Confusion and Misunderstanding
An enormous amount of confusion and misunderstanding has resulted from the wide-spread failure to recognize that in both the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy there is a clear and distinct difference between the Christian goal and the Christian self-view.
We may feel a bit surprised to find this distinction recognized in the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job. Notice the clarity of these words: “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect [the goal], yet would I not know my soul:…[the self-view]”. Job 9:20, 21.
Moving to the New Testament, we read in one of Christ’s parables these words: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you [the goal], say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do [the self-view]”. Luke 17:10.
In similar vein, the apostle Paul writes to us: “I count not myself to have apprehended [the self-view], but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. [the goal]”. Philippians 3:13, 14.
Paul’s healthy self-view, but not his goal, is set forth in these words: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” 1 Timothy 1:15.
In this sharply contrasting Scripture we find his goal: “…Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13.
In a faithful reflection of these Scriptures, Ellen White presents the same truth in a variety of ways, constantly and carefully maintaining an unmistakably clear distinction between the Christian goal of perfect Christ-likeness and the Christian self-view of total unworthiness. Because of the enormity of the degree of misunderstanding on this point, we will present a number of her statements. [All emphasis is supplied.]
“Those who are registered as holy in the books of heaven are not aware of the fact, and are the last ones to boast of their own goodness.” The Faith I Live By, 140.
“They scatter seeds of love and kindness all along their path, and that all unconsciously, because Christ lives in their heart.” Sons and Daughters of God, 180.
“‘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.’ We are to keep the Lord ever before us. Those who do this, walk with God as did Enoch, and imperceptibly to themselves, they become one with the Father and with the Son.” Ibid., 296.
“The Christian may not be conscious of the great change, for the more closely he resembles Christ in character, the more humble will be his opinion of himself; but it will be seen and felt by all around him.” Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, 727.
“Thus it is with the truly righteous man. He is unconscious of his goodness and piety.” Reflecting Christ, 83.
“All who come within the sphere of his influence perceive the beauty and fragrance of his Christian life, while he himself is unconscious of it, for it is in harmony with his habits and inclinations.” My Life Today, 251.
Convinced that They Are Sinless
With this abundance of evidence before us, we are ready to consider some of the most common errors regarding the goal and the self-view. First, there are those who are convinced that they have become totally sinless and are in no danger from any temptation. They consider that their Christian goal of perfect Christ-likeness has been reached, and it would be impossible for them to be lost. They are commonly described as the “once saved—always saved” people. Some of them modify their position slightly by saying that they may sin, but it will not be counted against them, so the end result is the same as if they had not sinned.
At the extreme opposite end of the scale are those commonly called Calvinists, who believe and teach that it is utterly impossible for anyone to stop sinning, even by the power of God. They believe that God will stop all the sinning of Christians at the Second Coming of Christ. Exactly why God should be able to do this at the Second Coming but not be able to do it before that time has never been explained.
Can Blasphemy be Greater Than This?
We must sadly recognize that this false doctrine of corrupted Calvinism is making great inroads into the Seventh-day Adventist Church today. One Seventh-day Adventist theologian, who had drunk deeply from the befouled waters of Calvinism, actually went so far as to teach that it is not because of God’s weakness but because of His wisdom that He does not keep Christians from sinning now. Hence, Christians sin because God wants them to sin now. Can blasphemy be greater than this?
There are some who intermingle the concept of the self-view and the concept of the goal into a hopeless hodge-podge of illogical ideas. Prominent among them are the persons who pose a question about the goal and purpose to answer with an Ellen White statement about the self-view. I would blush with shame to tell you how many times, and in what places, I have seen the question posed, “Can Christians stop sinning? Ellen White says No.” This is then supported by one of her many statements (see above) that the Christian cannot have a self-view of sinlessness.
This is both contrary to her writings (she wrote more than 2,000 times that Christians can stop sinning by the power of God) and contrary to common sense. The difference between the two questions, “Can Christians stop sinning?” and “Can Christians know that they have stopped sinning?” should be apparent to a child. From a common sense standpoint, consider the difficulty in estimating one’s own humanity. What if you heard a minister say, “You know, folks, one thing I like about me, is that I am so humble. I am probably the most humble minister in this conference. If you want to see a man who is really humble, just take a look at me.”
What kind of sense would that make? And all attempts to describe our own virtues would be equally senseless.
“The attitude of Paul is the attitude to be taken by every one of the followers of Christ; for we are ever to be urging our way, striving lawfully for the crown of immortality. Not one may claim to be perfect. Let the recording angels write the history of the holy struggles and conflicts of the people of God, let them record their prayers and tears; but let not God be dishonored by the proclamation from human lips, declaring, ‘I am sinless. I am holy.’ Sanctified lips will never give utterance to such presumptuous words.” Signs of the Times, May 23, 1895.
How utterly nonsensical, then, is the frequently asked question, “Do you think that you are perfect?” Please look again at the above statements by Ellen White that the true Christian is unaware of, and unconscious of, his own goodness.
And consider this: “The Lord does not design that we shall ever feel that we have reached to the full measure of the stature of Christ. Through all eternity we are to grow in the knowledge of Him who is the head of all things in the church.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, May 15, 1892.
This brings to mind a greatly abused Ellen White statement: “He (Christ) is a perfect and holy example, given for us to imitate. We cannot equal the pattern; but we shall not be approved of God if we do not copy it and, according to the ability which God has given, resemble it.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 549.
Before jumping to the conclusion that this means we will always be sinning, take a moment to think about the heavenly angels who have never sinned. Can they ever equal Christ, the pattern? Of course not! No created being can ever equal its creator, and the grandeur of the love of Christ and God will never be equaled by anyone.
And here is another often abused statement, which Ellen White wrote over and over: “The work of sanctification is the work of a lifetime.…” Selected Messages, Book 1, 317.
The “logic” that is applied to this innocent passage goes like this:
- Ellen White said that sanctification is the work of a lifetime.
- If sanctification is the work of a lifetime, that means that it is never finished.
- If sanctification is never finished, that means that sinning is always present in the Christian’s life.
- Therefore, Ellen White taught that Christians will never stop sinning during their lifetime. Jesus will have to miraculously change them when He comes, so that they will not sin any more.
Never mind that Ellen White wrote more than 2,000 times that Christians can, by the power of God, stop sinning.
Never mind that she wrote 48 times that Christ will not make any changes in our characters when He comes.
And never mind that Ellen White viewed sanctification as a process that will continue throughout eternity.
“It should be our lifework to press forward continually toward the perfection of Christian character, ever striving for conformity to the will of God, remembering that the efforts begun upon earth will continue throughout eternity.” Reflecting Christ, 157.
How then can it be argued that incomplete sanctification is sin? Will the saints be sinning throughout eternity? Absolutely not!
It seems rather strange that in Ellen White’s defense of truth she had to fight a battle on two fronts. Arrayed against her on one side were those who had a self-view of sinlessness, and on the other side those who denied any possibility of sinlessness. She had to disagree with both of them. By carefully distinguishing between the goal and the self-view, she achieved an admirable degree of clarity, patiently pointing out that while the Christian’s goal must always be total Christlikeness, the self-view must always be total unworthiness.
Those who fail to make this distinction, as she does, and intermingle the two concepts, usually end up with confused and contradictory conclusions. Let us read the Scriptures and her writings aright, and thank God for both.