One doctrine which I have believed in for the past thirty-two years is the doctrine of the “Final Atonement.” This is a teaching which is unique to the Seventh-day Adventist movement and is one which I believe has a solid biblical foundation. As we have focused on Righteousness by Faith over the past two years, there has been concern in some circles that our understanding of Righteousness by Faith does away with this concept of the final atonement.
If the Bible led me in this direction then I would have to accept it. But does the truth of righteousness in Christ do away with the truth of the final atonement? This is a very important question and will be our main focus in this edition of Open face.
Recently I was reading from.Daniel 9:24 and I stated that this verse applied to the work which Christ would do. Somebody said to me, “how do you know this is speaking about Christ?” Let us look at what the verse says:
“ Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” (Dan 9:24)
Who is this prophecy referring to? It says, “seventy weeks are determined upon thy people.” Since Daniel's people were the Jews, then it is clear that this was talking about the Jews. I am sure this prophecy is familiar to most of us reading this article. We know that these seventy weeks referred to a period of time which God allotted to the Jews, and that this seventy weeks (which were actually 490 years) came to an end in AD 34. Adventists believe that when Stephen was stoned to death in that year, that this marked the end of the seventy weeks that God gave to the Jews in which all these things were to be fulfilled.
For many years I held to the belief that what God was saying was that during this seventy weeks period of time, the Jews were supposed to stop committing sin, to stop transgressing God's laws and to become everlastingly righteous. But as I look at the prophecy carefully today, I realize that this cannot be correct. Let us look especially at one of the things which was to happen which it was impossible for the Jews as a people to accomplish: It says that reconciliation should be made for iniquity. Look at that phrase. There is only one person in the universe who can make reconciliation for iniquity. That person is Jesus Christ. No ordinary man, no nation, no people can do this, Christ alone could fulfil this prophecy. This prophecy was speaking of the work which Christ was to do. Here again are the things which were to be done by the end of the Seventy weeks:
a. A finishing of transgression
b. An end of sins
c. Reconciliation made for iniquity
d. The bringing in of everlasting righteousness
e. The sealing up of the vision and prophecy
f. The anointing of the most holy.
Some have insisted that this verse must be speaking of the Jews and what God expected of them, rather than of the work of Christ. They reason that if these things apply to the work of Christ then they must have been fulfilled, because Christ cannot have failed. But they cannot accept that these things have already happened, and especially that an end has already been made of sins. It is easier to believe that God expected these things of the Jews, who must have failed to accomplish them, rather than to believe that Christ has already accomplished them.
Reconciliation for iniquity
But let us be faithful to what the Scripture says. There are several verses which tell us that Christ has already fulfilled the specifications of this prophecy. First of all, has Christ made reconciliation for iniquity? What are we told in Romans 5:10?
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Rom 5:10)
Notice what reconciled us to God, it was not something that you or I did. It was the death of God's son, something outside of us, and independent of our actions. Our actions, or the actions of the Jews have nothing to do with accomplishing this reconciliation. Humanity is already reconciled to God, it is something which is done and finished. It had nothing to do with what we do or how we live; it was entirely on the basis of what God's son did. We were reconciled by the death of God's son.
This truth is further emphasized in 2 Cor 5:18-19
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18-19)
This verse is very clear; it says that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ . The next phrase says, “not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Now this word “impute” means not charging their trespasses. This is difficult for many of us to understand. Some find this very difficult to accept, even though it is stated so plainly in the Bible. But it clearly says that in His Son, God was reconciling the world to Himself.
The world was reconciled to God, the entire planet was reconciled to God by the death of Christ. If we think of it graphically, there was a wall. On one side was man, on the other was God. The name of this wall was sin , and it was a wall that stood between God and man. This wall has been destroyed. What was it that destroyed it? It was the death of Christ, the death of God's son took away this wall and put it out of the way. Jesus took our sins, not just those that we committed already but also those which we will commit in the future. Every one was paid for by Christ. If Jesus has paid for them, they cannot still be a problem to God.
When I say this, somebody is sure to ask, “are you saying that when I commit a sin it is not a problem?” I am not saying that, but I am saying that as far as God is concerned, sin cannot stand between you and Him anymore. But of course there is one thing that will make your sin, still a problem, and what is that? It is if you do not believe in what God has done for you through His son. If you cannot accept the forgiveness and the enabling that is in Christ because you remember what you have done and forget what God has done through His son, then for you, sin is still a problem. The Bible says that God is not imputing the trespasses of the world to them. It is not just the trespasses of Christians, it is the trespasses of the entire world which is not imputed unto them, God took it out of the way by the death of His son. Now our problem is that we do not believe. Our real problem is not our sin, but the fact that we cannot believe in the One who has dealt with sins already.
An end of sins
What about the prediction that He would make an end of sins, did Jesus make an end of sins by A.D. 34?
