Tag Archives: the cosmic conflict

Questions and Answers (14:8)

Lou: You referred to Job. If I remember correctly, God called Job a perfect person. And yet when you come to the end of the book of Job, it says he repented in dust and ashes. What did he have to repent of? What does repentance mean when God has said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? A good and perfect man”? Job 1:8.

Graham: That’s right. In the hearing of the on-looking universe God said, “Here is a perfect man.” And then the perfect man says, “I repent.” I think we are more inclined to point out Job’s repentance than God’s word that he is perfect. Under the pressure of bad advice from his friends, Job finally said, “God, I’m sorry I have talked about things beyond my understanding” (Job 42:1-3). And God immediately intervened and said, “Don’t give up, Job. You have done splendidly! You have said of Me what is right. Don’t let these three theologians discourage you. In fact, pray for them. They need a lot of help to know Me the way you do“ (Job 42:7-8).
We really need to take the book of Job as a whole. God said Job was perfect.
Job in his humility said, “God, I have said a lot, and I’ve said it with a great deal of feeling. If I seem the least bit irreverent, I repent.”
Then God could have said, “A man who is covered with boils and has lost his whole family; I can understand why you cry the way you have. You did not insult Me by this. You honored Me with your confidence.”
We will explore this in more depth in the next chapter, “Talking To God As A Friend.“ Job is a marvelous example of how freely we can talk to God, and still be reverent.

Lou: Let’s come back to this matter of perfection as “healing the damage done.” Does that include restoration both physically and mentally? It reminds me of a question someone sent in: “Will you please tell me why the people of the Old Testament lived longer than the people of our day? What gave them a longer life span? Does food have anything to do with our life span today?” I think that ties in with the topic of healing all the damage that has been done by sin.

Graham: It does. I love to read about Methuselah and how long he and his fellow patriarchs lived. Up until the Flood, they all lived a long time unless they were murdered, or translated, as Enoch was (based on Genesis 4 and 5—see especially Gen 4:23 and 5:23-24). I remember the first time I went through the sixty-six. And I wrote in my margin the declining ages of the patriarchs after the flood. It’s precipitous! Their ages drop from almost a thousand down to a little over a hundred. We have lost a great deal physically. We’re pygmies compared with Adam and Eve. Fortunately, we’ve all sort of withered up together so we look relatively respectable to each other, but if Adam and Eve were to walk into the room, we’d be embarrassed, wouldn’t we?
We need both physical healing and mental healing. But in this life, although we should do the best we can with the little that we have, we’re all getting older. Not until the earth made new will all that be restored. So some people say, “Well, if I can’t be physically and mentally perfect in this life, I guess I can’t be perfect in any way.“ No, spiritual perfection, perfection of character, is held out to us. God could say of us, as He did of Job, “I could trust you even through the Time of Trouble. I know you wouldn’t let Me down.“ Perfection is not a brittle thing. It is about being mature. It actually means just plain growing up. It is unnatural not to grow up.

Lou: Does a person have to be perfect in any sense of the term in order to be saved?

Graham: One can certainly be perfect in one’s willingness to listen. That willingness begins when one is converted, and to be converted is simply to reverse one’s course. The unconverted person is stubbornly unwilling to listen. The converted person is reverently and humbly willing to listen. One couldn’t do that if one didn’t have a new heart and a right spirit (Ezek 36:26). It is the marvelous work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to the conviction of truth (John 16:8-11), that leads me to want to reverse my direction. And since it is the work of God, it is perfectly done; but I would only be a perfect baby at that stage. God doesn’t need us to focus on our performance, but if I’m cheating in my willingness to listen, there’s something seriously wrong.

Questions and Answers (14:7)

Lou: As you were talking about perfection, I heard an emphasis on the generous gift of God, His eagerness to heal us and to make us well. It makes one wonder, who would want to be imperfect or continue to be ill when all this healing is available? Why do you think there has been so much debate on this subject?

