Facing Life's Record (An Analysis of the Great Controversy's Scariest Chapter)

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Have you ever read the chapter "Facing Life's Record" in The Great Controversy and walked away feeling anxious and hopeless? Has anyone ever quoted that chapter to you in a way that promotes legalism and perfectionism? If you have ever experienced this then you are not alone. Because of this common occurrence I decided to do a paragraph by paragraph analysis of this most dreadful chapter to see whether or not it really is as scary as some people make it out to be. What I discovered was both simple and amazing. Rather than promoting legalism this chapter makes it impossible to do so. But don't take my word for it. Read along and you will see for yourself.

Now before I begin allow me to make a disclaimer of sorts. This post is intended for Seventh-day Adventists who already understand and believe the doctrine of the investigative judgment, therefore, this post is not apologetic in nature. There are many questions that are often raised when studying the investigative judgment that I will not answer here. My only burden in this post is to discover whether or not the chapter "Facing Life's Record", found in Ellen Whites signature book The Great Controversy, is antithetical to the gospel. However, at the end of this post I will attach some links which contain resources that will help answer those other questions. And of course, if there are any more questions feel free to contact me.


Facing Life's Record

“I beheld,” says the prophet Daniel, “till thrones were placed, and One that was Ancient of Days did sit: His raiment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool; His throne was fiery flames, and the wheels thereof burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” Daniel 7:9, 10, R.V.


There is not much to be said about this paragraph. It is simply setting the apocalyptic stage for the judgment as SDA's understand it.

Thus was presented to the prophet’s vision the great and solemn day when the characters and the lives of men should pass in review before the Judge of all the earth, and to every man should be rendered “according to his works.” The Ancient of Days is God the Father. Says the psalmist: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Psalm 90:2. It is He, the source of all being, and the fountain of all law, that is to preside in the judgment. And holy angels as ministers and witnesses, in number “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,” attend this great tribunal.


Again, not much to be said. The judgment is described as a "great and solemn (serious) day," which I don't think anyone would debate, and the judge is God himself. Not much to comment on there.


“And, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.” Daniel 7:13, 14. The coming of Christ here described is not His second coming to the earth. He comes to the Ancient of Days in heaven to receive dominion and glory and a kingdom, which will be given Him at the close of His work as a mediator. It is this coming, and not His second advent to the earth, that was foretold in prophecy to take place at the termination of the 2300 days in 1844. Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest enters the holy of holies and there appears in the presence of God to engage in the last acts of His ministration in behalf of man—to perform the work of investigative judgment and to make an atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits.


Yet another descriptive paragraph. God the son enters the picture as mans "mediator" and "great High Priest" who minsters "in behalf of man" and make an "atonement" for us. Each of those titles (mediator etc.) reveals the work of Jesus on behalf of mankind. Nothing scary here. The only phrase that is suspect is that he will "make an atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits." The question then is, What does it mean to be "entitled"? Are we "entitled" to the benefits of the atonement Christ made at the cross by our works? Or are we "entitled" to those benefits by faith in his finished atonement on Calvary? Hold on to that question. It will soon be answered.


In the typical service only those who had come before God with confession and repentance, and whose sins, through the blood of the sin offering, were transferred to the sanctuary, had a part in the service of the Day of Atonement. So in the great day of final atonement and investigative judgment the only cases considered are those of the professed people of God. The judgment of the wicked is a distinct and separate work, and takes place at a later period. “Judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel?” 1 Peter 4:17.


So, according to this paragraph, the investigative judgment only considers the cases of those who have professed faith in Jesus. Now the picture is starting to get a bit scarier isn't it? At this point many begin to stumble. Why are Christians judged? Does this not remove the assurance of our salvation?


First of all, we need to remember that "the Lord knows those who are his" (2 Tim. 2:19). Therefore, the judgment is not for his information at all. Throughout the Bible we see examples of God "investigating" even though it is clear that he knows all things. For example, when Adam and Eve sinned God entered the garden and asked, "where are you" (Gen. 3:9)? Why did God ask that question? Didn't he already know? Also, in the final judgment of the wicked the Bible says that "Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:15). Why does God need to look into a book in order to determine who goes into the lake of fire and who doesn't? Doesn't he already know who the saved are? Then why the "investigation"? The only logical conclusion is that these "investigations" are not for God's benefit but for the benefit of his creation. Therefore, as will soon become clear, the investigative judgment is not for Gods benefit or enlightenment. It is for the benefit of his creation. Lets move on and it will soon come together.


The books of record in heaven, in which the names and the deeds of men are registered, are to determine the decisions of the judgment. Says the prophet Daniel: “The judgment was set, and the books were opened.” The revelator, describing the same scene, adds: “Another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Revelation 20:12.


So the names of those who have placed their faith in Jesus are written in the book of life. That means my name is there! However, something interesting is happening here. Both Ellen White and the Bible say we are judged "according to our works". Ellen says that the "the deeds of men... are to determine the decisions of the judgment" and John says, "the dead were judged... according to their works". So does this mean that we pass the judgment by our works? 


It is important to point out that Ellen White mentions two distinct judgments in this paragraph. The judgment Daniel describes is the investigative judgement which takes place before the second coming of Christ and only considers the cases of those who have confessed Christ as Lord and savior. The judgment John describes is the one that will take place after the millennium. It is known as the Great White Throne judgment and it only considers the cases of the lost. In the investigative judgment the righteous are the ones that are judged and they are judged according to their works. In the judgment of the wicked (Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20) it is only the wicked that are judged and they too are judged according to their works. The difference however, as we will soon see, is that the works of the righteous are covered by the blood of Jesus whereas the works of the wicked are not. In addition, the works of the wicked testify that sin is their god for their works are sinful. However, the works of the righteous testify that they are children of God for their works are the fruit of the spirit (Mat. 7:16; Gal. 5:22-23). However, the question remains - do we pass the judgment by our works? Let's keep reading.


The book of life contains the names of all who have ever entered the service of God. Jesus bade His disciples: “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20. Paul speaks of his faithful fellow workers, “whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians 4:3. Daniel, looking down to “a time of trouble, such as never was,” declares that God’s people shall be delivered, “everyone that shall be found written in the book.” And the revelator says that those only shall enter the city of God whose names “are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Daniel 12:1; Revelation 21:27.

Amen! Good news! Lets keep going.


“A book of remembrance” is written before God, in which are recorded the good deeds of “them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name.” Malachi 3:16. Their words of faith, their acts of love, are registered in heaven. Nehemiah refers to this when he says: “Remember me, O my God, ... and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God.” Nehemiah 13:14. In the book of God’s remembrance every deed of righteousness is immortalized. There every temptation resisted, every evil overcome, every word of tender pity expressed, is faithfully chronicled. And every act of sacrifice, every suffering and sorrow endured for Christ’s sake, is recorded. Says the psalmist: “Thou tellest my wanderings: put Thou my tears into Thy bottle: are they not in Thy book?” Psalm 56:8.


Again, good news! Notice: This paragraph says nothing about our good works earning us salvation, but what it does say is that God notices our faithfulness. Isn't that awesome?


There is a record also of the sins of men. “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” Says the Saviour: “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 12:36, 37. The secret purposes and motives appear in the unerring register; for God “will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” 1 Corinthians 4:5. “Behold, it is written before Me, ... your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the Lord.” Isaiah 65:6, 7.