In Hebrews 9:26, speaking about Jesus it says:
For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb 9:26)
I say again, sin is not a problem to God, the Bible says that He took the sins of the entire world upon Himself and what did He do? He took it to the cross and He made an end of sin at the cross. What this means is that now there is a human life in which sin does not exist and this life is ours if we want it. The only condition is that we truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have only to accept what God has done for us through His son.
So it is clear that this prophecy was speaking about Jesus, not about the Jews. It only related to the Jewish nation in a secondary sense, because Jesus came from the Jews, He came from the line of Israel, but it was in Jesus that sin was brought to an end. The dominion of sin over humanity has been destroyed because Jesus has “condemned sin in the flesh,” (Rom. 8:2) that is, in human flesh. So sin has no more authority over humanity. He made reconciliation for sins, He brought in everlasting righteousness. Now there is a human life that is everlastingly righteous.
Our problem is that we have difficulty in believing that this life has been given to us; that this life is our life. But to believe it is to be set free. We need to understand that Jesus did not just die to pay a price, but He died to provide a life for us that is without sin and that is everlastingly righteous. If we can believe and receive what Christ has done, we will be free from sin. Is that not what the Bible says?
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom 6:14)
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)
These verses are amazing, most people are afraid to accept what they say because it makes a lie of their experience. but it is the truth of the word of God and the only reason why we do not experience it is because we cannot believe in what Christ has already done. The Bible says He would make an end of sin, and He did. And so God does not impute our trespasses unto us because Christ took them out of the way, He nailed them to the cross.
In 2 Cor 5:20, it says,
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)
Here we see two parties involved, there is God and there is man. There was a wall in the middle which God has taken out of the way, but what is man's problem? He will not accept what has been done. God has been reconciled to man, but what about man? Man is not reconciled to God. The barrier is entirely in man's heart, not on God's side. Sin is not a problem to God because Jesus dealt with it and He dealt with it completely and entirely.
When I understood this, I recognized that I had been fighting an enemy that was dead. I had been condemning myself for something that was not a problem to God. I realized that my problem was that I would not believe in what God has done in His Son and when I realized it, it brought a great release in my soul. I felt that a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Many of us are under a burden of sin because we are measuring ourselves by what we do, we are seeing ourselves instead of seeing Christ, but when we see Christ and we understand what God did for us in His son, finally the weight is lifted, and we not only are free from sin's condemnation, but we find that the power of sin is also broken. Suddenly those sins no longer have the power to crush and beat us down, suddenly we find ourselves free. Now, this is what Jesus did, this is what the Bible says He did.
The Final Atonement
Jesus already made an end of sins according to the teachings of the word of God. But if Jesus has taken sin out of the way, how can it be that there is to be a final atonement? If Jesus completely dealt with the issue of sin, finished the transgression, made an end of sin, made reconciliation for iniquity, brought in everlasting righteousness, all of this by AD 34 (Daniel 7:24), and by one offering, has perfected forever those who are sanctified (Heb 10:14), how then can there be such a thing as a final atonement? Has not Jesus already made an end of sin? Is it not all already finished and accomplished, just waiting for us to believe what is already true? What is this final atonement, is it really something that is scriptural, or is it something that Adventists have invented? Is it something that was made up in 1844 to save face, or does the Bible really speak of a final atonement?
There is a lot of evidence in the Bible which shows clearly that there is a final atonement for God's people. The evidence cannot be honestly denied. What we really need to ask is, what is this final atonement and why is it necessary.
The Festivals of Israel
God instituted seven festivals to be observed in Israel annually. Every year these festivals were observed over and over at the times appointed by God. As we examine these festivals it is very obvious that they were intended to represent different events in the plan of salvation. In studying these festivals, we learn some important lessons concerning the main events in this plan.
The first of these festivals was the Passover which was observed on the fourteenth day of the first month. This festival, the Passover was instituted on the night when Israel was delivered from Egypt, when they had to kill the lamb and paint the doorposts of their homes with its blood to protect them from the angel of death who passed over Egypt that night. Every firstborn child in every home which did not have lamb's blood painted over the lintel of the door, was killed.
The second festival was the feast of unleavened bread, the third was the wavesheaf or first fruits. These first three festivals took place one day behind another, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The fourth was Pentecost which took place fifty days after the Passover. All of these were spring festivals, which means that all four took place during the first part of the year, during the planting period. The fifth one was the feast of trumpets, and this one took place later in the year during the harvesting period. It began on the first day of the seventh month and lasted for ten days. The sixth festival was the Day of Atonement, and this took place ten days after the blowing of trumpets started. The seventh festival was the feast of tabernacles which occurred on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after the harvest of the land was gathered in.
Every year, the Israelites observed these festivals, and this continued for hundreds of years. Why did they have to continually repeat these services? According to the book of Hebrews, it was because these ceremonies could not bring perfection (Heb. 10:1-4; 7:19). In other words, none of these things were real, they were only symbols, types, representations and acted parables. Over and over they went through this sequence because until the reality came, they were learning the truth by performing these rituals.