Graham: Whole books have even been written about it. I suppose there are many reasons. One is that people who claim to be perfect can be quite insufferable. It has given perfection a bad name. Another reason people might avoid the subject is that perfection involves our behavior. And talking about behavior smacks of works, our having to do something. Many people are so concerned to make salvation by faith that they can’t fit this in.

Lou: How do you avoid the tendency to think in terms of your performance, to concentrate on how well or how poorly you’re doing?

Graham: I think your question goes back to things we’ve discussed before. What is it that went wrong in the universe, and what would it mean for God to set things right? If our problem is a legal one, our primary concern is to somehow set things right legally. In that case we might be trying to please the Father and persuade Him not to punish or destroy us. If my efforts toward perfection are in order to turn away His wrath and improve my legal standing, then that’s salvation by works.
In the case of the healing model, most of us have had a moment when we’ve not been well and have had to go to the physician. And we’ve heard the physician say, “Will you do the following?“ And the most logical thing in the world is to go home and do it. I don’t feel I’m being a legalist to do that. It seems to me that if I really trust my doctor, I will be willing to do what the doctor says. The only difference is my work is in harmony with the Divine Physician. I’m not trying to please the doctor, nor am I trying to improve my legal standing with the doctor. I’m trying to do what is for my own best good. The gracious Physician is saying, “Do the following. It will produce good results.” And I go home and work hard to follow the regimen that He recommends.

Lou: So it really is a question of motivation that makes all the difference.

Graham: Very much, your motivation and the model of salvation you are working with. The legal model has obscured the model of salvation as healing, and perfection as complete healing.

Lou: The concern with perfection sometimes leads people to evaluate one another on how well they are doing.

Graham: That’s another thing that has given perfection a bad name. It is the idea that “I have my own blueprint for perfection, and I’m getting closer and closer to it. But I can tell you’re pretty far behind in comparison!” Facing such an attitude can be quite discouraging. But who is it that does not want us to understand the good news that God would like to completely heal the damage done? The devil has many versions of perfection that are a corruption of the truth and are not good news. He uses one thing to confuse one person, and another thing to confuse another.

Lou: A lot of sincere discussion has centered around the question: Does perfection mean that one never makes a mistake? We might think, “If I could just be perfect, I wouldn’t make a mistake.“

Graham: This question recalls the time we discussed the meaning of sin. Sin is not just making a mistake. Sin is rebelliousness. Sin is a stubborn unwillingness to listen. Sin is a breach of trust. Imagine in the hereafter I plant a pomegranate tree a little too close to the house, and it gets bigger and bigger in the fertile soil there.
And the Lord comes by and says, “Say, you planted it too close to the house, didn’t you?”
And I’d say, “Yes, I did. Why didn’t You stop me?”
“It’s not a problem,” He’d say, “that’s how you learn. Pomegranate trees grow rather large up here. Plant it a little farther away.”
So I would proceed to move it.

Lou: You are making a distinction between a sin and a mistake.

Graham: Yes. There’s no sin in making a mistake like that. Not unless there is a spirit of rebelliousness within you, a stubborn unwillingness to accept advice, which would mean I’m not safe to have around in eternity.

Lou: But can a perfect person sin? Not just make mistakes, but actually sin?

Graham: What you are really asking is, can a perfect person ever rebel? Look at Lucifer, the most perfect of all God’s creation. He was still free and he exercised his freedom in rebellion. Think also of Adam and Eve. They were perfect, and they rebelled. So though God heals all the damage done by sin, He does not take away our freedom. We will still be free in the hereafter.

You Become Like the God(s) You Worship (14:6)

How does one grow up like this? How does one become perfect and mature? It is very simple, we are saved, we are healed, by faith. And faith, as we’ve discussed earlier, means trust. It means love. It means admiration. And that means a willingness to listen. It is a law in this orderly universe, that we will inevitably become like the person we worship and admire. We know that from experience. We also see it corroborated and confirmed in Scripture:

Then with unveiled faces we can all behold as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord. And we become changed into His likeness, from glory to glory, through the Spirit of the Lord working in us ( 2 Cor 3:18, Norlie).

