A Counterfeit Robe
A Review of Frank B. Phillips, His Robe or Mine (Berrien Springs, MI: Justified Walk Ministries, 2003).
Authored by Kevin D. Paulson and published on GreatControversy.org on December 13, 2004 (spelling edits December 27, 2004, January 1, 2005).
It has lately received wide exposure among conservative Adventists. Its consecrated tone and heavy use of Ellen White references exudes apparent faithfulness and sincerity. The author, a deceased pastor with 45 years of denominational service, conveys the outward impression of one well familiar with inspired writings and their application to current Adventist issues and to practical Christianity.
And yet, a careful study of the book reveals serious doctrinal errors, a confusing and even sloppy use of inspired terminology, outright contradictions, and numerous Bible and Ellen White passages whose meaning has been distorted and whose context has been violated. In a number of cases, as this review will demonstrate, Ellen White statements are quoted whose words directly contradict what the book’s author says on the very page where the quote is found.
In his 45 years as a worker, Phillips undoubtedly conducted many evangelistic meetings and Bible studies. One can rightly assume that in such settings, Christians of other faiths probably countered his teachings with Bible verses which appear—on the surface—to refute key Adventist doctrines, such as the reference in Colossians 2:16 to not judging people regarding the sabbath days, the statement in 2 Corinthians 5:8 about being “absent from the body and present with the Lord,” and the passage in Revelation 20:10 about the wicked being “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” One can hardly imagine that when faced with such challenges, Phillips would have simply ignored these verses and focused on those which most obviously sustained the Adventist position. Any who have held such meetings or Bible studies clearly understand that unless one demonstrates how these “problem verses” fit into the larger Biblical picture, and what they in fact mean when read in context, all one succeeds in doing is leaving doubts unresolved and the opinions of hardened opponents as firm as ever.
Sadly, this is precisely the approach Phillips uses in the book under review. In his discussion of the salvation issues in contemporary Adventism, countless inspired statements relevant to the discussion are ignored. Diligent students of Scripture and Ellen White will quickly note this as they read the book. Such an approach offers no hope of mending the rift in Adventism over these issues. Only if one endeavors to show how all the inspired statements fit together regarding the issues in question, can such a hope be realized. Any other approach merely adds fuel to the controversy’s flame, causing both sides to further entrench themselves behind their favorite inspired passages while pretending the others aren’t there.
Phillips’ book offers many good insights. Its repeated stress on the need to die to self (despite the lack of clarity regarding what this means, as we will see), together with its concentrated focus on the need to ascend Peter’s ladder of virtues (2 Peter 1:5-7 (pp. 60-101), contain wise and balanced instruction regarding practical godliness. But regarding key aspects of the doctrine of salvation—the nature of sin, the humanity of Christ, the scope and meaning of justification, the role of human effort, and the possibility of sinless obedience here on earth—the book veers dangerously from the teachings of Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. Its theology is a strange, perhaps unique blend of pietistic sentiment with the justification-centered, perfection-denying gospel so popular in modern Adventism.
This review is written for the purpose of addressing this danger, and for encouraging faithful Seventh-day Adventists to recover the Berean spirit, testing all they read and hear by a careful study of the written counsel of God (Acts 17:11).
The Nature of Sin
On this basic point of the salvation controversy, as with others we will consider, Phillips’ book contains unscriptural doctrine and blatant contradictions.
On p. 17 of his book, Phillips quotes several very strong Ellen White statements which declare that no one can be forced to sin:
The tempter has no power to control the will or to force the soul to sin.1
Satan knows that he cannot overcome man unless he can control his will.2
The tempter can never compel us to do evil. He cannot control minds unless they are yielded to his control. The will must consent, faith must let go its hold upon Christ, before Satan can exercise his power upon us.3
Yet a scant four pages later, Phillips writes:
When Adam fell from that state of perfection, the human family inherited his guilt (p. 21).
Elsewhere, in his effort to prove Jesus couldn’t possibly have inherited our fallen, sinful nature and still be our perfect Saviour, he insists:
In order for Christ to unite the broken links (which includes the whole human family), He must have an entirely different nature than we are born with (p. 129).
The sinful, fallen condition is sinful, fallen nature (p. 130).
It is, then, quite clear how sinful, fallen condition, if inherited by Jesus, would have constituted Him an imperfect offering (p. 130, italics original).
We will later address the subject of Christ’s human nature, as well as the question of whether “sinful, fallen condition”—as described in the Ellen White statements quoted by Phillips—refers to the nature humans are born with. For the moment, it suffices to say that if sin is something every human being is born with, if every baby inherits Adam’s guilt as a birthright, we are all compelled to be and do evil merely by entering this world. Phillips claims elsewhere, “There is no evidence in the Word of God that sinful nature can ever be obedient to God!” (p. 104), and that “sinful nature cannot be controlled, modified, or improved in any way” (p. 130, italics original).
If this is true, the Ellen White statements quoted by Phillips on p. 17—which clearly deny that anyone can be forced to sin—are plainly contradicted by his own statements. If every baby is a sinner from birth, then the tempter has compelled that baby to do evil merely by the fact of birth.
The Bible is clear that human beings become sinners by choice, not by birth. Ezekiel 18:20 declares, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.” If, as Phillips claims, all humans inherit Adam’s guilt, then this verse is a lie, for all men and women would bear the iniquity of their father Adam.
Romans 5:12, in the midst of a passage often distorted into teaching the involuntary sinnerhood of all humans, in fact teaches just the opposite: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” In other words, death (eternal) has passed on all men and women because “all have sinned,” not because Adam sinned. And according to the context of this passage, just as Adam’s sin is received by choice, so is the righteousness of Jesus which is the remedy for sin. Romans 5:17 declares that “those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” And in verse 19 we read of how “by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
Obviously, if we note carefully the words of this passage, it is clear that sin is received voluntarily by our choice to follow Adam’s example (verse 12), and that the gift of righteousness must be similarly received in order for us to “reign in life” with Jesus (verse 17). And if, as verse 19 declares, “by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (future tense), this means all have not been made righteous involuntarily by the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus, but will rather be made this way in the future as they respond to this gift.
By the same token, the statement that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (verse 19) must likewise—on the basis of verse 12—be seen as dependent on the choice to follow Adam in sin. No one, according to this chapter, becomes righteous through Christ apart from an act of the will, and no one becomes a sinner through Adam apart from an act of the will.
On p. 129 Phillips quotes the following Ellen White statement:
Man could not atone for man. His sinful, fallen condition would constitute him an imperfect offering, an atoning sacrifice of less value than Adam before his fall.4
Phillips follows this reference with the statement cited earlier, that “the sinful, fallen condition is sinful, fallen nature” (p. 130). However, Phillips cites no proof from the statement itself that this is what Ellen White means. In no way does this passage teach that the condition being described is received involuntarily at birth, or that the sinful, fallen condition she speaks of is identical to the fallen, sinful nature with which humans are born. This is an assumption made by Phillips about Ellen White’s meaning which neither this nor any other of her statements support.
The following Ellen White statements are also quoted by Phillips on pp. 104, 129 of his book:
The result of eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is manifest in every man’s experience. This is in his nature a bent to evil, a force which, unaided, he cannot resist.5
The inheritance of children is that of sin. Sin has separated them from God. Jesus gave His life that He might unite the broken links to God. As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death.6
Regarding the first statement, a bent toward evil is not the same as evil itself. Nowhere does Inspiration equate the two as one and the same. Both Scripture and Ellen White are clear that such a bent does not of itself constitute sin:
But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (James 1:14-15).
There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men; but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt and no other is defiled by their influence.7
Regarding the second statement, let us consider carefully what it says and what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say the inheritance of children is sin itself; it says the inheritance of children is that “of sin.” Sin, in other words, has produced the inheritance with which children and their parents must struggle. Another statement by Ellen White regarding the source of physical sickness helps us better understand the concept she is presenting:
It is a sin to be sick, for all sickness is the result of transgression. Many are suffering in consequence of the transgression of their parents. They cannot be censured for their parents’ sin; but it is nevertheless their duty to ascertain wherein their parents violated the laws of their being, which has entailed upon their offspring so miserable an inheritance; and wherein their parents’ habits were wrong, they should change their course, and place themselves by correct habits in a better relation to health.8
Notice here how the children are not guilty of the parents’ sins, but have nevertheless inherited the consequences of those sins. That is all the statement quoted by Phillips is saying. It is not saying that children inherit sin. What they inherit is its results.
The following sentence of the statement quoted by Phillips, which says that “sin has separated them (children) from God,”9 has caused some—including Phillips—to assume this means children are separated from God merely by being born. But again, the statement doesn’t say this. Nothing in this passage says anything about this separation being involuntary. Other inspired statements are clear that such separation occurs as a result of our choice to sin:
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).
By choosing to sin, men separate themselves from God, cut themselves off from the channel of blessing, and the sure result is ruin and death.10
Just as soon as we separate ourselves from God by sin, which is the transgression of His law, Satan takes control of our minds.11
Their iniquitous practices did that for Israel which all the enchantments of Balaam could not do—they separated them from God.12
There is too much yielding to desire and inclination for present enjoyment. There is not that earnest soul hunger for spiritual strength and heavenly wisdom. Temptations are yielded to, the appetite is gratified, and there is a separation from God.13
If one were to speak of separation from God in terms of separation from Eden and access to the tree of life, it would be correct to say all are born separated. But nowhere, either in Scripture or the Spirit of Prophecy, does Inspiration use this language to refer to the state in which human beings are born. A search through the Ellen White CD-ROM will find absolutely no statements which speak of people being “born sinners,” “born transgressors,” or “born separated from God.” The doctrine commonly called “original sin,” more accurately called involuntary sin, is utterly lacking in support from the writings of Inspiration. According to those writings, sin is consistently portrayed as an act of the will, not an involuntary state into which people are born.