Now the first four festivals took place in the spring, the other three took place in the fall, or autumn. Significantly, these last three occurred during the seventh month. I say significantly because seven signifies completeness or perfection. So whatever we see happening in this period, in the seventh month, is very suggestive. It suggests that this is during the time of the finishing of God's work when the plan of salvation is being completed. In fact in the book of Leviticus in chapter 23 the feast of tabernacles was specifically said to not take place until after the fruit of the land had been gathered in (Lev. 23:39-42). The people were supposed to leave their houses for eight days, and live in temporary dwelling places. They were supposed to build little booths on top of their houses where they would stay, or to make tents and live away from their homes for one week. They were to wave palm branches and rejoice before the Lord for one week after the harvest was gathered in.
The significance of the feasts
This harvest clearly represents the final ingathering of God's people and so it is evident that the feast of tabernacles signifies an event to take place after Jesus takes His people to heaven. They leave their homes; they rejoice and wave palm branches, what does that represent? It represents the time that we spend in heaven, when we leave our homes (this planet earth) for a while. In Revelation 7:10 we find God's people waving palm branches before the Lord in heaven. They are waving palm branches before the throne in the real, antitypical feast of tabernacles.
It is easy to see the significance of most of the other feasts. The death of Christ was represented by the Passover, Pentecost was fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit, fifty days after Christ died. What was the fulfilment of the wave sheaf which took place on the third day after the Passover? This was fulfilled by the resurrection of Christ, when many of those that slept in the ground came back to life and were taken with Christ to heaven as a first fruits of the harvest of the earth. During the feast of unleavened bread the people were to put away leaven out of their houses, and leaven represents sin. This indicates that from the time that Christ died, we entered an age where sin was abolished, it was taken away, and sin is no longer to be a part of the experience of God's people. The people were to put away all leaven out of their houses for one week, and this one week in the type represents an indefinite period of time, just as in the case of the feast of tabernacles which lasted for one week, but which evidently represents a much longer time period, probably, a thousand years.
Now let us consider the fact that the first four of these festivals are clearly and indisputably in the past. Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost were all fulfilled during the first year of the Christian era, the same year that Christ died and was resurrected. What about the other three, Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles? Well, it is clear that the last one, the Feast of Tabernacles is not yet fulfilled. It is the last event to be fulfilled on the calendar and refers to a time after the ingathering of the harvest of the earth, or the coming of Christ. So the question is, when do the blowing of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement take place? Let us see what the clues tell us:
First of all, it has to be after the day of Pentecost. According to the sequence which God gave to the Jews and which they followed every year, Pentecost always occurred before the blowing of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, therefore, these other two festivals had to be some time after Pentecost.
Secondly, these two festivals took place during the Seventh month of the year, with a long gap between them, and the first four festivals. In fact, they took place during the same month as the Feast of Tabernacles which, as we have already seen, takes place at the very end of time. It is evident that these two festivals, the blowing of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, are end-time events which take place during the last moments of time, shortly before the ingathering of God's people at the coming of Jesus.
When is the Day of Atonement?
Now that we have established that these two, the blowing of trumpets and the Day of Atonement are events which take place during the last days, let us see if we can find out what exactly was the purpose of the day of Atonement. Remember, we are trying to see if this idea that the day of Atonement occurs during the last days is opposed to the truth of Righteousness by Faith.
In Leviticus 16:29-30 we find a description of the work to be done on the day of atonement. It says,
And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: (30) For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD. (Lev 16:29-30)
Now here is the problem: It says that on that day the priest would make an atonement to cleanse the people from all their sins . But as we saw in the previous article (“An End of Sins”), Jesus already took care of all sin when He took the sins of humanity to the cross and reconciled mankind to God. The Bible says he would make an end of sin and bring in everlasting righteousness by the year A.D. 34. But here, in Leviticus 16:29-30 it seems to speak of the deliverance of God's people from sin as something which would take place on the day of Atonement.
This is why some Christians argue that the Day of Atonement must have been fulfilled at the time when Jesus died. Can you see the reason for that argument? They say, “since God's people are cleansed from all their sins on the day of atonement, and Jesus made an end of sin and brought in everlasting righteousness when He died and was resurrected, then the day of Atonement must have been the day that Jesus died.” But if we accept this, what we have done is destroy the meaning of the sequence which God commanded the Israelites to follow in observing these feasts. We are saying that when God gave them this sequence and this pattern for observing these feasts it meant nothing at all. We are saying that it does not matter if we shuffle these days around as we choose. But God commanded the Israelites to observe these festivals every year in the same exact order on the same exact days. Did that sequence mean something?