This is how the Spirit works. He brings us the truth. He brings us the picture of God. He brings us all the evidence of Scripture. We look at the picture. We like what we see, and it changes us.

The same principle works in the other direction as well: “Those who make them [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Psa 115:8, NIV). It is inevitable that we will become like the person or the object we worship and admire. If we regard God as arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe, we too will become like that. History has borne out the truth of that, hasn’t it? Think of so many who have claimed to worship God, but having the devil’s picture of God, have been incredibly cruel in their treatment of other people, even as Paul was before the Damascus road.

On the other hand, we can look at God as He really is, as His Son proved Him to be, and as He is portrayed in the Scriptures. If we like and admire what we see there, if we worship the One we see there, then it is a law that we will become like Him. How absolutely essential, then, that we have a true picture of our God. The hazard of a false picture, if we prefer it, is that we will become like that. The trouble with this matter of perfection is that we tend to talk too much about perfection and not nearly enough about God. We tend to be preoccupied with our performance rather than being preoccupied with the truth about God.

Paul admits this was his error before the Damascus road. But when his picture of God changed, he became totally preoccupied with the truth, with Jesus Christ, with why Jesus had to die, and what this said about the Father. Look what it did to Paul from Damascus on, when he shifted his attention from his own performance to the good news about God. Look how he treated the problems in the city of Corinth with such incredible grace and skill. When he was through, he wrote: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ“ (1 Cor 11:1, RSV). Paul knew how it works. It is a law that we become like the one we worship and admire.

How very sad it is that God’s offer of perfect healing should be seen as a very forbidding and burdensome requirement. It is the cause of much anxiety and fear, and sometimes even the subject of heated criticism and debate. As our Physician Father, God has offered to make us completely well and to completely heal all the damage done. Our part is not to heal ourselves. Our part is to cooperate. As Jesus said to the paralytic at the pool, “Would you like to be well? Would you like to be made whole?” John 5:6. Perfection is not a command, it’s a generous offer. How could we possibly turn such an offer down?

The Meaning of Perfection (14:5)

What does it mean to be perfect? How perfect must one be in this life? Suppose you saw someone who never swore, never gambled, never smoked, never drank, never stole anything, never lost his temper, never broke the Sabbath. Would you be looking at a perfect person? I hope not, because you could be in an anatomy building, looking at a well-preserved corpse. Corpses never do anything bad, but they never do anything good either. They just never do anything, which is a rather popular view of perfection.

In the early days of the church, the number one exponent of that view was a man by the name of Simeon, a member of the church in Antioch. He so much wanted to overcome sin, that as soon as he could afford it, he got material and built himself a small pillar. He climbed up on top, but found it was not tall enough. So he got more material and built on it until it was sixty feet high. He perched on top of that pillar for 30 years until he died. Think of all the bad things you cannot do on top of a sixty-foot pillar. So they called him Saint Simeon Stylites.

Other members of the church envied his perfect life, and as soon as they could afford it, they built pillars all around the area. Pretty soon most of the members were perched on pillars. So Simeon founded a whole order in the church, known as the Order of the Stylites; the order of the pole-sitters. Is that how the saints are going to be found when the Lord comes, all perched on pillars? They are of no use to anybody, but they never do anything wrong either.
Is that the best definition of perfection? The absence of doing wrong?

There is a much more positive approach to perfection. That is to understand that the very word in the Bible (Greek: teleiotês) means “completed” or full-grown. When referring to animals or human beings, it means mature, or grown up physically. It is generally used in the New Testament for spiritual maturity (1 Cor 2:6; 14:20; Eph 4:13; Heb 5:14). So to be perfect means to be mature. And one version, at least, has it that way in Matthew 5:48: “You must become spiritually mature, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Norlie). You see, when someone is converted, when they are won back to trust, and the procedure of healing begins, the change is so great that it is like being born all over again. Jesus said this to Nicodemus: “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3, GNB. Do you remember Nicodemus’ response? He thought that was a little too much to believe (John 3:4). That is how great the change is.