The final sentence of the statement quoted by Phillips regarding the inheritance of children being that of sin, states, “As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death.”14 But the statement doesn’t elaborate as to how these things are received from Adam. We must go elsewhere for clarification on this point. We have already seen how, according to Ellen White, the mere arousal of sinful thoughts and feelings does not contaminate the soul with guilt unless the thought is cherished.15 Romans 5:12, which we have also reviewed, declares that eternal death has passed upon all men “for that all have sinned.” Which means, at the bottom line, that human beings receive guilt and the sentence of eternal death from Adam in the same way they “receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17)—by choice.
The notion that every baby is born with an evil heart already in rebellion against God, is flatly contradicted by the following Ellen White statement:
It is not in the power of Satan to force anyone to sin. Sin is the sinner’s individual act. Before sin exists in the heart, the consent of the will must be given, and as soon as it is given, sin is triumphant, and hell rejoices.16
No newborn baby could possibly qualify as a sinner on the basis of this statement.
Phillips’ belief in involuntary sin is the basis of his entire salvation theology. His belief that Ellen White’s reference to man’s “sinful, fallen condition” refers to man’s inherited fallen nature (p. 130), that this condition, “if inherited by Jesus, would have constituted Him an imperfect offering” (p. 130), that “there is no evidence in the Word of God that sinful nature can ever be obedient to God!” (p. 104), and most dangerously of all, his conclusion that “the only way to perfection is through justification” (p. 23)—all find their roots in his conviction that man’s inherited sinful nature constitutes sin itself, received by every human involuntarily at birth. Take away this premise, and the rationale for his theology is gone. And we have seen already that the inspired evidence cited by Phillips for involuntary sin does not in fact teach this concept, and that his study ignores other passages which clearly draw a distinction between the inherited bent to sin and the choice to yield to that bent.
As our study proceeds, we will observe how Phillips’ failure to consider either the context or the totality of inspired evidence has led him to a variety of erroneous conclusions. For those interested in a deeper study of the nature of human sin as taught by Inspiration, may I recommend a paper by the present writer titled, “Sinners by Choice,” available from the website.17
The Human Nature of Christ
We have seen already how Phillips strongly attacks the idea of Jesus inheriting a fallen, sinful nature at His birth (pp. 128, 130). In this regard Phillips endorses the view found in the controversial book Questions on Doctrine, which claims Jesus took man’s fallen heredity vicariously, not in reality (18). In Phillips’ words:
When Christ took upon Himself the sins of the world it did not make Him a sinner, for He did this vicariously. He took our sinful nature the same way. All the weaknesses and hereditary effects, physical and mental, He took so that while “sinless and exalted by nature, He consented to take the habiliments of fallen humanity, to become one with the fallen race” (p. 127).19
But Phillips makes no effort to harmonize this conclusion with one of the clearest Ellen White statements on this subject, found in her most prominent work on the life and ministry of Jesus:
It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man’s nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life.20
Notice that this statement tells us exactly why Jesus accepted the results of four thousand years of human heredity. It was to “share our sorrows and temptations.” It was not merely to look like the ordinary human being of His day—less physically or mentally strong as the sinless Adam in Eden. Rather, it was so He could be tempted through His heredity, just as we are.
Strangely enough, in the statement quoted above, Phillips seems to take a position more extreme than any other advocate of pre-Fall Christology in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As we noted, Phillips claims Jesus “took our sinful nature the same way” as He took the sins of the world—vicariously. Then he writes: “All the weaknesses and hereditary effects, physical and mental, He took so that while ‘sinless and exalted by nature, He consented to take the habiliments of fallen humanity, to become one with the fallen race’” (p. 127).
Is Phillips here implying that Jesus’ taking of our physical and mental deterioration was as “vicarious” as His taking of our sins and sinful heredity presumably was? Just what does Phillips mean here? Does He mean Jesus’ physical and mental strength was in fact equal to that of the sinless Adam before the fall, and that absolutely none of man’s weaknesses were taken by Jesus except vicariously?
Obviously the author is no longer alive to answer these questions or clarify his stand, but one is truly mystified by what he seems to be saying. This becomes especially confusing when he writes elsewhere, regarding Jesus: “He became experientially acquainted with the weakest of the weak. All our infirmities, handicaps of whatever nature, He was willing to bear” (p. 132). But earlier Phillips claims Jesus only bore these things vicariously. Here he says Jesus bore them experientially. Which is it?
In the same context Phillips writes, “There is a difference between that which Christ took upon Himself, through inheritance, and what He voluntarily took in order to win man back to God” (p. 132, italics original). Here is another case of extremely confusing language. Everything Jesus took, in the context of the incarnation, was taken voluntarily. Whether the sins of the world, which He indeed took vicariously, or our fallen human nature—physical, mental, and moral21—all were taken by His own choosing. All were taken in order to win human beings back to God. One is truly baffled by the distinction Phillips seeks to draw here.
Phillips sets up a false dilemma when he writes, after quoting the declaration of Hebrews 2:16 that Christ “took on Him the seed of Abraham”: “A quick analysis of this verse might lead one to rationalize that if Christ took the seed of Abraham, He could not have been the second Adam” (p. 123). But Christ is not compared with Adam in the New Testament with regard to the type of human nature He possessed. Rather, He is compared with Adam in terms of being the second Father of the human race, the One who brought salvation to the world in contrast with Adam who brought sin (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:22).
This is the only parallel drawn by Inspiration between Christ and Adam. Adam was the figure, or symbol, of Him that was to come (Romans 5:14). But biblical symbols, like parables, are not meant to be taken literally. They are used to illustrate a specific point. To use the apostle Paul’s parallel between Adam and Christ as a means of proving that Jesus took Adam’s pre-Fall human nature, is like using Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus to prove what happens to people when they die.
Phillips further confuses Biblical symbolism in the following statement:
Paul… gives us another reason why Christ was the second Adam. Romans 9:6 says, “ … they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” Verse seven says, “ … in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Abraham’s children, or seed, were to be of promise. In verse eight we read, “ … the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Christ was the Child of promise, the Son of God. He would, of necessity, be the seed of Abraham as He was born not of the will of the flesh. John 1:13. There are only two origins for man, by the will of the flesh or direct from God. Adam was direct from God as was the second Adam, Jesus Christ (pp. 123, 124).
But Paul’s distinction in Romans 9 between Abraham’s physical and spiritual children presents a totally different message from the one in Hebrews 2, where Jesus is described as taking on Him “the seed of Abraham” (verse 16). Paul’s point in Romans 9, as in Galatians 3:29, is that spiritual kinship with Abraham—not physical—is what qualifies one as a child of God. Paul’s point in Hebrews 2, by contrast, is that Jesus is qualified to be our High Priest on account of his actual partaking of our humanity. The use of the phrase “seed of Abraham” in Romans 9 is thus very different from its use in Hebrews 2. Phillips, unfortunately, overlooks this difference.
Jesus was far more than a spiritual Child of Abraham; He was also a Child of Abraham according to the flesh. When Phillips claims, regarding Jesus, that “spiritually, He was the seed of Abraham and, fleshly, the seed of David” (p. 124), he is making a distinction the Bible does not make. According to Scripture, Jesus partook of the fleshly nature of both Abraham and David. Just prior to the verse which speaks of Christ taking the seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16), the following is stated:
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same.
This is the same expression used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50, when he writes that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Our study will demonstrate that Paul’s use of this language does not refer to physical tissue, but to fallen human nature. Adam before the fall had physical flesh and blood, as did Jesus after His resurrection (Luke 24:39). Obviously the flesh and blood which cannot inherit the kingdom of God refers to something else—a human nature hostile to the will of God. According to Paul, this is the human nature Jesus partook of:
Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3).
It is interesting that while Scripture refers to Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1), never is He referred to as the Son of Adam.
When Phillips writes that “Adam was direct from God as was the second Adam, Jesus Christ” (p. 124), one has to wonder why Jesus wasn’t formed by God from the dust of the ground, as was the sinless Adam (Genesis 2:7). What would have been the point of sending Jesus to our world through a veritable rogues’ gallery of human ancestors (Matthew 1:1-16), if in fact Jesus came “direct from God” in the same way Adam did?
The Bible is clear why Jesus came to earth through a line of fallen, sinful human beings:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:3, 4).
Phillips, in commenting on Romans 8:3, uses the common but fallacious argument that the “likeness” of sinful flesh refers to mere simulation rather than reality. In seeking to explain this word, Phillips declares “Man was made in the likeness of God, but he was not God” (p. 124). He even quotes an Ellen White statement describing the brazen serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness:
As the image made in the likeness of the destroying serpents was lifted up for their healing, so One made “in the likeness of sinful flesh” was to be their Redeemer(p. 124, italics supplied by Phillips).22
If one were to take this statement by itself, without the clarifying evidence offered by the consensus of Inspiration on this point, one might conclude that Jesus’ assumption of the “likeness of sinful flesh” was a mere simulation. But no inspired statement stands alone, and the totality of inspired evidence must always be considered before a conclusion is reached. Certainly Ellen White never claims, on the basis of this comparison, that Jesus’ assumption of sinful flesh was merely apparent and not real. Like the New Testament parallel between Adam and Christ, this one by Ellen White was not meant to be exact in every detail.
The fact is that the very word for “likeness” in Romans 8:3—the Greek word homoimati—refers to sameness, not simulation. This word contains the prefix “homo,” from which we get such English words as “homogenous,” and “homosexual.” Little wonder that the same Greek word and phrase found in Romans 8:3 are found in Philippians 2:7, where it is stated that Jesus was “made in the likeness of men.”