Anyone shaking in their boots? Ellen White is not saying anything new here. All of our sins are noticed by God, not only our good works. But the question is, what does this mean for the believer? This question will soon be answered.


Every man’s work passes in review before God and is registered for faithfulness or unfaithfulness. Opposite each name in the books of heaven is entered with terrible exactness every wrong word, every selfish act, every unfulfilled duty, and every secret sin, with every artful dissembling. Heaven-sent warnings or reproofs neglected, wasted moments, unimproved opportunities, the influence exerted for good or for evil, with its far-reaching results, all are chronicled by the recording angel.


Again, this is a clear biblical teaching in both the Old and New Testaments.


The law of God is the standard by which the characters and the lives of men will be tested in the judgment. Says the wise man: “Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment.” Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14. The apostle James admonishes his brethren: “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” James 2:12.


This paragraph is just painting a clearer picture. Lets keep going.


Those who in the judgment are “accounted worthy” will have a part in the resurrection of the just. Jesus said: “They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, ... are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” Luke 20:35, 36. And again He declares that “they that have done good” shall come forth “unto the resurrection of life.” John 5:29. The righteous dead will not be raised until after the judgment at which they are accounted worthy of “the resurrection of life.” Hence they will not be present in person at the tribunal when their records are examined and their cases decided.


Taken alone this paragraph (and John 5:29 as well), seem to teach salvation by works. But is this what they are teaching? And what does Ellen White mean by those who are "accounted worthy"? How are we "accounted worthy?" Is it by our good works? Or is it by something else? And while we are asking these questions, what did Jesus mean when he said that “they that have done good” will receive eternal life? Is he too teaching salvation by works? This paragraph does not answer these questions, but the answer is coming up. 


Jesus will appear as their advocate, to plead in their behalf before God. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 9:24; 7:25.


Aha! So far Ellen White has only presented the problem. We are sinners and all of our sins are recorded with "terrible exactness". Now she presents the solution. And what is that solution? Jesus is our "advocate (lawyer)," who appears "in the presence of God for us (mediator) and is able to "save (savior) to the uttermost them that have good works!" Is that what it says? No! It says he is able to "save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him (faith in the substitutionary sacrifice)" because he lives with one purpose and that is to make "intercession for [us] (High Priest, redeemer)". Therefore, while our sins are many we need not fear if we are covered by the righteousness of Christ.


As the books of record are opened in the judgment, the lives of all who have believed on Jesus come in review before God. Beginning with those who first lived upon the earth, our Advocate presents the cases of each successive generation, and closes with the living. Every name is mentioned, every case closely investigated. Names are accepted, names rejected. When any have sins remaining upon the books of record, unrepented of and unforgiven, their names will be blotted out of the book of life, and the record of their good deeds will be erased from the book of God’s remembrance. The Lord declared to Moses: “Whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book.” Exodus 32:33. And says the prophet Ezekiel: “When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, ... all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned.” Ezekiel 18:24.


It is at this most critical paragraph that many Adventists freak out. Salvation, they think, is based on repenting of every little sin (so they become paranoid about repentance and are constantly trying to remember some sin they have not repented of so that they can secure their salvation by their repentance). Salvation also seems to be based on absolute perfection. Therefore, in order to secure my salvation I had better overcome every sin. The result is a naval-gazing experience where they are constantly looking to self in order to secure salvation instead of to Christ. Others assume an equally dangerous error, that they must look, not to self, but to Jesus in order to obtain the victory which will then make them "worthy" of eternal life. The error is that "worthiness" is still determined by human performance and not by the righteousness of Christ. In other words, the believer sees Jesus as the way by which he "might" obtain eternal life and not the way by which he "will". This view does not present Jesus as the promise of salvation but as the possibility of salvation. The person constantly worries if they are abiding in Christ, if they are allowing his grace to work through them, if they are surrendering enough, and if they are obeying the will of God well enough to "retain" their justification. This is a Christ + Me centered religion that turns the "obedience out of love" concept into a legalistic experience where the believer is constantly worrying whether or not they are "obeying out of love" enough or not. In addition, many continue to struggle with sin and eventually give up thinking that Jesus has failed them, that they cannot be saved, and that they might as well quit trying. But the problem was never with Ellen White or with Jesus. The problem was with surface reading, listening to legalistic teachers who themselves misunderstand these issues, and never having grasped the true gospel. So lets analyze this paragraph.


In order to properly understand this paragraph it is important to remember that Adventists, like Pentecostals, Lutherans, and Methodists, do not believe in "once saved, always saved." That is all this paragraph is about. It has nothing to do with "absolute perfection" or being worthy of heaven by my good works. It simply has to do with the fact that many who profess Christ do in fact turn their backs on him. During the judgment those who turned their backs on Jesus are given what they want - an eternity without him - while those who loved Jesus to the end are given what they want (though they don't deserve it) - an eternity with Jesus. Ellen White says that it is "our Advocate" who "presents the cases of each successive generation." What do you think that means? If an advocate, someone who speaks on your behalf, presents your case - Is he looking for any excuse to remove your name from the book of life? Or is he defending you and doing everything he can to keep your name there? Please don't ignore that powerful word "Advocate". That single noun forms the interpretive framework for this entire paragraph. Each name is "closely investigated" by the "Advocate" or the "one who pleads another's cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant..." So again I ask, What does this scenario look like? Is it one of God looking for every excuse to keep you out of heaven? Not at all. 


Then what does Ellen White mean when she says, "When any have sins remaining upon the books of record, unrepented of and unforgiven, their names will be blotted out of the book of life"? Again, Adventists do not believe in "once saved always saved." This statement does not mean that you have to confess and repent of every tiny little sin you have ever committed "or else", nor does it mean that you have to be absolutely perfect. It simply means that anyone who professed Christ, was covered by his blood, and then rebelled against him again without ever repenting of that rebellion will be removed from the book of life. This is exactly what Paul means in the book of Hebrews when he said, 

"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Heb. 10:26).  
Again, this paragraph is not in opposition to salvation by grace through faith. it is simply rejecting the heresy of "once saved always saved." In this investigation God is not looking for any excuses to keep us out of heaven, He is looking for one thing only. What is that? We will see it in the next paragraph. 

All who have truly repented of sin, and by faith claimed the blood of Christ as their atoning sacrifice, have had pardon entered against their names in the books of heaven; as they have become partakers of the righteousness of Christ, and their characters are found to be in harmony with the law of God, their sins will be blotted out, and they themselves will be accounted worthy of eternal life. The Lord declares, by the prophet Isaiah: “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” Isaiah 43:25. Said Jesus: “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.” “Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.” Revelation 3:5; Matthew 10:32, 33.