That’s why Paul interpreted baptism the way he did. Baptism by immersion symbolizes the great change in a person’s life. “By our baptism we were buried with Him in death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glorious power, we also should live an entirely new life.” Rom 6:4, Weymouth. Baptism by immersion represents this new life best. It is like washing the dishes. It doesn’t do much good just to sprinkle them a little—though our children might try that short cut sometimes. The word “baptize” means to dip, to immerse.

This is recognized by many scholars, including Roman Catholic scholars. In a footnote to Romans 6:3-4 in the Roman Catholic New Testament by Kleist and Lilly, you can read the following: “St. Paul alludes to the manner in which baptism was ordinarily conferred in the primitive Church, by immersion. The descent into the water is suggestive of the descent of the body into the grave, and the ascent is suggestive of the resurrection to a new life.” Could it be said much better than that? That is why many Christians still symbolize the beginning of healing through baptism by immersion. At the time of baptism, of course, Christians are just beginners. Paul and Peter call them babes in the truth (Rom 2:20; 1 Cor 3:1; 1 Pet 2:2; Heb 5:13), and babies need a great deal of protection. Yet even at that beginning stage, God treats them as if they had never sinned, as if they had always been His loyal children.

Does that mean that since He is so generous, it is all right to remain “babes in the truth?” Or does God want us to grow up into perfection and maturity? We know from the Biblical record that it disturbed Paul a great deal when, even after a few months, he found that the Christian converts were still babes in the truth (1 Cor 3:1-3). When a child’s physical development is delayed, we become very worried, don’t we? When a child’s mental development is delayed, we are even more concerned. But when a Christian adult is spiritually immature, we say, “Isn’t that precious? Isn’t that sweet? He still has the faith of a little child.” But the most serious of all conditions is to be spiritually immaturity. Notice what the Bible says about this:

. . . though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truth of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature [Greek: teleiôs], who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. . . . Heb 5:12 – 6:1, NIV.

The author of Hebrews essentially urges new believers to “grow up.” Compare that passage with Paul’s advice to the believers in Ephesus:

His gifts were made that Christians might . . . arrive at real maturity [Greek: teleion]. . . . We are not meant to remain as children, at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching, and of the jockeying of men who are expert in the crafty presentation of lies. But we are meant to speak the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ. . . . Eph 4:12, 14-15, Phillips.

Paul says in Ephesians that the whole purpose of the church is to help people grow up to perfection and maturity. The Bible explains why. Daniel 12 (verse 10), the Book of Revelation (chapters 13 and 16), and the warnings of Christ (Matt 24:24-27) and of Paul (2 Thess 2:8-12), tell us that we face a time of confusion and deception such as the world has never seen. If we are still babes in the truth then, we will never survive. And so God in mercy waits for us to grow up, and to be as settled into the truth as Job was. This topic is so important for the church that we will invest a whole chapter (Eighteen) on it, under the title “God Waits For His Children To Grow Up.“ This is even the reason for His merciful delay of the Second Coming. You see, it is not an arbitrary requirement that we grow up. It is absolutely necessary if we’re going to survive in the end times. We must not be satisfied to be babes in the truth; but we must grow up and be able to distinguish between right and wrong.

There is another way of looking at perfection: we can look at it as perfect obedience to God’s law. The perfect person is the one who is perfectly obedient. That might sound arbitrary until one takes another look at God’s law. You see, God’s law is no threat to our freedom. All God asks of us is love. But what does it mean to love? “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor 13:4-5, RSV). Isn’t that the description of a grown-up person? To really obey God’s commandments is to simply grow up; to be a safe and pleasant person to live next door to.

