UNIVERSAL LEGAL JUSTIFICATION & FEDERALISM

Jack Sequeira

 

Unfortunately, many conservative Adventists oppose the glorious message of the two Adams and the universal justification of the human race in Christ. Their opposition is often based on their claim that this truth is basically the same as federalism or federal theology.

Federal theology, however, like the doctrine of original sin, is also a mixture of truth and error. In a nutshell, federal theology teaches that just as Adam was the first federal head of the human race, and by his sin condemned all humanity, Christ, as the second federal head of the human race, redeemed all humanity by His act of righteousness.

This idea sounds quite biblical. However, almost all those who teach federal theology today go on to draw certain unbiblical implications from this teaching. Almost all are either Calvinists or Universalists.

Calvinists. John Calvin’s understanding of salvation was based on the doctrine of predestination; he applied the biblical “in Christ motif only to the elect, those whom God had predetermined He would save. Therefore, Calvinists today apply the “all men” in the universal texts of the New Testament, not to all humanity, but only to the elect—those predestined to be saved.

Universalists. Universalists, on the other hand, teach that all men will eventually be saved since Christ, as the second federal head of the human race, redeemed all humanity by His life, death, and resurrection. Such a view fails to take into account that Scripture clearly teaches that those who reject the gift of salvation in Christ through unbelief will be eternally lost (see Mark 16:15, 16; John 3:18, 36). I condemn both Calvinism and Universalism as being unscriptural. Therefore, the “in Christ motif,” as presented in this book, cannot be honestly labeled as federal theology.

But the real problem I find with those who object to the concept of the in-Christ motif and the  two  Adams, as  presented in this  book,  and who  accuse  this  teaching of  being federalism, is that they themselves fail to give an adequate exegesis of Romans 5:12-21 and other  related passages to  prove  their point.  Rather than simply labeling this  view “federal theology”— a term unfamiliar to many pastors and administrators, not to mention church members—why do they not prove from Scripture where they disagree with my interpretation of Romans 5:12-21? When the brethren who opposed the 1888 message were  critical  of  Jones’  and  Waggoner’s message  of  righteousness  by  faith,  Ellen  White insisted on more than one occasion that they had no right to accuse their brethren of error until they could prove from Scripture where they were wrong (see, for example, E. G White, 1888 Materials, 2:529; 3:122).

Objection No. 3. This teaching undermines the doctrine of substitution, the idea that Christ died for, or instead of, us. Substitution is no doubt a central pillar of the gospel. The word substitute means one person acting on behalf of another. In our education system, we have substitute teachers, and substitute players are a common practice in sports. The doctrine of substitution teaches that Christ, as the second Adam, saved us as our Substitute, because He lived and died for, or instead of, us.

In no way do I deny this clear teaching of Scripture. But the doctrine of substitution has its dangers—even as does the teaching of salvation by grace alone. Even the fact that Christ did it all for us can be misused and turned into cheap grace, as Paul suggests in Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” The doctrine of substitution also faces this same danger: it can be turned into a license to sin. Because Christ lived and died for or instead of us, some believers have decided they have the liberty to live as they please. “Why not,” they reason, “since my salvation is guaranteed as long as I believe in Christ as my Substitute?” It is this misuse of the doctrine of substitution that I oppose— the idea that because Christ died instead of me, I can therefore live as I please.

As I see it, such a misuse of the doctrine of substitution is the result of a vicarious view of substitution. Evangelical Christianity as well as most present-day Seventh-day Adventism understand the doctrine of substitution as teaching that Christ substituted Himself vicariously (in the place of) fallen humanity during His earthly mission. But this understanding of substitution is not explicitly taught in Scripture or in Ellen White’s writings. What Scripture does clearly teach is the “in Christ” understanding of substitution.

According to  the  vicarious  view  of  substitution,  Christ’s  sinless  human nature  was substituted in the place of mankind’s sinful nature. His perfect obedience and His sacrificial death, were substituted in the place of the sins of the human race. Such a view presents Christ as a Substitute who does not truly identify Himself with the sinful human race He came to redeem. He does not become one with us; instead, He substitutes His sinless nature in the place of our sinful natures.