So what is God searching for? What is the Advocate doing as he "presents the cases of each successive generation"? The first sentence makes it very clear. He is looking for the blood. If you have truly repented of sin, and by faith claimed the blood of Christ, you have pardon entered against your name. That's it. No hypersensitive repentance of every little sin, no ultra-perfectionistic goal to be reached. The test is simple. Are you covered by the blood, or are you one of those who accepts Christ only to reject him when life gets rough or temptation attractive? The verdict of the judgment is determined, not by your performance or obedience, but by your faith in the blood of Jesus. Here is an illustration:

Suppose you are drowning in the ocean. A helicopter comes by and drops a rescue line to you. All you have to do is take hold of the rescue line. You take hold of it and you are elevated to safety in the helicopter. Your salvation from the watery grave is now secure. But what if you decided, for some awkward reason, that you liked things better in the ocean? What if you then leapt out of the chopper back into the ocean and then refused to get back on when the chopper returned to you? Can you logically say that you are still secure in your salvation from the watery grave? Obviously not.
That is all Ellen White is saying in this paragraph. While we are safe in the arms of Jesus we are ever free to turn our backs on him (this is what the book of Hebrews is all about). If we do, he will give us what we ask for. He will leave us, not without much pleading, to the fate we chose. "He that overcomes" then is not "he who reaches a state of sinless perfection" but he who clings to the righteousness of Christ by faith (both of which are gifts of God) for dear life and never lets go.

The deepest interest manifested among men in the decisions of earthly tribunals but faintly represents the interest evinced in the heavenly courts when the names entered in the book of life come up in review before the Judge of all the earth. The divine Intercessor presents the plea that all who have overcome through faith in His blood be forgiven their transgressions, that they be restored to their Eden home, and crowned as joint heirs with Himself to “the first dominion.” Micah 4:8. Satan in his efforts to deceive and tempt our race had thought to frustrate the divine plan in man’s creation; but Christ now asks that this plan be carried into effect as if man had never fallen. He asks for His people not only pardon and justification, full and complete, but a share in His glory and a seat upon His throne.


Wow! This is the most beautiful paragraph yet. It is absolutely amazing. It begins by saying that "earthly tribunals but faintly represents the interest evinced in the heavenly courts when the names entered in the book of life come up in review." Why? Is it because God is looking for every excuse possible to reject us? Never! Such a belief is a soul crushing heresy! The intense interest is because the judgment is an opportunity to defend us against the sophisticated accusations of Satan. When the cases "come up in review" Ellen says that "[t]he divine Intercessor presents the plea..." In other words, we have absolutely nothing to fear. The record of sins so perfectly maintained does not testify against us in the judgment because the blood of Jesus covers each and every sin written there. The purpose of the investigative judgment is thus to demonstrate who "have overcome through faith in His blood" that they may be forgiven, restored to their Eden home, and crowned as joint heirs with Jesus. I don't know about you, but this judgment sounds exciting!


This is also a good point to revisit the question, If God knows everything why does he need to investigate? Remember I concluded earlier that God never investigates for his own benefit but for the benefit of his creatures. While God knows who his true children are, the angels in heaven do not. Satan presents powerful accusations against each of us before God and the angels. Now remember, every human being has a guardian angel. Since those angels have also seen our sins they cannot argue with Satan. His charges against us, as far as they are concerned, are correct. Therefore, God opens up the books of our life's record and the investigative judgment begins - not for Gods benefit, but for the angels benefit. Of course, God could say, "Just trust me guys. Don't ask any questions. I am God and I know what I am doing." But the amazing thing is that the judgment reveals to us just how transparent God is. He has nothing to hide. This scenario is repeated in Revelation 20 during the Great White Throne judgment of the wicked. Only here, it is the redeemed who investigate what is written in the books. Not only is God transparent with his loyal angels, but he is transparent with us! He shows us why certain people we expected to see in heaven are not there and he answers all of our questions. Many people say they have tons of questions to ask God. Do you think that will go away once we get to heaven? No. God will answer everything and the investigative judgment is the beginning of that process. What a beautiful God we serve!


While Jesus is pleading for the subjects of His grace, Satan accuses them before God as transgressors. The great deceiver has sought to lead them into skepticism, to cause them to lose confidence in God, to separate themselves from His love, and to break His law. Now he points to the record of their lives, to the defects of character, the unlikeness to Christ, which has dishonored their Redeemer, to all the sins that he has tempted them to commit, and because of these he claims them as his subjects.


According to this paragraph, Who is it that "points to the record of [our] lives ...the defects of [our] character... [our]unlikeness to Christ, which has dishonored [our] Redeemer [and] to all the sins that [we have been] tempted... to commit..."? Is it Jesus our Advocate who is doing this? Not at all! It is Satan. How ironic is it that so many Adventist teachers portray the judgment in a way that makes it appear as though it is God who is pointing out these things. However, while Ellen White says he reviews the record of our lives that review is always done in the context of an Advocate (defender) and it is Satan (accuser) who points out, accuses, and claims us as "unworthy" not God! How sad is it that many well meaning Adventists have unwittingly switched the role of Jesus with the role of Satan by making God out to be against us in the judgment. How much damage has been caused by this heresy! But notice, it did not come from Ellen White but from those who have misinterpreted her writings.


Jesus does not excuse their sins, but shows their penitence and faith, and, claiming for them forgiveness, He lifts His wounded hands before the Father and the holy angels, saying: I know them by name. I have graven them on the palms of My hands. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” Psalm 51:17. And to the accuser of His people He declares: “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Zechariah 3:2. Christ will clothe His faithful ones with His own righteousness, that He may present them to His Father “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” Ephesians 5:27. Their names stand enrolled in the book of life, and concerning them it is written: “They shall walk with Me in white: for they are worthy.” Revelation 3:4.


If anyone still thinks that "Facing Life's Record" is scary after reading this paragraph then I don't know what to say to you. Here Ellen White makes it very clear that Christians are not judged, but Christ is judged in their place. Therefore, while we each come up for judgment those who are covered in the blood need not fear because Jesus 1) claims for us forgiveness, 2) rebukes our accuser Satan, 3) clothes his faithful with His own righteousness 4) presents them to the Father without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing (perfect), and 5) He dresses them in white (his righteousness). It is after all of this is said that Ellen White closes the paragraph with Revelation 3:4 "for they are worthy." How are they worthy? Is it because they kept the 10 commandments so well? Is it because they were absolutely sinlessly perfect? Is it because they repented of every little sin they ever committed? Is it because they were perfectly obedient? Not at all. Their "worthiness" relates only to the fact that they are covered with the perfect life of Jesus. Therefore, Christians have nothing to fear in the judgment because while they face the record of their own sinful life, it is covered by the record of Jesus perfect life, and are thus accounted worthy of salvation. Thus, the only ones who have anything to fear in the judgment are the apostates who have turned away from Christ and the hypocrites who claim Jesus with their lips yet do not truly embrace him as their Lord and Savior. However, those who sincerely believe in Jesus, though far from perfect, have the assurance that they are covered by his blood. Praise the Lord!


Thus will be realized the complete fulfillment of the new-covenant promise: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found.” Jeremiah 31:34; 50:20. “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even everyone that is written among the living in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 4:2, 3.


Ellen White has a way of emphasizing that follows the pattern of repeat and expand. Thus, so far we have seen 1) an introduction to the judgment (7 paragraphs), 2) a picture of the problem we face in judgment as sinners (4 paragraphs), and 3) the solution to the problem (6 paragraphs so far). This last paragraph is another example of repeat and expand. Ellen White is repeating and expanding on the truth that in Christ, and in Christ alone, all of our sins are blotted out. Therefore, while it is possible to make this a "scary" chapter by surface reading or by focusing more on section 2 "a picture of the problem" than on the chapter as a whole. In the end, it is not possible to view this chapter as scary when read in its gospel context.


