The Gospel of Imperfection

The Gospel is for losers

The proud, the arrogant, the blind, the halt, the lame, the penny-pinchers and the big spenders, the manipulators and the gullible, the doubters and the believers, the thieves, the liars, the murderers, the slanderers, the poor, the ignorant, the lazy, the tight-fisted and the self-indulgent, the impulsive and the fearful, the indifferent and the cynical, the gluttons and the ascetics, the hypocrites and the self-righteous, the foolish and the false, the bullies and the weak.

Have I left anybody out? Oh yes—the perfect.

The perfect don’t need the Gospel.

For years self-help and business books have focused on achieving invulnerability, finding quick solutions, crushing one’s opponents, and using Machiavellian techniques to get ahead.

Recently, however, I've noticed an emphasis on being honest about our weaknesses. For example, Brene Brown’s presentation on vulnerability and recognizing one's needs is the fourth most-watched TED Talk at 25 million views. The second most-watched TED talk is Amy Cuddy's research on how our bodily stance can give us the confidence we lack for social encounters. Medium.com is a unique writing site built by the co-founder of Twitter. A constant theme of Medium's posts comes from startup entrepreneurs rhapsodizing about failing upward, launching out to new adventures, enjoying one’s failures, and learning from those who keep trying despite their constant failures.

Social media’s uptick of interest in our failures and mistakes isn’t reason enough for Christians to follow along, but the fact is we were there early. Christians know a great deal about missing the mark and falling short.

This is a perspective on life which I think we deny. It’s a view which runs against both the officially optimistic attitudes of the self-help industry and the prosperity gospel business, yet it’s more realistic and hopeful than either of them. We ignore this viewpoint to our detriment, and in fact, denial of it has damaged thousands of Christians through the centuries. But rightly understood this alternative view offers us a way to fully experience God’s grace in our lives.

We could call it the Gospel of Imperfection. There are three major points. The first is realism about our human condition, the second is finding language and symbols that truly reflect our spiritual experience, and the third is about living in humility.

Realism about our condition

Three things we can acknowledge about the human condition:

We are severely limited: we don’t have the strength, the will, or the resources to do life right;

We are deeply flawed: under the surface, close to the heart, we are all broken;

We are immature: we resist change, act badly when we don’t get our way, and become murderous when challenged.

In a word: We are imperfect. To be human is to be imperfect.

"We must somehow strip ourselves of our greatest illusions about ourselves,” says Thomas Merton, “frankly recognize in how many ways we are unlovable, descend into the depths of our being until we come to the basic reality that is in us, and learn to see that we are lovable after all, in spite of everything!

“This is a difficult job. It can only really be done by a lifetime of genuine humility (Merton, No Man is an Island).

BUT: Matthew 5:48 commands us, “Therefore be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect—the final lash of the whip for lazy Christians.

How many of us have struggled with this over the years, wanting to be sinless, yearning to be perfect so that God will accept us, only to realize how far off that perfection lies and how impossible it will be to achieve it. Yet the pressure to conform is constant if we listen to certain refrains.

We’re told that all that stands between the world and the final judgment is a perfected church that has informed the whole world of its rights and responsibilities under God's laws. In fact, the delay in the Second Coming is because of us, our lack of passion for the message, our sinfulness, our disobedience. Thus, we thwart God's sovereign will and timetable. We prolong the agony of the world until we can perfectly reflect, individually and as a church, the character of God. In this view Seventh-day Adventists are the center of the universe. Let’s hope the world never discovers the real reason why evil continues or the persecution will begin in earnest.

Marilynne Robinson says, "We all know about hubris. We know that pride goeth before a fall. The problem is that we don’t recognize pride or hubris in ourselves, any more than Oedipus did, any more than Job’s so-called comforters (Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books).

What we might not realize is that the Greek word teleios, translated “perfect,” does not mean “to be without sin or flawless,” but rather is that which is “fully complete.” In the context of the whole passage that follows Matt. 5:48, to “be perfect” means to be compassionate to all, to treat others equally and fairly.

To be perfect is to be complete, finished, whole. Nothing to be added or changed.

Even at our best we are open-ended, incomplete, limited. There is more in play here than meets the eye.