But one need not get into a discussion of the Greek in order to understand what Paul means in Romans 8:3. The mere use of the word “flesh” in this context is sufficient to demonstrate what Paul is referring to. We read in verses 3-4 that Jesus “condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” The verses which follow further elaborate on what the “flesh” is:
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh: but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit….
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you …
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Romans 8:5, 8, 9, 12, 13).
Clearly, the “flesh” in this context is not a reference to what covers our bones. It is a reference to a human nature that seeks to pull us away from obedience to God. This is the human nature in which Jesus condemned sin (verse 3), of which Jesus partook when He became human (Hebrews 2:14).
In his effort to prove that Jesus’ taking of our fallen heredity was only vicarious, we have already noted Phillips’ use of the following Ellen White statement:
Sinless and exalted by nature, He consented to take the habiliments of humanity, to become one with the fallen race.23
Phillips implies, by his use of this statement, that the sinless nature being referred to here is Christ’s human nature. But in context, it is Christ’s divinity—not His humanity—that is being described. Prior to the above statement we find the following:
Jesus stooped from infinite greatness, from indescribable glory, and assumed the nature of man, and to Him who had known such exaltation, who had suffered such humiliation, the rank and caste and distinctions of human society seemed trivial and unworthy.24
In two other statements, where she speaks of Christ having “no taint of sin,” this same point is emphasized:
What a sight was this for Heaven to look upon! Christ, who knew not the least taint of sin or defilement, took our nature in its deteriorated condition.25
Though He had no taint of sin upon His character, yet He condescended to connect our fallen human nature with His divinity.26
Neither of these statements seeks to distinguish the human nature Jesus inherited from that inherited by the rest of us. They are simply telling us that Jesus came from heaven pure, that His divine nature was sinless.
This helps us better understand two other Ellen White statements, one of which is quoted by Phillips but whose meaning he seems not to grasp (p. 32):
He took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature, that He might know how to succor those that are tempted.27
Christ did in reality unite the offending nature of man with His own sinless nature, because by this act of condescension He would be enabled to pour out His blessing in behalf of the fallen race.28
Phillips writes elsewhere:
If Jesus was tempted to steal, lie, swear, be impure in thought or deed, He resisted that temptation in one of two ways: (1) by resisting the inclination to yield; or (2) by realizing that He was helpless and turning the problem over to His Father. In either case He would have had to have a propensity, or inclination, for Satan to appeal to. Yet, Jesus said, ‘Hereafter I will not talk much with you; for the prince of this world cometh, and hath found nothing in Me.’ John 14:30. This was very close to the end of Jesus’ life on earth. Satan had probed into every corner of Christ’s life and could find nothing to build any temptation upon (p. 102).
Like others who teach a pre-Fall Christology, Phillips obviously believes that Jesus’ statement about Satan finding “nothing in Him” means He possessed no fallen, fleshly nature that tempted Him to do wrong. But strangely enough, the very Ellen White statement quoted by Phillips immediately following the above paragraph, says something entirely different:
Not even by a thought could Christ be brought to yield to the power of his subtle temptations. Satan finds in human hearts some point where He can gain a foothold—some sinful desire is cherished by means of which his temptations assert their power(pp. 102, 103).29
Another statement, commenting on the same verse, says much the same thing:
‘The prince of this world cometh,‘ said Jesus, ‘and hath nothing in Me.’ John 14:30. There was in Him nothing that responded to Satan’s sophistry. He did not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation. So it may be with us.30
Obviously these statements refer, not to the absence of sinful desires in our Lord’s inherited human nature, but to the fact that such desires were never cherished or consented to. According to Inspiration, this is what Jesus meant when He declared, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me” (John 14:30). He was not denying the reality of His internal struggle with fleshly desires, to which the apostle Paul clearly bears witness when he writes that Jesus “pleased not Himself” (Romans 15:3).
Ellen White is equally clear, as one of the above statements declares, that the experience Jesus described in John 14:30—of having “nothing in Him” that responded to temptation—can and will be experienced by God’s people. Which is why, after quoting Jesus’ statement in John 14:30, Ellen White declares, “So it may be with us.”31 In another statement she likewise quotes John 14:30, then writes:
He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.32
As our study continues, we will see that those with this condition still possess fallen, sinful human natures. Thus it is possible, according to Inspiration, to possess such a nature while having the experience Jesus described in John 14:30.
Phillips goes on to quote another Ellen White statement in which John 14:30 is quoted, after which Ellen White declares: “Not a single thought or feeling responded to temptation” (p. 103).33 The problem is that Phillips confuses response with arousal. We have already seen from Ellen White’s pen, as well as from Scripture (James 1:14, 15), that the mere arousal of sinful thoughts and feelings does not contaminate the soul with guilt:
There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men; but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt and no other is defiled by their influence.34
In contrast to the above inspired statements, Phillips writes of Jesus: “If He had sinful desires but resisted them, it would have contaminated Him, for in the thought is the seed of sin” (p. 136). Scripture and Ellen White say the mere arousal of sinful thoughts does not contaminate, provided the thought is expelled. Phillips claims the mere thought is sufficient to contaminate, even if resisted. Here we find, it would seem, a clear choice between the Word of God and the opinions of man.
Again Phillips confuses the issue very badly when he writes:
If Christ had entertained an evil thought even once, He could have accomplished nothing more than any other human priest. Every human priest, by birth, had been contaminated with sinful human nature (p. 142).
First of all, no one is saying Jesus ever entertained an evil thought. This is very much a false issue. Of course it would have been sin for Him to entertain such a thought, as it is for any of us. But to experience the suggestion or arousal of such thoughts, and thus the need to resist and expel them, is very different. Ellen White is clear, as we have seen, that such suggestion and arousal cannot contaminate unless the thought is cherished. Phillips, by contrast, believes such contamination occurs merely by being born—a belief for which there is no inspired support.
Another statement makes it clear that Jesus had to contend with sinful thoughts, just as we do:
Some realize their great weakness and sin, and become discouraged. Satan casts his dark cloud between them and the Lord Jesus, their atoning sacrifice. They say, It is useless for me to pray. My prayers are so mingled with evil thoughts that the Lord will not hear them.
These suggestions are from Satan. In His humanity Christ met and resisted this temptation, and He knows how to succor those who are thus tempted.35
Elsewhere she writes, regarding the Christian’s struggle with temptation:
His strongest temptations will come from within, for he must battle against the inclinations of the natural heart. The Lord knows our weaknesses.36
And how, according to the same author, does Jesus know our weaknesses? How does He know where the strength of our temptations lies?
He knows by experience what are the weaknesses of humanity, what are our wants, and where lies the strength of our temptations, for He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.37
Consider also the following statement, regarding our Lord’s struggle with a common human temptation:
Sorely as He was tried on the point of hasty and angry speech, He never once sinned with His lips. With patient calmness He met the sneers, the taunts, and the ridicule of His fellow workers at the carpenters’ bench.38
We can see further how our Lord being “sorely tried” in this regard was a matter of internal struggle, in the light of the following statements:
Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to temptation to do one single act which was not pure and elevating and ennobling.39
The words of Christ encourage parents to bring their little ones to Jesus. They may be wayward, and possess passions like those of humanity, but this should not deter us from bringing them to Christ. He blessed children that were possessed of passions like His own.40
In both cases, it is obvious that the passions being described are not the benign ones with which Adam and Eve were created,41 but rather, passions which tempt to impurity, degradation, and waywardness.
Phillips, like others with similar convictions, refers us to the famous Baker letter of 1895 and its statement about Jesus not having evil propensities:
Be careful, exceedingly careful, as to how you dwell upon the human nature of Christ. Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him; he was in the image of God. He could fall, and he did fall through transgression. Because of sin his posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature, and was tempted in all points as human nature is tempted. He could have sinned, He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity (pp. 131, 132).42
But again, the context of this statement, together with Ellen White’s use of similar language elsewhere, helps us understand more clearly her meaning. Regarding the interpretation of both Scripture and her own writings, Ellen White declares, “The testimonies themselves will be the key that will explain the messages given, as scripture is explained by scripture.”43 By comparing inspired statements with each other, we are able to resolve apparent contradictions and to clarify what seems unclear.
The passage quoted above from the Baker letter is followed in context by this statement, also quoted by Phillips (p. 103):
Never, in any way, leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to, corruption rested upon Christ, or that He in any way yielded to corruption.44
Notice she doesn’t say that no inclination to corruption ever assailed or afflicted Christ. Rather, the words “rested upon” are used. This implies choice, the consenting of the will to the inclinations being described. Another statement, which also denies that Jesus had sinful propensities, goes further in explaining exactly how He didn’t have them:
We must not become in our ideas common and earthly, and in our perverted ideas we must not think that the liability of Christ to Satan’s temptations degraded His humanity and that He possessed the same sinful, corrupt propensities as man.”45
We might reach the wrong conclusion if we stopped there. But in the following paragraph she explains her meaning further:
Christ took our nature, fallen but not corrupted, and would not be corrupted unless He received the words of Satan in place of the words of God.46
Notice she doesn’t say His humanity wouldn’t be corrupted unless He had been born with the same fallen heredity as the rest of us. Rather, she says His humanity wouldn’t be corrupted unless He received the words of Satan in place of the words of God. Choice, not birth, is the source of the corruption here described.