The work of the investigative judgment and the blotting out of sins is to be accomplished before the second advent of the Lord. Since the dead are to be judged out of the things written in the books, it is impossible that the sins of men should be blotted out until after the judgment at which their cases are to be investigated. But the apostle Peter distinctly states that the sins of believers will be blotted out “when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ.” Acts 3:19, 20. When the investigative judgment closes, Christ will come, and His reward will be with Him to give to every man as his work shall be.


Does this mean that we are not forgiven? Of course not! The moment we come to Christ by faith we are forgiven of our sins and have no more need to ever worry about them rising up against us ever again. Remember Ellen White stated that, "All who have truly repented of sin, and by faith claimed the blood of Christ as their atoning sacrifice, have had pardon entered against their names in the books of heaven..." Therefore, we are forgiven. The issue here is not forgiveness but blotting out. Why do our sins remain in the record-books of heaven if they have already been forgiven? The next paragraph answers the question.


In the typical service the high priest, having made the atonement for Israel, came forth and blessed the congregation. So Christ, at the close of His work as mediator, will appear, “without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28), to bless His waiting people with eternal life. As the priest, in removing the sins from the sanctuary, confessed them upon the head of the scapegoat, so Christ will place all these sins upon Satan, the originator and instigator of sin. The scapegoat, bearing the sins of Israel, was sent away “unto a land not inhabited” (Leviticus 16:22); so Satan, bearing the guilt of all the sins which he has caused God’s people to commit, will be for a thousand years confined to the earth, which will then be desolate, without inhabitant, and he will at last suffer the full penalty of sin in the fires that shall destroy all the wicked. Thus the great plan of redemption will reach its accomplishment in the final eradication of sin and the deliverance of all who have been willing to renounce evil.


Why do our sins remain in the record books of heaven if we have already been forgiven? This paragraph answers the question. Now, before I analyze this paragraph allow me to give you an illustration that will simplify this topic.

Amy is failing one of her classes in university. She asks the professor for help and he refuses unless she sleeps with him. Desperate to pass the class, Amy concedes to the demand and passes the class. However, the secret is soon exposed and Amy faces expulsion from the school for her actions. She explains her situation and the faculty has mercy on her so they decide to forgive her and re-institute her into the school. To show just how forgiving they are they take every single document containing any information on Amy's escapade and burn it. Amy is happy. However, there is a problem. In the process of destroying all of the information about Amy's sin they have unwittingly destroyed all of the evidence needed to prosecute the teacher who took advantage of her. 
Now suppose instead of destroying the evidence they put it to the side until a future "day of judgment" in which case they would bring out the charges against Amy as evidence against the professor? Amy wouldn't have to worry about the information being there. She is already forgiven. But now the professor has to face the fact that it was he that took advantage of her and led her into sin. He know bears the ultimate responsibility for his actions and is fired from the university.
This is the only reason why our sins are not blotted out when we are forgiven. They are not kept to bear witness against us because we are already forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus. But they are there to bear witness against Satan who is ultimately responsible for all of sin. This in no way means that Satan is a sin bearer or a sacrifice for our sins. No way! Christ alone is our sacrifice. What this means is that God will bring closure to the sin problem by holding Satan ultimately responsible for the sin and misery he has caused on this earth. Our sins are not blotted out until that final day, not to testify against us, but to be placed on Satan as the one ultimately responsible for the rebellion. 

At the time appointed for the judgment—the close of the 2300 days, in 1844—began the work of investigation and blotting out of sins. All who have ever taken upon themselves the name of Christ must pass its searching scrutiny. Both the living and the dead are to be judged “out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”


Ellen White now repeats the introduction to the work of judgment that has been taking place since 1844. There is nothing in this paragraph she has not already stated before. This paragraph and the next are in direct opposition to the heresy of "once saved always saved." This is why Ellen White says that "[a]ll who have ever taken upon themselves the name of Christ must pass its searching scrutiny..." 


Why do believers pass through a "searching scrutiny"? Its really quite simple. I already explained why in the section dealing with the accusations of Satan before God and the angels, but allow me to illustrate it differently. Take for example this paragraph by paragraph analysis of this chapter. Why am I doing it? Why am I "scrutinizing" this chapter so carefully? It is because many have "accused" it of being anti-gospel. That accusation leads me to engage in a judgment of this chapter. In the end, my "searching scrutiny" will allow me to know for sure whether or not this chapter is legalistic or gospel centered. If it fails the test then I know that it is a false teaching. However, if it is covered by the message of the cross then it passes the test. This is exactly why believers undergo a "searching scrutiny". Satan has accused us relentlessly before God. He sinned and got kicked out of heaven. We sinned and get welcomed in. How come? I can already hear Satan crying out "unjust!" God therefore performs a work of judgment on us, not to find excuses to kick us out of heaven, but to see whether or not we are covered by the blood of Jesus (remember this is for the benefit of the angels for God already knows). If we are the accusations of Satan are worthless. But if we have been hypocrites from the beginning, or if we have apostatized (turned away from Christ) then our names are removed from the records of heaven. 


So, how do we pass this "searching scrutiny"? We have already discovered that it is through faith in the righteousness of Christ. In the judgment we are not judged based on our performance, but based on whether or not we were "faithful to the end." How are we faithful to the end? It is only by placing all of our trust in Jesus and never turning back. How do we know if we have placed all of our trust in Jesus? The answer of scripture is that we have accepted Christ and our lives are now in harmony with Gods revealed will. Is your life in harmony with Gods will? Or are you still living in rebellion while claiming to be a Christian? This is the question we all must answer and its answer is the determining factor in the judgment. Again, this is not saying that we must be absolutely perfect. It is a call to sincerity.
 


Sins that have not been repented of and forsaken will not be pardoned and blotted out of the books of record, but will stand to witness against the sinner in the day of God. He may have committed his evil deeds in the light of day or in the darkness of night; but they were open and manifest before Him with whom we have to do. Angels of God witnessed each sin and registered it in the unerring records. Sin may be concealed, denied, covered up from father, mother, wife, children, and associates; no one but the guilty actors may cherish the least suspicion of the wrong; but it is laid bare before the intelligences of heaven. The darkness of the darkest night, the secrecy of all deceptive arts, is not sufficient to veil one thought from the knowledge of the Eternal. God has an exact record of every unjust account and every unfair dealing. He is not deceived by appearances of piety. He makes no mistakes in His estimation of character. Men may be deceived by those who are corrupt in heart, but God pierces all disguises and reads the inner life.


Once again, do not remove this paragraph from its context and thus place an undue yoke of bondage on yourself or other faithful Christians. The message here is not that we should be paranoid about whether or not we have repented and confessed every little sin. God is not going to kick you out of heaven for not having repented of the bubble gum you stole when you were twelve. To properly understand Ellen Whites statement we must understand what sin is. It is not merely a wrong act but a way of being. I can repent of my love of lying and forsake it without ever having repented of every little lie I have ever told. Likewise, I can repent of my love of lust without having to call to mind every instance in which I have lusted. God is not interested in plucking the fruit (individual sins) from the tree of sin, he wants to uproot the tree (sin as a way of being).