The vicarious view of substitution is in complete contrast to the “in-Christ” view of substitution by which Christ actually redeemed humanity from the twofold problem of sin. Therefore, one of the major issues that the Adventist Church needs to settle before it can unitedly fulfil its global mission to present the everlasting gospel to the whole world is this: Which view of Christ as our Substitute is the true, biblical view of substitution? What constitutes the everlasting gospel that God has called us to proclaim?

The  vicarious  view  of  substitution  denies  that  the  humanity  of  Christ  was  fully identified with the sinful human nature of those He came to redeem; therefore, it leaves a big gulf between Christ and us. Such a gulf creates major problems concerning the gospel’s power to save sinful humanity from the power and slavery of sin.

In the minds of many, the vicarious understanding of substitution also raises a valid question regarding the legality of salvation. Legally, how could Christ qualify to be our Substitute, to take our place?

No law allows an innocent man to die instead of the guilty. This is one of the main objections against the doctrine of substitution that the Christian church faces from the non- Christian world, especially Moslem scholars. They accuse Christianity of being the most unethical religion in the world. This ethical problem needs to be solved if we Christians are to make any headway with the Muslim world, one of the fastest growing religions of the world.

Had the Christian church been proclaiming the doctrine of substitution in the context of the “in Christ” motif and the two Adams, both of which are solidly grounded in the concept of solidarity or corporately oneness, this ethical stumbling block to the non-Christian world would never have arisen. The “in Christ” motif and the truth of the two Adams, as presented in this book, do not undermine the doctrine of substitution, rather, they actually strengthen it.

The real question that needs to be answered is not: Did Jesus die instead of us? The Bible clearly teaches that He did. The real questions we need to answer are: What qualified Jesus to live and die instead of us? How could He lawfully be our Substitute? If Christ took our place simply as a sinless Man, there would still be a deep and impassable gulf between Him and us. Yet it was this gulf, created by the sin problem that had to be bridged before we could be united with Christ. To be an effective substitute on our behalf, Christ must bridge the chasm that exists between man and God, the chasm created by sin (see Isaiah 59:2). He could not do this simply by coming as a sinless Man to vicariously substitute Himself for us. He could bridge the chasm caused by sin only by assuming our fallen sinful nature in order to be the Saviour of the World. By His divinity, He laid hold of the throne of God, while by His identification with our sinful humanity, He laid hold of the human race He came to redeem.

God’s messenger fully supported the “in-Christ” understanding of the doctrine of substitution, rather than the vicarious view. In fact, Ellen White does not use the term “vicarious” when she presents Christ as our substitute and surety.  Here are some quotations from her pen that are typical of the statements she makes supporting the “in- Christ” view of substitution:

Clad in the vestments of humanity, the Son of God came down to the level of those He wished to save. In Him was no guile of sinfulness; He was ever pure and undefiled; yet He took upon Him our sinful nature. Clothing His divinity with our humanity, that He might associate with fallen humanity, He sought to redeem for man that which by disobedience Adam had lost {Review and Herald, August 22, 1907, emphasis supplied).

In Christ were united the divine and the human—the Creator and the creature. The nature of God, whose law had been transgressed, and the nature of Adam, the transgressor, meet in Jesus—the Son of God and the Son of man {Lift Him Up, 345, emphasis supplied).

Coming as He did, as a man, to meet and be subjected with all the evil tendencies to which man is heir, working in every conceivable manner to destroy His faith, He made it possible for Himself to be buffeted by human agencies inspired by Satan, the rebel who had been expelled from heaven (Letter K-303,1903, emphasis supplied).

Adam was tempted by the enemy, and he fell. It was not indwelling sin which caused him to yield, for God made him pure and upright, in His own image. He was faultless as the angels before the throne. There were in him no corrupt principles, no tendencies to evil. But when Christ came to meet the temptations of Satan, He bore “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Signs of the Times, October 17,1900).

