life, and to stand in his original position before God, a partaker of the divine nature.” If we choose to receive the imparted life of Christ, our participation in the dying nature of Adam is anulled. This all fits in well with this extraordinary statement:
Maranatha, p. 224
Everyone who through by faith in Christ obeys all of God’s commandments, will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression.
What is the Experience Necessary for us to Stand in the Sight of a Holy God when Probation has Closed?
Great Controversy, p. 623
Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation. Satan finds in human hearts some point where he can gain a foothold; some sinful desire is cherished, by means of which his temptations assert their power. But Christ declared of Himself: “The Prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.” John 14:30. Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to His advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.
Desire of Ages, p. 123
“The prince of this world cometh,” said Jesus, “and hath nothing in Me.” John 14:30. There was in Him nothing that responded to Satan’s sophistry. He did not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation. So it may be with us. Christ’s humanity was united with divinity; He was fitted for the conflict by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And He came to make us partakers of the divine nature. So long as we are united to Him by faith, sin has no more dominion over us. God reaches for the hand of faith in us to direct it to lay fast hold upon the divinity of Christ, that we may attain to perfection of character.
Did Jesus Have Tendencies To Sin–Not From Inward Choices to Sin, But through the Human Nature He Took?
By Larry Kirkpatrick
The evidence appears to more than suggest that Jesus indeed have such tendencies. But never did He ever follow them or permitted them to develop into actual sin. He ever remains our sinless Saviour!
“Coming as He did, as a man, to meet and be subjected to, with all the evil tendencies to which man is heir, working in every conceivable manner to destroy His faith, He made it possible for Himself to be buffeted by human agencies inspired by Satan.” Letter K-303, 1903, quoted in Adventist Review 17 February 1994
“Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to temptation to do one single act which was not pure and elevating and ennobling.” IHP 155
“He was made like unto His brethren, with the same susceptibilities, mental and physical. He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” RH 10 February 1885
“Even doubts assailed the dying Son of God.” 2T 209
“He blessed children that were possessed of passions like His own.” ST 9 April 1896
“The Son of God in His humanity wrestled with the very same fierce, apparently overwhelming temptations that assail men–temptations to indulgence of appetite, to presumptuous venturing where God has not led them, and to the worship of the god of this world, to sacrifice an eternity of bliss for the fascinating pleasures of this life.” 1 SM 95
“He knows how strong are the inclinations of the natural heart.” 5T 177
“He knows by experience what are the weaknesses of humanity, what are our wants, and where lies the strength of our temptations.” MH 71
“In Gethsemane ‘His depression and discouragement left Him.” DA 694
“Christ did in reality unite the offending nature of man with His own sinless nature.” RH 17 July 1900
“He had not taken on Him even the nature of angels, but humanity, perfectly identical with our own nature, except without the taint of sin. . . . He had reason, conscience, memory, will, and affections of the human soul which was united with His divine nature.” 16 MR 181. (Compare to 3SM 130, ‘We have reason, conscience, memory, will, affections–all the attributes a human being can possess.’)
In addition to those, I want to add a couple of more that have helped me. One is Confrontation, p. 78:
“He [Satan] put forth his strongest efforts to overcome Christ on the point of appetite, who endured the keenest pangs of hunger. The victory gained was designed, not only to set an example to those who have fallen under the power of appetite but to qualify the Redeemer for His special work of reaching to the very depths of human woe. By experiencing in Himself the strength of Satan’s temptation, and of human sufferings and infirmities, He would know how to succor those who should put forth efforts to help themselves.”
Here we see that through experiencing temptation–a spiritual category–Christ gained a victory designed “to qualify the Redeemer for His special work of reaching to the very depths of human woe.” He experienced “in Himself” the “strength of Satan’s temptation.”
If Christ could not be tempted,
We would have to ask why did Satan even tempt at this or any other point of human weakness?
We would have to ask is or is not temptation a spiritual matter? Is a temptation which has no pulling power a meaningful temptation?
The example was for beings with fallen natures. Unless there is likeness, how can the life of Christ be meaningful as an example?
Was or was not Christ’s experience of feeling “in Himself” the strength of Satan’s temptations a necessary part of heaven’s plan?
We note that this portion of Christ’s experience is identified as His “special work of reaching to the very depths” of human woe.
Remember Great Controversy’s statement that Satan cannot force us to sin–he must gain our consent (GC 510), and that “. . . the flesh of itself cannot act contrary to the will of God” (AH 127). There must be a willful choice to disobey for any response to the sinful nature to become sin for which we are considered guilty.
Why did Satan attack Christ so carefully and so powerfully upon particular points? “Satan showed his knowledge of the weak points of the human heart, and put forth his utmost power to take advantage of the humanity which Christ had assumed in order to overcome his temptations on man’s account” (RH 1 April 1875). Satan demonstrated his knowledge of the “weak points of the human heart” when he attacked Christ. He had had four thousand years to hone his temptational skills, and he did not fail to exert himself to “take advantage of the humanity” which Christ had assumed for the purpose of overcoming for us. Thus, the humanity which Christ had assumed had exploitable weak points; He could indeed be tempted. This makes all the sense in the world. It makes clear why “we need not place the obedience of Christ by itself as something for which He was particularly adapted, by His particular divine nature, for He stood before God as man’s representative and tempted as man’s substitute and surety. If Christ had a special power which it is not the privilege of man to have, Satan would have made capitol of this matter.” 3SM 139. It is “when we give to His human nature a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts with Satan” that we “destroy the completeness of His humanity.” 3SM 139. “He [Jesus] came not to our world to give the obedience of a lessor God to a greater, but as a man to obey God’s Holy Law, and in this way He is our example.” 3SM 140.
These are among the evidences that lead many to the conclusion that Jesus had tendencies to sin; that He volunteered to enter humanity with no exemptions. Its broken package of woe was not only ours, but His. Yet never did His will–a will coming impacted by the same fallen nature as you and I are born with–respond to the tendency. Never did He sin. Never was He self-tainted. Therefore never was He condemned. When He struggled in the garden of Gethsemane, battling between what He knew was His Father’s will, and the human pull “in Himself” to avoid the cross, the conflict was not in an exempted nature. It was not a mock battle; it was not a fiction. The weak points of His human heart seemed to compel Him, no special power unique to Himself aided Him; and there was none to help. He overcame in that fateful hour when the very outcome of the great controversy trembled in His hand, by calling upon His Father through faith for help. He bore the sinful nature, yet He was sinless, for sin is choice and He never chose to sin.
Persons hold differing views because
–The historic position within the church has been largely overturned by the continuous propaganda against it. For decades we have been persistently exposed to the modified view, while during the same period the pioneer position has been subsumed.
–Whole theological systems have been imported into Adventism from outside and the very core–atonement theory–has been replaced by a modified structure. If one holds a biblical definition of sin, one cannot reconcile with the new philosophically based views.
–Many sincere persons have never really considered the issue with sufficient depth to reach sound conclusions for themselves.