Ellen Whites message in this passage is clear. We cannot go to heaven where there is no sin if we love to sin and refuse to let it go. Do not confuse this with absolute perfection. This is not referring to adding to what Jesus did by overcoming all of your sins and then becoming worthy on account of that victory. Our victories add nothing to the already finished work of Christ. This is referring, once again, to sincerity. Are you truly a follower of Jesus? Or are you self-deceived into thinking you are? The answer is found in where your heart lies. Only those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus are saved. Saying a prayer, going through the church motions, being raised in a Christian family, or having a doctorate in theology does not mean you are saved. It is a personal experience with Jesus, a falling at the foot of the cross in complete dependence upon his grace, a grasping by faith the only merits by which we can be saved that can secure us salvation. So long as we depend on self, on our accomplishments, or on anything else but Jesus we cannot be saved. And we cannot claim his forgiveness while refusing his power to cleanse us from sin. This is like marrying a woman while refusing to be faithful to her. Its silly isn't it? And that is all Ellen White is referring to in this paragraph. Sincerity is the key, not absolute perfection. 


How solemn is the thought! Day after day, passing into eternity, bears its burden of records for the books of heaven. Words once spoken, deeds once done, can never be recalled. Angels have registered both the good and the evil. The mightiest conqueror upon the earth cannot call back the record of even a single day. Our acts, our words, even our most secret motives, all have their weight in deciding our destiny for weal or woe. Though they may be forgotten by us, they will bear their testimony to justify or condemn.


Once again, Ellen White is repeating the condition, or the problem we all face in judgment. In case you have not noticed, the last 3 paragraphs have been a repetition of the entire chapter so far. Ellen White has gone back to the introduction and the problem. This last paragraph is a repetition and expansion on the problem we face in the judgment as human beings. It is not meant to cause us to look within for our salvation, but to realize how utterly hopeless we are and how much we need Christ.


As the features of the countenance are reproduced with unerring accuracy on the polished plate of the artist, so the character is faithfully delineated in the books above. Yet how little solicitude is felt concerning that record which is to meet the gaze of heavenly beings. Could the veil which separates the visible from the invisible world be swept back, and the children of men behold an angel recording every word and deed, which they must meet again in the judgment, how many words that are daily uttered would remain unspoken, how many deeds would remain undone.


Once again we see repetition and expansion of the problem and a strong Lutheran/Wesleyan (Ellen White was a Methodist) rejection of once saved always saved. The next paragraph explains it more. 


In the judgment the use made of every talent will be scrutinized. How have we employed the capital lent us of Heaven? Will the Lord at His coming receive His own with usury? Have we improved the powers entrusted us, in hand and heart and brain, to the glory of God and the blessing of the world? How have we used our time, our pen, our voice, our money, our influence? What have we done for Christ, in the person of the poor, the afflicted, the orphan, or the widow? God has made us the depositaries of His holy word; what have we done with the light and truth given us to make men wise unto salvation? No value is attached to a mere profession of faith in Christ; only the love which is shown by works is counted genuine. Yet it is love alone which in the sight of Heaven makes any act of value. Whatever is done from love, however small it may appear in the estimation of men, is accepted and rewarded of God.


The interpretation of this paragraph hinges on this statement: "No value is attached to a mere profession of faith in Christ; only the love which is shown by works is counted genuine." If this is legalistic, then I suppose James was the biggest legalist of all because this sentence is simply repeating the message of the epistle of James. Likewise, men like Luther, Wesley, Moody, Graham, and Chan would also be considered legalists because they all taught(and teach) the same truths. There are myriads of Christians who live with a false sense of security. They think because they go to church they are saved, but they are deluded because their faith is nothing more than an intellectual or cultural ascent to a set of Bible facts. How do I know if I am saved? Not by how perfect we are but by what kind of life we live. Is your life one of love to God and man or one of love to self? Do we feed the poor? Clothe the naked? Visit the lonely? Do we defend the widows and the orphans? Or do we exploit the poor, ignore the naked, avoid the lonely and  despise the widows and orphans? Are we indifferent to the pain of others? Are we unmoved by the sufferings of the raped, the abused, the starving, the bullied? Doing these things (or others) will never save us, but works of love show that we are saved. The message of both James and Ellen White is simple: Don't think you are eternally secure just because you "believe" in God when you live like a devil for as James said, "even the demons believe and they tremble" (James 2:19). You may not be perfect, but are you sincere? Are you a lover of God? Or are you a selfish, self-centered, indifferent human being who is deluded into thinking you are actually saved? If I could summarize this entire chapter it would be in the form of this question: Are you sincere?


The hidden selfishness of men stands revealed in the books of heaven. There is the record of unfulfilled duties to their fellow men, of forgetfulness of the Saviour’s claims. There they will see how often were given to Satan the time, thought, and strength that belonged to Christ. Sad is the record which angels bear to heaven. Intelligent beings, professed followers of Christ, are absorbed in the acquirement of worldly possessions or the enjoyment of earthly pleasures. Money, time, and strength are sacrificed for display and self-indulgence; but few are the moments devoted to prayer, to the searching of the Scriptures, to humiliation of soul and confession of sin.


Once again, Ellen White paints a picture of the problem. While every Christian can learn from the words of this paragraph and apply them to their life, do not over-apply them to the sincere. These words are meant to arouse the minds of licentious Christians who claim Jesus with their lips but are 1) "absorbed in the acquirement of worldly possessions or the enjoyment of earthly pleasures," 2) sacrificing "[m]oney, time, and strength... for display and self-indulgence," and 3) all but neglecting Bible study, prayer, and the "humiliation of soul and confession of sin (another way of saying 'learning to depend entirely on the merits of Christ')." 


The key word in this passage is "absorbed." Its OK to have worldly possessions (nice car, house, clothes) and enjoy earthly pleasures (weddings, theme parks, innocent parties) but it is not OK for the Christian to be "absorbed" with these things. Likewise, we should not be "absorbed" with church, religion, theology, or ministry for the result would be the same. We need Christ to be the center of our lives and that is all this paragraph is saying.


Satan invents unnumbered schemes to occupy our minds, that they may not dwell upon the very work with which we ought to be best acquainted. The archdeceiver hates the great truths that bring to view an atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful mediator. He knows that with him everything depends on his diverting minds from Jesus and His truth.

There it is! The last few paragraphs culminate in the unveiling of Satan's masterful plan. And what is it? It is in "diverting minds from Jesus and His truth." The judgment is meant to arouse Christians to the reality that while they can enjoy assurance of salvation they must never entertain carnal security, or better said, self-confidence. Those who, like Peter, are self confident have no idea that Satan is plotting for their downfall. Peter learned that he was not as spiritual as he thought when he betrayed Christ. Even though he swore he never would (self-confidence) he discovered he was wrong. However, had Peter admitted his weaknesses and asked Christ for grace he would never have betrayed him. It was his self-confidence that led him to betray Christ. Likewise, false doctrines like "once saved always saved" have millions living in self-confidence. They do not pray, study, or grow in their relationship with Christ. They could care less about human trafficking,  the murder of unborn and born children alike, the needs of the hungry and the addicted, and even the needs of their own family and friends and yet, they call themselves Christians. I once met a young man who smoked, drank, did drugs, and slept with different women all the time. He spent money on himself and cared little for others and yet he thought he was saved because he prayed a prayer at a youth rally 4 years before. This is self-confidence masquerading as faith in the atonement. The investigative judgment demolishes this false security by showing us two things: number one, Christ is our only hope before conversion and, number two, he remains our only hope after conversion. This truth alone protects us from legalism and licentiousness at the same time.


