By Carol Zarska, author, public speaker, counselor (Masters in Pastoral Counseling), mother, grandmother and great-grandmother
In the Christian world today there is little if any understanding of the concept of an investigative judgment in which God’s people are required to be intelligent participants. In this article I will bring together appropriate scriptures and Spirit of Prophecy quotations which I hope will help to clarify this important topic.
Since we are now living in the great antitypical Day of Atonement, let’s consider what was required of the Israelites on that one day a year which prefigured the work of Jesus in the Most Holy Place at the end of time.
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must [afflict your souls – KJV] and not do any work–whether native-born or an alien living among you–because on this day atonement will be made for you to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord you will be clean from all your sins.” Lev. 16:29, 30.
“Anyone who does not [afflict – KJV] himself on that day must be cut off from his people.” Lev. 23: 29.
“While Christ is cleansing the sanctuary, the worshippers on earth should carefully review their life, and compare their character with the standard of righteousness.” Ev 224.
“Without the transformation process which can come alone through divine power, the original propensities to sin are left in the heart in all their strength, to forge new chains, to impose a slavery that can never be broken by human power.” Ev 192.
Our forefathers believed that Jesus would come in their generation. And so it might have been. But now we are 177 years from 1844.
Why has it taken so long for Jesus to come? Is it because it takes that long for Him to go through the books of heaven? Or is it because we have not understood how to cooperate with His heavenly work so that He would have a generation ready when He comes? The answer to this question is found in the Great Controversy, pp. 424, 425:
“Christ had come, not to the earth, as they had expected, but…to the Most Holy Place of the temple of God in heaven….
“This coming is foretold…by the prophet Malachi: ‘The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom you delight in: behold, He shall come,’ saith the Lord of hosts….
“But the people were not yet ready to meet their Lord. There was still a work of preparation to be accomplished for them. Light was to be given, directing their minds to the temple of God in heaven; and as they should by faith follow their High Priest in His administration there, new duties would be revealed. Another message of warning and instruction was to be given to the church.
“Says the prophet: ‘Who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them like gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.’ [Mal. 3:2, 3.]
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 earth. This work is more clearly presented in the messages of Revelation 14.
“When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing…. Then the church which our Lord at His coming is to receive to Himself will be ‘a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.'” GC 424, 5.
Do you see the cooperative work here between Christ in the heavenly sanctuary and His people on earth? Unfortunately, our people have long believed that they would not know when Jesus came to their name in judgment until after the close of probation, and discovered only too late to do anything about it. To underscore what I have just said, I will quote from an editorial written by Martin Weber in the Ministry Magazine, October, 1994:
“The devil has aimed some of his sharpest arrows at the heavenly sanctuary, with its 1844 judgment….
“Eternal torment is a terrible doctrine of the devil, but at least it doesn’t disturb the faithful with doubts about their own damnation. The sanctuary\judgment doctrine I was taught, however, informed struggling saints not yet victorious that if their names had already come up in the celestial judgment and they had flunked the test, they were going about their business already doomed.
“‘What’s the use?‘ many of my teenage friends lamented after Bible classes. ‘Why even try to be like Jesus if we might already be damned in the judgment?’…. Concerned pastors and teachers redoubled their efforts to save their youth from tuning out the church and turning on with drugs. Mostly in vain.
“People young and old have become weary of shame-based, guilt-ridden religion, and the tendency is simply to give up…. Some Adventists give up on God and the church; others keep attending but divorce themselves from the dysfunctional aspects of religion that brings them pain–such as a perfectionistic perversion of the sanctuary/judgment doctrine.
“What a pity! Seventh-day Adventists have so much to teach the world. There is nothing missing in our message; God has given us a complete package of truth. However, we’ve had a problem connecting Adventist doctrine with Christian faith, compounded by a desire to debate rather than to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him. The 1888 episode was supposed to remedy all that.
“But it hasn’t.”
My question at this point is, why hasn’t it? In order to understand this better, let’s go back to a portion of a sermon given by A. T. Jones to the General Conference in 1883:
“Well, now, let us carry that a little further. He [Christ] gave Himself for our sins; but… He will not take our sins–although He bought them–without our permission…. The choice is forever with me as to whether I would rather have my sins than to have Him, isn’t it?…
Then from this time henceforth can there be any hesitation about letting anything go that God shows is sin? Will you let it go when it is pointed out? When sin is pointed out to you, say, ‘I would rather have Christ than that.’ And let it go. Just tell the Lord, ‘Lord, I make the choice right now; I make the trade; I make Thee my choice; it is gone, and I have something better.’…
Where in the world is the opportunity for any of us to get discouraged over our sins?
