Wait! Let’s Look at That Again: Accept

(Part of a sporadic series that takes another look at aspects of Adventism.)

Every human has been made righteous and given life by Jesus. Every single one.

“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” Romans 5:18

“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” Romans 11:32

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” 1 Timothy 2:4

“…we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially those of us who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” Titus 2:11

The Sabbath School lesson was on Romans 5. As the discussion worked its way through the chapter, I posed a question. How should we relate to the two uses of the word “all” in verse 18?

There was little discussion about the first “all.” Experientially, we each have up-close-and-personal knowledge of the first “all.” We know too well we are sinners. We understand that somehow, through some mechanism we don’t understand, when we were born we stepped into the flow of human existence, and that flow inevitably includes evil in our beings.

But when the class talked about the second “all,” all sorts of modifications and conditions were suggested. Apparently, our class is not unique. “Much theological ink has been spilled over the years explaining away the plain meaning of these verses,” writes David Bentley Hart. (“Why Do People Believe in Hell? The New York Times, January 10, 2020.)

The class discussion got complicated. The general notion behind the various interpretations of the text was that the sinner has to do something to obtain the “justification and life” mentioned in the verse. The most frequently used word was “Accept.”

I hear that term “Accept” a lot in spiritual discussions. It troubles me. It implies there is a quid pro quo, a transaction.

One of the first things you will learn in a business law class is the definition of a contract. In its simplest form, the definition of a contract consists of three things: an offer, an acceptance, and exchange of consideration (value) between the parties.

In the context of salvation matters, the Acceptance proposal clearly implies something has been Offered and is available for Acceptance by some action. Actually, the concept of Acceptance is a type of works. It makes salvation hinge on your action.

During the Sabbath School class discussion, the teacher dug in his wallet, extracted a $5 bill, and held it out (Offer). He then said, “The $5 bill is available to you, but to get it you have to take it (Acceptance). If you don’t Accept it, you don’t get it.” Hmm.

The following week, in a random moment, my lovely wife-cum-theologian Janelle suddenly blurted out, “I already have the $5. I don’t need to Accept it.” Shazam! Kapow! Bam! Light bulb!

It was a beautiful moment. It was life altering. She was saying that the “free gift” (Romans 5:15, 16, 17) is already hers. It’s like God knew her spiritual bank account number and when Jesus gave his life in that “one act of righteousness” he deposited “justification and life” in it. She already has it. It’s in the bank. It was there before she was conceived. There is no Offer and Acceptance. It’s just there — and Paul says it is there for all — every single one. “So one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

I mentioned above that we fully understand experientially the first “all” in the text, and that “through some mechanism we don’t understand, when we were born we stepped into the flow of human existence, and that flow inevitably includes evil in our beings.”

Well, I believe Romans 5:18 describes exactly the same thing…in reverse. Through some mechanism we don’t understand, when Jesus died for us, we stepped into a flow of righteousness and life. Isn’t that what Paul is saying? Didn’t death descend upon all humans through Adam and Eve? Doesn’t the second man in Romans 5 reverse the results of the action of the first one? Didn’t Jesus completely unwind the awful reality? Did he just do a partial job? Did he just do a contingent job? I don’t think so. I believe Paul’s words, “So one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” are literal and real and complete. As Sigve Tonstad says in The Letter to the Romans, “God’s mercy does not come up short.”

I’m going to share a personal philosophy. I don’t propose it as truth; I propose it merely as something that makes sense to me. It is a flow of logic that goes like this:

• God created earth, and it was/is a laboratory, a test tube to let the claims of love (good) versus selfishness (evil) play out, a place where a cosmic tussle over competing ideas and claims could be tested.

• God personally created a context in which a struggle would occur, presumably knowing what would happen. Therefore, since God knowingly created the stage, he/she carries responsibility for what happened subsequently on it.

• Evil wins the first round in Eden. Sin and death are now thrust upon humanity and inexorably flow downstream — no exceptions. All humans are born with no option but to be sinners.

• You and I did not ask to be born. It came upon us unawares. We did not have the Adam-Eve choice. Sin and death came automatically. We are doomed; sin was thrust upon us.

• In the interests of big-picture justice within the cosmos, God has an obligation. Since God set all these things in motion with his decision to create, can he/she now stand at the parapets of heaven, staring down at us, arms crossed, and put the onus on us to escape a destiny that came to us inevitably because of what he/she set in motion long ago, knowing we would have little or no ability to comply?

• God took on an obligation — in cosmic justice — to those who have no choice about being sinners, to provide a relatively simple way of escape from our sinful state that does not rely on the abilities of the human. When it comes to our innately sinful selves, you and I did not have free moral agency. We were born this way. Thus, God has an obligation if he/she wants to redeem us. He/she must grant free release from our innately sinful selves. All of us.