Those who would share the benefits of the Saviour’s mediation should permit nothing to interfere with their duty to perfect holiness in the fear of God. The precious hours, instead of being given to pleasure, to display, or to gain seeking, should be devoted to an earnest, prayerful study of the word of truth. The subject of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment should be clearly understood by the people of God. All need a knowledge for themselves of the position and work of their great High Priest. Otherwise it will be impossible for them to exercise the faith which is essential at this time or to occupy the position which God designs them to fill. Every individual has a soul to save or to lose. Each has a case pending at the bar of God. Each must meet the great Judge face to face. How important, then, that every mind contemplate often the solemn scene when the judgment shall sit and the books shall be opened, when, with Daniel, every individual must stand in his lot, at the end of the days.


We are now entering the close of this chapter. At this close Ellen White once again presents the solution to the problem she has delineated above. Once again she declares that our only hope is in "the benefits of the Saviour’s mediation" and not in ourselves. However, what about the scary phrase that we should "permit nothing to interfere with [our] duty to perfect holiness in the fear of God"? Is Ellen White saying that we are saved by our faith and our works? Again, allow me to remind you that Ellen White has already made it amply clear that we can only be saved by the blood of Jesus. No extra ingredients. Period. So do not commit the fallacy of interpreting this paragraph (and the remaining paragraphs) outside of their gospel context. To do so would be doing violence to the text. Since Ellen White has been consistently challenging the heresy of "once saved always saved" while simultaneously affirming our desperate need of Jesus only we must, out of intellectual honesty, continue to interpret her statements in that light.


First of all, while Ellen White believed in perfection (as do the Bible authors and as did John Wesley) she never teaches that a certain level of absolute sinless perfectionism must be reached in order to be saved at last. Many Adventists stumble over this point. There is a huge difference between a professed Christian who cherishes hidden sin and an honest Christian who, by looking to Jesus is daily gaining victories, yet always struggling with sin. Every honest and sincere Christian finds themselves in the latter category. I don't know of any sincere Christian that loves to sin and wants it to stay that way. But all of us will, until the return of Christ, have sins to overcome. Ellen White herself said,


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. Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience {AA 560.3}.
Therefore, it would be disingenuous to say that Ellen White is teaching perfectionism in this paragraph. All Ellen White is doing is repeating and expanding what she said before: You cannot claim Christs righteousness if you are a hypocrite. That's what this entire chapter is about! And yet people who are not hypocrites read it on the surface and walk away thinking they are never going to be good enough to pass the judgment. Away with such a thought! It is not the intent of this chapter at all! So when Ellen White says that, "Those who would share the benefits of the Saviour’s mediation should permit nothing to interfere with their duty to perfect holiness in the fear of God" she is not saying that you need to reach a level of perfection before God can finally accept you into his family. All she is saying is that we should be committed and faithful Christians who have Jesus at the center of our lives and not self, the world, or anything else. Those who take their eyes off of Jesus because he seems to be taking long (the foolish virgins Matt. 25) and begin to settle down in this world are playing a dangerous game. We should never take our eyes off of Jesus. And what about, "The precious hours, instead of being given to pleasure, to display, or to gain seeking, should be devoted to an earnest, prayerful study of the word of truth"? Does this mean we should be like the desert fathers and go live in a monastery somewhere? Of course not. Ellen Whites own life testifies to a woman who enjoyed pleasure, laughter, and success. The key is in her phrase "instead of being given to" which is another way of saying "absorbed" or "obsessed". Ellen White is simply repeating the same thing she said before in different ways.

The paragraph then challenges us with an admonition to understand the work of investigative judgment happening now. This is imperative in a time when people are losing faith because Jesus seems to be taking forever to come back. Its also important because we are so close to the second coming that Satan is doubling his efforts to distract us from what really matters - a relationship with God. Just look at the world around you. We are faced with myriads of distractions. The investigative judgment is a wonderful teaching that reminds us that while we can enjoy the innocent pleasures of this world we must not become consumed with any of those things. Jesus is coming soon. Its all going to be burned up. And in a time when Satan is trying harder than ever to deceive and destroy (Matt. 24) the truth of the investigative judgment keeps us focused on our relationship with Jesus. In other words: Enjoy Facebook, iPads, and good times but don't forget about Jesus. Don't make him a second class citizen in your life. Its Jesus that is going to get you through the final crisis, not Facebook. So stay connected to him. Is that legalistic? Is that scary? Is that "bad news"? I don't think so.


How about: "How important, then, that every mind contemplate often the solemn scene when the judgment shall sit and the books shall be opened, when, with Daniel, every individual must stand in his lot, at the end of the days"? That's a scary statement isn't it? Remember the context. If there is anything I can ever stress to anyone is that "context is everything." This context is soon going to be repeated very forcefully -  we are not "once saved always saved". Many Adventists join the church with a good grasp on the gospel, and then like the Galatians, they are swept away by some offshoot ministry that claims they have to be absolutely perfect to be saved. They become legalistic and loose sight of Jesus. Like the Galatians, when they take their eyes off of Jesus and place them on themselves, their commandment keeping, their diet, and their performance they have "fallen away from grace." It is only by total dependence on Jesus that we can be safe. Contemplating the "solemn scene" of the judgment reminds us that we can never take our eyes off of Jesus. Sabbath keeping, health reform, etc. all have their proper place, but none should replace Christ. The solemn judgment reminds us that "not eating pork" will not save us in a judgment where all of our sins are laid bare. Only one thing can save us - the blood of Jesus - and the judgment reminds us, as we are bombarded by legalism from the conservatives and licentiousness from the liberals, to keep our eyes fixed on him. Nothing else! 


All who have received the light upon these subjects are to bear testimony of the great truths which God has committed to them. The sanctuary in heaven is the very center of Christ’s work in behalf of men. It concerns every soul living upon the earth. It opens to view the plan of redemption, bringing us down to the very close of time and revealing the triumphant issue of the contest between righteousness and sin. It is of the utmost importance that all should thoroughly investigate these subjects and be able to give an answer to everyone that asketh them a reason of the hope that is in them.


This paragraph simply applies to those who believe the teaching of the investigative judgment. We should not just know it, but be able to share it. How sad that the majority of Adventists can't even begin to explain the investigative judgment.


The intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross. By His death He began that work which after His resurrection He ascended to complete in heaven. We must by faith enter within the veil, “whither the forerunner is for us entered.” Hebrews 6:20. There the light from the cross of Calvary is reflected. There we may gain a clearer insight into the mysteries of redemption. The salvation of man is accomplished at an infinite expense to heaven; the sacrifice made is equal to the broadest demands of the broken law of God. Jesus has opened the way to the Father’s throne, and through His mediation the sincere desire of all who come to Him in faith may be presented before God.