Matt 5:48: Command or Promise? (14:4)

Let’s come back to Matthew 5:48. There is an issue in the translation of Matthew 5:48 (“Be ye therefore perfect,” KJV) that we need to look at. The original language here is not entirely clear. Is it a promise or is it a command? Does it read “you must be perfect,” or “you will be perfect?” The key word (Greek: esesthe) is in the future tense. It literally means, “You will be perfect.” You can’t tell from that if it is a promise or a command. It can be simply a future statement: “You will be perfect.” Or it can be a command, as when a sergeant puts up a sign saying, “There will be no smoking in the barracks.” That use of the future is the equivalent of a command.

Notice how other versions have rendered Matthew 5:48. First of all, from the Good News Bible: “You must be perfect.” Second, from the American Standard Version, “Ye therefore shall be perfect.” They each expressed their choice as strongly as possible. On the other hand, Goodspeed, ever the skillful translator, brought into English both meanings of the Greek (and others, like the NASB, have followed his example), “You are to be perfect.” Which is it, a promise or a command? Some of you are familiar with the words in Desire of Ages, “This command is a promise” (page 311). What insight that shows into the meaning of the verse! Now if it is a command, it could be terrifying. We have to be perfect or else! It would certainly be terrifying if we didn’t know the One who has asked us to be perfect. But that is the subject of all sixty-six books of the Bible and the subject of the earlier chapters of this book. Scripture as a whole reassures us about the One who said we must be, or will be perfect.

We find a beautiful picture of God in the cases of David and Solomon, as described in 1 Kings 9:4-5 and 11:4-6. God spoke to Solomon: “If you walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness. . . . I will establish your royal throne” (1 Kings 9:4-5, RSV). Do you remember David’s life and all the awful things he did? Yet here we have God describing David. “He walked before me with integrity of heart and uprightness.” Then it tells us, “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods. And his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” 1 Kings 11:4, RSV. “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.” 1 Kings 11:6, RSV. David did some terrible things, but evidently his heart stayed “wholly true” to God throughout! Can you imagine having to deal with David’s problems in a church board meeting? Most boards would censure and even disfellowship him periodically. Yet through it all God could say that David walked before Him with “integrity of heart.” What do you think of a God who would describe David in that way?

What about Solomon? How were his sins different than David? The Bible tells us that his heart went after other gods, some of them are even listed in verses 5 and 7. He did what David never did. David never left God to go after other gods. Solomon did. He even went after the most disgusting of the gods, as some of the versions translate it. Yet at the end of his life he came to his senses and God took him back. Did he become a second-class member of the family from then on? Not at all! God even said to Solomon, “Write Me another book for the Bible.” And Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes after living such a life. According to 2 Peter, what kind of people write books in the Bible? “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Pet 1:21, KJV. Holy people wrote the Bible.

How could God describe Solomon as one of the holy men of God? A man who devoted himself to abominable pagan gods? The lives of Solomon and David do not speak too well of them, but what does this passage tell us about our God? We like to cite the promise that He will treat us as if we had never sinned. But these stories are not promises; they are facts. They are evidence. God demonstrated in His treatment of David and Solomon that He really will treat us as if we had always been His loyal children. And there are many other examples like them in the Bible. That is the kind of God who wants us to be perfect. Do we have any need to be afraid of Him?

The Biblical Meaning of Salvation (14:3)

As we considered last time, we have all sinned and we continue to come short of God’s glorious ideal (based on Romans 3:23). You recall that sin is rebelliousness and disorderliness. Sin is cheating on our relationships. Sin is knowing what’s right to do and not doing it. Sin is a breakdown of trust. We have so damaged ourselves that, left alone, we would die. Would it be enough for God to say, “I forgive you?” Would forgiveness alone heal the damage done? Or would we still die?

