BY CAREL STEVENSON
I want to share the amazing doctrine of the security of the believer that I discovered after leaving the Seventh-day Adventist community. The underlying despair I knew as an Adventist dissolved when I learned the truth about salvation in Jesus, and I want others who live in fear and shame to know the freedom that comes with knowing biblical truth.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
Each false religion and world view has its own distortion of truth, but in false religions posing as Christian, there is always an attack, even if it may not be immediately apparent, on the key issues of the nature of God, the nature of man, the law, and salvation. Adventism is no exception.
While Adventists can have differing views about various beliefs, one of the fundamental flaws in Adventist doctrine that affects all Adventists is that one can never be assured of one’s salvation.
To help those of you who may not be familiar with Adventist teachings, I want to give a very brief introduction to one of the fundamental Adventist doctrines that is at the heart of many of Adventism’s unbiblical teachings. The doctrine is known as the investigative judgment. To be fair, this unique doctrine is a complex extra-biblical construct, and most Adventists would not be able to teach it accurately. I will not explain it exhaustively, but understanding its concepts explains Adventists’ lack of security. This doctrine also underlies many of the beliefs Adventists have been taught, whether they know it or not.
The Seventh-day Adventist organization began with a failed date-setting for the return of Christ. Subsequent to that date’s passing, Ellen White claimed to have had a vision that verified a theory posited by another follower of William Miller, the date-setter. This theory provided a way out of the embarrassing mistake of having predicted Jesus’ coming in the first place.
The theory became known as the doctrine of the investigative judgment, and its essence is that in 1844, Christ began a new work, not on earth as expected, but in heaven, where He began examining all the sins of all those who profess Him. Yes, you read that correctly; it is those who believe that come into this judgement. Moreover, the final verdict on believers will not be known until the Day of Judgement.
There is a lot more to this doctrine, but on the bottom line, the investigative judgment (IJ) is why Adventists must deny that man has a spirit that survives the death of the body. They believe in soul sleep because, according to the IJ, no one can know whether or not they are saved until Jesus comes. Until then, Jesus is involved in examining the records of all believers to see if their sins are confessed and overcome. No one can be with Jesus before the IJ is finished because their salvation can’t be determined until their judgment is over. Thus, there is no security for any Adventist even if he professes Jesus.
Ellen White actually stated that it is a sin of pride ever to say we are saved:
Peter’s fall was not instantaneous, but gradual. Self-confidence led him to the belief that he was saved, and step after step was taken in the downward path, until he could deny his Master. Never can we safely put confidence in self or feel, this side of heaven, that we are secure against temptation. Those who accept the Savior, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved. This is misleading. Every one should be taught to cherish hope and faith; but even when we give ourselves to Christ and know that He accepts us, we are not beyond the reach of temptation. God’s Word declares, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried” (Dan. 12:10). Only he who endures the trial will receive the crown of life (Jas. 1:12).
Those who accept Christ, and in their first confidence say, I am saved, are in danger of trusting to themselves. They lose sight of their own weakness and their constant need of divine strength. They are unprepared for Satan’s devices, and under temptation many, like Peter, fall into the very depths of sin. We are admonished, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Our only safety is in constant distrust of self, and dependence on Christ (Christ’s Object Lessons, 154, 155).
It is remarkable that in this quote she actually desires to prevent our experiencing one of the works of the Spirit:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
Nicole and I had been married for a few years and had progressively become more involved at the Adventist church where we were members. We were involved with the high school ministry and had even been made elders. One Saturday after church we ended up just sitting and talking for a while, and the conversation made it around to heaven and who is going. Somewhat startled by my comments, Nicole asked, “but Carel, you believe you are going to heaven though, right?” To which I responded with absolute confidence, “No, definitely not.” And then I commenced letting her know what I knew of the requirements to make it to heaven, and how I clearly was not going to be saved—and furthermore, I was not sure I knew anyone who would be.