Many people misunderstand this statement to say that the atonement was not completed on the cross. However, that is not what this statement is saying at all. What it is saying is that his work on our behalf has not yet been completed. So while the atonement on the cross is finished, his ministry is not. This is not only clear in scripture but even the great evangelist Billy Graham wrote, 
"Quite clearly Jesus did not say that His death on the cross would mark the cessation of His ministry. The night before His death He repeatedly told the disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit."*
It is obvious to anyone who reads scripture that while the death of Jesus is complete and perfect and provides everything needed for the salvation of man his ministry was not completed at the cross. The day of Pentecost  the mediation and intercession in the sanctuary, the building of our mansions in heaven, the day of judgment, the second coming, and the eradication of sin and recreation of the earth are all part of the ministry of Christ on behalf of man. Thus Ellen White could say,
[Christ] planted the cross between heaven and earth, and when the Father beheld the sacrifice of His Son, He bowed before it in recognition of its perfection. “It is enough,” He said. “The atonement is complete” {RH September 24, 1901, par. 11}.
And yet say, "By His death He began that work which after His resurrection He ascended to complete in heaven." The atonement that guarantees our salvation is complete, but in the heavenly sanctuary Christ appropriates the benefits of his death to our individual lives in "real time."** Do you realize what this means? Christianity is not only about what happened 2,000 years ago (death of Christ) or about what will happen some day in the future (second coming) but it is about what is happening in the here and now! What a beautiful message this is that right now, at this moment in "real time," God is working on behalf of man. The final phase of his ministry began in 1844 and in the sanctuary service this phase of judgment is known as the "Day of Atonement" and is the final phase of ministry before the year ended. The implications are awesome! Many people ask, "Why hasn't Jesus come yet? You Christians have been saying he would return since the first century A.D. and its 2014! Where is he? Our answer is straight forward, "since 1844 he began his final phase of ministry on behalf of man. No one knows when it will end, but it is the last thing he will do before the movie ends. How awesome is the thought that prophetically speaking Jesus is now engaged in the final work and when it is over he will come! We are totally living in the last days.

Notice how Ellen White closes this paragraph: "Jesus has opened the way to the Father’s throne..." While Ellen White spent the last few paragraphs repeating and expanding "the problem" she now, once again, presents the "solution" and it is not our works, our performance, or our obedience. It is Jesus!


“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Proverbs 28:13. If those who hide and excuse their faults could see how Satan exults over them, how he taunts Christ and holy angels with their course, they would make haste to confess their sins and to put them away. Through defects in the character, Satan works to gain control of the whole mind, and he knows that if these defects are cherished, he will succeed. Therefore he is constantly seeking to deceive the followers of Christ with his fatal sophistry that it is impossible for them to overcome. But Jesus pleads in their behalf His wounded hands, His bruised body; and He declares to all who would follow Him: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” 2 Corinthians 12:9. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:29, 30. Let none, then, regard their defects as incurable. God will give faith and grace to overcome them.


Again, Ellen White is dealing with sincerity here. What Christian wants to live in rebellion to God? If you want Jesus and want your sin as well then there is a problem with your relationship with God. You are still in rebellion to him. Ellen White is once again appealing to sincerity. She is not teaching absolute perfection here. Notice she does not say that defects in the character will prove our ruin. She says that "if these defects are cherished, [Satan] will succeed." The key word is "cherished." Do you love your sin? Then you cannot go to heaven. You cannot love both God and sin. As one of my professors once said, "You cannot love someone and hurt them at the same time. Eventually, you will either stop hurting them or you will stop loving them." Jesus also taught this when he said "you cannot love both God and money." This does not mean you will be absolutely perfect and that you have to constantly live in fear of not going to heaven because you have defects of character. Remember, Ellen White said that said, "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." Satan will reign until the second coming, and therefore, we will have defects of character to overcome and when Jesus comes we will still be sinful! But Jesus is with us every step of the way. He is holding onto us. He is giving us his love, and his grace, and his power to live for him. As we fall deeper in love with him we learn to hate sin. While we may still fall, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are free to love as God created us to love. However, we must never assume that overcoming is the ground of our acceptance with God, for Ellen White was clear that, 
We may enjoy the favor of God. We are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute. Ye are accepted in the Beloved {2SM 32}. 
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 light, frivolous spirit indulged by so many professed Christians must be put away. There is earnest warfare before all who would subdue the evil tendencies that strive for the mastery. The work of preparation is an individual work. We are not saved in groups. The purity and devotion of one will not offset the want of these qualities in another. Though all nations are to pass in judgment before God, yet He will examine the case of each individual with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. Everyone must be tested and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.

Here we have yet another paragraph which, if torn out of its context, will breed insecurity and legalism. But kept within its context this paragraph poses no problem to our assurance of salvation. Here Ellen White appeals to all of us for we are all prone to take our eyes off of Jesus, but especially to those who live in carnal security. So lets follow her line of thought. In the day of atonement those who did not want to repent and search their hearts were cut off from Israel. In other words, those who wanted nothing to do with God, or who wanted both the benefits of God plus their sins, were given what they wanted - separation from Gods people. Our churches are filled with people who are living in carnal security. They think they are saved because they go to church but they live like the world. What do I mean by world? Uncaring, unloving, proud, boasters, money hungry, selfish etc. Ellen White is once again appealing to us that we should be sincere. Therefore, if you gave your life to Christ but have 
been swept away by legalistic doctrines or by the temptations of this world and yet you still think you are in Gods grace you are deceiving yourself. Thus, even Calvinist website gotquestions.org (which supports once saved always saved) could write,
For the truly converted, then, continuing to live sinfully is not an option. Because our conversion resulted in a completely new nature, our desire is to no longer live in sin. Yes, we still sin, but instead of wallowing in it as we once did, we now hate it and wish to be delivered from it. The idea of “taking advantage” of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by continuing to live sinfully is unthinkable. If a person believes himself to be a Christian and still desires to live the old, sinful life, he has reason to doubt his salvation. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
This paragraph, and the quoted text, are exactly what Ellen White is saying. When she says that "[t]he light, frivolous spirit indulged by so many professed Christians must be put away" she is not saying that Christians should be gloomy, unhappy, naval gazing people who are always fretting about how sinful they are. She is appealing to those who are self-deceived into thinking that they can spend hours on the internet watching pornography, waste money on fancy cars and clothes while ignoring the poor and afflicted, mistreat illegal immigrants by exploiting them, and cheat on their spouses and still think that they are saved and going to heaven. Such people live with a "light and frivolous" spirit. They don't take their selfishness and lovelessness seriously. They laugh it off as unimportant. They shrug their shoulders and say "if I believe I am saved" while they cheat on their taxes and underpay their employees. So do not rip this paragraph out of its context to say that Christians should always be anxious and worried and unhappy. Ellen White herself was a happy, light-hearted woman who named her pet dog Tiglath Peleser (after the evil Assyrian king in 2 Kings - humor anyone?) and once fell off a rock because she was laughing so hard. She also wrote that,
We should never give to the world the false impression that Christians are a gloomy, unhappy people. If our eyes are fixed on Jesus, we shall see a compassionate Redeemer, and shall catch light from His countenance. Wherever His Spirit reigns, there peace abides. And there will be joy also, for there is a calm, holy trust in God. {DA 152.5}
What about that scary closing thought in which Ellen White says, "Though all nations are to pass in judgment before God, yet He will examine the case of each individual with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. Everyone must be tested and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing"? Well, the question is, How are we to be "found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing"? She already answered it a few paragraphs above when she said, "Christ will clothe His faithful ones with His own righteousness, that He may present them to His Father “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” So the real question is, are you trusting in Jesus and clinging to him by faith or 1) are you trusting in your own works or 2) turning your back on Jesus by living for the things of this world? Our only hope is in placing our entire trust on Jesus and allowing his love to keep us there.

Solemn are the scenes connected with the closing work of the atonement. Momentous are the interests involved therein. 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 pass 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 Saviour’s admonition: “Watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.” Mark 13:33. “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.” Revelation 3:3.