Two other notable Ellen White statements on this subject are taken out of context by Phillips. One is the following:
We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ (p. 133).47
But in the paragraph just preceding this sentence, Ellen White explains what she means by the “perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ”:
Could Satan in the least particular have tempted Christ to sin, he would have bruised the Saviour’s head. As it was, he could only touch His heel. Had the head of Christ been touched, the hope of the human race would have perished. Divine wrath would have come upon Christ as it came upon Adam. Christ and the church would have been without hope.48
In other words, when she speaks in this context about Jesus’ human nature, she is not speaking of His inherited fleshly nature, but of His higher nature—the will and character, where choices are made. The following portion of this review will consider in greater depth the inspired distinction between the lower and higher elements of human nature, and how this distinction brings into harmony those inspired statements often seen as paradoxical on this subject.
Another Ellen White statement which Phillips takes out of context is as follows:
When Christ bowed His head and died, He bore the pillars of Satan’s kingdom with Him to the earth. He vanquished Satan in the same nature over which in Eden Satan obtained the victory. The enemy was overcome by Christ in His human nature (p. 131).49
Following a second reference to this statement on p. 142, Phillips writes: “If Christ, at the cross, had the same human nature Adam had when he was created, He could not have had sinful nature at the same time.”
But the above Ellen White statement continues:
The power of the Saviour’s Godhead was hidden. He overcame in human nature, relying upon God for power. This is the privilege of all. In proportion to our faith will be our victory.50
In other words, when Ellen White here speaks of Christ overcoming Satan in the same nature Satan vanquished in Eden, she is not speaking of an unfallen human nature in contrast with a fallen human nature. Rather, she is contrasting Jesus’ divine nature with His human nature, and saying it was in His human nature that He overcame Satan. Most importantly, she goes on to say, “This is the privilege of all.” The inspired pen is therefore telling us that all who partake of heaven’s power—who still, according to Inspiration, possess fallen human natures51—have the privilege of overcoming Satan exactly as Jesus did.
Elsewhere Phillips writes:
If Christ had inherited a sinful nature there would have been an unbearable dichotomy between His two natures (human and divine), rather than perfect peace. Is this what God desires His children to have? (p. 132).
Phillips seems not to have considered the Gethsemane story. What did Jesus pray in those moments of awful, mysterious agony? “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
At another point Phillips makes the following statement:
Never has God attempted to claim that fallen, sinful human nature can be victorious over Satan. If that were possible, all man would need would be an example to follow, not a Saviour who on Calvary’s cross “ …was earning the right to become the advocate of men in the Father’s presence” (pp. 124, 125).52
Laying aside yet another false dilemma created by Phillips—nowhere does Inspiration give Christ’s role as Example any less saving value than His role as Advocate—he seems not to have considered what Inspiration states regarding the central issue in the great controversy. The idea promoted by some—and apparently shared by Phillips—that the issue in the great controversy is whether or not Adam in his unfallen state had any excuse for sin, is plainly contradicted by the following Ellen White statements:
Satan declared that it was impossible for the sons and daughters of Adam to keep the law of God, and thus charged upon God a lack of wisdom and love. If they could not keep the law, then there was fault with the Lawgiver. Men who are under the control of Satan repeat these accusations against God, in asserting that men cannot keep the law of God.53
By His own obedience to the law, Christ testified to its immutable character, and proved that through His grace it could be perfectly obeyed by every son and daughter of Adam.54
When one stops to consider the matter, it becomes difficult to understand how anyone could believe the issue in the great controversy over obedience primarily—if not exclusively—concerns unfallen beings. After all, according to Ellen White, the entire unfallen universe was tested in the same way as this earth, between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.55 This earth was the only planet that chose rebellion over obedience. Which means the universe needed no further proof that unfallen creatures were incapable of sinning—there was more than sufficient proof of that. What was therefore necessary for Jesus to demonstrate in His humanity was how fallen human beings—in fallen natures—had no excuse for sin. Which is why, as the above statement declares, Jesus came to prove that the law could be “perfectly obeyed by every son and daughter of Adam,”56 not merely by Adam himself.
Seeking to prove that Jesus needed only to prove that the sinless Adam need not have fallen, he quotes the following Ellen White statement:
Christ came to earth, taking humanity and standing as man’s representative, to show in the controversy with Satan that man, as God created him, connected with the Father and the Son, could obey every divine requirement (pp. 104, 125, italics supplied by Phillips).57
By his use of italics, Phillips implies that the key phrase in this passage is, “as God created him.” But when the whole of the inspired evidence is taken into account, the key phrase in this statement is rather seen as, “connected with the Father and the Son.” Restoring this connection, according to Ellen White, is the purpose of conversion and sanctification:
The law of God given from Sinai is a copy of the mind and will of the Infinite God. It is sacredly revered by the holy angels. Obedience to its requirements will perfect Christian character, and restore man, through Christ, to his condition before the Fall.58
And as our study will demonstrate, Inspiration teaches that this perfecting of character will occur in the lives of fallen human beings who still struggle with sinful human natures.
Like others in Adventism who believe as he does, Phillips tries to erase the vast difference between the temptation experiences of an unfallen nature and those of a fallen nature, by claiming Jesus’ temptations were of a much higher and more intense level than anything experienced by fallen human beings. He quotes an Ellen White statement which speaks of Jesus’ temptation during His trial to manifest His divinity and free Himself (p. 106),56 then exclaims, “What a temptation! No human could ever be tempted like He was!” (p. 106). Elsewhere he quotes the following Ellen White statement:
It was as difficult for Him (Christ) to keep the level of humanity as for man to rise above the low level of their depraved natures, and be partakers of the divine nature (p. 103).60
Because he insists that Christ had no fallen human nature to tempt Him, Phillips claims that Satan “switched his approach to Christ, tempting Him to reveal His natural nature, which He had laid aside when He came to this earth” (pp. 105, 106, italics original). Summarizing his view on this point, Phillips writes:
Can you see that Satan is tempting the Christian in exactly the same way he tempted Christ? In both cases he is trying to force the tempted ones to reveal their natural natures. The difference is that our natural nature is wicked, so we do not want to reveal it. Christ’s natural nature was divine, so He desired to reveal it. But both must rely on surrender to divine control—Christ to His Father and us to Christ (p. 108).
But the fact is, according to Ellen White, that Jesus was tempted in both ways—to reveal His divinity on His own behalf, and to yield to the tendencies of his inherited fallen humanity. The following Ellen White statement, describing the ordeal of Jesus’ trial, makes this clear:
Satan led the cruel mob in its abuse of the Saviour. It was his purpose to provoke Him to retaliation if possible, or to drive Him to perform a miracle to release Himself, and thus break up the plan of salvation. One stain upon His human life, one failure of His humanity to endure the terrible test, and the Lamb of God would have been an imperfect offering, and the redemption of man a failure…. Satan’s rage was great as he saw that all the abuse inflicted upon the Saviour had not forced the least murmur from His lips.61
Notice here how Jesus was faced with two different types of temptations. One was to retaliate and murmur, something a fallen human nature must struggle with. The other was to use divine power to rescue Himself, something only a divine Being could understand. Both temptations were real in the experience of Christ. And certainly no human being could claim familiarity with a temptation as strong as our Lord feeling the urge to annihilate His foes with but a fleeting glance. But according to Inspiration, confronting such Godlike dilemmas was not the reason Jesus exposed Himself to temptation:
He (Christ) came not to our world to give the obedience of a lesser God to a greater, but as a man to obey God’s holy law, and in this way He is our example. The Lord Jesus came to our world, not to reveal what a God could do, but what a man could do, through faith in God's power to help in every emergency.62
At one point Phillips writes: “He (Christ) was able to accept the worst abuse it was possible for any human being to experience, both mental and physical, yet treat with utmost kindness the human instrument through which it came” (p. 97). What Phillips fails to consider is that such a victory would have been utterly pointless unless—in accepting such abuse—Jesus resisted the urges of a nature which wanted Him to retaliate.
While campaigning in the West Virginia primary during the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy was approached by a coal miner who asked him, “Is it true that you’ve never had to work a day in your life?” As the smile of wordless embarrassment crossed the Senator’s face, the miner leaned over and whispered in his ear, “You haven’t missed much!” Had Kennedy responded by assuring the miner that rich folks have financial problems too—indeed, much bigger and more complex ones than any poor person ever faces—he wouldn’t have been lying. But we would be hard-pressed to find any poor man on earth who wouldn’t gladly exchange his financial dilemmas for those of a rich man! No matter how hard Kennedy may have tried to empathize with that coal miner, he couldn’t have truly appreciated his circumstances unless he had shared them himself.
Fallen mortals can no more relate to the temptation to wipe out enemies with ten thousand angels than could John Kennedy relate to the financial hardships of that coal miner in West Virginia. This is why, for the sake of the great controversy, Jesus had to experience the temptations of a fallen human being. No matter how strong His temptation was to use His divinity selfishly, created beings cannot relate to such temptations. According to Ellen White, God took no chances that the incarnation would in any way be seen as unfair:
If Christ had a special power which it is not the privilege of man to have, Satan would have made capital of this matter. The work of Christ was to take from the claims of Satan his control of man, and He could do this only in the way that He came—a man, tempted as a man, rendering the obedience of a man.63
Commenting on Hebrews 4:15, which declares that Christ was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” Phillips writes:
There are those who claim Jesus had to be tempted in the identical manner as every human being has been tempted in order to meet the requirements of this text. This conclusion is arrived at without taking into account all that God has revealed to His church on the subject (p. 102).
Unfortunately, our study has demonstrated that it is Phillips himself who has failed to take the totality of inspired evidence on this subject into account. Numerous relevant passages are left completely out of his book, thus relieving the author of the need to show how all such passages harmonize with each other, even if on the surface they seem not to. As we noted earlier, no study of inspired writings can be either doctrinally reliable or productive toward the unity of Christ’s body unless it demonstrates the harmony existing throughout all inspired writings. In addressing this most controversial of salvation-related topics in contemporary Adventism, Phillips’ book is a notable failure.