“Now some of the brethren here have done that very thing. They came here free; but the Spirit of God brought up something they never saw before. The Spirit of God went deeper than it ever went before, and revealed things they never saw before; and then instead of thanking the Lord that this was so, and letting the whole wicked business go, and thanking the Lord that they had ever so much more of Him than they ever had before, they began to get discouraged. They said, ‘Oh what am I going to do? My sins are so great.’…
“If the Lord has brought up sins to us that we never thought of before, that only shows that He is going down to the depths, and He will reach the bottom at last; and when He finds the last thing that is unclean or impure, that is out of harmony with His will, and brings that up, and shows that to us, and we can say, ‘I would rather have the Lord than that’–then the work is complete, and the seal of the living God can be fixed upon that character….
“Which would you rather, have the completeness, the perfect fullness, of Jesus Christ, or have less than that, with some of your sins covered up that you never know?… How in the world can that seal of God, which is the impress of that perfect character revealed in us, be put upon us when there are sins about us?
He cannot put the seal, the impress of His perfect character, upon us until He sees it there. And so He has got to dig down to the deep places we never dreamed of, because we cannot understand our hearts…. He will cleanse the heart, and bring up the last vestige of wickedness. Let Him go on, brethren; let Him keep on His searching work….
“If the Lord should take away our sins without our knowing it, what good would it do us? That would simply be making machines of us…. We are always intelligent instruments–not like a pick or a shovel…. We are intelligent instruments. We will be used by the Lord at our own living choice.” GC 1893 session, Bulletin pp. 404, 405.
Here we see clearly that A. T. Jones was teaching an experiential judgment in order to be prepared for the seal of God. Unfortunately, the General Conference rejected this precious message. As a result, both Jones and Wagner left the church, and Ellen White said it was “the saddest time of my life” Manuscript 21, 1888, and “the most grievous trial of my life” Manuscript 30, 1889, for she knew that we would be in this world many more years.
It was a repeat of the rebellion of the Israelite people when they came up to the land of Canaan the first time and had to go back into the wilderness for another 40 years until a new generation arose that would be obedient to God’s call.
What is God waiting for in order to bring us into the heavenly land of Canaan? He is waiting for His people to be willing to go through the judgment experience with Him that was outlined by A. T. Jones four generations ago.
Yes, it is a difficult experience, but it is absolutely necessary in order to be cleansed of our sins and prepared for the seal of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Latter Rain. Here is a description by Ellen White of this cleansing experience that God’s people must go through:
“I saw some, with strong faith and agonizing cries, pleading with God. Their countenances were pale and marked with deep anxiety, expressive of their internal struggle. Firmness and great earnestness was expressed in their countenances;…
“Evil angels crowded around, pressing darkness upon them to shut out Jesus from their view, that their eyes might be drawn to the darkness that surrounded them, and thus they be led to distrust God and murmur against Him. Their only safety was in keeping their eyes directed upward….
“I saw angels of God hasten to the assistance of all who were struggling with all their power to resist the evil angels and trying to help themselves by calling upon God with perseverance. But His angels left those who made no effort to help themselves, and I lost sight of them.
“I asked the meaning of the shaking I had seen and was shown that it would be caused by the straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodiceans…. Some will not bear this straight testimony. They will rise up against it, and this is what will cause a shaking among God’s people….
“This testimony must work deep repentance; all who truly receive it will obey it and be purified….
“Soon I heard a voice like many musical instruments all sounding in perfect strains, sweet and harmonious…. My attention was then turned to the company I had seen who were mightily shaken…. The company of guardian angels around them had been doubled, and they were clothed with an armor from their head to their feet….
Their countenances expressed the severe conflict which they had endured, the agonizing struggle they had passed through. Yet their features, marked with severe internal anguish, now shown with the light and glory of heaven. They had obtained the victory, and it called forth from them the deepest gratitude and holy sacred joy…. Evil angels still pressed around them but could have no power over them….
“I asked what had made this great change. An angel answered, ‘It is the Latter Rain, the Refreshing from the presence of the Lord, the loud cry of the third angel.'” EW 269-271.
Many Seventh-day Adventists today have lost sight of our original calling to walk with Jesus through the experience of the cleansing that must take place in order for us to be ready for Jesus to come.
The common teaching that we hear now is that we will sin until Jesus comes, and the grace of God will cover us through the time of trouble. But this is a deadly error which is not found in the scriptures, nor in the teachings of the Spirit of Prophecy.
Recently, while reading an article by a well-known leader who has his own ministry, I noticed his statement that the judgment of the living would soon begin. He did not give a reason for his assumption, so I called the number that was given in the paper. A pleasant gentleman answered the phone, and after expressing my appreciation of the article, I said, “By the way, could you tell me if we will know when our names come up in the judgment?” “Oh, no!” He said. “It would not be good for us to know, because then we would try really hard to be good in order to pass the judgment.” I thanked him, and hung up the phone, feeling very sad that this is the understanding that most of our people still have.
