Fitness for Heaven
"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." —Christ Our Righteousness, p. 98.
What is fitness for heaven? How much sanctification is required? How long does it take to become fit? We need a clear answer to these questions.
Some are anxious because they think that the title Jesus gives us in the blessing of justification is not valid unless they can back it up with a sufficient degree of fitness. But let me ask, Could anyone look at his own experience and be satisfied with his fitness? If being ready for the latter rain depended on the measure of our sanctification, who could confidently pray for the latter rain? (Maybe this is one reason why there is so little faith to ask for the latter rain.)
But this very disposition to think that the title to heaven is not good enough, is a large part of our unfitness. If we accept the title and trust fully in it, then we shall be fit for heaven. If we continue to think that the title is not enough, then we shall remain unfit for heaven.
Someone has very appropriately said, "God's justification of the sinner is the meaning of the New Testament. And sanctification from the believer's side, is simply taking justification seriously. " —Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, p. 234.
In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Christian was given a roll, the title or certificate of the King at the beginning of his journey. Once he went to sleep and lost his title. He was then unfit to go on, so he had to hurry back and find it again. As long as he had the title, he had a right to travel on the King's way. When Ignorance came to the celestial city, he saw the inscription, "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to . . . enter. . . . " He felt confident. But when asked if he had a title, he put his hand in his bosom and could not find it. And how many still instinctively put their hands within their bosom to search for a right to enter the kingdom! Christian produced the same title given at the commencement of the journey. That which enabled him to start, enabled him to complete the journey. And only the possession of that title proved that he was a commandment keeper who had right to enter in. What marvelous insight Bunyan had!
When the believer is justified by faith, He is given the Holy Spirit for renewal of his life (Rom. 5:1, 5). Although Christ's work for us and His work in us can be distinguished, they can never be separated, just as light and heat can be distinguished as cause and effect, yet cannot be separated. If there is light, there will be heat. If there is justification, there will be a new life in the Spirit. God pledges it. Thus there is no such thing as having justification without experiencing regeneration, and there is no such thing as retaining justification without being progressively sanctified. If we go to sleep on the road of obedience, we risk losing the title. We cannot gain the title by obedience, but we can lose it by disobedience.
He who is justified at any given point cannot possibly lack the necessary sanctification at that same point. Mrs. White says, "If you are right with God today [justified means right with God], you are ready if Christ should come today. " And in Selected Messages, book 1, page 191, she says that we may be ready for the latter rain today.
It all comes back to whether we believe the New Testament gospel. "Being justified by faith, we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. " Rom. 5:1, 2. Can a man who is unfit really rejoice in hope of Christ's coming? When the Corinthians accepted Paul's gospel, Paul could say, "Ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Cor. 1:7. The Thessalonians turned from idols "to wait for His Son from heaven. " 1 Thess. 1:10. They stood blameless in "spirit and soul and body. " Paul prayed that they might be preserved blameless. Instead of becoming fit for Jesus' coming, they became very unfit because they lost the truth of justification.
Are we being "preserved blameless, " or are we still trying to become blameless? One is the way of the gospel; the other is the way of law.
Someone asks, "What about this statement which says that before Jesus comes, 'our natures must be pure and holy'? " (Our High Calling, p. 278). It is high time we got the old "holiness " glasses off so that we can correctly read the Spirit of Prophecy! Mrs. White is not talking about a unique work of grace available only to the final generation. She is simply urging the necessity for the great moral change known as Bible conversion. In this, the born-again believer receives a new heart, a new nature. There is no sin in the new nature—never has been, never will be. It is a sinless nature because it is "the new man, " which has already been created "in righteousness and true holiness. " Eph. 4:24. Jesus says that unless a man has this radical moral change, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-5). And that is the "moral change " all of God's people need before Jesus comes. Peter exhorts us to "repent . . . and be converted," that "sins may be blotted out " and that "times of refreshing " may come (Acts 3:19). Plainly, then, being right with God is what all need to be ready for the judgment or latter rain. Any man who is converted and stays converted is fit. And what about the thief on the cross? Was he not fit for heaven?