Thus by and large we are not talking so much about a work of willful destruction of Adventism’s core, but heavily misguided retuning by persons generally sincere. Yet this theological realignment has caused an almost unparalleled crisis in the church. The issues are crucial and need to be discussed. If we do not reconsider our direction, the vast body of the church will finish its work of jettisoning the ebbing interest in Bible prophecy that remains; Daniel and Revelation will become embarrassments from this movement’s “unsavory” apocalyptic womb, this body will dissolve and God will needs give His vineyard out to other husbandmen.
In the alpha of apostasy, Satan tried to introduce a philosophical system that would destroy the sanctuary teaching. Ellen White was shown the tremendous danger and pointed it out. Had the alpha been accepted, Adventism would then have been destroyed, for we would have completely lost sight of our mission–the finishing of sin and the great controversy. Even the alpha did not impact our theological structure and specifically issues of sin, righteousness, and atonement, like the present adjusted theology does. The structure of belief has been greatly impacted, and much more thoroughly. The alpha had its run, but with EGW alive to warn, successfully we steered clear. Article after article in the Review at that time warned against the danger. But in our time and with this pseudo-Adventism introduced in the 1950’s, we are not hearing Ellen White. What she has written is largely unexplored on these points. The Review has actively inculcated the new teaching. The danger is fantastic. We are standing upon the edge of the abyss. In spite of these challenges, let us go through to victory, seeking to avoid the shame of the curse of Meroz. Consider carefully these matters. These are the most momentous times for the church we love. We must redeem the time.
One last item. “But,” it is sometimes asked, “Didn’t Jesus have a different spiritual nature than we can have?” The following passage suggests a wonderful answer:
ST 26 August 1897
“In His humanity, Christ lived a perfect life, thus elevating humanity in the scale of moral worth with God. With His human arm, Christ lays hold of man, while with His divine arm He grasps the throne of the Infinite. Thus He imbues man with His own spiritual nature, and lifts him to His side, to be cherished and loved as the Father loves the Son.”
Word Study: Passions and Propensities in the Writings of Ellen White
A selected chapter from Ralph Larson’s The Word Was Made Flesh, pp. 22-28
Ellen White wrote of the words used by Bible writers:
The Bible must be given in the language of men. . . . Different meanings are expressed by the same word. There is not one word for each distinct idea. 1SM 20.
(This would also be true of her own inspired writings since they also are in the language of men.)
In some passages, Ellen White uses the word passions to describe something that must be controlled:
His [Adam’s] appetites and passions were under the control of reason. PP 45 (Note that the unfallen Adam was not without passions.)
[Paul’s] words, his practices, his passions, all were brought under the control of the Spirit of God. AA 315
A man of like passion as ourselves, the pen of inspiration describes him [Daniel] as without fault. PK 546
All circumstances, all appetites and passions should be restricted and under the control of an enlightened conscience. 3T 491
Every true Christian will have control of his appetite and passions. 3T 569-570
Our youth want mothers who will teach them from their very cradles to control passion. . . . 3T 564-565
Likewise, in some passages Ellen White uses the word propensities to describe something that must be controlled. In the first of these passages, notice the equation of passions with propensities, and the indication that Christ overcame by controlling both:
That your passions and appetites may be subject to the control of reason. . . . Our natural propensities must be controlled, or we can never overcome as Christ overcame. 4T 235
… Enabling men to bring all their propensities under the control of the higher powers . . . 3T 491
He brought his own family to his rigid rules, but he failed to control his animal propensities. 2T 378 (Note: Ellen White uses animal in the sense of biological.)
All animal propensities are to be subjected to the higher powers of the soul. AH 128
If enlightened intellect holds the reins, controlling the animal propensities, keeping them in subjection to the moral powers, Satan well knows that his power to overcome with his temptations is very small. MYP 237
It would therefore be this type of passions and/or propensities that Ellen White had in mind when she wrote of Christ,
Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to do one single act which was not pure and elevating and ennobling. IHP 155
He was made like unto His brethren, with the same susceptibilities, mental and physical. RH 2-10-85 (Roget’s Thesaurus lists susceptibilities and propensities as synonyms.)
Jesus had these passions and propensities but He controlled them, and so lived without sinning. This is the experience that is recommended to us:
We will now notice a very different use of the words passions and propensities.
In some passages, Ellen White uses the word passions to describe something that must be eliminated:
When [the grace of Christ] is implanted in the heart, it will cast out the evil passions that cause strife and dissension. DA 305
Unholy passions must be crucified. GW 128
The unsanctified will and passions must be crucified. 3T 84
Our . . . evil passions . . . must all be overcome. 3T 115
Whatever may be the evil practice, the master passion, which through long indulgence binds both soul and body, Christ is able and longs to deliver. DA 203
Fretfulness, self exaltation, pride, passion . . . must be overcome. 4T 527
And just as in the previous list we found an equation of passion with propensity, we find the same equation here:
[The wife] is made an instrument to minister to the gratification of low, lustful propensities and very many women submit to become slaves of lustful passion . . . . 2T 474
Although the following usages are only descriptive, it is apparent that simply controlling them would not be an adequate solution to the problem.
Depraved passions; base passions, base, low passion; hellish passions. 2T 474
Corrupt passions. 2T 410
Bitter or baleful passions. 2BC 1017
Gross passions. 3T 475
Murderous passion. PP658
Perverted passions. CD 238
Vicious passions. 2T 468
The Christian would accomplish little by simply limiting the indulgence of this type of passion, as would be indicated by the word control in the previous listing. This type of passion must be eliminated.
Likewise, in some passages Ellen White uses the word propensities to describe something that must be eliminated:
But although their evil propensities may seem to them as precious as the right hand or the right eye, they must be separated from the worker, or he cannot be acceptable to God. TM 171-172
Nonsense and amusement-loving propensities should be discarded. MYP 42
Although the following usages are only descriptive, it is apparent that simply controlling them would not be an adequate solution to the problem:
Money-loving propensities. 3T 545
Scandal-loving propensities. 5T 57
Selfish propensities. 7T 204
Scheming propensity. 4T 351
Lustful propensity. CD 389
(Of these, it is encouraging to read:
We need not retain one sinful propensity. RH 4-24-1900)
It would therefore be this kind of passions and/or propensities that Ellen White had in mind when she wrote of Christ:
He was a mighty petitioner, not possessing the passions of our human, fallen nature, but compassed with infirmities, tempted in all points like as we are. 2T 509
He is a brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions. 2T 202
Not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. 5 SDABC 1128
1. Ellen White was aware of the fact that the same words must sometimes be used to express different ideas.
2. We find an example of this problem in her use of the words passions and propensities. She uses both words in two different ways.
3. She equates passions with propensities in each of the two different usages.
4. In one usage, both words passions and propensities, are used to describe something that Christians must control, but that by the very nature of things, they must retain and cannot eliminate from their experience. In this usage she tends to link the word propensity with such descriptive terms as animal, human, natural, etc.