If you believe that eternal torture is the penalty for sinning, then forgiveness would be your primary concern, so God won’t have to torture you after all. Just think how that cruel teaching about eternal torture has cast its hellish shadow over the picture of God and the plan of salvation.

If you are afraid of God, then it is wonderful to hear Him say, “I forgive you.” And He has said that, hasn’t He? Many times. But heaven is not going to be filled with pardoned criminals. It wouldn’t be safe. Heaven will be filled with healed, changed, trustworthy saints. God proposes to set right everything that has gone wrong, to completely heal the damage done by rebellion and distrust.

It is most significant to know that the word “salvation” means, essentially, healing. To be saved is to be healed. In a more legal understanding of the plan of salvation, to be saved is more to be forgiven. It is like having your fire insurance paid up, so you can be admitted to eternity. In the trust/healing model, on the other hand, salvation means healing the damage done. This is made plain in many places in Scripture.

Let’s use Luke 18:42 as an example. In the King James Version, Jesus said to the blind man: “Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.” But in the New International Version, it reads: “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” The Greek word is exactly the same, sôzô. This word is sometimes translated “I save” and sometimes “I heal.” This double meaning of sôzô can be found multiple times in the New Testament (Luke 7:50; 8:48, 50; 17:19; see also Acts 16:30, referenced above). Luke’s wording is powerful evidence for the trust/healing model of salvation. But there is much more.

Jesus the Healer (14:2)

When Jesus was here to demonstrate the truth about His Father and the plan of salvation, He spent most of His time healing rather than preaching. While there is influence and value in preaching, healing eloquently illustrates the truth about God and His government and what it would mean to set right everything that has gone wrong. Jesus certainly didn’t practice the healing arts to attract crowds of people to His meetings. Whenever He found that people were coming for the wrong reason, He said something that caused most of them to go home (see John 6 as a whole, for example).

When Jesus healed the paralytic at the pool (John 5:1-15), He was preaching in action rather than in words. The healing was a demonstration of the truth about God. Forbid the thought, but imagine that you had terminal lung cancer as the result of a lifetime of smoking. You’re sitting anxiously in the office of your physician. What is the best news you could possibly hear at that moment? Would it be for the physician to say, “I forgive you for smoking?” Forgiveness wouldn’t heal the damage done by smoking, you would still die. The only difference is that you would die forgiven. And forgiveness would only help, in this instance, if your physician were accustomed to killing all the patients who contracted lung cancer because of a lifetime of smoking. It would be a relief to hear such a physician say, “I forgive you.“ Now you won’t be killed after all. But physicians do not kill their patients. Neither does God.

What if the physician should say instead, “I have very good news for you. I can make you completely well, if you’ll cooperate”?
“Do you mean that although I have spent a lifetime smoking, and this is really my own fault, you can make me perfectly healthy again?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Well actually, doctor, all I really want is to be forgiven.”
Would you say anything so absurd? Yet so often we seem to say that to God. Wouldn’t you rather say, “Doctor, if that is true, how can I cooperate? What do you want me to do?”

The doctor might respond, “Well this will require some changes. But if you trust me enough to follow my instructions, I can absolutely guarantee that you will be perfectly restored.”
Would you say, “One moment, Doctor. I don’t want to have to do anything, I was counting on you to do it all. I am expecting you to put your hand on my chest and heal me by a miracle. If I have to work to get well, then I am going to look for another physician.“ Would you do that? Or would you say, “Doctor, do you mean that if I trust you enough to cooperate with you and follow the instructions you give me, you can guarantee to make me well? Then, please tell me what I have to do.” Wouldn’t you eagerly ask, like the jailor during the earthquake at Philippi, “What must I do to be saved (Greek: sôzô)? What must I do to be well“ (based on Acts 16:30)?

As Christians we need more than mere physical healing. We have been damaged in many other ways. The most serious damage has been done to our ability to live in love, peace and freedom, to be able to trust and be trustworthy. In other words, we are no longer the kind of people God could really trust with all the privileges of eternal life.