When you look at the first four, they have been fulfilled in the exact order in which they were observed. Jesus died on the exact day that the Passover was sacrificed, He was raised on the exact day that the wave sheaf was offered, and that very morning when Mary came to Him and held on to His feet He said, “don't delay Me; I have not yet ascended to My Father.” He had to go and offer Himself as the first fruits of the harvest of the earth. In fact the fulfilment of the day of Pentecost is very striking because the Holy Spirit did not come even one day before the fiftieth day, it did not come one day after the fiftieth day, the Bible says “when the day of Pentecost was fully come,” that is the time when the Holy Spirit came. So everything happened in the exact sequence, and we see that Tabernacles is the last event after the harvest, so logically we cannot remove the blowing of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement from their place in the sequence. It doesn't make sense.
Sin and the Christian
Let us consider a few things. When a person comes to Christ, does the guilt of sin remain? Of course not. How much of your guilt does Christ remove? He removes all. The Bible says “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us (Psa 103:12).” How far is that? That's as far as infinity. That is how far God has removed our transgressions. If you are in Christ, you have no more guilt, that is gone. And how long does it take for guilt to be removed when you come to Christ? It is removed immediately. It does not take until you are 90 years old.
Well then, if we are truly in Christ, how many acts of rebellion remain in our lives? We are free from guilt, but do sinful actions continue to overcome us if we are truly Christians? The Bible says,
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:9).
“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:14)
These verses and others are very plain. If we find ourselves committing sin let's admit where the problem lies, it is to be blamed on the fact that we are not in Christ, we have not accepted the gift of Christ's life. But if we are in Christ, the Bible says, “he that abideth in Him sinneth not” (1 John 3:6). It's possible to lose our state of abiding and commit sin, but as long as we abide in Him we cannot sin. So for the person in Christ, sinful actions are gone as well as guilt.
Here, we are not speaking of those actions which we do not know to be wrong? These will remain until God shows them to us, but are those considered to be sin? No, if we are sincerely ignorant of the fact that our actions are wrong, then God does not hold us guilty of them. They do not cause a barrier between us and God, so we are not referring to those as sin. The sin which brings a rift between us and God is rebellion, that is, a conscious, deliberate, knowing choice to do what is wrong.
What God really desires is to know that our hearts belongs to Him one hundred percent. When that is right, then it will be easy for Him to teach us His will on the Sabbath, health reform, dress reform, music and any other subject. The response of a person whose heart belongs to God will be, “Lord, I didn't know my actions were wrong, but I'm yours in every way. Anything you say, anything you want me to do I am yours. Just show it to me and you know that I will willingly give it to you. Your heart belongs to Him and that is all He wants. Then He will teach you little by little what His perfect will is. But sin, as an act of rebellion, as an act of self-will goes when you come to Christ and it goes away one hundred percent. Rebellion does not remain in the genuine Christian.
Is there any other aspect of sin which goes when we come to Christ? We have seen that Guilt is gone, sinful actions are gone, but what about the sinful nature? Before answering this question let us just be sure of what we are talking about when we say “sinful nature.” The nature of man consists of the body, and the mind, the physical and the spiritual. When we talk about the sinful nature we need to make a distinction between each of these aspects of man.
When a person is in Christ does the sinful body remain? Of course it does. It will remain until Jesus returns, or until we are dead. This is something which will never change in this life. But does the fallen body constitute sin? If it constitutes sin then Jesus must have had sin because He had a fallen body, suffering the effects of sin, just like ours! But the fact is, the body itself is not sinful. Yes, it is weak and degenerate from six thousand years of weakened genes. It is just a weak instrument, but weakness is not sin, it is just the effect which the body has suffered as a result of thousands of years in a sinful environment.
What about the sinful or carnal mind? Does the Christian still have the carnal mind? Of course not. It cannot be! Here is what we are told in Romans 8:7-9
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (8) So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (9) But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Rom 8:7-9)
This passage is very clear. The carnal mind is enmity against God and surely the man in Christ cannot be an enemy of God, therefore, the Christian cannot still have a carnal mind! The verse tells us very plainly, “ye are not in the flesh …. if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you.” So the man in Christ no longer has a carnal mind. Of course when we say this carnal mind is gone, do we mean that it is absolutely destroyed? Is it possible that this carnal mind can come back to life? Of course it can. Paul says, “if I build again the things I destroyed I make myself a transgressor,” (Gal. 2:18). So although Paul says we have been buried with Christ, we are dead with Him, meaning our carnal nature is gone, we must understand that this state of death is obtained and maintained only by a faith relationship in which we remain in Christ. If we choose to turn our eyes from Christ, what happens then? The carnal mind will come back to life immediately. So we need to understand that the carnal mind is conditionally dead. It is under subjection completely, but it is possible for it to be resurrected if our faith grows weak.
What is the carnal mind?
Now let us look at what this carnal mind is a little more closely. Let us look at three aspects of the carnal mind as we seek for an answer to the question, what is it that remains of sin, in the Christian, to be finally removed on the Day of Atonement?
The first thing we observe about the carnal mind is that it is self-centred . Does this aspect of it remain when a person becomes a Christian? Absolutely not. When a man comes to Christ self-centeredness goes, he becomes God centred. He become centred towards other people; He is no longer looking out for himself. He fulfils the Scripture which says, “love seeketh not her own (1 Cor. 13:5).” Christ changes that selfish outlook. The selfish aspect of the carnal mind does not remain in the person who is in Christ.