Language and Symbols

The second point is that for many of us the language and the symbols of conversion and daily living have changed from our childhood and youth. Language and symbols matter. Some move us, some leave us cold. I can recall Weeks of Prayer as a teenager in which we were exhorted to “surrender all,” and to be “washed in the blood of the Lamb," so that we might throw ourselves "at the foot of the cross." I find that much of the 19th-century language about Jesus in hymns, sermons, and devotional material appeals to a sensibility that I lack.

Do you respond more naturally to a command or an invitation? Do you commit to God through love or duty? Perhaps both: duty sometimes leads to love, whereas what we do in love does not feel like a duty—unless it’s required by the one who is loved.

How do we imagine Jesus? As a king? A prophet? Our Father or a brother? Is he not all of that and more? Can you imagine walking with him in deep conversation down the Emmaus road or would you be tongue-tied in his presence, like waiting to get an autograph from a celebrity?

At any point in our lives we may need one role in particular, but not to the exclusion of the others. We change, we evolve, life bears down on us and we need a savior, a comforter, a healer, a guide. Each role is different and we respond differently to each one. Our needs change, but Christ meets us where we are in the moment.

The thing is, we cannot predict what touches us most deeply about Christ or even where it might come from. We can’t even know what we need from Christ, except that we know we need Him.

It might be a song on the radio, a passage of Scripture or a poem read alone late at night, news of an unspeakable tragedy, or something a friend says that wells the tears up in our eyes and leaves us longing for God. All we can say is that we see in a glass darkly and what we usually see is a dim and muddy likeness of ourselves. Most of us are perfectly capable of beating ourselves up over our sins. We don't need others to do that and Christ won't do it.

Merton says, "We cannot find Him Who is Almighty unless we are taken entirely out of our own weakness. But we must first find out our own nothingness before we can pass beyond it: and this is impossible as long as we believe in the illusion of our own power (Merton, No Man is an Island)."

So there it is: when we're honest with ourselves about our weakness and imperfection, Christ finds us. That's the flash point between us and Christ—our honesty and Christ's incomparable response.

But God is not left without a witness and there are many paths that lead to the top of the mountain.

Christ for me is both a living symbol and Real Presence, a past historical figure and my mysterious companion in the present, the Word of God made flesh.

T.S. Eliot's lines in The Waste Land lift the veil slightly:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you

Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

I do not know whether a man or a woman

—But who is that on the other side of you?

Attention to this point is to find the metaphors and analogies that resonate to our lived experience.

Humility as a Way of Life

The final point in the gospel of imperfection is the role of humility. Humility is really the hinge upon which all of this turns. It’s about our imperfection and our great need. It’s a way of regarding God and religion from the basement to the rooftop, down to up, from us to God.

Humility is the working mindset that results from gratitude. Gratitude for what, you might ask? Well, for one thing gratitude for giving us reasons for living instead of shuffling off this mortal coil. Albert Camus famously said there is only one serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. This is the question that demands an answer from each one of us. Everything else amounts to games. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but for a lot of us the glass is almost always half empty. It takes the upside-down thinking of Jesus for us to see it as half full, with the possibility of it brimming over someday.

I think it’s revealing that the word “humility” comes from the same root as “humor” and “humanity.” The root word is humus, and humus is earth or dirt. To be human is to be made of the earth, as ancient and as glorious as the stars, and as common as . . . dirt. We’ve all come from the same stuff, so to speak. We’re all humus.

So humility is paradoxically the virtue that we aspire to without testifying that we’ve got it. Humility is seen, but not heard; others may tell us they see it in us but if we brag about it it’s pretty certain we don’t have it. To be humble is to not make comparisons.

But the glory of the creation story is that this mud can aspire to magnificent things. Humility as a way of life is remembering where we came from, Who sustains us, what we are capable of doing. It’s not about living with constant shame or feeling ourselves to be worthless or whipping ourselves for our sins.

And it's not about inflicting that sense of worthlessness on others either. That’s humiliation—standard fare in the power arenas of our age. Humiliation is imposed on us from the outside and is a capitulation out of fear. Humility says comparisons are foolish and dangerous: the problem with both “first” and “last” is that both are extremes (Kurtz and Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection).

Humility speaks from the inside and whispers our need of God. Gandhi said humility is a state of mind, but humble people aren’t conscious of their humility. C. S. Lewis put it succinctly when he said: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." And it doesn’t hurt to have a sense of humor about all this.

Marilynne Robinson says of Jesus, “It is his consistent teaching that the comfortable, the confident, the pious stand in special need of the intervention of grace. Perhaps this is true because they are most vulnerable to error . . . (Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books).”