Another grave mistake is to suppose that the title is something which we have in Christ and the fitness is something which must be in us. So, like Ignorance, we put our hand in our bosom to find our fitness. Yet the servant of the Lord says, " . . . whatever of virtue humanity possesses, it exists only in Jesus Christ. . . . " —SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1141.
We have already seen that in this life we are given only the "down payment" of the Spirit (imparted righteousness) in actual possession within us (Eph. 1:14). That alone cannot constitute us as fit. Take a stick, and you can easily break it. But put it side by side with a bar of iron, and it is as strong as the iron. Let a believer scale the highest peak of sanctification, it is still not enough unless presented to God in the blood of Jesus Christ. It is only in the blood that our sanctification is entire, absolute and acceptable. " . . . we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. " Heb. 10:10. "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. " Heb. 13:12. The blood means the virtue or merit of Christ's death. The cross is not just a means to our sanctification. It is our sanctification as well as our justification (see also 1 Cor. 1:30).
So sanctification has an objective and a subjective dimension. In Christ, we are sanctified— wholly, absolutely and perfectly sanctified. This is sanctification by the blood. In our heart's experience we are being sanctified—progressively from one stage of incompleteness to another. This is sanctification by the Spirit.
Christ in You
This expression, "Christ in You, the Hope of Glory" Col.1:27 taken from Paul's letter to the Colossians, is a favorite in the "holiness " gospel. It is interpreted to mean that the believer's hope of glory rests upon the inward experience, which of course is so contrary to the Pauline message of the righteousness which is of faith. The very next verse should be read: " . . . whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. " Col. 1:28. In another place, Paul prays, " . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." Eph. 3:17. This does not mean some euphoria as the Pentecostals continually seek after. It does not mean an indwelling of essential righteousness as Osiander proposed. It does not mean a mystic indwelling of interior sanctity that makes us acceptable to God as the Roman Catholics teach. Rather, it means that when we see that Jesus is everything, we think and meditate upon Him. He becomes so dear to us that He is never out of our thoughts or heart's affections.
"I think of my blessed Redeemer,
I think of Him all the day long;
I sing, for I cannot be silent;
His love is the theme of my song."
And thus He lives in our hearts. The Spirit works in us to keep Christ before our minds. But unless we have it straight that Christ is up in heaven and we are down on earth ("whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord"), we will be in danger of worshiping the Christ within" instead of the Christ "without." Mrs. White says: " . . . Christ is dwelling in our hearts by faith when we will consider what He is to us, and what a work He has wrought out for us in the plan of redemption." —Testimonies to Ministers, p. 388.
A New Testament scholar has made these sensible comments on Colossians 1:27:
"However, apart from the fact that in Colossians 1:27 the 'you' of the 'Christ in you' is plural (en humin), not singular, meaning that the expression is not primarily individual or internal but communal and congregational, the most important fact is that Christ is in believers, individually, in faith. Faith is the receptacle of Christ.
"Where there is faith in Christ, there Christ is in faith. That is simply the gospel. Furthermore, 'Christ in us' is not a higher, better form of 'Christ for us.' 'Is Christ divided?' Where Christ is for us He is in us, else He would not be truly for us. Nor is the simple faith which receives Christ and forgiveness to be demoted by letting it do only an external work while some other disposition (such as 'letting go') will finally suffice to get Christ into us. The sufficiency of Christ's once-for-all work and of faith alone which receives him fully, i.e. for us and in us—is frequently but subtly demeaned in victorious-life teaching. Not only is Christ's person devided but His people are robbed. The believer is thrown from a gratitude for God's work outside himself into a grovelling within himself. The gracious fact of the inner Christ is made to depend upon tricky inner doings or undoings of the believer (for example, 'yieldings,' 'appropriating,' 'full surrender,'et al.). Thus the way of law enters via the teaching of 'Christ in us'—a strange irony." —Bruner, op. cit., pp. 233, 234.