The Return of Holy Flesh?
Phillips’ salvation theology looms as even more problematic when we consider his understanding of sinful human nature, what happens to it, and when, in the context of the Christian life.
Repeatedly, Phillips declares that man’s sinful nature, with which he is born, cannot be controlled, but must die. The following statements offer a sample of his view in this regard:
There is no evidence in the Word of God that sinful nature can ever be obedient to God! (p. 104).
We must learn that sinful nature cannot be controlled, modified, or improved in any way (p. 130).
If Christ’s perfect life of obedience was achieved through perfect control of His sinful nature, then His example for us is to control our natural sinful natures. The Bible, however, declares that nature to be incorrigible and that it must die, and we must be born again (pp. 134, 135).
And lest one assume Phillips is teaching that this eradication of our sinful nature won’t occur until the second coming of Christ—which, as we will see, is what Inspiration teaches—he writes as follows:
Every human being must be free from his sinful human nature which is “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7) before he can be a follower of God. This transformation Jesus did not need, for He was the second Adam.
Sinful human nature will be a thing of the past in the new earth. To the born-again Christian, freedom from that sinful nature—through God’s plan of salvation—makes it possible for heaven to begin here on earth (pp. 142, 143).
At one point Phillips quotes an Ellen White statement which asks, “What is the sign of a new heart? A changed life. There is a daily, hourly dying to selfishness and pride” (p. 107).64 If this is what Phillips means when he says our sinful nature must die, we could agree. But one has a hard time finding any practical distinction between a daily, hourly death to the sinful nature and the sanctified control of that nature.
Quite obviously, according to Inspiration, the desires of the flesh are not extinguished at conversion, but are placed under the control of a renewed mind and sanctified will. The following Bible verses are clear about this:
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27).
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. 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 (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5).
What these verses help us understand, along with Jesus’ declaration that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41), is the inspired distinction between lower and higher forces within human nature—a distinction to which Phillips seems quite oblivious. But once this distinction is understood, the decades-long debate in Adventism over the humanity of Christ becomes remarkably easy to settle. Only the acknowledgment of this distinction, from the present writer’s study, seems capable of bringing all the relevant inspired evidence on this subject into harmony—which, once again, is a key test of any doctrine’s viability.
In addition to the Bible texts noted above (Matthew 26:41; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 10:5), Ellen White makes very clear in her writings the distinction between the lower and higher powers within man’s nature, and where the responsibility for sin lies. Ironically, as with other statements quoted by Phillips, one of Ellen White’s strongest statements on this subject is cited on p. 126 of his book:
Pure religion has to do with the will. The will is the governing power in the nature of man, bringing all the other faculties under its sway. The will is not the taste or the inclination, but it is the deciding power, which works in the children of men unto obedience to God or unto disobedience.65
Phillips seems to totally miss the impact of this statement on his own theology. This statement is very clear that obedience and disobedience are a matter of the will, not of taste or inclinations. How, then, can someone be a condemned sinner—as Phillips maintains (pp. 130, 135)—merely on the basis of possessing fallen inclinations to evil? Phillips writes: “If Christ had lived a perfect life while possessing inherited sinful nature, He would still be infected with the disease and He would have had to have a Saviour for Himself” (p. 135). Inclinations to sin, according to Phillips, are a part of this disease (pp. 103, 131). Yet the above statement is clear that inclinations are not what makes us either sinners or saints. It is the will that does.
We noted this point earlier in another Ellen White statement found in this review:
There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men; but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt and no other is defiled by their influence.66
This distinction is further spelled out in other Ellen White statements, such as the following:
The lower passions have their seat in the body and work through it. The words ‘flesh’ or ‘fleshly’ or ‘carnal lusts’ embrace the lower, corrupt nature; the flesh of itself cannot act contrary to the will of God. We are commanded to crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts. How shall we do it? Shall we inflict pain on the body? No, but put to death the temptation to sin. The corrupt thought is to be expelled. Every thought is to be brought into captivity to Jesus Christ. All animal propensities are to be subjected to the higher powers of the soul.67
Notice here how Ellen White tells us that the flesh, which means the lower nature, is incapable of sin on its own. “The flesh of itself cannot act contrary to the will of God.”68 Here she echoes the former statement which says it is the will—not inclinations—that decides for obedience or disobedience.
In numerous other statements Ellen White speaks of the need for the lower passions to be subject to the higher powers of the being.69 We will examine several of these, then consider their implication for both the debate on the nature of Christ and the ultimate issue of what is possible for the Christian.
What we soon discover, in our study of Ellen White’s writings on this subject, is that in some statements she writes of our need to control evil passions and propensities:
The body is to be brought into subjection. The higher powers of the being are to rule. The passions are to be controlled by the will, which is itself under the control of God.70
Our natural propensities must be controlled, or we can never overcome as Christ overcame.71
And yet, other statements speak of our need to cast out evil passions and propensities:
The only power that can create or perpetuate true peace is the grace of Christ. When this is implanted in the heart, it will cast out the evil passions that cause strife and dissension.72
We must realize that through belief in Him it is our privilege to be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. Then we are cleansed from all sin, all defects of character. We need not retain one sinful propensity.
As we partake of the divine nature, hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong are cut away from the character, and we are made a living power for good.73
So, from where are evil passions cast out? Where are sinful propensities not to be retained? Ellen White gives the answer in the last of the above statements, where she speaks of how “hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong are cut away from the character.” The character is the higher nature, where choices are made. Notice very carefully that she doesn’t say these tendencies will be cut away from the lower, fleshly nature, so that we don’t feel the urge to sin any more. Ellen White is extremely clear that the struggle with this nature will take place as long as life shall last:
Appetite and passion must be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. There is no end to the warfare this side of eternity.74
So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained.75
These statements, totally ignored in Phillips’ book, present a major problem for his theory that man’s sinful nature must be eradicated through conversion, rather than controlled and brought into subjection (pp. 130, 134, 135). Let us note clearly, of course, that the above statements are not saying that occasional sinful choices are inevitable for the Christian so long as life shall last. Rather, it is the warfare that is. Continuous struggle does not necessarily mean occasional defeat, as the Allies in World War II learned during the uninterrupted victories extending from the spring of 1943 to the summer of 1945. By the same token, God’s end-time people will experience the most intense struggles for faithfulness during the great time of trouble. But their struggle will be one of complete and unbroken victory, for Inspiration assures us that to receive the latter rain, they must “obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action.”76
Now that we can see the distinction in the inspired writings between lower and higher natures within man, we can see how two different sets of Ellen White statements on the nature of Christ fit together in perfect harmony. Earlier in our study we listed two statements where she clearly states Jesus had fallen human passions:
Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to temptation to do one single act which was not pure and elevating and ennobling.77
The words of Christ encourage parents to bring their little ones to Jesus. They may be wayward, and possess passions like those of humanity, but this should not deter us from bringing them to Christ. He blessed children that were possessed of passions like His own.78
And yet, we have the following:
He is a Brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions. As the sinless One, His nature recoiled from evil.79
He was a mighty Petitioner, not possessing the passions of our human, fallen natures, but compassed with like infirmities, tempted in all points like as we are.80
As we noted earlier in this review, the first set of statements are obviously not talking about the benign, unperverted passions of the sinless Adam in Eden.81 This claim has at times been made by contemporary advocates of pre-Fall Christology, in their efforts to explain these Ellen White statements.82 But as we have seen, the very content of these statements disallows such a conclusion, since they obviously refer to passions which incline toward evil practices. So we must look for another way to resolve this apparent contradiction. And that way, quite clearly from the inspired evidence, is to recognize that the first set of statements is talking about the presence of these passions in the lower nature, where they remain incapable of sin so long as they are resisted.83 The second set of statements refer to the absence of these passions in our Lord’s higher nature, since He never sinned—and from whence you and I, through Heaven’s power, are enabled to cast out these desires.84
The statement we have already considered from the famous Baker letter, which speaks of Christ having no propensities to sin,85 must also be placed alongside another statement which contrasts the unfallen Adam with the incarnate Christ:
Adam was tempted by the enemy, and he fell. It was not indwelling sin which caused him to yield, for God made him pure and upright in His own image. He was as faultless as the angels before the throne. There was in him no corrupt principles, no tendencies to evil. But when Christ came to meet the temptations of Satan, He bore the “likeness of sinful flesh.”86
Note here the contrast between Adam and Christ. While we couldn’t rightly say Jesus had in Him either indwelling sin or corrupt principles, the statement makes absolutely no sense unless we acknowledge that He had tendencies to evil. Otherwise the contrast Ellen White is setting up doesn’t exist. And for pre-Fall advocates to insist, as does Phillips (p. 124), that the “likeness of sinful flesh” refers merely to simulation, is likewise untenable because of this contrast.