5. In the other usage both words, passions and propensities, are used to describe something that Christians need not retain but must eliminate. Here control is not an adequate solution to the problem. In this usage she tends to link the word propensity with such descriptive terms as evil, sinful, lustful, etc.
6. In her references to Christ, she indicates that He had one class of passions and propensities, but did not have the other. Thus her statements on that subject should be seen as complimentary and not contradictory. Let us place the statements together for comparison:
Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to do one act which was not pure and elevating and noble. IHP 155 He was a mighty petitoner, not possessing the passions of our human fallen nature, but compassed with infirmities, tempted in all points like as we are. 2T 509*
He was made like unto His brethren, with the same susceptibilities, mental and physical. (Roget’s Thesaurus lists susceptibilities and propensities as synonyms.) RH 2-10-85
Our natural propensities must be controlled, or we can never overcome as Christ overcame. 4T 235
Not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. 5 SDABC 1128
(Note the distinction between natural propensities and evil propensities. These to her are separate categories.)
We should not force Ellen White to contradict herself by ignoring the fact that she clearly used both words in two different ways. Neither should we concentrate our attention on one usage and ignore the other. We should recognize the undeniable evidence that she saw Christ as having certain natural passions and propensities, and that He avoided sin by controlling them. The other type of evil passions and propensities, which are already sinning or the result of sinning, and which Christians must eliminate from their experience, Christ did not have at all.
So to take her statement, “Not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity,” and read it as if she had written natural propensity, and draw from that the conclusion that she believed Christ took to unfallen nature of Adam is unwarranted. It should rather be seen as an emphatic affirmation that He did not sin, which is also indicated by the construction of her sentence in its use of the conjunction but. This word is used, following a statement, to indicate that the opposite of that statement is true.
I could have gone but I didn’t.
She could have won, but she didn’t
This thought of contradistinction is not lost when other words are used in the second clause.
I could have gone, but I was busy
No one, reading this, would conclude that I went.
She could have won, but she was tired.
No one, reading this, would conclude that she won. The contradisinction indicated by the conjunction but precludes such a conclusion. So when Ellen White wrote:
He could have sinned, He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity,
We should understand this to mean emphatically that:
He could have sinned, but He didn’t.
Then we are not using her statement about propensities in contradiction of her many statements that Christ took the fallen nature of man.
The implications of the contrasting conjunction but should be held in mind as the student studies this passage:
Adam was tempted by the enemy, and he fell. It was not indwelling sin that caused him to yield; for God made him pure and upright; in His own image. He was as faultless as the angels before the throne. There were in him no corrupt principles, no tendencies to evil but when Christ came to meet the temptations of Satan, He bore “the likeness of sinful flesh. ST 10-17-1900
See [forthcoming webdoc] Appendix B, Ellen White Corrects Two Christological Errors for a discussion by Ralph Larson of the Baker Letter.
* For examples of how this was understood by her contemporaries, see A. T. Jones, GCB 1895, p. 327, col. 1, and J. H. Durland, ST 10-10-95, p. 5, col. 2.
Extraordinary incarnation manuscript
Obedience to God required
MS. 1, 1892 Ellen G. White
The world’s Redeemer passed over the ground where Adam fell because of his disobeying the expressed law of Jehovah; and the only begotten Son of God came to our world as a man, to reveal to the world that men could keep the law of God. Satan, the fallen angel, had declared that no man could keep the law of God after the disobedience of Adam. He claimed the whole race under his control.
The Son of God placed Himself in the sinner’s stead, and passed over the ground where Adam fell, and endured the temptation in the wilderness which was a hundred-fold stronger than was or ever will be brought to bear upon the human race. Jesus resisted the temptations of Satan in the same manner that every tempted soul may resist, by referring him to the inspired record and saying, “It is written.”
Christ overcame the temptations of Satan as a man. Every man may overcome as Christ overcame. He humbled Himself for us. He was tempted in all points like as we are. He redeemed Adam’s disgraceful failure and fall and was conqueror, thus testifying to all the unfallen worlds and to fallen humanity that man could keep the commandments of God through the divine power granted to him of heaven. Jesus the Son of God humbled Himself for us, endured temptation for us, overcame in our behalf, to show us how we may overcome; He has thus bound up His interests with humanity by the closest ties, and has given the positive assurance that we shall not be tempted above that we are able, for with the temptation He will make a way of escape.
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertaoin unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escapoed the corruption that is in the world through lust.
The Holy Spirit was promised to be with those who were wrestling for victory, in demonstration of all mightiness, endowing the human agent with supernatural powers, and instructing the ignorant in the mysteries of the kingdom of God. That the Holy Spirit is to be the grand helper, is a wonderful promise. Of what avail would it have been to us that the only begotten Son of God had humbled Himself, endured the temptations of the wily foe, and wrestled with him during His entire life on earth, and died the Just for the unjust that humanity might not perish, if the Spirit had not been given as a constant working, regenerating agent to make effectual in our cases what had been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer.
The imparted Holy Spirit enabled His disciples, the apostles, to stand firmly against every species of idolatry and to exalt the Lord and Him alone. Who, but Jesus Christ by His Spirit and divine power, guided the pens of the sacred historians that to the world might be presented the precious record of the sayings and works of Jesus Christ.
The promised Holy Spirit, that He would send after He ascended to His Father, is constantly at work to draw the attention to the great official sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary, and to unfold to the world the love of God to man, and to open to the convicted soul the precious things in the Scriptures, and to open to darkened minds the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, the truths that [as gold] make their hearts burn within them with the awakened intelligence of the truths of eternity.
Who but the Holy Spirit presents before the mind the moral standard of righteousness and convinces of sin, and produces godly sorrow which worketh repentance that needeth not to be repented of, and inspires the exercise of faith in Him who alone can save from all sin.
Who but the Holy Spirit can work with human minds to transform character by withdrawing the affections from those things which are temporal, perishable, and imbues the soul with earnest desire by presenting the immortal inheritance, the eternal substance which is imperishable, and recreates, refines, and sanctifies the human agents that they may become members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King.
The question “What difference does it make what day we keep for the Sabbath,” is often asked. Just the same as it did with Adam, it made every difference. Whether he should obey God and not eat of the tree of knowledge, or whether he should yield to Satan’s specious reasoning and say “What difference does it make whether I eat of the fruit of this forbidden tree or the rest of the trees in the garden?” Adam’s sin in doing the very things the Lord told him not to do was disobedience and transgression and opened the flood-gates of woe to our world. The life of Christ is to be carefully meditated upon, and to be constantly studied with a desire to understand the reason why He had to come at all. We can only form our conclusions by searching the Scriptures as Christ has enjoined upon us to do for He says, “They testify of me.” We may find by searching the Word the virtues of obedience in contrast with the sinfulness of disobedience. “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.”