Again, this is in the context of the reality that "[Satan] is constantly seeking to deceive the followers of Christ". He wants to deceive us with either licentiousness or legalism. Either way he can take us away from Christ and place us in his realm of influence. This is solemn (serious) stuff! So while we are invited to enjoy life, go to the beach, wear nice clothes, love friends and family, enjoy success and entertainment, have fun with our kids, and experience all that is good and joyful in this world we are never to allow anything to get in the way of our love for and connection to Jesus. As Jesus himself said,
"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.… (John 15:6-8)
When the work of the investigative judgment closes, the destiny of all will have been decided for life or death. Probation is ended a short time before the appearing of the Lord in the clouds of heaven. Christ in the Revelation, looking forward to that time, declares: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” Revelation 22:11, 12.

How is the destiny of all decided for life or death? The answer is simple: Are you covered by the blood of Jesus? Or are you not? 

The righteous and the wicked will still be living upon the earth in their mortal state—men will be planting and building, eating and drinking, all unconscious that the final, irrevocable decision has been pronounced in the sanctuary above. Before the Flood, after Noah entered the ark, God shut him in and shut the ungodly out; but for seven days the people, knowing not that their doom was fixed, continued their careless, pleasure-loving life and mocked the warnings of impending judgment. “So,” says the Saviour, “shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Matthew 24:39. Silently, unnoticed as the midnight thief, will come the decisive hour which marks the fixing of every man’s destiny, the final withdrawal of mercy’s offer to guilty men.


This paragraph actually demonstrates just how beautiful the message of the investigative judgment is. Notice that Ellen White is here speaking of those who have rejected the message of Christs mercy. There are two groups. The righteous and the wicked. The righteous have passed through the investigative judgment and have been found worthy because they are covered in the blood of Jesus, while the wicked have not passed through this judgment at all (except for those who once were believers and turned away though legalism or licentiousness)! Now pay close attention. Probation closes and with it goes "the final withdrawal of mercy’s offer to guilty men." Notice: Gods offer is one of mercy. Those who accept this offer are written in the book of life and their life comes up for judgment. They are found covered by the blood and are thus worthy. When we heed Gods offer of mercy we come up in the investigative judgment. The wicked who reject this offer never come up in the investigative judgment because that judgment is for the righteous and the (pseudo-disciples). Remember how Ellen White said that "[t]he judgment of the wicked is a distinct and separate work, and takes place at a later period"? The Bible calls this the Great White Throne judgment. Just as in the investigative judgment only those who have professed Christ are judged, in the Great White Throne judgment, only those who have rejected Christ are judged. The investigative judgment is no fear for those who are covered by the blood of Jesus - but the Great White Throne judgment presents no promise of redemption, no offer of mercy, and no chance of acquittal  Those who pass through this judgment are there because they are lost. Do you catch the implications of this? If your name does not come up in the investigative judgment it will automatically come up in the Great White Throne judgment. This means, you want your name to come up in the investigative judgment! Because if it does it is because your name is written in the book of life! And you are judged and found innocent on the basis of the blood of Jesus.

“Watch ye therefore: ... lest coming suddenly He find you sleeping.” Mark 13:35, 36. 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 the Judge of all the earth will pronounce the sentence: “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” Daniel 5:27.


 Is the investigative judgment scary? It is for the hypocrites. Those who take their eyes off of Jesus and place them on their own works and performance are in danger of being "found wanting." And those who take their eyes off of Jesus having "grown weary of their watch" and "turn to the attractions of this word" are also in danger of being "found wanting." Our only hope is to be hidden in Jesus Christ. 

None of us are perfect. None of us are righteous. We can never in one lifetime, or even a thousand, think to live in perfect obedience to all of Gods requirements. Some try. But while they focus all of their attention to obey every health law possible they fail to obey in a thousand other areas. While some do well in helping the poor they may fail in their prayer life and while some do well in all of these they may fail in their use of time. None of us can ever be good enough to pass through the judgment and be found "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." And the message of the investigative judgment is a powerful deterrent from legalism. It reminds me that no matter how much I may succeed in my obedience in one area, I will always fail in another. And even if I did not, there is a terrible record of every wrong deed I have ever done, every thought, every impulse - wasted time and opportunities - they are all there. What hope do I have then of being declared innocent just because I keep the Sabbath? Or follow the health message to utmost perfection? None, for it is written, "Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins." (Ecc. 7:20). There is no hope for me except in one thing and that is to "be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9). 


None of us are perfect. None of us are righteous. We can never in one lifetime, or even a thousand, think to live in perfect obedience to all of Gods requirements. Some give up. But while they wallow in their sins thinking it is impossible to overcome they take their eyes off of Christ and begin to live for pleasure. Sin is selfishness, and the life of such a Christian soon loses sight of the love of God and becomes a selfish life. Prayer, Bible study, worship - all are sacrificed for the sake of entertainment, wealth, and popularity. Life becomes all about me. I no longer see the savior. I no longer depend on him. And yet, I pretend everything is OK because I believe that Jesus died for me. But the judgment reminds me that I cannot afford to live without the blood of Jesus. There is a terrible record of every wrong deed I have ever done, every thought, every impulse - wasted time and opportunities - they are all there. What hope do I have then of being declared innocent just because I intellectually agree with Bible facts? None, for it is written, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luk. 9:62). There is no hope for me except in one thing and that is to "be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9)


In light of all of this, I conclude: The chapter "Facing Life's Record," which describes the implications of the investigative judgment, stands in complete harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The believer faces the judgment with joy and confidence for he/she knows that they are covered by the blood of Jesus and that it is through faith and not works. Ellen White summarized it well when she wrote:
Through the imputed righteousness of Christ, the sinner may feel that he is pardoned, and may know that the law no more condemns him, because he is in harmony with all its precepts. It is his privilege to count himself innocent when he reads and thinks of the retribution that will fall upon the unbelieving and sinful. By faith he lays hold of the righteousness of Christ. . . . Knowing himself to be a sinner, a transgressor of the holy law of God, he looks to the perfect obedience of Christ, to His death upon Calvary for the sins of the world; and he has the assurance that he is justified by faith in the merit and sacrifice of Christ. He realizes that the law was obeyed in his behalf by the Son of God, and that the penalty of transgression cannot fall upon the believing sinner. The active obedience of Christ clothes the believing sinner with the righteousness that meets the demands of the law {SD 240.4}.

Further Reading:

The Investigative Judgment - Is it Biblical?

REclaiming Adventism

The Urgent Implications of the Pre-Advent Judgment

Never Good Enough - The Close of Probation and Sinless Perfectionism

The SDA Gospel is Legalistic - Isn't It?

Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (A Lutheran View)

Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (A Methodist View)

Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (An Adventist View)

Resources:

http://1844madesimple.org/


_______________

Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life [W Publishing Group, 1988], 71.

** To avoid confusion it is also important to realize that Adventists place a wider definition on the word "atonement" than do other Christians. We believe that the sacrificial atonement was full and complete on Calvary  but we also refer to the rest of Christs ministry (intercession, second coming, punishment of the wicked etc.) as atonement. Thus we can say that the atonement was completed and is not yet complete. The sacrificial atonement is 100% complete and nothing needs to be added to it, but the rest of the atonement (ministry of Christ on behalf of man) will not be completed until the new earth. 

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