Purely and simply, when Ellen White implies clearly in the above statement that Jesus had tendencies to evil—unlike the sinless Adam—she is speaking of His lower, fleshly nature, inherited from His human ancestors. But when she writes elsewhere that He had no evil propensities,87 she is talking about the higher nature, where—as we have seen from Ellen White—we need not retain them either.88
It is important to remember that not every time Ellen White speaks of man’s nature, is she speaking of his inherited birth-nature—or the lower nature, as we have seen Inspiration describe it.89 For example, in one statement she writes, regarding the saints getting ready for Jesus’ coming:
When Christ shall come, our vile bodies are to be changed, and made like His glorious body, but the vile character will not be made holy then. The transformation of character must take place before His coming. Our natures must be pure and holy; we must have the mind of Christ, that He may behold with pleasure His image reflected upon our souls.90
And yet, we have seen already how the same author tells us that self, appetite, and passion will have to be subdued and placed under the Spirit’s control for as long as life shall last.91 So it is obvious that in the above statement, which speaks of our natures needing to be pure and holy, and by “nature” Ellen White is using ‘nature’ to speak of character. Phillips seems not to have appreciated this diversity in Ellen White’s use of the term “nature” regarding human beings. At one point He quotes Ellen White as saying of Jesus:
While He was free from the taint of sin, the refined sensibilities of His holy nature rendered contact with evil unspeakably painful to Him (p. 125).92
Phillips then writes, “If Christ’s nature were holy, obviously it could not have been sinful” (p. 125). Such a statement could only be made by ignoring the weight of inspired evidence regarding the lower and higher forces in man’s nature, and thus not permitting that evidence to define itself and the terms being used. Obviously the above statement by Ellen White is not referring to the fallen heredity He assumed after four thousand years of sin, which He took in order to “share our sorrows and temptations.”93 The above statement, by contrast, is speaking of our Lord’s will and character, which were perfectly sanctified as ours may be, through His power.
Phillips quotes Ellen White as saying, “Christ ever retained the utmost hatred for sin” (p. 136).94 He goes on to quote other Ellen White statements which promise that sin can become hateful to the Christian also (p. 137).95 Quite true, of course. But as we have seen already, these are Christians who still—according to Ellen White—possess fallen human natures with selfish passions and desires.96
Phillips goes on to state, “We should be able to establish the fact that Satan could not tempt Christ to do something He hated” (p. 137). But we have already seen how, according to Ellen White, sinful thoughts can be suggested and aroused within Christians, then be repulsed as hateful, without guilt accruing.97 Which means it is fully possible to hate sin with a perfect hatred while wrestling with contrary tendencies in one’s lower nature.
Not understanding Jesus’ need to control His fleshly nature as we do, Phillips seems to imply that Jesus didn’t need the same empowerment needed by fallen men and women. After quoting an Ellen White statement about the need for a transformation of nature on the Christian’s part (p. 131)98—clearly the higher nature, not the lower, in this case—Phillips claims:
If we picture Christ with a sinful nature He would have had to undergo the same transformation (p. 131).
The problem with what Phillips is saying, however, is that Ellen White is clear that Jesus needed grace, just as we do. Not for forgiveness, to be sure, since He never sinned. But for empowerment over evil this was very much needed in His life. In Ellen White’s words:
Jesus, considered as a man, was perfect, yet He grew in grace. Luke 2:52: ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.’99
What is even more interesting is that Ellen White points out that unfallen beings, such as the angels, have no need of grace:
We should never have learned the meaning of this word ‘grace’ had we not fallen. God loves the sinless angels, who do His service and are obedient to all His commands, but He does not give them grace. These heavenly beings know nought of grace.100
Let us remember, of course, where sin began in the first place, and how these very sinless angels were confronted with the claims and propaganda of Lucifer. It was necessary for them, of course, to resist the deceiver, but apparently—according to the above statement—they did not need grace to do this. However, according to the earlier statement, Jesus “grew in grace.”101 Jesus therefore needed power that no unfallen being requires—power to successfully prosecute an internal struggle with evil desires, something no unfallen being is ever confronted with.
Phillips’ apparent claim that Christians must experience the death—as distinct from the subjection—of their fallen, sinful natures in order to obey God (pp. 130, 134, 135, 142, 143), has been heard before in Adventist history. Its first notable occurrence was the infamous Holy Flesh movement in Indiana at the turn of the last century. Those involved with this movement also believed that the lower, fleshly nature of man had to be eradicated in order for him to have “a new nature that God can work with” (p. 129), as Phillips says. Ellen White replied to this heresy with the following declaration:
The teaching given in regard to what is termed ‘holy flesh’ is an error. All may now obtain holy hearts, but it is not correct to claim in this life to have holy flesh…. When human beings receive holy flesh, they will not remain on earth, but will be taken to heaven.102
Note here carefully the difference between the flesh and the heart—again a characterization of the lower and higher natures within humanity. Let us remind ourselves that in Ellen White’s theology, as we have seen, the “flesh” refers to the lower, corrupt nature with its tendencies and desires: “The words ‘flesh’ or ‘fleshly’ or ‘carnal lusts’ embrace the lower, corrupt nature; the flesh of itself cannot act contrary to the will of God.”103 It is this fleshly nature that Ellen White declares—in the above statement as well as others we have noted104—will not be destroyed till the coming of Christ. The heart, by contrast, which involves the will and character choices, must be purified here and now, before Jesus returns.105
What is critical for us to understand is how the nature of Christ played such a key role in the theology of the Holy Flesh movement. Listen to the following letter of Stephen Haskell to Ellen White, describing to her his challenge in dealing with this group:
When we stated that we believed that Christ was born in fallen humanity, they would represent us as believing that Christ sinned, notwithstanding the fact that we would state our position so clearly that it would seem as though no one could misunderstand us.
Their point of theology in this particular respect seems to be this: They believe Christ took Adam’s nature before he fell, so He took humanity as it was in the Garden of Eden, and this humanity was holy, and this was the humanity which Christ had; and now, they say, the particular time has come for us to become holy in that sense, and then we will have “translation faith,” and never die.106
Phillips’ promoters—and Phillips himself, were he still living—might vigorously deny any sympathy with the Holy Flesh doctrine, but a careful consideration of his words—as this review has sought to do—leaves one unmistakably struck by the similarities between the Phillips view and the Holy Flesh view. Our study will show that he seems not to take this view to its ultimate logical step, but even so, it prevents him from recognizing the inspired truth—demonstrated by our Lord’s lifelong conquest of evil—that sinless obedience in sinful human nature is the destined glory of the final conflict.
For those wishing a deeper study of the inspired materials on the lower and higher forces in human nature and their interplay within Christ’s human nature, the present writer recommends another paper of his own titled, “The Lower and Higher Natures: The Key to Resolving the Adventist Christology Debate”—like the earlier paper, available from the website.107
The Role of Human Effort
In addressing the practical aspects of Christian living, Phillips embraces another dangerous doctrine in contemporary Adventism—the idea that human effort is to play no part in the Christian’s quest for holiness. Here again, as before, Phillips indulges both self-contradiction and an eye apparently oblivious to the message of some of the Ellen White statements he himself uses.
An entire chapter of his book is titled, “Ladders Are For Climbing” (pp. 60-69), which begins his discussion of the ladder of virtues found in 2 Peter 1:5-7. But much of what he writes could lead one to believe he thinks this ladder is an escalator!
Such statements by Phillips as the following convey his belief on this point:
It is only as we do our part—recognizing the obstructions and hindering factors, then realizing that we can’t remove them ourselves—that we exercise the power of the will and choose to be free from these encumbrances…. We have just discovered that if this work is done at all He will have to do it (p. 88).
All human effort expended to be patient will never produce the fruit of patience (p. 89).
The removal process is not the problem with most of us. It is the failure to be willing to admit what needs to be removed from the character, and to be willing to turn it over to the Lord for Him to remove (p. 89).
If man does his grafting work the way God does His, the only product is more wild fruit. This, alone, should teach us that our only work is to surrender and trust the Master Worker (p. 119).
Our only part is to desire and be willing for Him to do the work (p. 120).
In more than one place in his book, Phillips writes that the Christian’s need in the struggle with sin is to “stop trying and start dying” (pp. 94, 99). This, of course, harmonizes with the insistence of Phillips that fallen human nature cannot be tamed but can only be destroyed (pp. 130, 134-145, 142, 143). The problem is, like too many others in Adventism who hold to this no-effort methodology of overcoming, Phillips doesn’t explain the practical difference between what he calls “trying” and what he calls “dying.”
For example, take the individual who struggles with the problem of overeating. Would this formula of “stop trying and start dying” mean such a person should wait for the Lord to miraculously impart the urge to get up from the table when one has had enough? Does Phillips’ notion of simply turning such a matter over to God (pp. 89, 102) mean he assumes God will supernaturally abolish the craving for too much food, or for the wrong kinds of food? Will God, in such a scheme, compel such a one to feel like exercising every morning, at once eradicating natural impulses of sloth and weariness, so that rigorous discipline of oneself is no longer required? The “let go and let God” approach to Christian living may be popular with certain ones, but few have ever offered solutions to the intensely practical dilemmas raised by this approach.
Let us be clear that if Phillips—or others with a similar theology—were simply to say that trying in man’s own strength is a formula for failure, we could all agree. But this is not what is being said. Phillips is not advising the Christian to stop struggling in his own strength and instead to struggle in cooperation with God’s strength. No. He is telling the believer, as we have seen, to just turn the problem of avoiding sin over to God and let Him do what must be done. In his words, as noted above, “Our only part is to desire and be willing for Him to do the work” (p. 120). This is not, in other words, active divine-human cooperation in the struggle for holiness. Rather, it is man stepping aside and relinquishing to God the responsibility for right living and the banishment of evil.
Ironically, the very first chapter of Phillips’ book includes an Ellen White statement with a very different view of what our part in the Christian life is:
Those who would not fall a prey to Satan’s devices must guard well the avenues to the soul; they must avoid reading, seeing, or hearing that which will suggest impure thoughts (p. 17).108
This sounds like much more than simply desiring and being willing for Jesus to do the work! It sounds like we have a very active role to play in avoiding and preventing wrong thoughts and actions.
In another statement Ellen White also outlines exactly what “our part” in this process is:
Our part is to put away sin, seek with determination for perfection of character. As we thus work, God cooperates with us.109
At one point Phillips writes:
It is quite natural at this point to focus upon the thought of having to be obedient. This is where the Christian often fails. Our focus should be on surrender. If we are consistent in our surrender, then God will work in us ‘…to will and to do of His good pleasure.’ Philippians 2:13. (p. 61).