• The thing that would demonstrate justice to the cosmos is for God to say, I got them into it, so I will give them “justification and life” even if they don’t ask for it. If the disease from this experiment is involuntary and universal, then the cure needs to be involuntary and universal.

Right now, you are probably thinking that I’m a universalist. Well, actually, I’m not. We have ample scriptural evidence that not all humans will experience salvation, so…

Wait! Let’s look at that again!

If A) “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men,” but B) not all humans are saved, how do we resolve the tension between these two assertions? Maybe the cognitive dissonance is why a discussion of Romans 5:18 causes people to feel compelled to modify the second “all.”

Back to the contractual analogy: if salvation is a contractual thing where God makes an Offer, and I Accept, I still have no ability to complete the contract because I have absolutely no Consideration to provide. God has consideration of great value to give to me — justification and life. But I have nothing of value to give in exchange. That’s why Paul says at least three times in Romans 5 that justification and life are free gifts. Gifts don’t involve consideration. “Here, it’s yours.” That’s how a gift works.

If you search for the word “Accept” in the New Testament, you won’t find much. And what you do find won’t seem relevant to this discussion. But search for the words “belief” and “believe” and you will be flooded with responses, and the texts will seem very relevant to this discussion. Questions and statements about belief and believing occur more than 80 times in the book of John alone. That includes John 3:16 in which Jesus explicitly makes eternal life dependent upon belief.

So, let’s quit with the contract language.

God seems to have chosen the dynamic of belief as the very crux of matters between himself/herself and us. Isn’t believing or disbelieving God what this whole saga is about?

It all started with heavenly beings. God talked. They didn't believe. God talked. Eve didn't believe. God talked. Abraham believed. God said he was righteous.

Over and over, Jesus asked many people, “Do you believe?” It was a top-of-mind question for him for a reason. It seems that belief is the hinge point.

Belief is a dividing line regarding the $5 in all people’s heavenly accounts. You have no belief in the overwhelming, unmerited gift of $5 from God? Then it is of no value to you. You believe in the gift? The $5 is effective for you.

God made it simple for us. It all hinges on belief.

But is belief really a simple matter? Actually, it is THE question, the ancient question. God circles back to each human with the basic, original question from eons past: “Do you believe?”

But belief is hard, maybe our toughest challenge! This belief is not about propositional “truth.” This is not belief about a religious organization or a set of doctrines. This believe is not about prophecy or eschatology. This belief is not about lifestyle. This belief is simply the big, blind leap into thin air to grasp conviction that the $5 deposit of justification and life are already in your spiritual bank account, and that making the deposit had nothing to do with you! Belief is to hold on for dear life in spite of the clamoring of doubt and contrary messages, especially if your religious environment has conditioned you otherwise.

Can you do it?

If you can believe it, you will find that your soul will rejoice! Belief yields joy because you realize that, independent of you, the gift was already in your account before you were born. It was automatic as God applied the universal corrective to the universal plague of sin. Simply believe it!

If you want to talk about the Great Controversy scheme, talk about the “all.” Don’t talk about days and dates and years and beasts and whatnot. The real news in the Great Controversy is that God has provided a free pass to all, an open door to transcend a world of sin, cruelty, suffering, meanness, deceit, illness, and death.

But every human finds themselves back at the beginning of the Great Controversy, faced with the question: “Do you believe?”

I want to tell you that since my dear wife said, “I’ve already got the $5,” every time I focus on that concept, I experience joy. It is freeing! My salvation is there, already on deposit, independent of me. Independent of a heavenly judgment. Assurance lies there.

When I am reminded that righteousness and life were made mine long ago, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that Jesus and God simply gave me a gift. That gratitude creates a desire to be in synch with God’s magnanimity. I want to be aligned with and reflect that grace and love. I would like to step into the flow of that divine stream somehow.

About now, someone is saying, “Well, the devils believe and tremble. You can’t just believe. You have to get results.”

No! I’m not going there. It is the belief that generates results, not me. Otherwise it would make it all about me.

I am not given to quoting Ellen White in my writing; it is often counter-productive. But I have been intrigued for years by the implications of something she said, something that seems relevant here.

“God has made provision that we may become like unto Him, and He will accomplish this for all who do not interpose a perverse will and thus frustrate his grace.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 76

Just don’t get in the way!

Actually, the White quote sounds a lot like Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

My takeaway is that 1) if we simply believe in the gift, and 2) don’t get in the way, God will save you and me and make us more like him. I don’t know how; I just trust he/she will do it. But, God’s transformational action is on top of, and independent from, the reality that justification and life are already mine. The five bucks has been in my account in heaven all along. It’s not going anywhere.

God help us believe this simple yet profound truth.

