Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of James
Lesson 2: "The Perfecting of Our Faith"
We are prone to think of justification by faith as theoretical, high-flying theology. But, with the dynamic of the 1888 message, it is the joy of our present Christian life with God. We are invited to see this precious perspective in the book of James.
When our "sinful flesh" is tempted to doubt and discouragement by the trials of life, the answer James gives is to link "faith," "patience," and "perfection" with the "wisdom" of God. "The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:3-5).
In James 2:21, 24, 25 he discusses justification by faith and works. "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only." In chapter one, James presents how the faith that justifies works amidst trials. Genuine justification by faith patiently endures trials, and the end result is Christian character perfection. It is a gift from God discerned by His "wisdom." God, in His mercy, sent the beginning of this "wisdom" to us in our 1888 history.
Why do trials come our way? Is it the trials that mess up our otherwise good record? If you lived somewhere that wasn't so stimulating, wouldn't it be easier to live a better life? Where do temptations come from? Don't the temptations come in from all around us? However, don't temptations also come from within ourselves? Do they not arise from within our mind and then eventually work themselves out in our day-to-day living? Some reason that God is to blame for all this. After all, didn't He make us this way? So then, how can He demand of us perfect obedience? We're only human, so all we can expect is weakness and continued lapses into sin.
If this is the case, then is God unjust in giving us the ten commandments? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ not powerful enough to overcome sin in sinful flesh? If this is the case, then there is a disconnect between the gospel and the law. In the most subtle ways the law is diminished or done away. Satan rejoices. He has achieved his purpose. He has undermined the government of God. Everyone is a law unto themselves.
The purpose for trials is not to mess up our record. Trials reveal to us what already exists in our flesh that we didn't know existed. Unknown sin is revealed by trials and temptations. Say I have a glass pitcher filled with water. The water is clear as crystal. If I take a spoon and stir up the water, the settlement at the bottom which had gone unnoticed would be agitated and cause the water to become murky. Now the water is undrinkable.
This is the way it is with trials; they do not introduce something into the life that didn't exist before. They merely stir up what is already there. For example, you may be calm and peaceful for days on end, thinking that your emotions are under control. But let someone cut you off in traffic, and suddenly you flare up and let out some bad words. The incident didn't introduce something new into your character. It simply revealed what was already there and now you know that it continues to exist.
The work of conversion and a change of heart introduced by the Holy Spirit is a miracle from above. You are given a new heart, which means a new mind or character. It is the mind of Christ, which is selfless. Whereas before the new birth you were self-centered, now you have been given a new nature characterized by agape. The Holy Spirit changes your mind. But your "flesh" remains the same. The new birth does not convert your sinful nature. The new character imparted to you by the Holy Spirit enables you to choose the will of God for your life and say "No" to your sinful flesh.
Day by day, hour by hour, it is the Spirit that grows your character. But it is your choice to continue abiding in the Vine, Christ Jesus. As a branch your life is only sustained by the life-giving sap that is supplied by the Stock. Thus it is possible for character to mature continually as right choices are made. These choices are all prompted by the Holy Spirit. This is the process of justification by faith.
Christian character perfection is growing up in appreciation of God's love manifested at the cross. It is Christ who gives us agape, which motivates our choices of faith. Thus we are in a cooperative endeavor with our Saviour.
Does the Bible teach the possibility of sinless living in our sinful nature? This question can only be answered by seeing how near the Saviour has come to us.
If Christ was sent by God "in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be filled in us" (Rom. 8:3), then the obvious answer is "Yes." Christ is both our Substitute and enabling Example. He demonstrated it once for all. He "did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). And of His people it has to be said eventually, "In their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God" (Rev. 14:5). They will overcome "even as I also overcame" (Rev. 3:21, says Jesus. No saint will ever overcome except through faith in the Great Overcomer, "the Author and Finisher of our faith." The overcomers acquire no merit to themselves, yet they gain everything by their faith. Christ "is able also to save them to the uttermost ... for such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:25, 26). 
If we take away the high priestly ministry of Christ in the second apartment as distinct from the first, this idea of preparation for the second coming disappears, and the impact of the Advent movement is reduced to a "me-too" echo of the popular evangelical churches.
Our unique message centers in the sanctuary ministry of Christ: When Christ comes the second time, will He find a body of people of whom it can honestly be said, "Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus"?
If the Lord wants to, He can accomplish the preparation of a people for the second coming of Christ. For the first time in human history, a divine announcement is made concerning a corporate body of people from "every nation, kindred, tongue, and people": "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). Before the grueling inspection of the unfallen universe, they pass the test. The Lord is honored in them. And the next event is His coming (Rev. 14:14).
--Paul E. Penno
 E. J. Waggoner's Christ and His Righteousness, page 7 (Glad Tidings ed.), neatly summarizes his concept of sinless living. This is a summary in a nutshell of his Minneapolis message preached only a few weeks before being published in Signs articles:
"In the first verse of the third chapter of Hebrews we have an exhortation which comprehends all the injunctions given to the Christian. It is this: 'Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.' To do this as the Bible enjoins, to consider Christ continually and intelligently, just as He is, will transform one into a perfect Christian, for 'by beholding we become changed.'"
A. T. Jones' teaching was in full harmony with Waggoner's. In The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, first published as Review and Herald articles in 1898 and 1899, he states it simply and powerfully:
"In His coming in the flesh--having been made in all things like unto us, and having been tempted in all points like as we are--He has identified Himself with every human soul just where that soul is. And from the place where every human soul is, He has consecrated for that soul a new and living way through all the vicissitudes and experiences of a whole lifetime, and even through death and the tomb, into the holiest of all, at the right hand of God for evermore. ...
"And this 'way' He has consecrated for us. He, having become one of us, has made this way our way; it belongs to us. He has endowed every soul with divine right to walk in this consecrated way; and by His having done it Himself in the flesh--in our flesh--He has made it possible yea, He has given actual assurance, that every human soul can walk in that way, in all that that way is; and by it enter fully and freely into the holiest of all. ...
"He has made and consecrated a way by which, in Him, every believer can in this world, and for a whole lifetime, live a life holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and as a consequence be made with Him higher than the heavens" (pp. 87, 88, Glad Tidings ed.).
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org