It is no wonder the belief is common that we will sin until Jesus comes. Our experience has told us that no matter how hard we try, we will never come to perfection. This is why it is imperative to understand that in order to fulfill God’s requirement for the last generation, we must have such a close relationship with Jesus that He can show us everything He sees in our character that needs His cleansing power.
As we cooperate with Him, He will reproduce His own character in us. Then the Holy Spirit will place His seal of approval upon us, for we will do everything that pleases Him, just as He did for His Father when He was on earth.
“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.” John 6:27.
“I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.” John 8:28, 29.
If we are to have the character of Christ, we also must always do what pleases God. Then we will be ready for His seal of approval.
But we cannot have this seal of God’s approval unless we go through the cleansing process that is provided for us in the judgment experience with Jesus. He alone can heal us of the besetting sins and wrong habits that we have in our lives, and also the character defects that have been passed on to us from former generations. [See addendum.]
“The life of the soul depends upon habitual communion with God.” OHC 130.
“It is only by personal union with Christ, by communion with Him daily, hourly, that we can bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit…. Our growth in grace, our joy, our usefulness, all depends on our union with Christ and the degree of faith we exercise in Him.” SD 290.
“Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Eph. 5:27.
“When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.” DA 668.
“The winds are to be held until the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads.” IHP 96.
“The seal of the living God will be placed upon those only who bear a likeness to Christ in character…. As we look to Him and think of Him, He will be formed within, the hope of glory.” 7 BC 970.
“Not even by a thought could our Savior be brought to yield to the power of temptation. This is the condition which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.” GC 623.
“The great plan of redemption, as revealed in the closing work for these last days, should receive close examination…. All need to become more intelligent in regard to the work of the atonement, which is going on in the sanctuary above.
When this grand truth is seen and understood, those who hold it will work in harmony with Christ to prepare people to stand in the great day of God, and their efforts will be successful. By study, contemplation, and prayer, God’s people will be… brought into harmony with Christ and His great work of cleansing the sanctuary above from the sins of the people.
Their faith will go with Him into the sanctuary, and the worshippers on earth will be carefully reviewing their lives and comparing their characters with the great standard of righteousness.
They will see their own defects; they will also see that they must have the aid of the Spirit of God if they would become qualified for the great and solemn work for this time which is laid upon God’s ambassadors.” 5T 575.
My fervent desire is that everyone will learn the truth that “The Lord does nothing without our cooperation.” [2 SM 236.]
If we have a close relationship with Jesus, He will walk us through the judgment successfully. He will reveal to us anything that would stand between us and Him. He will continue to work with us patiently and lovingly as we strive for the perfection of character that is required of those who receive His seal of approval.
There is no danger that we will fail in the investigative judgment unless we refuse the precious relationship with Jesus that He offers, and choose the world and its attractions.
“We are now living in the great Day of Atonement. In the typical service, while the high priest was making the atonement for Israel, all were required to afflict their souls by repentance of sin and humiliation before the Lord, lest they be cut off from among the people.
In like manner, all who would have their names retained in the Book of Life should now, in the few remaining days of their probation, afflict their souls before God by sorrow for sin and true repentance. There must be deep, faithful searching of heart….
“The judgment is now passing in the sanctuary above. For many years this work has been in progress. Soon–none know how soon–it will come to the cases of the living. In the awful presence of God, our lives are to come up in review. At this time above all others it behooves every soul to heed the Savior’s admonition, ‘Watch and pray: for you know not when the time is. If therefore thou shalt not watch I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee….
“Watch ye therefore:… lest coming suddenly He find you sleeping. Perilous is the condition of those who, growing weary of their watch, turn to the attractions of the world. While the man of business is absorbed in the pursuit of gain, while the pleasure-lover is seeking indulgence, while the daughter of fashion is arranging her adornments–it may be in that hour that the Judge of all the earth will pronounce the sentence, ‘Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting.'” GC 489-91.
Do you see the mistake that we as a church have made in reading this passage of Ellen White’s comments on the judgment of the living? It does not say that when He comes to our name in judgment we will not know it. It says that if we are not watching we will not know it.
Jesus says the same thing in reference to the wise and foolish virgins. The wise virgins had the extra oil to put into their vessels when the bridegroom came. But the foolish virgins had allowed their lamps to go out, and had no extra oil, which represents an ongoing, personal love relationship with Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
When we have a personal relationship with Jesus, He gives us the light and understanding that is necessary for our characters to be ready to meet Him when He comes.