The second thing that we observe about the carnal mind, is, self-awareness. At first that doesn't look like something which should be labelled as “carnal,” but as I use the term here, it simply means an awareness of who I have always been, and of who I am. Consider the question, who are you really? What do you know of yourself? I know some things about myself from the time when I was five years old, I know some things about my life and my past. This is my concept of David Clayton? I know some embarrassing things, I know some bad things, some things that I would like to forget. Is that who David Clayton is?
The Bible says if any man is in Christ he is a new creature. Do I know myself as the new creature or as the old creature? What do I know? It is easy to say, “I know myself to be a new creature,” but when somebody says something to hurt you, who is it that shows his face? Is it the new creature or is it the old creature? Who do I know myself as? That is what I mean by “self awareness.” That is a part of the carnal mind, it is a part of self centeredness.
The third thing I wish to mention is the thing that probably keeps self-awareness alive. What am I talking about? It is one critical aspect of the carnal mind, and it is the memory. Let us consider this. When a man comes to Christ, this is something that does not go. Even if you have been a Christian for ninety years you will still remember the evil that you did when you were five years old. Do we realize that the greatest tool that Satan uses against us as Christians is the memory of the wrong things we have done? Suppose a man who used to chase women becomes a Christian, do you know that the next time he steps on the street and sees a girl in a mini-skirt, or he looks at the TV and he sees a half naked woman the tendency is to remember things in his past which are associated with half naked women. It becomes a source of temptation that Satan uses against him. When the man who has been a thief encounters unguarded money the memory of what he did becomes a tool that Satan uses to try to drag him back to that. His memory remains and it's one of the things that Satan uses to provoke and tempt him.
Does Sin Remain
The reformers had a saying which I think had some truth in it, but it was not wholly true. They said “sin remains but it does not reign.” Were they telling the truth? When once a person has committed an action, is that sin still in existence after the action is finished? Suppose I steal something, I take what does not belong to me and I put it in my pocket. I did this yesterday, am I still stealing today? Am I still committing the action today if I did it yesterday? The fact is, when once the action is done, the action is over. If I commit fornication or I tell a lie, once the action is done, the sin is over. In what way does it remain in me? It remains only in my memory, it cannot remain after it is done, yesterday is gone, what I did when I was five years old is dead and gone, but it lives on in my memory.
So there is a tool that Satan uses and it is the memory of past sins. So the question arises, why does God allow this tool to remain? If He took away my guilt, and my sinful actions and the carnal mind, why didn't He take away the sinful memories too? If a man had no memory of the wrongs which he had done and he was filled with the Holy Spirit wouldn't it be much easier for him to live without sin? Why does God allow these things to remain as a tool that Satan can use? Is it to test our faith? Maybe that is one reason and maybe there are other reasons as well, but the fact is that we do have a record of sin remaining even after we have yielded our lives to Christ and that is the only way in which sin can legitimately remain in a Christian. Not sin as an actual entity, but sin in the sense that the scars which it has left, remain. There is a record of it and this record is in our mind.
The question is, is there a corresponding record anywhere else? Adventists have believed that during the Atonement there is something called the blotting out of sin from heaven. This has offended some people because they find the idea repulsive that there can be sin in heaven? They have said that the very idea that sin could exist in heaven is blasphemous. Many times our arguments and disagreements exist simply because we do not all understand words in the same way and therefore use them with differing shades of meaning. We have seen that as far as the Christian is concerned several aspects of sin are taken away, but one aspect of sin remains, and it is sinful memories. Are these memories sin? Are sinful memories sin? Absolutely not, otherwise the Christian would still be a slave of sin and God is the one who would have left him in that condition. Memories are not sin; a record of sin is not sin. What is it? It is an evidence of sin committed, it is not sin in itself. And as long as you have the memory of sin, you have in yourself the evidence of what you have done in your past.
When we understand this, then we see that there is harmony between the fact that our sins were taken away entirely when Christ died, and the idea that sin still remains to be taken away during the Day of Atonement. Here we see guilt is taken away entirely when we truly accept Christ, sinful actions are taken away entirely, the carnal mind is put to death, sin is gone, but a memory, a record remains in the mind. Is that memory to be removed at any time, or will the Christian forever retain these offensive memories of the wicked life which he used to live? Leviticus 16:30 say that on the day of atonement, “the priest shall make an Atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins.”
Ellen White wrote something interesting in Spirit of Prophecy vol.1 p.123, the same thing can be found in The Great Controversy p.620
“The righteous will not cease their earnest agonizing cries for deliverance. They cannot bring to mind any particular sin, but in their whole life they can see but little good. Their sins had gone before hand to judgment and pardon had been written. Their sins had been borne away into the land of forgetfulness, and they could not bring them into remembrance”.