Also in this series:

Wait! Let’s look at that again: Baptism

Wait! Let’s look at that again: Tithe

Edward Reifsnyder is a healthcare consultant. He and his wife, Janelle, live in Fort Collins, Colorado and seem to be enjoying each other’s company while hiding out from the coronavirus.

Photo by Daniel Day Media on Unsplash

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10427
1 Like

But belief is hard, maybe our toughest challenge! This belief is not about propositional “truth.” This is not belief about a religious organization or a set of doctrines. This believe is not about prophecy or eschatology. This belief is not about lifestyle. This belief is simply the big, blind leap into thin air to grasp conviction that the $5 deposit of justification and life are already in your spiritual bank account, and that making the deposit had nothing to do with you! Belief is to hold on for dear life in spite of the clamoring of doubt and contrary messages, especially if your religious environment has conditioned you otherwise.

Can you do it?

So belief is hard. So what about the guy who believes that adherence to the sabbath and payment of tithe are requirements? Is this man lost since his belief isn’t as pure as the belief posited in the article? What about the man who believes that he must believe AND be baptized? Is he lost since his belief isn’t “pure” and includes an element of human action? And what about the “hard work” of trying to believe such a pure belief? Is that not just a form of works? Mental works rather than physical works, but works all the same. If you work hard at developing a pure belief you are saved, if not you are lost.

At the end of the day, there is no way to square the circle. Any philosophical or soteriological construct which requires man to DO something to earn salvation, even if all that must be done is “believe”, means man qualifies for salvation on the basis of fulfilling the conditions. Any philosophical or soteriological construct which removes human agency necessarily descends into either universalism or Calvinist pre-destination.

If this some sort of semantic game, let me play!.. If I actually believe that the gift is good and that it is actually a gift with no strings attached and that it is truly intended for me, then doesn’t it follow that my belief defines my acceptance of the gift? Or the opposite: If I don’t believe (in those proposals listed above), then that non-belief defines (does it not) my rejection of said gift?

1 Like

It’s hard for us to comprehend today why those people whom Paul sent the message have the difficulty in accepting Christ as the savior. If we were one of those people, who grew up believing that the right way to to be saved is through the sacrificial system, we would surely have stoned all who went around saying that the “new normal”, is just keep the lamb for our own consumption, temple works are obsolete, and Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice.

Try convincing a devout SDA that EGW was not an inspired prophet and that the investigative judgment was just a mere invention and you will get the same unbelief.

3 Likes

Thank you!! Going to think about it and read again!!

I have always read this EGW statement as to the possibility that we can live a perfect life. Every mistake, a misspoken word or lost opportunity to do good, a forbidden impulse not instantly repressed, a failure to always eat the Eden diet–was all the results of my own “perverse will” and a word that EGW used often “appetite.” If I could pray harder, work at it consistently–I could live closer to God. When I failed it was my fault.

Human mistakes in failing to reach the ideal condition of becoming “like Him,” upon reflection often leads to severe self-criticism, self-disappointment and judgmentalism of others that should know better. One can only live with spiritual perfectionism by dwelling in a bubble, living around others who have the same ideals. It is much harder to survive in a world of treachery and double dealing.

3 Likes

Funny. I have never read that as perfectionism. I don’t believe in perfectionism. I have thought about the statement in terms of mysterious transformation over time, a gradual, unconscious process of becoming a more giving, loving, healing person. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, not mine. Frankly, I just assume something is happening and go on my way.

4 Likes

Just one thought, Ed: This mysterious transformation is what the Lutherans and others call the mystical union in Christ. I appreciate this concept and actually, it could reduce much stress in people when they realize it’s Christ (or the Spirit) in them transforming them. We trust Him in this process. But I often wonder if I ever have met Christians that are “more giving, loving, healing” persons when they are old. Or is this as mystical as the transformation process?
edit: Maybe it’s not organic enough to think in terms of “more” giving etc. A relationship can’t be measured.

1 Like

Well, shoot! You figured out the semantic thing!

It is a matter I mulled a long time before writing. And I think there is a subtle but important difference.

I view “accept” as taking something offered. I view “belief” as considering something to be true or real, which implies trust and confidence.

The hard thing - in my mind, anyway - about the salvation gift for all is that it is true.

1 Like

I agree wholeheartedly.

I feel like it is all mysterious! Seeking to nail everything down is nothing but trouble and very gnostic-like.

2 Likes

I am in early pondering about this as installment in the series, trying to figure out how to talk about this as a non-theologian.

If we had internalized that, we could all live stress-free.