It seems very significant in this story that the foolish virgins went out to buy oil somewhere else, and returned with something they believed to be the oil that was necessary for admittance into the kingdom of heaven. It seems logical from the story that they went to other Christians and borrowed from their beliefs.
But a Christian belief system cannot save us. Only a personal, ongoing relationship with Jesus can save us. Only He can guide us safely through the time of the judgment of the living. Only He knows what we need in order to be ready for His coming. This is why He said to the foolish virgins, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” Matt. 25:12.
Should we be surprised, then, that so many are now saying that we will sin until Jesus comes? They are getting their belief system from other people, not from the scriptures or from the Spirit of Prophecy. Both of these sources of truth teach plainly that there will be a finished product when Jesus comes to get His bride.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Ps. 139:23, 24.
“All of God’s people should come nearer to Him and wash their robes of character in the blood of the Lamb. Then they will see sin in the true light and realize how offensive it is in the sight of God.” 3T 324.
“God’s people will finally triumph over every power of darkness.” 4 BC 1175.
May we all persevere in our walk with Jesus until we are clothed in the perfect white robe of His righteousness.
Addendum: Quotes on Inherited Tendencies to Sin.
“I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Ex. 20:5, 6.
“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, the Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Ex. 34:6, 7.
“It is inevitable that children should suffer from the consequences of parental wrongdoing, but they are not punished for the parents guilt except as they participate in their sins. It is usually the case, however, that children walk in the steps of their parents. By inheritance and example the sons become partakers of the father’s sin.
Wrong tendencies, perverted appetites, and debased morals, as well as physical disease and degeneracy, are transmitted as a legacy from father to son, to the third and fourth generation. This fearful truth should have a solemn power to restrain men from following a course of sin.” PP 306.
“The habits formed in youth, although they may in afterlife be somewhat modified, are seldom essentially changed. Your entire life has been molded by the legacy of character transmitted to you at birth. Your father’s perverse temperament is seen in his children.” 4T 499.
“Even before the birth of the child, the preparation should begin that will enable it to fight successfully the battle against evil. Especially does responsibility rests upon the mother. She, by whose lifeblood the child is nourished and its physical frame built up, imparts to it also mental and spiritual influences that tend to the shaping of mind and character….
The effect of prenatal influences is by many parents looked upon as a matter of little moment; but heaven does not so regard it…. The well-being of the child will be affected by the habits of the mother…. If, before the birth of her child she is self-indulgent, if she is selfish, impatient, and exacting, these traits will be reflected in the disposition of the child.
Thus many children have received as a birthright almost unconquerable tendencies to evil. But if the mother unswervingly adheres to right principles, if she is temperament and self-denying, if she is kind, gentle, and unselfish, she may give her child these same precious traits of character.” MH 371-5.
“The father should be bear in mind that the treatment of his wife before the birth of his offspring will materially affect the disposition of the mother during that period, and will have very much to do with the character developed by that child after its birth.” 2 SM 428.
Recent scientific experiments have also produced evidence that children inherit characteristics from their parents which is passed on in the DNA of body cells.
“Scientists have found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA. New research from Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA….
Dr. Brian Diaz from the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University, said:… Our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, even before conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.” Soulsurfing.website/index.php/2015/1.
“There is a new science that should cause the Christian world, especially Seventh-day Adventists, to take notice. Epigenetic research has been around for 16 years and it has revealed that the phrase in the second commandment in Exodus 25 that reads, ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the children unto the third and fourth generation,’ is a fact of science.
“Through his research in epigenetics at Resstler’s laboratory at Emory University in Atlanta, a man named Brian Diaz discovered that things we experience, choices we make, what we think and the way we think are mysteriously passed on to our children through DNA.
“Diaz also discovered that those character traits are passed on to the third and fourth generation. He realized that every choice, every thought process he and his wife made would affect their unborn children; their life choices would affect their posterity long past their existence.
Reading carefully what he and others have written, one discovers that children’s characters are not only molded by what they see their parents and others doing, but also by what is passed down to them through parental epigenetics.
“This research also reveals that the spiritual choices we make…are somehow passed down to our children and beyond….
“[Ellen] White says of some children, ‘they have inherited the defective characters of their parents, and the discipline of the home has been no help in the formation of right character.” CT 192.
“But the good news is that we aren’t stuck with our epigenetic inheritance. If we love God enough to trust Him, and trust Him enough to be obedient to Him, we can claim His Bible promises that tell us God is ‘able to sanctify us wholly’ (1 Thess. 5:23-24); that God is ‘able to present us faultless’ (Jude 24) before His throne. Truly, God is great and gracious to us.”
Wallace Frost, pastor; Potomac Conference.
Columbia Union Visitor; September, 2016.