The garden of Eden with its foul blot of disobedience, is to be carefully studied and compared with the garden of Gethsemane where the world’s Redeemer suffered superhuman agony when the sins of the whole world were rolled upon Him. Listen to the prayer of the only begotten Son of God, “Oh, my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And the second time He prayed saying, “Oh my Father if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” And the third time He prayed saying the same words. It was here the mysterious cup trembled in the hands of the Son of God. Shall He wipe the bloody sweat from His agonized countenance and let man go? The wail, wretchedness, and ruin of a lost world rolls up its horrible picture before Him. “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” “And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” The conflict is ended, Jesus consents to honor His Father by doing His will and bearing His curse, the consequence of man’s transgression. He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Here was what was involved in Adam’s disobedience and what the obedience of the Son of God means to us. Adam did not consider all the consequences resulting from his disobedience. He did not set his mind in defiance against God, nor did he in any way speak against God; he simply went directly contrary to His express command. And how many today are doing the very same thing, and their guilt is of much greater magnitude because they have the example of Adam’s experience in disobedience and its terrible results to warn them of the consequences of transgressing the law of God. So they have clear light upon this subject, and no excuse for their guilt in denying and disobeying God’s authority. Adam did not stop to calculate the result of his disobedience.
We can stand down here, in 1892, and with the aftersight we are privileged to have, we can see what it means to disobey God’s commandments. Adam yielded to temptation and as we have the matter of sin and its consequences laid so distinctly before us, we can read from cause to effect and see the greatness of the act is not that which constitutes sin; but the disobedience of God’s expressed will, which is a virtual denial of God, refusing the laws of His government. The happiness of man is in his obedience to the laws of God. In his obedience to God’s law he is surrounded as with a hedge and kept from the evil. No man can be happy and depart from God’s specified requirements, and set up a standard of his own which he decides he can safely follow. Then there would be a variety of standards to suit the different minds, and the government taken out of the Lord’s hands and human beings grasp the reins of government. The law of self is erected, the will of man is made supreme, and when the high and holy will of God is presented to be obeyed, respected, and honored the human will wants its own way to do its own promptings, and there is a controversy between the human agent and the divine.
The fall of our first parents broke the golden chain of implicit obedience of the human will to the divine. Obedience has no longer been deemed an absolute necessity. The human agents follow their own imaginations which the Lord said of the inhabitants of the old world were evil and that continually. The Lord Jesus declares, I have kept My Father’s commandments. How? As a man. Lo I come to do Thy will O God. To the accusations of the Jews He stood forth in His pure, virtuous, holy character and challenged them, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” The world’s Redeemer came not only to be a sacrifice for sin but to be an example to man in all, a holy, human character. He was a Teacher, such an educator as the world never saw or heard before. He spake as one having authority, and yet He invites the confidence of all. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The only begotten Son of the infinite God has, by His words, His practical example left us a plain pattern which we are to copy. By His words He has educated us to obey God, and by His own practice He has showed us how we can obey God. This is the very work He wants every man to do, to obey God intelligently, by precept and example teach others what they must do in order to be obedient children of God.
Jesus has helped the whole world to an intelligent knowledge of His divine mission and work. He came to represent the character of the Father to our world, and as we study the life, the words, and works of Jesus Christ, we are helped in every way in the education of obedience to God; and as we copy the example He has given us, we are living epistles known and read of all men. We are the living human agencies to represent in character Jesus Christ to the world.
Not only did Christ give explicit rules showing how we may become obedient children, but He showed us in His own life and character just how to do those things which are right and acceptable with God, so there is no excuse why we should not do those things which are pleasing in His sight. We are ever to be thankful that Jesus has proved to us by actual facts that man can keep the commandments of God, giving contradiction to Satan’s falsehood that man cannot keep them. The Great Teacher came to our world to stand at the head of humanity, to thus elevate and sanctify humanity by His holy obedience to all of God’s requirements showing it is possible to obey all the commandments of God. He has demonstrated that a life long obedience is possible. Thus He gives chosen, representative men to the world, as the Father gave the Son, to exemplify in their life the life of Jesus Christ.
We need not place the obedience of Christ by itself as something for which He was particularly adapted, by His particular divine nature, for He stood before God as man’s representative and tempted as man’s substitute and surety. If Christ had a special power which it is not the privilege of man to have, Satan would have made capital of this matter. The work of Christ was to take from the claims of Satan his control of man, and he could do this only in the way that He came–a man, tempted as a man, rendering the obedience of a man.
Jesus says, “Follow me,” “he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Consider it not a hard duty. The commandments of God are His expressed character flowing out of a heart of love of thoughtful plans that man may be preserved from every evil. They are not an arbitrary authority over man, but the Lord would have men as His obedient children, and members of His own family.
Obedience is the outgrowth and fruit of oneness with Christ and the Father. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments: . . . and His commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5:2-4.
When we have unmistakably heard His voice and obey, every murmuring thought will be repressed; and we will obey, leaving all consequences with Him who gave the commandment. If, as we see the footprints of Jesus, we step in them, in thus following Him there is love and power.
Bear in mind that Christ’s overcoming and obedience is that of a true human being. In our conclusions, we make many mistakes because of our erroneous views of the human nature of our Lord. When we give, to His human nature, a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts with Satan, we destroy the completeness of His humanity. His imputed grace and power He gives to all who receive Him by faith. The obedience of Christ to His Father was the same obedience that is required of man.
Man cannot overcome Satan’s temptations without divine power to combine with his instrumentality. So with Jesus Christ, He could lay hold of divine power. He came not to our world to give the obedience of a lesser God to a greater, but as a man to obey God’s Holy Law, and in this way He is our example.
The Lord Jesus came to our world, not to reveal what a God could do, but what a man could do, through faith in God’s power to help in every emergency. Man is, through faith, to be a partaker in the divine nature, and to overcome every temptation wherewith he is beset. The Lord now demands that every son and daughter of Adam through faith in Jesus Christ, serve Him in human nature which we now have.
The Lord Jesus has bridged the gulf that sin has made. He has connected earth with heaven, and finite man with the infinite God. Jesus, the world’s Redeemer, could only keep the commandments of God, in the same way that humanity can keep them. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 2 Peter 1:4.
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor. 3:18. The glory he mentioned is character, therefore by thinking and talking of Jesus we become charmed with His character, and by faith we become changed from character to character. “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” “Ye are the light of the world . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” We must practice the example of Christ, bearing in mind His Sonship and His humanity. It was not God that was tempted in the wilderness, nor a god that was to endure the contradiction of sinners against himself. It was the Majesty of heaven who became a man–humbled Himself to our human nature.
We are not to serve God as if we were not human, but we are to serve Him in the nature we have, that has been redeemed by the Son of God; through the righteousness of Christ we shall stand before God pardoned, and as though we had never sinned. We will never gain strength in considering what we might do if we were angels. We are to turn in faith to Jesus Christ, and show our love to God through obedience to His commands. Jesus “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus says, “follow me.” “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus leads the way. Do not wait and continue in disobedience, hoping circumstances may change making it easier for you to obey. Go forward for you know the will of God. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
The fourth commandment is given for us to observe. The third angel’s message comes to us in warnings, entreaties, and threatenings. “And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, if any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. . . . Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
John is shown that in these last days a remnant will be keeping the commandments of God. Where are they? In a description given of the workings of Satan it says, “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Who are the people here specified?–Ms. 1, 1892.