But here Phillips fails to consider the verse just prior to the one he is quoting, conveniently omitted with the ellipses noted above. This is where the apostle admonishes his readers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In other words, both man’s working and God’s working are involved here, actively cooperating with one another. This is why Ellen White states in one passage, “Man is to work out that which God works in.”109 In other statements she elaborates further upon this concept:
The work of gaining salvation is one of copartnership, a joint operation…. Human effort of itself is not sufficient. Without the aid of divine power it avails nothing. God works and man works.110
Man must work with his human power aided by the divine power of Christ, to resist and conquer at any cost to himself. In short, man must overcome as Christ overcame…. This could not be the case if Christ alone did all the overcoming. Man must do his part; he must be victor on his own account.111
The fact that Christ has conquered should inspire His followers with courage to fight manfully the battle against sin and Satan.112
In his discussion of the nature of Christ, we have already seen how Phillips claims that “if Jesus was tempted to steal, lie, swear, be impure in thought or deed, He resisted that temptation in one of two ways: (1) by resisting the inclination to yield or (2) by realizing that He was helpless and turning the problem over to His Father” (p. 102). As we have seen, of course, Phillips mistakenly assumes Jesus was spared this dilemma because He supposedly didn’t have such inclinations to deal with. But even in setting up this dilemma, Phillips fails to consider a third option for Jesus as well as ourselves—the resistance of such inclinations by active cooperation with the Father’s imparted strength. Ellen White thus elaborates upon the lessons to be learned by Christ’s victory over evil:
By experiencing in Himself the strength of Satan’s temptations, and of human sufferings and infirmities, He would know how to succor those who should put forth efforts to help themselves.113
We are fascinated to note, in this statement, exactly where Jesus experienced the strength of Satan’s temptations—“in Himself.” As we have seen already from the inspired pen, Jesus “knows by experience …where lies the strength of our temptations.”114 But the above statement is also clear that God’s help is for “those who should put forth efforts to help themselves.” Notice this is not an inspired affirmation of the old Ben Franklin adage, “God helps those who help themselves.” Rather, God helps those who “put forth efforts to help themselves.” We can’t help ourselves by ourselves. Imparted divine grace must attend our efforts at every step.
In another statement Ellen White is clear that Christ’s example of perfect obedience was produced by “constant resistance of evil”:
God calls upon us to reach the standard of perfection and places before us the example of Christ’s character. In His humanity, perfected by a life of constant resistance of evil, the Saviour showed through cooperation with Divinity human beings may in this life attain to perfection of character. This is God’s assurance to us that we too may obtain complete victory.115
We have noted more than once the statement by Phillips that “our only part is to desire and be willing for Him to do the work” (p. 120). But the following Ellen White statement is quite clear that our work involves more than merely being willing:
The Lord does not propose to perform for us either the willing or the doing. This is our proper work. As soon as we earnestly enter upon the work, God’s grace is given to work in us to will and to do, but never as a substitute for our effort.116
We noted earlier the following statement by Phillips:
The removal process is not the problem with most of us. It is the failure to be willing to admit what needs to be removed from the character, and to be willing to turn it over to the Lord for Him to remove (p. 89).
But in a powerful statement to the contrary, the inspired pen tells us who in fact is to remove these encumbrances:
You are to open the door of the heart. You are to clear away the rubbish from the portals, and throw wide the door, that the heavenly Guest may find a welcome and an entrance. Christ will not enter a heart that is defiled with sin. It is our work to put away all iniquity.117
It is the Bible, to be sure, that provides the foundation for these Ellen White statements. We have seen already how the active blend of human and divine working comprises the salvation process (Philippians 2:12, 13). Other verses also make clear the active role played by humans in this regard:
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 (2 Corinthians 7:1).
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).
Immediately following this verse, of course, Paul describes the armor of faith that the Christian is to wear (verses 13-17). It stands to reason that God does not place an armor on the Christian, including a shield in one hand and a sword in the other, then command him to step aside and let Him do all the fighting! Neither the Word of God nor the Spirit of Prophecy writings teach such a strange concept.
Elsewhere the Bible declares of God’s saints, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). The apostle James declares: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Many have misconstrued this verse as saying, “Submit yourselves to God, and then He will resist the devil in place of you.” But that is not what it says. Most assuredly we must first submit. Without this submission any subsequent warfare against evil will be futile, as futile as was the struggle of the Polish cavalry and crop-dusters against the German panzers and Stukas in 1939. But submission to God is but the first step. Resistance comes next, through the power given by the Lord. The verse immediately following in James 4—often totally ignored by those who believe submission takes the place of resistance—stresses this point even further:
Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double minded (James 4:8).
As I’ve often said when addressing this topic, two simple verses of Scripture summarize the gospel in a nutshell. One is our Lord’s declaration to His disciples: “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The other is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Note carefully that the latter verse does not say, “I can do all things through Christ who does (or has done) it for me.” All power needed for the conquest of evil comes from Christ. But the consistent testimony of Inspiration—in contrast to Phillips—is that this power remains ours to exercise.
Justification, Sanctification, and Perfection
Phillips’ understanding of the role of justification, sanctification, and character perfection in the salvation process becomes even more baffling in the light of those teachings of his that we have considered already.
If, as Phillips claims, man’s sinful nature must die here on earth rather than simply be controlled (pp. 130, 134, 135, 142, 143), and if man’s part in the quest for holiness is simply to turn the struggle over to God for Him to win on His own (pp. 61, 89, 120), then why would perfection be unattainable in the believer’s practical experience, with justification the only way whereby the law’s demands can be met? It would seem, with no sinful nature to worry about and with God doing all the work, that perfection under such circumstances would be no problem. But sadly, inconsistency is very much a trademark of Phillips’ theology, and this seems yet another example of this pattern.
Twice in his book (pp. 22, 127, 128), Phillips quotes an Ellen White statement often quoted out of context by those seeking to prove perfect obedience is impossible for the Christian:
It was possible for Adam, before the fall, to form a righteous character by obedience to God’s law. But he failed to do this, and because of his sin our natures are fallen and we cannot make ourselves righteous. Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law. We have no righteousness of our own with which to meet the claims of the law of God. But Christ has made a way of escape for us. He lived on earth amid trials and temptations such as we have to meet. He lived a sinless life. He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted of God just as if you had not sinned.118
After quoting this statement, Phillips declares, “Here we have God’s marvelous plan in one passage” (p. 22). Soon thereafter he writes, “I am certain that by now we have discovered that the only way to perfection is through justification—just as if I had never sinned” (p. 23).
But unfortunately, the “one passage” in which Phillips claims God’s marvelous plan is encapsulated, is left unfinished. He has again ignored the context of an inspired statement. Let us continue where Phillips stops in his quoting of the above passage:
More than this, Christ changes the heart. He abides in your heart by faith. You are to maintain this connection with Christ by faith and the continual surrender of your will to Him, and so long as you do this, He will work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. So you may say, ‘The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved Me, and gave Himself for Me.’ Galatians 2:20. So Jesus said to His disciples, ‘It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.’ Matthew 10:20. Then with Christ working in you, you will manifest the same spirit and do the same good works—works of righteousness, obedience.
So we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of hope is found in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.119
Obviously, Ellen White is not teaching in this passage that justification is the believer’s sole method of meeting the law’s demands. Justification deals with the believer’s past sins, which is why Ellen White says, “sinful as your live may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous.”120 Notice she doesn’t say, “sinful as your life may have been and always will be, for His sake you are accounted righteous.” Another passage, also taken out of context by Phillips (p. 33), illustrates the same point:
The law requires righteousness—a righteous life, a perfect character, and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God’s holy law. But Christ, coming to earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them.121
But as with the earlier statement, this one too clarifies itself as it continues:
His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ.122
Notice once again that the life of Christ standing for the life of men is for “remission of sins that are past.” According to Inspiration, the accounting of righteousness through justification is a cover only for past sins and sins of ignorance:
Christ bears the penalty of man’s past transgressions; and by imparting to man His righteousness, makes it possible for man to keep God’s holy law.123
The minds of all who embrace this message are directed to the most holy place, where Jesus stands before the ark, making His final intercession for all those for whom mercy still lingers and for those who have ignorantly broken the law of God. This atonement is made for the righteous dead as well as for the righteous living. It includes all who died trusting in Christ, but who, not having received the light upon God’s commandments, had sinned ignorantly in transgressing its precepts.124
Never is justification depicted by any inspired statement as covering present or future sinning. The doctrine of “overarching forgiveness”—what one contemporary Adventist author calls the “umbrella of eternal grace”125—is not found either in Scripture or the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.
Notice also that according to one of the statements noted above, imparted righteousness is described as enabling the believer to keep the law.126 Phillips seems not to understand this. Imputed righteousness, or justification, is offered in Phillips’ book as the sole route to perfection, as we have seen from his statement that “the only way to perfection is through justification” (p. 23). He quotes Ellen White statements about the role of justification in helping man reach perfection of character (pp. 34, 135)127—statements, which, again, we cannot dispute. But as the earlier statements we studied make clear—those only partly quoted by Phillips—this is only half the process. The other half is described in such statements as the following:
It is the righteousness of Christ, His own unblemished character, that through faith is imparted to all who receive Him as their personal Saviour.128
It was impossible for the sinner to keep the law of God, which was holy, just, and good, but this impossibility was removed by the impartation of the righteousness of Christ to the repenting, believing soul. The life and death of Christ in behalf of sinful man were for the purpose of restoring the sinner to God’s favor, through imparting to him the righteousness that would meet the claims of the law and find acceptance with the Father.129
Ellen White makes the following distinction between imputed and imparted righteousness:
The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven.130
Unless this reviewer missed it somewhere, Phillips’ book contains no mention anywhere of the term imparted righteousness. He seems persuaded, though without any inspired authority, that only the imputed aspect of Christ’s righteousness can meet the claims of God’s holy law. But nowhere in the inspired writings is the righteousness of justification ever exalted as superior to that of sanctification, nor is either ever depicted as more or less the spotless righteousness of Christ than the other.