And Thomas Merton concludes, “The relative perfection which we must attain to in this life if we are to live as sons (and daughters) of God is not the twenty-four-hour-a-day production of perfect acts of virtue, but a life from which practically all the obstacles to God’s love have been removed or overcome (Merton, No Man is an Island).”

Living this way would change a lot about our relations with others. I think it would change how we got along in our communities too. If we thought about ourselves less and about others more it would turn our world upside down. We’d be better drivers, more caring to our spouses and partners, more interesting in conversation, and safer to be around. We’d be less anxious—humble people don’t have anything to prove. I think we’d listen more and probably pray more mindfully.

So here’s the thing: nothing I’ve said here is new or original. This is the Gospel before it became a job. Being realistic about our imperfections, finding language and symbols that reflect our experience, and living in humility, humor, and gratitude puts us squarely in God’s neighborhood.

I'll give the last word to Thomas Merton:

"As long as we are on earth our vocation is precisely to be imperfect, incomplete, insufficient in ourselves, changing, hapless, destitute, and weak, hastening toward the grave. But the power of God and His eternity and His peace and His completeness and His glory must somehow find their way into our lives, secretly, while we are here, in order that we may be found in Him eternally as He has meant us to be (Merton, No Man is an Island)."

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy and communications at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, for 28 years. He is now adjunct professor in ethics and philosophy at Trinity Washington University, D.C., and adjunct professor in business communication at Stevenson University, Maryland.

Image Credit: FreeImages.com / Bob Smith

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8117
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Thank you for this. So much of life is a paradox. Winning by letting go. Acknowledging weakness and being willing to learn. Savoring the varied ways that God reaches us, knowing that pretentious piety is disgusting to God. Casey has shared great thoughts to read again and again.

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There is a difference between a gospel intended for the imperfect and a gospel which promotes imperfection as inevitable. The former is the gospel of Holy Scripture. The latter is not.

Scripture is clear that though “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), that nevertheless through God’s transforming power made available through Christ, “the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). Both Testaments make clear that this experience is possible in the lives of those who fully surrender to, and cooperate with, the divine ideal as disclosed in God’s written counsel.

Such Bible passages as the following are among the strongest in declaring this truth:

"Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
"Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and that seek Him with the whole heart.
"They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways. . . .
“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalm 119:1-3,11).

“The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid” (Zeph. 3:13; see Rev. 14:5).

“Awake to righteousness, and sin not” (I Cor. 15:34).

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1).

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.
“Casting down imagination, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:4-5).

"Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps.
“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (I Peter 2:21-22).

Other New Testament passages (I Peter 4:1; II Peter 3:10-14; I John 1:7,9; 3:2-3,7; Jude 24; Rev. 3:21) affirm this same glorious promise—that through the Lord’s imparted strength we can in fact subdue our imperfections and expel all sin from our lives. The righteousness of Christ is not merely justification, or forgiveness. It also includes sanctification—the power to overcome and vanquish evil.

I often fear that those who promote the imperfectability “gospel” fail to consider how it leaves men and women vulnerable to all manner of human failings, not merely those certain ones prefer to marginalize as of minor concern. If in fact our fallen natures are so strong that sin remains unconquerable even through heaven’s power, that includes the sins of racists, materialists, those who exploit the vulnerable in a thousand ways, and a whole lot more. Not only are “fashionable” sins rendered inevitable by those who insist perfection is impossible; so are those transgressions which intellectual and cultural fashion at a given moment freely acknowledge to be despicable and a blight on the human experience.

Sometime ago I read the following editorial in The New Republic, not exactly a magazine of conservative Christian theology, which offered an interesting perspective on the subject of character perfection. Written by a person of Jewish heritage, I believe his comments—whatever differences he and I might have—nevertheless offer an insightful perspective for the continuing Adventist controversy over this subject:

"If perfect offerings had not been enjoined, would any offerings have been brought? A culture imparts nothing more significant, perhaps, than its level of exertion, its ideal of strain. Whereas (this is my religion again) it is wrong to enact a decree that the community cannot fulfill, I find nothing particularly humane about aiming too low. The release should come at the finish, not at the start. The bells will crack, but I do not see that we should make them with cracks. We are indeed imperfect beings, which is why we harbor the imagination of perfection. Yet our givens cannot be our goals. Why reach for what one already is? That is a formula for complacence, or worse."
Leon Wieseltier, “My Secret Life,” The New Republic, June 3, 2009, p. 48.