Original Sin and Adventism
Near the end of his article (AR, Jan. 25, 1990) Norman Gulley quotes several statements from Ellen White to show that human nature was corrupted because of Adam’s sin, and he concludes that every man is born a sinner and separated from God. All these statements prove is that every man is born with the effects of Adam’s sin deep within his nature. The conclusion that man is a sinner by nature comes, not from the Bible or from Adventism, but straight from Babylon. Its roots reach back to Augustine in the ROman CatholicChurch, and have been transmitted to mainline Protestantism through the writings of Luther and Calvin. Today evangelical Protestants champion this view of sin, and they have been quite eager to see this view become part of Adventism. It is mind-boggling to realize how successful their attempts have been. The evangelical view of sin is accepted within the highest levels of Adventist scholarship today, and has even penetrated into various levels of conference leadership. Many pastors and laymen have accepted its validity, and the result is a deepening crisis in Adventist theology.
The evangelical position on sin makes it impossible to accept the long-standing Adventist position that Christ took our very nature of sin, triumphing over sin in that dangerousnature, and pointing the way for every human being caught in sin’s deadly effects to escape by God’s forgiving and transforming grace. Adventism has long believed that Christ could be both our substitute and our example in this simple way. Now, because of the evangelical position on sin, we are being told that Christ could not be our substitute if He really took our fallen nature from birth. Instead of a simple and straightforward gospel, we are now forced to devise rather complicated devices to allow Christ to take part of human heredity while being exempted from certain hereditary traits.
This new-to-Adventism view of sin also makes it impossible to make significant statements about the possibility of overcoming sin totally before the close of probation. Once again, clarity and simplicity have been sacrificed for the sake of compromise with non-Adventist belief systems. We are searching for theological acceptance, but is the price far too high?
Is It Essential, or Nonessential?
by Dennis Priebe
Appearing in Our Firm Foundation, March 1991
We have experienced much discussion and debate on the subject of the humanity of Christ. Too much, in the minds of many. “Enough of the arguing,” they say. “It is time to concentrate on the essential thing – revealing a Christlike spirit to people around us.” The editors of Ministry and Adventist Review have called for an end to debate on the nature of Christ.
In August 1989 the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference issued “An Appeal for Church Unity.” In this document is the following opinion: “The world church has never viewed these subjects [nature of Christ, nature of sin] as essential to salvation nor to the mission of the remnant church…. There can be no strong unity within the world church of God’s remnant people so long as segments who hold these views vocalize and agitate them both in North America and in overseas divisions. These topics need to be laid aside and not urged upon our people as necessary issues.”
Many of us would like to follow this counsel. We too are tired of the seemingly endless debate and would like to get on to other topics. It is discouraging to witness God’s people being divided over a topic on which there was essential unity for the first hundred years of our existence. But a new situation has developed in the last forty years. New interpretations of the humanity of Christ have been pressed to the forefront of discussion. These interpretations have had their source outside Adventism, largely coming from conservative, Protestant, Evangelical scholars. We have been much impressed with their arguments and their sincerity. These new interpretations have seemingly carried the day for many Adventist scholars, and as a result, we have seen many articles and books calling for a change in our historical understanding of the nature of Christ.
It is somewhat ironic that when some protested the acceptance of these new ideas within Adventism, and began using the same methods of communication (sermons, books, articles, tapes) as the proponents of the views new at that time, the stigma of divisiveness and agitation was placed on the protesters rather than the innovators. But I suppose that the same phenomenon occurred during the early Christian centuries when some Christians began protesting the gradual change of sacredness from Saturday to Sunday.
Irony aside, the question before us is simple. Since the subject of the humanity of Christ has become a divisive topic in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, should it be laid aside for the sake of unity? Even if those protesting the new interpretations feel that the weight of evidence is on their side, is the topic “essential” to the mission of the remnant church? I, for one, would be delighted to cease discussion instantly if this topic is one of the interesting but nonessential subjects found in the Bible. We will receive clear answers to many of our questions only after this earth closes its history. Is this subject one of them?
Over the past ten years, the conviction has been deepening and intensifying upon this author that the subject of Christ’s humanity is indeed essential to the mission of the remnant church. In fact, the success or failure of Christianity itself may be tied directly to this subject. Despite my feelings of reticence to disregard the counsel of the previously quoted appeal for church unity, too much is at stake here to be silent. If my silence allows a new viewpoint to win the day by default, and this contributes to the defeat of God’s purpose in raising up a remnant movement, then the luxury of being silent and avoiding stigma carries a price tag far too high for my concience to pay.
The issue of Christ’s humanity is significant to two vital aspects of Christ’s redemptive work. The first is
Whether Christ’s death could function as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of men. In other words, could His death legally and logically take the place of my deserved death, so that I can be forgiven for my sins? The second aspect has to do with
The relation of His life to my daily living. What are the implications for my living today because of Christ’s life 2000 years ago?
To put it simply, the nature of Christ has significance to Christ as our substitute and to Christ as our example.
Did Christ meet Satan’s challenge?
When Satan first challenged God’s right to rulership, he chose God’s laws as the focal point of his attack. If God’s rules could be shown to be faulty, then it would also be clear that God’s system of government was founded on a faulty foundation, and this would be very persuasive evidence that God’s character itself was flawed. (For a thoughtful and insightful delineation of these issues, I would suggest the chapter in The Desire of Ages, entitled “It Is Finished.”)
When Jesus came to earth, His most important task was to reveal the character of God to fallen and unfallen beings, so that God could be completely cleared of the charges brought against Him by Satan. When the Jews challenged Jesus’ mission, He responded, “He that sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of Him.” John 8:26. In other words, the real issue was not Jesus’ mission, but the credability of God Himself. On another occasion Jesus told Philip, “the words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.” John 14:10.
Now Satan had charged that
Charge A: God’s law could not be kept by angels, unfallen beings, and newly created mankind. And
Charge B: Satan also claimed that fallen mankind could not keep God’s law.
Since it is Charge B that is not well understood by most Christians, including Adventists, we need to review the evidence.
Evidence For Charge B
“Satan, the fallen angel, had declared that no man could keep the law of God after the disobedience of Adam. He claimed the whole race under his control.” Selected Messages, book 3, p. 136. “Satan declared that it was impossible for the sons and daughters of Adam to keep the law of God, and thus charged upon God a lack of wisdom and love. If they could not keep the law, then there was fault with the Lawgiver. Men who are under the control of Satan repeat these accusations against God, in asserting that men cannot keep the law of God. Jesus humbled Himself, clothing His divinity with humanity, in order that He might stand as the head and representative of the human family, and by both precept and example condemn sin in the flesh [Romans 8:3], and give the lie to Satan’s charges.” Signs of the Times, Vol. 3, p. 264.
