"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne" (Rev. 3:21).
All will readily identify this quote as Christ's last message to His remnant church. It is a promise as well as a plea from our High Priest. We read it; we have memorized it; we repeat it to one another. But do we understand what it is saying? "Him that overcometh" will be the recipient of the blessing of sitting with Jesus on His throne. What an awesome promise!
Our crucial question is: What does it mean to "overcome"? Overcome what? This week's lesson is focused on sin, and the hope is that the lesson would help us know how to get rid of sin in our lives. Our goal should be discovering how to overcome sin and live righteously through faith in our Saviour's power over all sin. Surely, this is the crux of the true Gospel's message which Jesus admonished us to preach to all the world (Matt. 24;14; Luke 24:47). It is the culmination of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-12, which finally allows God to declare: "Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus."
Overcoming sin is the very foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's primary doctrine--the cleansing of the sanctuary. However, the sanctuary cannot be cleansed so long as sin keeps pouring into it. In the typical day of atonement, "The cleansing of the sanctuary, as to the sanctuary itself, was the taking out of and away from the sanctuary all the transgression of the people which, by the service of the priests, had been taken into the sanctuary during the service of the year. And this stream must be stopped at its fountain in the hearts and lives of the worshipers, before the sanctuary itself could possibly be cleansed. Therefore the very first work in the cleansing of the sanctuary was the cleansing of the people." (A. T. Jones, Consecrated Way, p. 120). As it was in the typical, so it must be in the antitypical ministry of Christ. The "very first work" must be stopping the stream of sin "at its fountain in the hearts and lives of the worshipers."
Our pioneers discovered the glorious truth that Christ's final ministry in the antitypical day of atonement included making righteous all who would believe (The Glad Tidings, p. 72; cf. Waggoner on Romans, p. 88). This blessed truth that we can overcome all sin, right now, in this life, is the promise of the everlasting covenant (Matt. 1:21; Ezekiel 36:25-28; Heb. 8:10). It is why Jesus died, not just to pronounce you guiltless through some mysterious celestial bookkeeping, but to actually make you righteous. " ... we find that when Christ covers us with the robe of His own righteousness, He does not furnish a cloak for sin but takes the sin away. And this shows that the forgiveness of sins is something more than a mere form, something more than a mere entry in the books of record in heaven, to the effect that the sin has been canceled. The forgiveness of sins is a reality; it is something tangible, something that vitally affects the individual. It actually clears him from guilt, and if he is cleared from guilt, is justified, made righteous, he has certainly undergone a radical change. He is, indeed, another person, for he obtained this righteousness for the remission of sins, in Christ." (E. J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness, p. 74).
The Quarterly uses the standard definition for sin: "transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). The law is a transcript of God's character. Therefore, to continue in sin is to reject His character, and to continually rebel against His will for us. God would have all "come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Our Father's desire and the purpose of Jesus' death was to bring "liberty to the captives"--the human race mired in sin (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18; Col. 1:13; Isa. 42:5-7). It is an oxymoronic notion to claim that you are "saved" if you continue to live a life of sinning and repenting, hoping that at the second coming you will be magically freed from your odious habit of rebellion.
What that "one man" did in bringing all the world under condemnation for rebellion against God, has been undone by that "one Man" Christ Jesus. This is the focus of the message of Christ and His righteousness which the Lord sent to the world in 1888. In that "one just act" on the cross, our Saviour both redeemed and reconciled the lost world to God. (Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:14, 19; Acts 13:38, 39).