For me this understanding started as a child. In our home we would even talk condescendingly about those “Sunday-keepers” who claimed to be born again. We would never use that term in spite of the fact that the Lord Jesus used it when talking to Nicodemus in the garden:
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3).
Our Lord used an analogy here that everyone can understand. By the time a child is five years old, he knows that the birth of a baby cannot be undone. We are also taught by Paul that when we believe, we are adopted as sons and heirs:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Rom. 8:14–17).
With this adoption reference, Paul uses another clear analogy to describe our legal transfer from one family to another when we believe. From Roman times until now the law regarding adoption has been clear: an adopted child is given a permanent position and cannot be disowned.
We were not only taught that we cannot know we are saved, but we also learned as Adventists that the Sabbath is the seal of God. Those who have been Sabbath-keepers but then leave the Sabbath, we learned, are apostates and will be lost.
Sabbath the seal
“The enemies of God’s law, from the ministers down to the least among them, have a new conception of truth and duty. Too late they see that the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is the seal of the living God. Too late they see the true nature of their spurious sabbath and the sandy foundation upon which they have been building. They find that they have been fighting against God. Religious teachers have led souls to perdition while professing to guide them to the gates of Paradise. Not until the day of final accounts will it be known how great is the responsibility of men in holy office and how terrible are the results of their unfaithfulness. Only in eternity can we rightly estimate the loss of a single soul. Fearful will be the doom of him to whom God shall say: Depart, thou wicked servant (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p.640).
What does this understanding do to the doctrine of security? If the Sabbath is the seal, what happens when we break the Sabbath?
Sabbath-keeping is one of the common sources of anxiety and disagreement among Adventists. While most Adventists would acknowledge the need to keep the Sabbath, few can agree on how that “keeping” is done. When I was a child there were rules such as no buying or selling on the Sabbath, no household chores, no bike riding. and so forth. However, when we would spend time with other Adventist families, the rules would be different in those other homes. I realized as a boy that if one is going to have a legal requirement, it must be clearly and consistently defined. Scripture, however, never gives us parameters for new covenant Sabbath-keeping.
This doctrine of Sabbath-keeping alone would undermine the new covenant by making our works the guarantee of our salvation. In direct contradiction to this belief, however, Paul clearly states that it is God the Spirit that seals us and is the guarantee of our inheritance with Christ:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:13, 14).
I am very grateful that the word of God makes these issues clear.
Ellen White also teaches that unconfessed sins, even those we have forgotten, will keep us from salvation. Furthermore, her teaching on sanctification is that we, with Jesus as our example, would progressively become like Christ until, in the day of judgement, such a person would stand before the Father without Christ as an intercessor.
“To be redeemed means to cease from sin,” she wrote in the Review and Herald (Sept. 25, 1900).
For many of us as Adventists, statements such as this served to remove any sense of security for children and adults alike.
When Nikki’s grandfather was at the end of his life, we had the opportunity to visit him. By most standards he had been a good man, a dedicated worker, husband, father, and an elder in the church, but we could see that he had no peace and was tormented by a complete lack of security. While sitting with him as he lay on his death bed, we tried to share with him what we had learned about the truth of the gospel.
Nikki quoted from 1 John 5:11–13 where the apostle states that one could know that one is saved, and in response he pointed his finger at her and said, “I have been reading the Bible and Ellen White for my whole life, and it’s just not that simple.”
In contrast we are taught that at the moment of belief we are permanently transferred out of judgment:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (Jn. 3:18).
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (Jn. 5:24).
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:31–39).
I praise God that I now know that I am saved. My confidence is not based on my own feelings or on a wish; rather, it is based on the fact that I have repented of my sin and have believed that Jesus paid for my sin and opened a new and living way to the Father. I know I am saved because the Holy Spirit testifies to me that I am God’s son, and the promises in His word cannot fail. As believers, we know we are secure. †
Carel Stevenson is a board member of Life Assurance Ministries, and he and his wife Nicole were part of the team that launched Redeemer Fellowship in Loma Linda. They and their son and daughter exited Adventism in 2010 and are rejoicing in the security of their salvation.