Satan’s charge was clearly leveled against fallen man’s ability to keep God’s law. It should be noted that Jesus voluntarily humbled Himself to the level where He could meet Satan’s charges as the representative of the human family, which, except for Adam and Eve, have all been fallen.
“He came to this world to be tempted in all points as we are, to prove to the universe that in this world of sin human beings can live lives that God will approve…. Satan declared that human beings could not live without sin.” Review and Herald, vol. 5, p. 120. Note again that Satan’s charge relates to human beings in this world of sin. Part of Christ’s mission consisted in ‘revealing to the heavenly universe, to Satan, and to all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam that through His grace humanity can keep the law of God.” My Life Today, p. 323. “Through Christ’s redeeming work the government of God stands justified. The Omnipotent One is made known as the God of love. Satan’s charges are refuted.” The Desire of Ages, p. 26.
Clearly, it was crucial to Christ’s work of redemption that He refute the charges Satan had made against the laws and character of God. Now, did Christ refute only Charge A, or did He refute both Charges A and B? Only by refuting both charges could Christ accomplish His redemptive work and fully reveal the character of God. Only by refuting both charges could Christ stand as the head and representative of the human family, legally and pursuasively empowered to act as man’s representative, to die for all men in their place. Only by refuting both charges could Christ’s death in our place, as our substitute, have any validity in the court of the universe.
If Christ took Adam’s unfallen nature, what would He have proved? That unfallen men could obey God’s law, thus disproving Charge A. If Christ took a nature partly like Adam’s and partly like mine, what would He have proved? That anyone partly like Adam and partly like me (no one who has ever lived) could obey God’s law. Only if Christ took man’s fallen nature could He refute Charge B. Only by taking the place of fallen humanity could Christ fulfill His mission as the Redeemer of the fallen race. And it would be crystal clear to the watching universe that if fallen nature could obey God’s law by grace, then unfallen nature could obey easily.
If Jesus had sidestepped the ugliness of man’s fallen nature, and had been given a special dispensation of nature to be only partially like us, then who in this universe has refuted Satan’s charges? All men have sinned, so no fallen being has refuted Satan. And if Satan has not been refuted to this day, what right does Christ have to represent the human race? The horrible truth would be that we are no closer to the final resolution of sin on this planet than Adam was at the moment of His sins. The human race would stand condemned without a Saviour.
In other words, Christ’s taking man’s fallen nature was essential to His mission of refuting Satan’s charges and standing at the head of fallen humanity. If Christ is to be our legal ssubstitute, then it could only be through the dangerous path of accepting our fallen nature as His nature for the entire period of the incarnation.
Can Human Beings Obey God’s Law Perfectly?
This issue here is really very simple. Revelation 14:5 describes the last generation in these words, “And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.” Can God really carry out this promise? What real tangible evidence do we have that this will happen?
One individual astutely observed some twenty-seven years ago, “Those who teach that Christ took a superior human nature draw the logical conclusion that it is impossible for the rest of mankind to perfectly obey the law of Jehovah in this life.” This is really a very logical and simple deduction. If Christ was able to obey perfectly because of His perfect spirutal nature, then as long as we have imperfect, fallen natures, perfect obedience is impossible. In that case, the fulfillment of Revelation 14:5 is in real jeapordy.
Once again, we are back to which charge Christ refuted. If Christ refuted Charge A, He proved that the law can be kept perfectly after glorification. If Christ refuted Charge B, He proved that the 144,000 can keep the law perfectly while living in fallen natures.
If Christ did not prove perfect obedience in a fallen nature, then the perfect obedience of the final generation remains only a theoretical possibility. But if Christ demonstrated that fallen nature can return perfect obedience to God’s law, then the victory of the 144,000 is much more than a theoretical possibility. It becomes a promise based on real, tangible, factual evidence.
The relation of Christ’s obedience to our obedience is clearly revealed in the following statements. “God requires of man nothing that is impossible for him to do…. Christ kept the law proving beyond controversy that man also can keep it.” Review & Herald, vol. 4, p. 293. “Everyone who by faith obeys God’s commandments, will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression. Christ took upon Himself the nature of man, and by a perfect life demonstrated the falsity of the claims of him who constantly accuses those that are trying to obey God’s law.” Signs of the Times, vol. 4, p. 253. God’s promise of perfect obedience rests upon very solid historical evidence, and no one need doubt its reality.
Inspiration has given us a strong warning also. “In our conclusions, we make many mistakes because of our erroneous views of the human nature of our Lord. When we give to His human nature a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts with Satan, we destroy the completeness of His humanity.” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 929. Make no mistake here. The power of Adam’s unfallen spiritual nature is a mighty power which is not possible for us to have this side of the Second Coming. Are we in danger of destroying the whole point of CHrist’s humanity, and thus nullifying His redemptive work for man?
To summarize, the issue of the human nature of Christ is very essential to Christ’s victory in the great controversy and thus to the vindication of God’s law and character and the ultimate refutation of Satan’s charges. The human nature of Christ is very essential to the success of the final demonstratation of liyalty and obedience, through the grace of God, by those who live after the close of probation. We cannot be silent at this crucial time in human history when the truth and beauty of Christ’s redemptive work are in real jeapordy of being blurred and even lost in a sincere but misguided attempt to become more orthodox by evangelical standards. Let us rather search for the unique Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the gospel, the incarnation, the great controversy, and the issues at stake in the final atonement cleansing of the sanctuary.
 “Christ is the ladder that Jacob saw, the base resting on the earth, and the topmost round reaching to the gate of heaven, to the very threshold of glory. If that ladder had failed by a single step of reaching the earth, we should have been lost. But christ reaches us where we are. He took our nature and overcame, that we through taking His nature might overcome.” Desire of Ages, pp. 311-312; see also Confrontation, pp. 17,18
Ellen G. White on the Kenosis
But He chose to give back the scepter into the Father’s hands, and to step down from the throne of the universe, that He might bring light to the benighted, and life to the perishing.
He exercised in His own behalf no power that is not freely offered to us. As man, He met temptation, and overcame in the strength given Him from God.
His mother was His first human teacher. From her lips and from the scrolls of the prophets, He learned of heavenly things. The very words which He Himself had spoken to Moses for Israel He was now taught at His mother’s knee.
When Jesus was awakened to meet the storm, He was in perfect peace. There was no trace of fear in word or look, for no fear was in His heart. But He rested not in the possession of almighty power. It was not as the “Master of earth and sea and sky” that he reposed in quiet. That power He had laid down, and He says, “Of mine own self, I can do nothing.” John 5:30. He trusted in the Father’s might. It was in faith – faith in God’s love and care – that Jesus rested, and the power of that word which stilled the storm was the power of God.
So Christ in His humanity was dependent upon divine power. “I can of Mine own self do nothing,” He declared. John 5:30
Taking human nature, fitted Christ to understand man’s trials and sorrows, and all the temptations wherewith he is beset. Angels who were unaquainted with sin could not sympathize with man in his peculiar trials.