In Tuesday's lesson notes we are reminded of the complex theological debate that has ensued for more than 1700 years. Is sin what we are, or what we do? Or maybe sin is both what we are and what we do? If the sin for which we are condemned is what we are by birth into the human race, then all hope of overcoming sin must be abandoned. We cannot change our fallen physical nature. There is absolutely no truth in the idea of "holy flesh." It was never Christ's goal to perfect the flesh with which we are born--that flesh was crucified. Our fleshly house can be crucified with Him, now; it will be transformed "in the twinkling of an eye" at Christ's second coming (Gal. 2:20. 1 Cor. 15:51-54). The "house" we live in is no excuse for continued sinning. By taking our fallen nature upon Himself, Christ proved this to be true. In fallen, sinful flesh, Christ overcame every temptation with which Satan could think to assail Him, and in every point, Christ overcame by faith in His Father's power. He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
This is why the "humanity of the Son of God is everything to us" (Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 244). "Christ came to this earth to show that in humanity He could keep the holy law of God. 'I have kept My Father's commandments,' He declared. The Saviour proposed to re-establish the principles of human dependence upon God and cooperation between God and man." (Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, p. 114). Why does Christ admonish us to overcome even as He also overcame? Because He has proven that it is possible to stop the fountain of sin at its very source--our hearts and minds. The transformation Christ is searching for deals with our mind. "Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus;" and "be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Phil. 2:5; Rom. 12:2). It is a radical transformation of our character which recreates us in the "likeness of Christ" (see Last Day Events, p. 183; The Faith I Live By, p. 150; Messages to Young People, p. 160).
"The precious blood of Jesus is the fountain prepared to cleanse the soul from the defilement of sin. When you determine to take Him as your friend, a new and enduring light will shine from the cross of Christ. A true sense of the sacrifice and intercession of the dear Saviour will break the heart that has become hardened in sin; and love, thankfulness, and humility will come into the soul. The surrender of the heart to Jesus subdues the rebel into a penitent, and then the language of the obedient soul is: "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." This is the true religion of the Bible. Everything short of this is a deception. (Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 625).
Tuesday's thought box presents a conundrum. "Suppose you truly have victory over sin" and "suppose you 'perfectly' reflect the character of Jesus"--what more is God asking of us? His greatest desire is that we will allow Him to accomplish these very things in us. When we reach this point, will we still need a Saviour? Absolutely! We will always and forever need our Saviour to give us power to meet Satan's temptations. We will never be able to "go it alone" when confronted by the wily foe.
Sanctification is indeed the "work of a lifetime," but it doesn't take a "lifetime" before we can reach character perfection. As the seed goes into the ground, it is perfect. When it sprouts, it is a perfect sprout; as it grows it's a perfect plant and produces perfect fruit. At each stage in the plant's growth process it is living up to all that the Creator planned for it to be (Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 82-84). So it can be with us in our Christian growth process. As we moment by moment submit our wills to the Father's will, we unceasingly rely on the power of our Saviour to deliver us from sin. Through faith in Him and fully surrendered to Him, we recognize our total dependence upon Christ for everything. We can't live without Him; He is our very existence and source of all strength. Christ's promise to us is, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9). Overcoming sin on "every point" and "perfectly reflecting the character of Jesus" is not a denial of our need of the Saviour. Far from it. It is a loud declaration that we are totally dependent and committed to Him every day and in every way. Those who say that overcoming sin is nigh unto impossible are the very ones who are denying their need of the Saviour's power.
What is the answer to the sin problem? Unfaltering faith in Christ's power over sin and Satan. "Here is faith: 'Where there is not only a belief in God's word, but a submission of the will to Him; where the heart is yielded to Him, the affections fixed upon Him.' Now these are weighty expressions; they are worth considering. 'The submission of the will to Him,' is it done? Is your will submitted to Him never to be taken back, or exercised in your own way or for yourself? Is your will surrendered to Him? â€¦ Christ cannot come in fully, unless there is a full submission to Him. Let there be some dying here. Let there be some actual dying to self. That is what it means; it means death." (A. T. Jones, 1893 General Conference Bulletin, p. 299, original pagination). Sanctification and perfection of character means death to self and all that self desires. The purpose of Christ's antitypical day of atonement ministry is the perfection of our characters. Let us hasten His work by submitting fully to His will for us.