Phillips writes, “Salvation is dependent on justification as a free gift from God” (p. 54). But no mention is made by Phillips of sanctification also being a part of this free gift. It seems clear that he has accepted the “justification-alone” understanding of the ground of salvation. But the inspired writings nowhere support this understanding.
The Bible is clear that justification is a key part of our salvation:
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).
In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).
But this forensic righteousness which covers our past sins (Romans 3:25) is but one part of the salvation process. The Bible is equally clear that sanctification and the internal work of the Holy Spirit are also part of the means of our salvation:
God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5).
We noted clearly how Ellen White declares that the solution to fallen man’s inability to keep the divine law is a two-fold solution—the imputed righteousness of Christ, and the work of the Spirit in and through the believers:
Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.131
Elsewhere Ellen White is equally clear that the imparted righteousness of sanctification is part of the means whereby salvation is attained:
The world is seeking for those things that perish with the using; its diligence and activity are not exerted to obtain the salvation gained through the imparted righteousness of Christ.132
Elsewhere both Scripture and Ellen White are clear that the righteousness of sanctification will indeed be perfect this side of heaven:
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
What is sanctification? It is to give one’s self wholly and without reserve—soul, body, and spirit—to God; to deal justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God; to know and to do the will of God without regard to self or self-interest; to be heavenly-minded, pure, unselfish, holy, and without spot or stain.133
Other New Testament passages not only teach the possibility of perfect obedience in this life (John 8:11; Romans 6:14; 8:4, 13; 1 Corinthians 15:34; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 10:5; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 4:1; 1 John 1:7, 9; Jude 24), but also maintain such perfection will be demonstrated by the end-time church before Jesus comes (2 Peter 3:10-14; 1 John 3:2, 3; Revelation 3:21; 14:5).
Phillips denigration of saving righteousness extends not only to sanctification; it is also a problem in his understanding of justification. In his words:
Justification, being a legal work, can only deal with our legal standing (our record) and not with us personally (p. 25).
Does justification enable us to obey? No. Justification deals only with our legal record—our standing before God (p. 48).
Certainly, as we have seen from Inspiration, God’s forgiveness (justification) does deal with our legal record before God. But not only does sanctification go beyond this legal adjustment, the fact is that according to Inspiration, justification goes beyond it as well. Consider the following:
God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.’ Psalm 51:10.134
This is because when God declares something to be so, it is not merely looked upon as if it is so. It actually becomes so. When God declared at the creation, “Let there be light,” what was the result? “And there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Ellen White comments on this point as follows:
In the creation, ‘He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.’ He ‘calleth those things which be not as though they were’ (Psalm 33:9; Romans 4:17), for when He calls them, they are.135
Phillips writes, regarding justification:
Justification will always be needed. Christ’s character is the only covering that could completely meet all of the demands of God’s perfect law, therefore, it must always be retained (p. 54).
Though he never explicitly states that sanctification is incapable of meeting the law’s demands, this is strongly implied by Phillips’ message. Once again, his theology collides directly with the written counsel of God. Inspiration is clear that the time will come when God’s end-time saints will no longer have the continuous availability of God’s forgiveness:
Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless; their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth….
When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing.136
A mediator is only needed when there are differences. So long as Chrysler and the United Auto Workers get along fine, no government mediator is called for. Only when differences arise is such intervention necessary. Between man and God, differences are called sins. When such sins occur, we have an Advocate, or Mediator, with the Father (1 John 2:1). But according to the above Ellen White statement, the time will come before Jesus returns when this work on His part will cease. At that point, as we have seen from both Scripture and Ellen White, the sanctification of God’s saints must be complete.
Phillips refers at one point to the lives of Noah and Job, claiming that while God pronounced them perfect, they really were less than such. But Phillips’ only proof that Job was not in fact perfect—despite what God said of him (Job 1:8)—is Job’s later statement, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). But this hardly means that Job had not, by the time of this story, attained complete victory over the sins in his life. Merely repenting for past sins and abhorring one’s self for them does not mean the sins are continuing. Job addresses this point specifically in the following passage:
If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me; if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet I would not know my soul; I would despise my life (Job 9:20, 21).
The bottom-line reason why none of us can claim to have attained perfection is because, according to Scripture, God alone knows the heart (1 Kings 8:39). He alone can therefore state regarding His people, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). Only He can declare of the translated saints, “‘They come! They come! Holy, harmless, and undefiled. They have kept the word of My patience; they shall walk among the angels.’”137
Phillips also quotes the verse about Noah being declared just and perfect by God (Genesis 6:9). Yet Phillips goes on to say that the record of Noah’s life, like a number of other Bible characters he cites, “reveals personal imperfection” (p. 32). Undoubtedly, in Noah’s case, he is referring to the post-Flood episode of drunkenness (Genesis 9:20, 21). But what Phillips and others seem not to consider is that perfection—indeed, our entire relationship with God—is a moment-by-moment affair. Noah was not described by God as perfect while he was naked and drunk! Ellen White admonishes us that “without a vital connection with God, through the surrender of ourselves to Him moment by moment, we shall be overcome.”138
Phillips makes another misleading statement when he writes, “When we walk with Jesus, we must remember that He does not condemn us even if we make a mistake” (p. 82). While it is true, as Ellen White affirms clearly, that Jesus does not cast us off when we fall into sin,139 it is equally clear that we bring ourselves into condemnation when we do this, and that justification does not cover us in such circumstances:
Every act of transgression brings the soul into condemnation, and provokes the divine displeasure.140
Every impurity of thought, every lustful passion, separates the soul from God, for Christ can never put His robe of righteousness upon a sinner, to hide his deformity.141
When man transgresses he is under the condemnation of the law, and it becomes to him a yoke of bondage. Whatever his profession may be he is not justified.142
We can praise the Lord, of course, that the God who is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), will not permit an untimely fate to befall one in such a state, so long as turning from sin remains a possibility. In Ellen White’s words:
As long as there is hope, until they resist the Holy Spirit to their eternal ruin, men are guarded by heavenly intelligences.143
Twice in his book (pp. 61, 107) Phillips quotes another Ellen White statement often taken out of context by those seeking to twist her writings into harmony with the anti-perfection doctrine. This statement is as follows:
The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts (144).
The idea is thus conveyed that a perfect character need not be free of occasional sin in order to be acceptable to God. But again, the context of this statement makes it clear just what Ellen White is referring to:
A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place, or trace all the chain of circumstances in the process of conversion, but this does not prove him to be unconverted…. A change will be seen in the character, the habits, the pursuits. The contrast will be clear and decided between what they have been and what they are.145
Then we read:
The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.146
In other words, the point in this context is not God’s ultimate requirement for the perfecting of Christian character, but rather, how one might tell whether or not an initial conversion has taken place. Two other Ellen White statements, quoted by Phillips but whose meaning—yet again—seems totally lost on him (pp. 43, 139), make it clear just how perfect God enables His children to be:
Jesus revealed no qualities, and exercised no powers, that men may not have through faith in Him. His perfect humanity is that which all His followers may possess, if they will be in subjection to God as He was.147
When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.148
The character of Jesus certainly did not include any occasional misdeeds! And it is that character that God’s servant declares must be perfectly reproduced in His people as a prerequisite for His return.
In perhaps her most powerful statement on the subject of Christian perfection, the modern prophet writes:
The Saviour is wounded afresh and put to open shame when His people pay no heed to His word. He came to this world and lived a sinless life, that in His power His people might also live lives of sinlessness.149
Conclusion: A Counterfeit Robe
The title of Phillips’ book sets up the right dilemma. Will we accept Jesus robe of righteousness, or one of our own making? Unfortunately, the inspired evidence reveals that Phillips has contrived a counterfeit robe—a half-garment of justification-alone salvation which leaves the sinner fully covered but only partially transformed. His unscriptural belief that sin is an involuntary condition into which all are born compels him to deny to Jesus the possibility of a sinless life in sinful human nature, and his illusion that man’s sinful nature must be destroyed rather than controlled—along with his denial of the role of human effort in the struggle with sin—lead him into equally false and strange paths.
The Bible declares, regarding the Christian’s robe of righteousness:
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Revelation 19:7, 8, RSV).
Notice how the Bride has “made herself ready”—a statement implying considerable effort, as any bride getting ready for a wedding can attest! And the fine linen she wears is described as “the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Modern translations, in this regard, render this verse more accurately than the KJV.) No wonder Ellen White, in describing the wedding garment of Jesus’ parable (in a statement which, again, goes without a mention in Phillips’ book), describes this robe as one of practical, sanctified holiness:
By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God’s commandments. When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garments of His righteousness.150 GCO
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Pastor Kevin D. Paulson serves on the pastoral staff of the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Through the years he has published articles in many publications. He is also editor of Quo Vadis, a truth-filled magazine predominantly featuring the work of SDA young people. Kevin is also the speaker for “Know Your Bible,” a radio program broadcast each Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on WMCA 570 AM, in Hasbrouk Heights, New Jersey. Pastor Paulson received his BA in Theology from Pacific Union College in 1982 and an MA in Systematic Theology from Loma Linda University in 1987.