He left the glories of heaven, and clothed His divinity with humanity, and subjected Himself to sorrow, and shame, and reproach, abuse, denial, and crucifixion. Though He had all the strength of the passions of humanity, never did He yield to temptation to do that which was not pure and elevating and ennobling (Ibid., November 21,1892, emphasis supplied).

It is a mystery too deep for the human mind to fathom. Christ did in reality unite the offending nature of man with His own sinless nature, because by this act of condescension, He would be enabled to pour out His blood in behalf of the fallen race (Manuscript Releases, 17:26, emphasis supplied).

The union of divinity with humanity brings to the fallen race a value which we scarcely comprehend. The human and divine were united in Christ, in order that he might represent those who should believe in him. He took our nature, and passed through our experiences, and as our representative he assumed our responsibilities. The sins of men were charged to Christ, and innocent though he was, he engaged to suffer for the guilty, that through faith in him the world might be saved…. O, what compassion and love are here revealed! How is humanity exalted through the merits of Christ! His sacrifice was ample and complete. The Holy One died instead of the unholy. He clothed himself in our filthy garments, that we might wear  the  spotless  robe  of  his  righteousness,  which  was  woven  in  the  loom  of heaven (Signs of the Times, May 23, 1895).

In assuming humanity Christ took the part of every human being. He was the Head of humanity. A Being divine and human, with His long arm He could encircle humanity, while with His divine arm, He could lay hold of the throne of the Infinite (Selected Messages, 1:252).

The sin of our first parents had cut off this world from Heaven. But Christ took upon himself our weaknesses and sins. He was tempted; he was ridiculed; he was beset on every hand.  He  suffered  all  the  woes,  all  the  griefs  and  sorrows  of humanity, without a murmur, that he might leave us an example. He descended step by step in the path of humiliation, until he hung as a criminal upon the cross, that with his right arm of infinite love he might encircle the race, while he grasped the throne of Infinite Power, connecting earth with Heaven (Signs of the Times, December 3, 1885).

Here is His real identification with the human race He came to redeem. Yet because of His total victory over sin He is able to be our perfect substitute and representative before God in the heavenly sanctuary. It would appear, therefore, for the substitution theory of the cross  to  be  fully  adequate  to  meet  the  sinful  human  situation,  there  needs  to  be incorporated within its structure a Christological position similar to the one presented in this book—that Christ assumed our sinful nature with all its liabilities at the incarnation, but in His case He totally overcame and redeemed that rebellious nature from every aspect of sin, and took to heaven a glorified humanity, there to represent us as our great High Priest.

In concluding this important subject of the two Adams, may I share a real burden on my heart? Those who oppose the “in Christ” motif and the truth of the two Adams are robbing God’s  people  of  their  joy  and  assurance  of  salvation,  the  prerequisite  for  genuine sanctification. As a result, they have subconsciously turned the unconditional good news of the gospel into good advice. They believe they have to take the initiative for their own salvation by repenting (which many understand as turning away from sin) and believing in Christ before God will put them in Christ and justify them.

The problem with this teaching is that repeated failures to live the sanctified life destroys one’s confidence in one’s repentance. If I have truly turned away from sin, why am I still falling? The result is that whatever joy and hope the believer had when he or she first came to Christ disappears. Many decide, “I might as well leave the church and enjoy sin, since I cannot make it to heaven.” Sad to say, I have met far too many Adventists who are experiencing exactly these results from this so-called gospel teaching and consequently either leave the church or become nominal Christians.

The truth of the matter is that it is the “goodness of God” (Romans 2:13) revealed through the gospel that leads us to repentance. When one experiences such repentance, he or she is motivated by a heartfelt appreciation for Christ and Him crucified so that Christian living is  no  longer motivated by  fear  of  punishment or  desire  for reward.  This is true sanctification.

My plea, therefore, is that before you oppose these wonderful truths that have brought so much peace, joy, and victory to many who were once trapped in a subtle form of legalism, please put aside your preconceived views and your pride and study with an honest heart what the Scriptures say about this matter. And may the truth, as it is in Christ Jesus, set you free.

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