So let me ask from my perspective as a universalist, What are we to believe? You may say that I am to believe that there is a good God who wants to save me. But say I am a Hindu, that while I may have lots of gods none are really that good. Or am I to believe that there is a particular God who loves me like a father, yet maybe I never had a good father, maybe I had no father and I can’t really imagine such a thing. What are you to believe in this myraid of life situations and vast array of religions? Do I have to stumble upon the right religion and then believe? Personally my view is that this belief or acceptance of the gift comes when God reveals himself and stands before us. Likely most of us having been raised to life to see this God. Then we can say yes or no, and I doubt very many will say no. Maybe some supernatural beings who always fought against God would say no but I doubt those of us born into this world as human beings would say no to either a belief that that God will give us a new life with Him or the acceptance of that life. Granted it is a speculation of what happens at the judgement seat of God. But really if the view of God is love that I find in Jesus is correct it would be what I would expect from a God of love and at one with those “all” statements you listed.

Great article Ed. Wish you still in Texas - well maybe not, too fundamental theology here. My thought from research: Investigative judgment doctrine is a figment on one man’s imagination, but the pioneers needed it to justify their misinterpretation of prophecy.

3 Likes

Leroy,
A very bothersome part of that prophesy is that EGW claimed that those who would not follow the teaching that Jesus went from the Holy Place and into the Most Holy Place to begin the judgment in 1844 were deceived. She claimed that the spirit that they claimed breathing on them was not the Holy Spirit, but Satan’s spirit.

Can you imagine that? To claim that anyone who refuses to believe that supposed sanctuary event does not have the Holy Spirit? All these other denominations that refuse to believe that do not have the Holy Spirit because they believe otherwise and rightly so that the Scriptures teach that Jesus went to the Most Holy place aside the Father just as Stephen saw in his vision and not the Holy compartment. I have never seen this retracted by the SDA Church. No doubt to do so would reflect poorly on EGW’s standing as a prophet. I guess, by the SDA church in support of EGW, you can only have the Holy Spirit if you join them. So, of course, by SDA definition, that is why apparently the other denominations that claim to be Christian can’t be and they are Babylon churches and the daughters of the great whore (The Papal Church State of Roman Catholicism) of Revelation.

However, the Catholic Church is a system of salvation by works through a series of “blessed sacraments“and other contrived adherents, and the Protestant church is salvation by faith, not works. They are polar opposites in that respect. The daughters are not the, so called, Babylon Churches of Protestantism. The daughters of The Great Whore have to be of the same false gospel and aligned with all of her other teachings. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to suggest that it is more likely that all of the Catholic churches she has planted around the world to spread her false Gospel and other teachings that are the daughters of the Mother Church, which is the Babylonish Church/State Papal power at the Vatican.
Caddy

1 Like

I know two who said this, EGW and you knew who was the other one.

It was a thrill to see something from a fellow SDA which takes seriously the universal effect of the Gospel. The concept discussed here is called “Inclusivism” – the belief that all mankind, irrespective of their works, faith, whatever, was included in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Most Christians believe that all mankind is lost, EXCEPT those whom the Bible describes as saved. The Gospel proclaims that all mankind has been saved through the person and work of Jesus Christ, EXCEPT those who reject Him, or treat what He has done as of no value. Faith is our “thank you note” to the Giver of the gift, letting Him know that the gift is greatly appreciated. It has no causative value; only reactive in worship.

4 Likes

I am thankful to see discussion on a subject I’ve pondered as long as I have been a Christian. The NT says be thankful that our names are written in the book of life. When did this happen? What if all names were in the “book of life” from birth or even before. What if babies are saved because of Christ’s death?. Some call this legal justification.
There were two missionaries who came to the conclusion that “it is more difficult to be lost than to be saved.” Theologian Neal Punt (nonSDA) also saw salvation as for all people. But those missionaries could not get GC scholars to even consider the idea.
The two men and others saw the love of God as inclusive but knew some would reject the Holy Spirit (available to all people everywhere) by their lack of love for people but love of wickedness.
God allowed satan freedom to show his power over humanity which he did with every kind of disaster, sin, and war and then blamed God for them–as many humans still do. He is the deceiver/accuser. But God is more wonderful and fair than we can imagine and ultimately saves much of humanity–not because of their knowledge or works, but Christ’s righteousness that gives us rest from the law and is celebrated by the Sabbath rest.
We believe that many who have never heard of Christ will be saved by Him–those of other religions who practice God-given love and compassion. For those who don’t, we send missionaries, evangelists, social, and medical workers to tell them a better way.
Perfection is about semantics. It’s not a perfect life of following rules as some think. And I’m not saying rules are bad, it’s the motive for them. Character perfection is a spirit within based on love. It’s not about behavior, poor judgement, or even thoughts and certainly not being sinless. It’s hard to recognize, and we can’t judge or know who has it. One can be perfect on whatever level they are in life’s journey.(I think that is a quote from a fallible but spiritual person.)
These are thoughts I have come to over the years. Or only some of them. I don’t make any claims other than God is Love and He is Fair

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 7 days. New replies are no longer allowed.