Something to think about.

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Some quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

“The gospel of grace announces: forgiveness precedes repentance. The sinner is accepted before he pleads for mercy. It is already granted. He need only receive it.”

“Assured of your salvation by the unique grace of our Lore Jesus Christ…is the heartbeat of the gospel, joyful liberation from fear of the Final Outcome, a summons to self-acceptance, and freedom for a life of compassion toward others.”

“We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of knowing Jesus Christ personally and directly. When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience ofJesus Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited.”

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Sirje–
BOTH Galatians and Romans [the Gospel according to Paul] mirror the words of John 3:16 – God gave His Son, and whoever believes. Christ redeemed us first, before any knowing of Him, before any acknowledging of God’s gift to humanity. His Grace came first. His Grace began in the Garden [Gen 3].
Receiving Grace is by saying, YES.

Jesus [at least recorded by a disciple] said, Come, be an apprentice to me, learn of me. Learn how to live a blessed life in God from me the Master Teacher, imitate the Teacher, become like the Teacher.
If anyone has been an apprentice to someone who is teaching them a trade there is one thing to remember. One will make many mistakes. This is true in learning a craft, or learning to play an instrument.
BUT there is NO pass, NO fail. Everything comes through PRACTICE, learning through mistakes. Another thing to understand, the Teacher does NOT tell you everything at once. Some learnings REQUIRE a certain mental/emotional MATURITY to become skilled. This takes time for the brain to develop.
The Teacher has many pupils, all at different stages in their craft learning.
THE PUPILS DO NOT have permission to judge other Pupils in the class. They can become “advisors” on learning, but NOT JUDGES and telling another pupil how bad, ignorant, undesirable they are, or tell another apprentice they don’t belong in the group. [DOES this sound line anything we do in Church? Judge others? Have shunning, rejection, tear up their Membership Card?]
Galatians 5 Paul gives us a long list of things we have to learn to undo [fleshly thing he calls them] with the help of God removing them. There is a list of behaviors that we have to develop doing and enjoying [Spirit gifts] instead also received through God. These REQUIRE a certain amount of Maturity to fully implement them into daily habits, critical thinking.
Exchanging one set of behaviors for the other set of behaviors may take a long time. the second set are Mature behaviors and enjoyments. The First set are Childish and Adolescent, immature behaviors.
Sometimes “Church” can be the WORST environment for an immature Christian to be for growing into Maturity.

Groucho–
Three weeks ago in a S.S. class several people were in agreement with Ellen’s statement. THEY repeated to the class that "Christ hasn’t come because we [the SDAs] are not ready. We are still sinning."
Where did they get that? Directly from the writings of Ellen.-- "The Character of Christ PERFECTLY reproduced, THEN [ONLY THEN] can Christ come."
Another one – “Those who receive the Seal of the living God and are protected in the Time of Trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully.”-- Early Writings, pg 71. Vision, Oswego NY, Sept 7, 1850.

** SOMEONE is surely going to complain about using a quote from Thomas Merton! [a non-SDA philosopher].
I enjoy his writings.

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What did Jesus’ death accomplish for us, if not to save us from our sins? Was this imparted strength available to humanity before He died, or only after?

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A gross distortion of what Ellen White says about the subject. I would recommend reading her inspired statements on it, rather than accepting this author’s uninspired opinion.

The tension between seeking perfection and accepting that we cannot be perfect may always require us to be doing mid-course corrections, but that’s okay; God’s mercy is so great that His grace extends to this also. God’s standard is perfection. Our life as Christians is meant to be one of perfect freedom. In the process of seeking growth rather than perfection, we do risk falling into deception. Repeated sin, repeatedly forgiven, can become trivialized or even accepted as abnormal sin". If we allow the voice of the Holy Spirit to become muted, we might even come to deny that a sinful behavior is sinful. What a terrible situation, for to deny our sin is to miss being the recipients of God’s wonderful grace. A life in the Body of Christ with real accountability is the best protection from such deception. The only way we can reconcile the two is to keep our eyes, not on our perfection or our failings, but on Jesus Christ. And if that seems intimidating to us, then that’s because we haven’t yet dealt with a mistake large enough to realize that we’ll survive it. Life goes on Perfection, as a goal, is a noble pursuit, but it will always be on opposites ends of the scale with practicality.
Barry Casey is to be commended for writing an insightful and inspiring article. His last paragraph is the lines every Adventist preacher, theologian, and administrator ought finish ALL their pronouncements and declarations with. It is a disclaimer for the ages:
"So here’s the thing: nothing I’ve said here is new or original. This is the Gospel before it became a job. Being realistic about our imperfections, finding language and symbols that reflect our experience, and living in humility, humor, and gratitude puts us squarely in God’s neighborhood."
WOW! Kudos to Barry for keeping it real!