These people cannot see much good in their lives and that is what is bothering them. Not that they can see any sin, they can't remember any sin. These have been blotted out, totally erased not only from the books in heaven where they were recorded, but also from the minds or memories of these Christians.That is what happens during the final Atonement. The final atonement is an event where God finally removes the last vestige of sin that remains in the Christian. Satan's last tool that he can use to tempt and harass us is finally gone. That is what the final Atonement is about. It is the removal, not of sin , but of a record of sin, a record that remains and that is used to harass us.
Why does God allow Satan to have this tool that he can use? The answer is simple, when this is gone, Satan has no other way to work in your life, his foothold is gone. When this is removed, his greatest tool is gone. Can God give this experience to somebody who is not a true Christian? This is a supernatural act where God supernaturally removes something from the mind of man. Can God do this to somebody who is not a genuine Christian? No, a person has to be a true Christian first, but it is not everybody who says, “Lord, Lord” who is a true Christian. So God allows those memories to remain that it can be demonstrated whose side we really belong to. Satan still has to have his tool to work with until it is proven which side we belong to. When we have been proven and tested, finally the memories are blotted out and God says, “now it is over. You wont touch them anymore because they have proven which side they are on.” This is why a judgment is so necessary, there has to be a way to demonstrate which side we belong to. And that is why the record remains in our minds as well as in heaven, up until the time that this experience of the blotting out of sin takes place.
The heart and the altar
In Jeremiah 17:1, God says something that is very interesting
The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars; (Jer 17:1)
Why is this so interesting? Well, what does the heart represent in the Bible? It represents the mind. God says the sin is graven upon the mind with the point a diamond. What is the significance of diamond here? It is one of the hardest substances. When our sins are written with a diamond, God is trying to say it cannot be erased. That means that this is something that is not going to be removed by ordinary methods. When we are sinners, we develop habits, our bodies develop a certain response to sin, we develop what are called conditioned reflexes, our bodies react instinctively to certain things. Of course, it is possible to re-train your body, but it is not possible to erase the marks that are on your mind. Memories are things which are outside of the realm of human endeavour and ability, only God can intervene and do something about them. But it is not only written upon the tables of our heart, it is also written upon the horns of our altars. I am not sure that I fully understand what that means, but there is something which suggests an idea to me. I have heard several persons say that there is no evidence of a judgment in the sanctuary service, but here is something that makes me think. In Leviticus 16:33 it says,
And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation. (Lev 16:33)
Now we can understand why an atonement had to be made for the priests because of course, they were sinners too. We can understand why it had to be made for the people of the congregation because they were the main target of the Day of Atonement service, but what is the meaning of the atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar? The Bible says that he was to put the blood upon the horns of the altar to make an atonement for the altar. Let us consider the meaning of this word “atonement.” What does it signify? The meaning really signifies to bring back two parties into harmony where they are at one. That's the real meaning of this term atonement (at-one-ment). There are two things that are at odds with each other, and the atonement brings them together again into perfect harmony.
Now it says that the altar had the sins of Judah graven upon it. Here is something interesting again; In Revelation 5 where it talks about the opening of the books, (and I believe those books are the books of judgment), what did John see when the fifth seal was opened? He saw under the altar the souls of those who were slain for their testimony, and white robes were given unto them (Rev. 6:9-11). I don't have a full answer to the question, but I ask, why are the dead represented as being under the altar? The altar represents the place of communion between God and earth. The way that the Bible presents it is that the people approach God by means of the altar. From the altar of incense, the fire was taken, put into the censer and the smoke ascended with the prayers of the saints. So the altar represents the channel of communion between man and God.
Our prayers are accepted because they are mingled with the righteousness of Christ as they come up before God, but what is it that pollutes our prayers? Isn't it the state of our mind? The memories, the channels of communication are polluted, and here the Bible represents that in the sanctuary itself, the place where man and God meet, that place is polluted and needs to be atoned for. Here we see a suggestion, not that sin is in heaven, but that the record that is in man's mind also has a corresponding record in heaven, and that during this atonement, that record is to be abolished from heaven, and only abolished because it is also abolished from the mind of man. Both things have to correspond, can you see? It would be pointless to take away the record from heaven and leave it in the mind of man. Once that record has been abolished, man has to be at a place where he will never sin again, because once that record is cleaned, it remains clean for all eternity. The removal of the memories of sin will place the Christian on that vantage ground where Satan will never be able to induce him to sin again.
Our last point comes from Leviticus 23:27-31:
Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. (28) And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. (29) For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. (30) And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. (31) Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. (Lev 23:27-31)
Now, God says, “you shall do no work.” Was this true for everybody in Israel? The priest had to work, one person in Israel worked and it was the high priest. He alone worked. What was the duty of the people, what was the work of the people? They were to afflict their souls and by faith they were to follow the priest wherever he went. Who made the atonement? The priest did. With his blood he made the atonement; the people had to do nothing but follow him with their minds.