Yet He put on our nature, and came to sojourn among sinful mortals.
RH July 5, 1887
He laid aside His glory and His majesty. He was God, but the glories of the form of God He for awhile relinquished.
Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to temptation to do one single act which was not pure and elevating and ennobling.
YI April 25, 1901
His divinity was hidden. He overcame in human nature, relying upon God for power.
Jesus revealed no qualities, and exercised no powers, that men may not have through faith in Him. His perfect humanity is that which all His followers may possess, if they will be in subjection to God as He was.
Are All Men Condemned at Birth?
by Dennis Priebe
I have become convinced, during the past fifteen years of disagreement and even controversy on the subject of righteousness by faith, that most of the erroneous views of the gospel stem from a faulty understanding of sin. Specifically, the crucial issue is why human beings stand condemned as sinners in the sight of God. Are we condemned sinners because we are born with fallen natures in a sinful world, or are we condemned sinners because we have chosen to exercise our fallen natures in a rebellious way against God’s will? Depending on the answer given to this question, two quite different versions of the gospel are taught. The meanings of justification, the new birth, and sanctification are different depending on the answer to this question. Differing beliefs are held about our relation to God while we are involved in personal sins and about whether we can have victory over those sins.
I do not believe that we are condemned, lost sinners because we are born with fallen natures in a sinful world. However, this is the standard, orthodox belief about sin in the Christian world. In this article I wish to examine some of the inspired evidence which is used to support the belief that we are born into this world as lost sinners. Some of this evidence seems quite compelling, but I believe that there is a bigger picture from inspiration which is often overlooked.
The First Adam
Perhaps the text most often used to prove that we are sinners from birth is Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Notice that David does not say that he was a sinner from birth. Some Bible versions say this, but that is a theological interpretation rather than a correct translation. Where else could David have been born except in iniquity and sin? His mother and father were sinners, and he was born in pain because of the sin of Adam and Eve. David was born in a sinful world to sinful parents. If a child would happen to be born in a family of thieves, where thievery was practiced and taught by the parents, he would be born in thievery. Would this in itself make him a thief? Likewise, to be born in sin does not automatically constitute one a lost and condemned sinner. It does mean that one’s circumstances from birth are extremely undesirable, and that one is most likely to end up a sinner.
Another text is Ephesians 2:3, which says that we “were by nature the children of wrath.” This clearly says that our fallen natures deserved nothing but wrath. Our fallen natures are not righteous, and the only just response to our natures is destruction. Our inheritance from Adam is definitely not good.
Then there is Romans 5:12-19, which contrasts what we receive from the first and second Adam. It could hardly be clearer than in verse 18. “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” This text states rather unequivocally that all men are condemned because of Adam’s sin. I believe that this is exactly what the text means. Paul is too clear to be misunderstood.
There are several statements from the Spirit of Prophecy which say just about the same thing. “Adam sinned, and the children of Adam share his guilt and its consequences.” (Faith and Work, p. 88) “The inheritance of children is that of sin. Sin has separated them from God… As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death.” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, p. 236) “Fallen human beings… were heirs of guilt, under sentence of eternal death.” (Ibid., vol. 12, p. 61) “These dear children received from Adam an inheritance of disobedience, of guilt and death.” (Ibid., vol. 13, p. 14)
These statements are also quite clear. Those who are born into this sinful world receive from Adam guilt, sin, separation, and eternal death. Many have concluded that the evidence is clear that we stand under condemnation from our birth, and that we are sinners by inheritance from Adam. I believe that these statements mean exactly what they seem to say, that this whole world and every person born into it justly deserve nothing but condemnation.
But has the whole story been told? Or is this only half of the total picture? Do we need to look a little further before coming to final conclusions on this subject?
The Second Adam
There are some rather unique texts in the New Testament which speak of Christ’s work for the whole race of mankind. Normally we read of how the atonement applies to the individual sinner, but sometimes the focus is broadened to include all mankind. One of these texts is 2 Corinthians 5:14. “If one died for all, then were all dead.” In some very important sense Christ’s death affected all human beings. That includes Adam and Eve, and it even includes Cain and Hitler. In some way all were dead because of the atonement of Christ.
Another text is 1 Timothy 4:10, which says that God “is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” God’s work for mankind reaches deeper than saving those who believe in Christ. 1 John 2:2 drives the point home. “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Christ’s redeeming work includes not only the sins of those who have repented and believed in Christ, but He has done something for all the sins that have ever been committed.
One of the clearest texts is 2 Corinthians 5:19. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The work of the atonement was a work of reconciliation–a removing of barriers to fellowship and love. Christ’s death reconciled all men to God. In other words, there were no hindrances on God’s part to the restoration of Edenic unity and harmony. Now the only barrier would be on man’s part, if he refused to accept what Christ had done for him.
Now we will return to the text which speaks most clearly of the damage Adam did to the human race–Romans 5:18. This time we must read all of the verse. “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” How many were condemned automatically because of Adam’s sin? All men. What about those who have never even heard of Adam and who have never heard of the Biblical record of creation and the fall? Are they still born under condemnation? All men–the human race–were legally destroyed by Adams sin. Irrespective of knowledge or choice, every human being was doomed by Adam’s rebellion.
But is that the whole story? Right in one verse we have the complete picture. Not only were all men affected by Adam’s sin, but all men were affected by Christ’s life and death. The same “all men” who were doomed by Adam’s sin were freed from condemnation by Christ’s righteousness. To put it simply, what Adam did to the human race, Christ undid for the same human race. But what about those who have never heard of Christ and the Biblical record of the atonement? Do they still receive the free gift? All men–the human race–were legally reconciled to God by Christ’s life and death. Irrespective of knowledge or choice, every human being was reconciled by Christ’s atonement.
Some are confused about the word “justification” which is given to all men. One of the meanings of the word is “acquittal,” which means being cleared of charges brought against one. Justification is used in this sense in Romans 3:4, where God is justified when He is judged. Obviously God does not need forgiveness, but He does need to be acquitted–cleared of the false charges Satan has brought against Him. In Romans 5 all mankind is acquitted of the correct charge of rebellion which has been brought against the human race. In other words, the race–and all individuals in the race–are no longer under condemnation.
There are some significant statements from the Spirit of Prophecy on this point. “He restored the whole race of men to favor with God.” (1SM 343) “The fallen race uplifted from the pit of ruin into which sin had plunged them, and brought again into connection with the infinite God.” (ST 745) “Though earth was struck off from the continent of heaven and alienated from its communion, Jesus has connected it again with the sphere of glory.” (ST Nov. 24, 1887) “Christ has thrown His divine arm around the human race.” (RH June 11, 1889)
These statements all address the situation of the human race as a whole, just as the Biblical texts did. The whole race had been cut off from heaven and separated from God by the sin of Adam, but Jesus restored the same human race to favor with God. All men are brought again into connection with God. Clearly we are not born separated from God, as is claimed by those who believe we are born lost and condemned. Because of Adam’s sin, we suffer’ under many of the curses of sin, one of which is inheriting a fallen nature, but this in itself does not constitute separation, condemnation, or lostness. While these inspired statements do not say that we are born in a righteous or holy state, they do say that we begin life connected in some important way to God. At the very least they mean that we do not stand condemned from birth for the sin of Adam or for our sinful inheritance. Corporate condemnation through Adam is cancelled by corporate acquittal through Christ.