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it is this all-important truth, that is part of the collection of truths known as the doctrine of original sin, that explains to us so vividly why what is being dubbed in this article as “the gospel of imperfection” is true…until the full doctrine of original sin is internalized, nothing about our salvation, or even the nature and ongoing mission of christ, can be understood…no wonder the apostle john stresses original sin so explicitly in 1John 1, and the apostle paul devotes no less than 9 compound sentences to the parallel contrast between original sin and justification in Romans 5, not to mention the many evident allusions to it elsewhere in his letters, the other new testament writers, and even several of the old testament prophets…as for egw, it is virtually impossible not to see fragments of original sin in the hundreds and even thousands of pages she devotes to a discussion of the mechanics of our salvation…the important baker letter, which egw wrote from australia to pastor baker in tasmania in 1895, while it is generally used to pinpoint the sinless fallen human nature of christ in contradistinction to the sinful fallen human nature everyone else inherits, all but frames the doctrine of original sin in neon lights and screaming sirens…when we understand that sin and condemnation are our inherited condition, in addition to its being a choice and a result, we can see why it must be true that we can only be saved though the imputed merits of christ, and why salvation is accurately called a gift…what’s more, justification-only salvation can be seen to be the only logical mechanism through which anyone can be saved…

of course it is the case that active sanctification to the extent of opportunity is required for justification, since it is ultimately our flawed sanctification expressed through our inherited fallen human nature that christ in heaven imputes his perfect righteousness to…but it is the sad reality that the many biblical and egw texts that stress this important fact, partially or completely, are often wrested to sustain LGT, with the result that even conscientious adventists are often oblivious to the magnitude of the error they are imbibing…it has become clear to me that LGT is of the same species of subtle error as male headship, and that it may be even more egregious, if this is possible…texts are wrested wittingly, or unwittingly, from their true meaning and purpose, and unfortunately, people caught up in these errors don’t seem to ever extricate themselves…my experience is that it is generally futile to try to reason with victims of either LGT or male headship…i suspect that enlightenment in these cases can only be attained through the type of oblique, reflexive insight that comes as an unexpected denouement to a long string of difficult life vicissitudes…

i’m hoping that these sentences are sardonic caricature, because there literally is no clearer teaching in all of the bible and egw than that christ gives us power to resist all sin through the holy spirit…but regardless, the reason why this ubiquitous teaching isn’t LGT is that we are condemned sinners not only BEFORE and WHILE we knowingly choose to sin, but even AFTER we no longer knowingly choose to sin…given our inherited starting point, it is only the imputed righteousness of christ that enables us to be viewed by heaven as sinless, even if we attain the level of sanctification that enoch attained…that is, both enoch and the thief on the cross were saved through forensic justification, despite the vast gap in the level of sanctification they had the opportunity to participate in…the fact that we cannot equal the pattern of christ, even though we are enjoined to strive to imitate it, is an important part of why we need a savior…it is the full extent of the importance of the unique perfection of christ, and just why it is everything to us, that comprises the huge truth that LGT so completely misses…

Why are we so obsessed with sin and the life-long struggle for righteousness when Jesus took away the sin of the world and became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him?

On the Day of Atonement under the old covenant, two spotless goats were chosen from the congregation of the sons of Israel. One was sacrificed through the shedding of blood as a sin offering.

The second goat, indistinguishable from the first, was presented before the Lord to make atonement on it.

The sins of the people were confessed over the head of the live goat by the laying on of hands and the goat, bearing the sins of the house of Israel, was released into the wilderness and neither the goat nor the sins were ever seen or heard of again.

Two goats, two parts to the one glorious sacrifice. Christ became sin for us and shed His blood as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2). He then bore those sins into the grave and where He disposed of those sins you and I have no idea. They’re gone, not even under the blood. They’re gone.