The Bible says that salvation is not of works, it is of grace through faith. It is not you who accomplish it, it is Christ who does it. Where do works come from in the Christian's life? They are the works of Christ being worked out through us.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)
Therefore, what does the Bible say about the Christian who is found working his own works,? What does it say here in the day of Atonement? “He shall be cut off from his people.” Do you see that the Day of Atonement is talking about the works of self versus the works of Christ? The only one who is supposed to work is Christ, the Christian who is found working his own works on the Day of Atonement, is a man who is seeking salvation by works, he is a man who is doing his own way and not allowing Christ to live in him. Here is further evidence to strengthen the point that salvation is entirely Christ's work. We don't have any work to do, our work is to have faith in Christ.
The Jews came to Jesus and they asked, “what shall we do that we might work the works of God?” What did Jesus say? “This is the work of God that you believe in the one that He has sent (John 6:39).” that is God's work. That is our only work, and if you believe in Jesus, the works of Christ will appear in your life. He will work in you to do of His will and good pleasure. What you cannot do He will do, if you will accept what God did for us through His son.
We have a work to do, but that work is to believe, and I am not saying that it is the easiest thing in the world to believe because our minds are packed with junk, we have watched TV until we are dizzy, we have talked about foolishness until we can't concentrate on the right things. Many times we go to pray and find our minds in the supermarket or on the last football match, our minds are all over. Faith sometimes is the hardest thing to really exercise and so we have a fight, but it is the fight of faith, not the fight of works. Many times a Christian finds that he falls and do you know what he does? He decides to be stronger and he grits his teeth and he uses his strength and he goes to face that temptation again and falls again because humanity cannot fight sin. Instead of seeking Christ, he goes to fight sin; he goes to fight the fight that is not his fight. Our fight is to believe, and when we sin it is because we have lost our focus. Let us find the way to seek Christ again, find the way to live in Christ again and the works will fall into place.
God is so serious about this He says the soul who does his own work, during this time of the atonement shall be cut off from among his people. So God takes it as a very serious issue, and I am very happy that as we look at righteousness by faith we can see that everything in the Bible is fitting together under this banner. We must go back and study the prophecies and every doctrine that we believe in, in the light of righteousness by faith. Everything will appear with a brighter lustre, with a brighter glory, as we examine it in the light of the knowledge that Christ is our righteousness.
Under The Law
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom 6:14)
All my life I have been confronted with this text by non-Adventists. Adventists have been accused of being legalists and of not understanding the purpose and the relevance of the law as it was given on Mount Sinai. This text, Romans 6:14 has been one of the favorite texts of those who say that the law is no longer relevant for Christians since the time of the death of Jesus. These Christians have stated (with much Scripture to back them up), that Christians are not under the law .
How should we understand this statement that Christians are no longer under the law? A significant number of Christians understand this to mean that the Ten Commandments have been abolished. In addition, many of them go on to teach that there was a time when God saved people by means of the law, if they were obedient, but that He has changed His method of saving people since Jesus Came.
On the other hand, as far as I can remember I have always heard Adventists interpret this phrase to mean being under the “ condemnation of the law.” I have listened to sermons, read books by outstanding SDA evangelists and authors and, this was always the way that the phrase was interpreted. The explanation is, when a person commits sin, he is under the law, because he is condemned by the law. The law condemns him because of his sin. However, if a person commits no sin, then he is not under the law because then, the law cannot condemn him.
Both sides agree that there is a condition which the Bible describes as being “under the law.” There is no question or argument about that. The real issue is, what does the Bible mean when it speaks about being “under the law? The problem is that neither of these two views fits with all the references in the Bible. There are some places where one interpretation seems to make sense, but others where it just does not fit, and it is the same with the other interpretation. This question is a very critical one because our understanding of it contributes to our understanding of several issues which are presently agitating Adventism, including the issue of righteousness by faith. Is the “Adventist” point of view correct or is the non-Adventist point of view?
After examining this issue carefully for several years, I have come to the conclusion that neither of those views is correct. I have come to see that there is another explanation which not only makes much more sense, but which perfectly harmonizes all the references to being “under the law,” and which gives us a much more complete understanding of what God's purpose was when He gave the law on Mount Sinai.
One passage in particular which helps us to understand what Paul means in using this phrase, is Galatians 4:1-5. Let us examine this passage and see what we may learn from it on this question of what it means to be, “under the law.”
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; (2) But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. (3) Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: (4) But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, (5) To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal 4:1-5)
Perhaps it is not necessary to go any further than this passage to come to an understanding of what the phrase means. We are told that as long as a person is a child he is placed under tutors (teachers) and governors (his behaviour is restrained by others). It does not matter if he is one day to be Lord of all, as long as he is a child, this is how he is treated. Then Paul says, “even so,” this shows that he is using this as an illustration of something which he is about to say. What is his point? His point is that there was a time when we, (meaning the people of God) were children (spiritually speaking), and because we were children we were in bondage under what he calls the “elements of the world.”