We have even more specific information about how and when this acquittal entered the picture for humanity. In Genesis 2:17, God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden tree they would die in that day. “Why was not the death penalty at once enforced in his case? Because a ransom was found. God’s only begotten Son volunteered to take the sin of man upon himself, and to make an atonement for the fallen race.” (1BC 1082) Why didn’t Adam, and thus every member of the human race, die immediately’? Because, that very day, the plan of redemption was put into effect.
“The instant man accepted the temptations of Satan, and did the very things God had said he should not do, Christ. the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying, ‘Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place. He shall have another chance.'” (1BC 1085). At the instant of Adam’s sin, before he knew anything about the horrible future of mankind due to his decision, and most importantly, before he repented of his sin, Christ stepped into the picture. He stood between the living (the heavenly universe) and the dead (the human race), and He took the punishment of death upon Himself. Now this act of Christ was not about personal salvation for Adam and Eve–that would come after their repentance and the offering of a personal sacrifice for their sin. Christ was dealing with the legal condemnation that had just come upon the human race. Jesus freed the race from the condemnation brought upon it by Adam’s sin, just as we read in Romans 6:18. No human being would ever bear the condemnation brought upon the race by Adam, for when Christ paid the penalty for sin, it was paid for all eternity. Yet countless Christians today believe that we are born under condemnation because of Adam’s sin, in effect, denying the power of Christ’s atoning blood to adequately deal with Adam’s sin. When Christ stepped into the Garden of Eden that day, He gave Adam and the human race a second chance to decide for or against God. Adam and the human race were given temporary life in order to make a decision about eternal life.
“As soon as there was sin, there was a Saviour… .As soon as Adam sinned, the Son of God presented Himself as surety for the human race, with just as much power to avert the doom pronounced upon the guilty as when He died upon the cross of Calvary.” (1BC 1064). Once again we see that there is a Saviour before repentance, which means that we are not dealing with salvation and eternal life. Jesus stepped in here on behalf of the human race. As soon as there was sin (condemnation for all men), there was a Saviour (justification of life for all men). This means that every baby born into this world already has a Saviour, who has dealt with the problem of Adam’s guilt and condemnation, so that the baby does not come into the world bearing that condemnation. Adam and the human race were not left for even one second all alone under the penalty of sin and its condemnation. At the moment of Adam’s sin, Christ was there to save the race from destruction.
It may be well to note here that we are not talking about justification by faith or believing in Jesus or repentance or the new birth. If Adam was to have any chance for eternal life, he would have to go through all these steps, as will any child after the age of accountability. These are steps in personal salvation. What we are dealing with in the inspired statements we have read is how God solved the problem of a race under condemnation and in dire threat of total destruction.
Now we can look at total picture. Did all men receive guilt and condemnation and the sentence of death from Adam? Is that the legal inheritance of all children? Absolutely. All the statements quoted under “The First Adam” are literally true. Adam can give us only condemnation and death. He has no life or hope to offer us. The question of the ages is, Were all men really freed from that condemnation ‘in Jesus Christ? Most Christian theology, including the current Evangelical gospel, says no to that question. In spite of what Christ did on the cross; in spite of what He did in the Garden for Adam and Eve, most Christians believe that we come into the world bearing Adam’s condemnation–that we are lost sinners from birth. An entire gospel system is based on this false belief, which should make us rightly suspicious of the teachings of this gospel, as they relate to justification, sanctification, and the assurance of personal salvation.
But if it is true that we are all condemned through Adam, it is far more importantly true that we are all freed from that condemnation through Christ. If the first part is true, than the glorious truth is that the second part is just as true. Just as Adam condemned all men, Jesus freed all men from condemnation, both without personal involvement or choice, and both at the same instant of time. All human beings were given a second chance to make up their own minds about the gift of personal salvation.
Some would like to suggest that we must divide Romans 5:18 into two chronological parts. First we are under condemnation through Adam, and then later we are freed from that condemnation. That is a little like asking whether the front of a coin comes before the back of a coin. If we could slice the coin in half and separate them in time, that might be a possibility. But the reality is that when we cut the front of a coin from the back of a coin, the coin no longer exists. The only way the coin has value as money is when the front and back are Joined together, both in time and space. The only way the plan of redemption can have any value is when the front of the coin–Adam’s coin–is inseparably connected with the back of the coin–Christ’s atonement. It is impossible to speak of a time in the history of sin on this planet when the atonement did not alter’ what sin had done to us. Therefore we cannot speak of condemnation through Adam without immediately speaking of how Christ altered that condemnation. It is false theology to split corporate condemnation and corporate acquittal into two separate compartments, first analyzing one part and then examining the other part. Christ’s entrance into the Garden of Eden forever altered, for all men, the guilt and condemnation that Adam handed to the human race.
Some believe that the inspired statements under “The First Adam” are enough to prove that we are all born under condemnation because of Adam’s sin. But, as shown above, those statements alone are not enough. What we must have, if it really is true that we are born into this world as lost sinners, is a clear inspired statement that we stand condemned because of Adam’s sin. Without this statement, there is no support for the belief that we are born lost sinners. It is not enough to prove that we receive guilt from Adam or that our inheritance is separation from God. All these statements can tell us is what we have rightly received from the first head of the race. What is far more important is what we have received from the second and real Head of the race, and how that has altered forever what the first head would have given us.
The practical reality of all of this is that while we are born in a sinful world with a fallen nature, we are not born lost sinners. We become lost sinners later by wilfully choosing to sin when we know the difference between right and wrong. E. J. Waggoner summarized it well in these words: “Not that men are born into the world directly condemned by the law, for in infancy, they have no knowledge of right and wrong and are incapable of doing either, but they are born with sinful tendencies, owing to the sins of their ancestors.” (ST Jan. 21, 1889)
Another way of saying it is that we inherit character traits, not all of which are positive. Then character is developed in the very young child by the interaction of parents and the child together. Up to this point there are sinful habits being formed to some degree, but there is no personal guilt or condemnation. At some point character is chosen by the individual, which is the point of personal accountability and guilt for wrong choices. Here is where personal sin enters the picture. “The thoughts and feelings combined make up the moral character.” (ST 310) It is the character that determines our condemnation or salvation, not our inherited nature. If we are saved, we will take our character to heaven exactly as we developed it on earth, while our nature will be totally recreated. In the matter of the gospel, the focus must always be on character development, which is the result of many personal choices. Sin and salvation always have to do with the character, not with inherited nature.