And so God no longer counts our sins against us, or even remembers them. (2 Cor 5:19). And yet we are obsessed with sin and it seems it blinds us to the magnitude of what Jesus really did accomplish by His death, burial and resurrection. This is what gives meaning to His ministry in the heaven of heavens and in our hearts.

Two goats, one sacrifice in two parts - the shedding of blood and the removal of sin. If Christ did not become sin for us and die and remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west, we’re toast.

Since Calvary, under the new covenant, there is only one sin for which we are held accountable before God and that is the sin of unbelief, refusing to believe what Jesus accomplished by becoming sin for us and taking away the sin of the world.

When we focus so much on sin do we forget such verses as Ephesians 4:17-24 and others like them? We have laid aside our old self, crucified with Christ through baptism of the Holy Spirit into Christ’s death. But we also rose with Christ in newness of life. We have been renewed in the spirit of our mind and we put on the new self when we were born again. This new self is in the likeness of God. It is a new creation, created in righteousness and holiness of the truth, the truth being Jesus Christ.

Paul makes it clear that sin still lurks in the flesh. But sin in the flesh does not define us and it is forgiven and never counted against us. As born again saints, we are defined as sons and daughters of God, accepted in the beloved. We have been taken out of the family of Adam and adopted into the family of God. The Spirit of Christ now dwells in our newly created hearts and there He writes His righteousness into the very core of our being as we grow in grace.

Gideon, it may be best if you take your quotes from Scripture. The two brief quotes you list from EGW as they stand, whether out of context or not, are not the gospel that Paul and the other Apostles preached. Quotes such as these are the reason why many Adventist believers are focused on the 10 commandments and not on Christ and His righteousness that comes apart from the law.

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“Why are we so obsessed with sin and the life-long struggle for righteousness when Jesus took away the sin of the world and became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him?”

In a word…non-acceptance. For some reason it is more ego-satisfying to “work our way to heaven” and to “fear for our salvation” than accept that we are His already.

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The article and replies are continual evidence that the basic terms in Christianity: Gospel, Grace, and Salvation are misunderstood and/or corrupted.

I am happy to see that the SDA denomination is repeating the study of Galatians again…(from 2011) because many will have another opportunity to possibly hear or learn the correct concept of the 3 basic terms.

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8, 9

Here are 2 SOP quotes that I have never heard from SDA pulpits or SS classes.
The latter one I recently shared in a Sabbath school class and angered an elder because it embarrassed him because he was of the defeatist, wave the white flag to sin & depravity persuasion.

“The gospel is the good news of grace, or favour, by which man may be released from the condemnation of sin, AND enabled to render acceptable obedience to the law.”

“Those only who through faith in Christ obey all of God’s commandments will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression.”

Last quarter SS lessons were on false teachers. Beware of getting denominational amnesia.

Something to think about---- When was the last time you ever heard an SDA conference official, pastor or sabbath school teacher give a definition of the gospel…saying…“The gospel is…”

Note: Seminary professor from Newbold College presented at a sermon …People can’t stop sinning…only subdue it.

Tell that to Enoch & Elijah if U get to heaven.

Is this another thread about Perfection Paranoia?

Harry, (and the 4 likes)

Look at Rom 2:1

You 5 are the victims of inept bible teachers and Rom 8:7 mindsets.

How can we make a case for perfection to be defined with words like “compassion”, “equality”, and “fairness”, and then follow that with the statement that "our vocation is precisely to be imperfect? Why “on earth” did Jesus (not to mention all of the prophets before him) spend so much time and effort teaching those virtues if not with the intention that transformation were to follow? As followers of Jesus, how can we think our “vocation” to be not-compassionate, not-impartial, not-fair?

In my opinion, it’s this double-mindedness about perfection that is confusing so many people.

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Perhaps the Lord saw the need for us to be around to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s work on righteousness by faith alone in Jesus Christ. I think we need to review that and ensure that we clearly understand this wonderful Biblical truth in the context of this article.

I thank God for this amazing fact that we have been saved by grace through faith and not works. The gospel is indeed good news, it tells of what Jesus has done for me - something which I of myself could not do nor will ever do. As I believe and accept Him by faith, I am justified before God and credited with His righteousness. As I am born again or converted, Jesus lives His life in me, and the Holy Spirit remains with me also.I walk now by the Spirit and hence there is no condemnation at all!