This word bondage is regarded as a bad word and is made worse because it says we were in bondage under the “ elements of the world .” Surely, we think, the elements of the world must be something bad. But if we look at the illustration, we cannot come to that conclusion. The child is placed under tutors and governors. Is this something bad? Of course not. His behaviour is restricted, his freedom is limited. In this sense he is in bondage. Another person controls his behaviour but this is not a bad thing, as long as he is a child. Now, “even so,” or in the same way …. Paul says that the situation with us Christians was the same. We were in bondage under the elements of the world. Who put us there? Who was interested in keeping us under control and disciplining our behaviour while we were still children? This “bondage” under the “elements of the world” was the way of tutoring us and governing us until we became adults and since, when we were children we were God's children, then it must have been He who placed us under these “governors and tutors” which kept us in bondage under the elements of the world.
In 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul uses this word bondage in a way which helps us to see that when he uses it, he does not mean something bad:
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. (1 Cor 7:15)
What does the word “bondage” mean in this verse? Paul is speaking of a Christian who is married to an unbeliever. He says that the Christian should not separate himself from the unbeliever if the unbeliever wants to stay with him. But then he says, if the unbeliever wants to leave, then the brother or sister is not under bondage in such a case. What is it that keeps the brother or sister under “bondage” if the unbeliever desires to stay? It is the law! The law requires the brother or sister to stay with such a person and Paul describes this obligation to the requirements of the law as “bondage.” So we see that Paul does not mean that bondage is a bad thing, only that when a person is in bondage, he is controlled by rules and regulations which determine how he is to behave, regardless of how he feels.
But why does Paul refer to these rules as the “elements of the world?” Could Paul refer to the laws given by God as “elements of the world?” Consider for a moment, what did these laws relate to? What aspect of a person did these laws control, was it the spirit (mind) or was it the body and the outward behaviour? Did these laws have to do with the life of the world to come or did they have to do with life in this world? As long as they had to do with the outward behaviour, the body and its actions, then they were nothing but elements of the world, even though they were given by God Himself.
This is not to say that God gave something which was not good, but He certainly gave something which could not bring eternal life in itself. He certainly gave a system which did not produce righteousness in itself because that was never His purpose for the law. What was His purpose in placing them “under” these “governors and tutors” or “elements of the world?”
(Gal 3:24-25) Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
This is as plain as day. The law was our schoolmaster . It was our tutor and governor because we were children. But it had a definite purpose and what was this purpose? Its purpose was to bring us to Christ. It was to govern us until we became adults. But now that Christ is come, are we still under the schoolmaster? Are we still under tutors and governors? Are we still under the law? Absolutely not. “ after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, (5) To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal 4:4,5)
It should be clear then, that being under the law does not mean that one is necessarily under the condemnation of the law. Neither does it mean that the Ten Commandments have been abolished. What it really signifies is that one is under a certain system of government, a system where one is controlled by external rules and regulations which govern his behaviour. In other words, it means to be under the administration of law. The implications of this are tremendous. If this is true, what then is the alternative to being “under the law?” If what we are being told is that the Christian is no longer governed by the law, then by what is he governed? Again, the Bible has a very clear answer.
But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. (Gal 5:18)
There are two kinds of system which govern the way a person behaves, one is for children and the other is for adults. One is based on external control. It is a system which deals with peoples' actions, it governs what they do and controls them on the basis of rules and regulations. Its methods are based on, “elements of this world.” The other is based on internal change. It is a system which deals with peoples' hearts and minds, it governs their natures and determines how they think. It changes their behaviour on the basis of Christ living inside. This system is not based on the rule of law, but on the rule of the spirit.
It is very difficult for some of us to accept this truth because if flies in the face of what we have always believed. It contradicts the entire direction of our religious lives which has been based on the principle of following a system of rules and law rather than behaving on the basis of a transformed nature. We cannot see how it is possible for us to do what is right except it be on the basis of being instructed how to behave. The idea of receiving a life which is by instinct predisposed to good, a nature which always turns in the direction of good, without the need of law seems an impossible thing. It would require the actual introduction of something supernatural and out of human experience to accomplish such a wondrous miracle.
Oh how blinded we have been brothers and sisters! Isn't this exactly what we have been promised? An experience which is out of this world, a new spirit and a new heart, the very life of Christ Himself. Something which is out of this world, supernatural, something which human effort, obedience to rules and laws can never produce. This is what it means to be no longer under the law. It is to be under grace, that is, to be under the government of the spirit of God.
Now that we understand this, all the other verses which speak of being “under the law fit neatly into place. We understand that they neither speak of the abolition of the Ten Commandments, nor of being under the condemnation of the law. What they really refer to is a condition where a person is governed by external forces, a condition where rules and regulations dictate how he behaves. The Christian no longer operates under this kind of system.
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. (24) Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Gal 3:23-25)
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law , To redeem them that were under the law , that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal 4:4, 5)
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