While my new life will not lead to sin, I live in a higher plane, at the level where the righteousness of Jesus surpasses my attempts to keep any law, because His righteousness is infinitely superior to any type of law keeping I can imagine or try to do, and that includes Sabbath keeping on my own strength.In fact the Scripture is plain, righteousness could never come by law- any law, for that matter, ceremonial, civil, moral etc and this is true before my acceptance of Jesus as Saviour as well as after I have accepted Him by faith.

I believe it is very significant in the scheme of God, that we are studying Galatians again this quarter. We need to let go of our interpretation of the law and let Jesus live His life in us. As Seventh Day Adventists, we focus too much on rules and commandments, forgetting that our emphasis is on the Lord Jesus and His will for us. It is no wonder that we dont have the assurance of salvation at all, We just dont know if we are saved or lost, ans many must wait for the findings of the Investigative Judgment and this is a pity since the Bible helps us to know that we can have the assurance of salvation and know that we are saved today. On this point, I can understand the positions taken by Dr. Desmond Ford, and the wonderful assurance of salvation he promoted over the years. It is sad that we in the SDA church do no seem to understand or comprehend it!
As I am born again, I no longer focus on the letter of the law, or the ten commandments, but Jesus brings my life to focus on those areas or principles which He himself exemplified: love to God and love to man. All through the new testament this is illustrated and re-illustrated. Unfortunately we in the SDA church do not understand these things!

It is significant that Jesus in His life expands the law so much, showing our inability as well as the impossibility to keep the same. This is because we tend to focus on the actual letter of the law- thou shalt not… remember this… and de-emphaize the civil and ceremonial laws, but this is not the teaching of the Bible. The entire law was seen as one unit… Further,it was never God’s intention for us to focus on this. Our focus was to be be on our Lord Jesus Christ.This is actually intentional, since He is the One who has kept the same law perfectly and he never asks me to do this, but to abide in Him, and dwell on the new commandment he gives- the commandment of love- which will be shown consciously and unconsciously when we are born again. _By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
_A new commandment I give you- that ye love one another.

So I welcome and appreciate the Bible’s gospel- it is the good news of salvation to all those who believe in Jesus. The gospel- it is incredibly simple and simply incredible. Let us praise God for this wonderful news indeed!

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Spectrum editors,
To me it’s clear, as one reviews the comments to this article (and others on this site dealing with important Bible teachings) that a huge part of effective communication is speaking the same language. Gideon is right in that Adventist definitions for terms like the gospel, grace, justification, righteousness and sanctification are different than those of mainstream Protestantism. Thus, it becomes very frustrating for lifelong Adventists and those who have left Adventism or read extensively outside Adventism to converse with each other. My suggestion is to find an existing essay (or commission one) clearly listing the Adventist definitions and mainstream Protestant definitions of important terms and why they differ. Perhaps an Adventist historian could help here. That may open the door to more fruitful discussions.

Mr. Casey,
Thank you for bringing a sample of the writing of Thomas Merton to our attention. A commentator I read frequently named Richard Rohr speaks highly of him. I hope to get the time to read some more of his work.

You point out out the Adventist belief that says the failure of Adventists to become ‘perfect’ is the cause of the delay in Christ’s second coming. (I heard this preached in my time in Adventism as well.) One of the commenters challenged you on this, saying it is a ‘gross distortion’ of what Ellen White wrote and and you need to quote her directly. I think I am echoing Steve Mga’s comment but here is such a quote: ‘Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.’ Christ’s Object lessons, pg 69.
I think Adventism’s very anthropocentric view gets things out of their proper perspective. Can one really think that the God of the universe, who created everything, who gave us all life, who knows all from beginning to end, who converted Saul of Tarsus in an instant, who steers our course as He sees fit, is hamstrung because we just won’t cooperate?

Now, a few thoughts I’d like to share about the gospel. I think at this point in my understanding I see it much the same way Ray, another commenter, does.
I hope we can all agree that the gospel is about salvation. It is the good news of the outpouring of the mercy and grace of God toward us. It is what God has accomplished for us through Christ (2Cor 5:19-21). As Luther discovered, salvation can be claimed purely by faith in what God in Christ has done. This is the great truth of the Protestant reformation.
It’s not about you or me being perfected. It’s about you and me dying. Paul famously said, ‘I am crucified with Christ. Therefore I no longer live, Jesus Christ now lives in me.’ (Gal 2:20). We were all crucified with Christ. Your baptism, which took place when you began your spiritual journey (after you professed your faith, and in no way dependent on your subsequent progress in sanctification) symbolized the spiritual truth that the old, slave-to-sin you died and was buried and a new creation you of Christ rose to life. So, legally, according to God, the sinful creature born alienated from God that you used to be is dead. Oh, experientially and physically he is still around. Paul calls him ‘the outer man’ or ‘the flesh’ in which sin dwells and he won’t be completely done away with until you have been glorified. So, yes, in this age, we are challenged and exhorted in Scripture to learn the ways of God to deal with this residue of imperfection. (Some of us will do better than others (and join a subset of believers called ‘overcomers’) but regardless, if we keep the faith in what God says He has done our salvation is not in jeopardy.) So if he is legally dead, who or what has taken his place in life?
When you believe in what the Bible teaches about the gospel truth, the ‘living word’ of God sows an incorruptible, perfect, divine seed within you. Jesus said to a confused Nicodemus that he must be begotten from above (John 3). Nicodemus thought physically, and asked how an old man can reenter the womb to be born again. Christ spoke of the Spirit. Paul appreciated this truth (1Cor 4:15) as did Peter (1Peter 1:23) and John (1John 3:9). This is the power of the gospel. This is the new creation. It is not a metaphor but a spiritual, mystical reality central to Christianity. This was the revelation given to Paul in the Arabian desert. Paul said he got this directly from God (Gal 1:11-12). Perhaps that is the only way for us to receive it as well for it is so amazing and unique and outside our normal way of thinking. Saul of Tarsus became a new creation. That is why his name was changed to Paul. Like Jesus before him, Paul understood that he now had a divine Father and human mother. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead and our pattern Son, but Paul is the pattern human being set apart to explain what happened to him and to us. It took Paul three years to understand this and unlearn all the Jewish stuff he had been taught about how to be saved: keeping the law and doing all the proper things and thus achieving some required level of piety or sanctification. If the last sentence sounds familiar, it’s because most Christians have been taught the same things. But this truth of the gospel, this mystery, is why Christianity is different from every other religion. All the others say that if I do my part and become better or more holy, God will do His part and save me. The Old Covenant proved that we can browbeat and try to discipline the carnal man all we want but he is incapable of doing our part, of keeping our promises to God. Please study the terms of the New Covenant. (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:10-11; 10:16). It is an unconditional promise of God to us. Do you believe that God will do what He has promised? Do you believe that this divine seed within is changing your very nature (by writing His law on your heart)? If so, then God sees your future as the present (Rom 4:17) and imputes or counts you righteous by faith.
This seed of Christ within us is being given time to mature and at the end of this age we will be birthed as a true son or daughter of God (Rom 8:19-23). This is the gospel. It is the wonderful news. It is a gift, a wonderful free gift as Paul says in many verses including Ephesians 2:8,9, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;’.

During my time in Adventism we didn’t talk much about or try to comprehend this radical, mystical, spiritual idea. If you notice, many Adventists use OC and NC statements and admonitions interchangeably. One Adventist proponent even told me the covenants are really the same - the only difference being that we have been given the Holy Spirit in the NC to help us obey. He is actually still an OC believer (albeit to him a strengthened OC). In my view, he doesn’t understand the gospel and thus why the OC couldn’t succeed and why the NC cannot fail.

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Kevin, your continuing struggle against the message of Galatians might be considered heroic–if only you weren’t carrying the ball in the wrong direction!

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Thank you, Barry, for this important, well-written, and timeless piece. Sorry to get to this party so late; I’ve been traveling.

I always find Matthew 5:48’s “be ye therefore perfect” parallel passage in Luke 6:36 to be particularly illuminating: “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.” The context for both passages is God’s love even to the undeserving–even our enemies. Even enemies of God’s. Even me.

When we make godly agape love, not sinlessless, our aim, we make progress and cease our navel gazing. We actually grow in grace. That’s why the sheep in Matthew 25 don’t know what they have done: Theirs is self-forgetful, not-keeping-score love. Along with Paul, Peter, John, and Jesus, I believe ultimately in righteousness by love more than righteousness by faith.

The first result of the Cross should be to make us humble, and thus teachable. All else falls in line after that. Those (including Christians) who aren’t humble–a genuine recognition of reality–have not accepted Christ’s sacrifice. As the current U.S. President would tweet, “Sad!” :wink:

Thanks again, Barry. Please keep writing.

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