Chapter Fourteen: “God Can Completely Heal the Damage Done” (14:1)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ uttered those memorable words that have troubled saints and sinners alike ever since. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, KJV). Whether we find those words encouraging or discouraging depends, as with so many of our beliefs, upon the kind of person we believe our God to be. It also depends on our understanding of what He wants for His children throughout the universe. This is especially true for those of us who live on this planet, who have been caught up in the damaging consequences of the great controversy.

The topic of this chapter is the Christian doctrine of perfection, but in the larger setting of the conflict in God’s family. Rightly understood, perfection can be good news and speak very well of our Heavenly Father. But misunderstood, it can put God in a very bad light —it can make Him appear to be arbitrary, exacting, and severe.

As we’ve considered before, all God wants in His family is peace and freedom. But to have peace and freedom there must be mutual love and trust, maturity and self-control. Things like this cannot be commanded, or produced by force or fear. Instead God offers to set right and keep right everything that has gone wrong. That means He is willing to completely heal the damage that sin has done.

Questions and Answers (13:14)

Lou: Thinking further about the prodigal son story, is it necessary to repent and to confess one’s sins before one is forgiven?

Graham: In the story, the boy had hardly begun to speak when the father interrupted and said, “I forgave you long ago.” An even more stunning illustration is Jesus forgiving on the cross. There was no indication that the soldiers who were nailing Him to the cross were saying, “Please forgive us; please forgive us.” They didn’t even ask, and He said, “I forgive you anyway” (Luke 23:34). God is forgiveness personified.
On the other hand, our response to God’s forgiveness does matter. The offer of forgiveness does us no good unless we are moved by His forgiveness to repent. We often have it the other way around, “If I repent, maybe He will forgive me.” Instead, it is learning of His forgiveness that moves us to repentance–some of us, anyway. As Paul said in Romans, it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). But God’s kindness doesn’t make repentance unimportant. If I don’t respond to His gracious forgiveness, it doesn’t do me any good. Repentance means changing my mind and confessing, “I am sick, help me, what must I do to be well?”

Lou: So the difference here is based on the reason we come to God. Are we drawn by His gracious character? Or do we hope that our repentance and confession will win God over to where He might be willing to forgive us? In that case, the story would have the father saying to the prodigal son, “Well, since you have made all these promises, maybe I’ll welcome you home.”

Graham: I want to say this very reverently, but if it requires that I bring the blood of His Son to God before God can say, “Well, now I can forgive you,” that denies the prodigal son story. You don’t have to bring Him anything. God sent His Son to die to answer all those questions and to draw us to Him, to handle all the emergencies in the Great Controversy. Why? Because He had already forgiven us, but we didn’t know it. He sent the Son to make it clear. And the Son hanging on the cross said, “I forgive you. You don’t understand what you’re doing.” That’s incredible! That kind of forgiveness wins some to repentance. It won one of the thieves hanging on the cross next to Him.

Lou: What is our topic for Chapter Fourteen? Please introduce where we are going next.

Graham: The title of the next chapter is: “God Can Completely Heal the Damage Done.” It’s really talking about perfection, a topic which has probably given many people hypertension or ulcers. It is a topic that can be very discouraging. But in the Bible, perfection is not a requirement. Perfection is an offer. Do you want to be well or not? How well do you want to be? The message of perfection, instead of being forbidding, can be very comforting news.

Lou: So this chapter is about God’s wonderful treatment of us. The next chapter is about how He goes on to heal us.

Questions and Answers (13:13)

Lou: Here’s a question related to the previous chapter (see section “The Teachings and Example of Jesus” in Chapter Twelve). “Why did Jesus heal the paralytic on the Sabbath?”

Graham: Many of His Sabbath healings were elective, weren’t they? After all, the paralytic had been by the pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years. This was no emergency. As a rule I think Jesus tried to keep a low profile. If He became very public, His actions would be so controversial that He wouldn’t last very long. But when it came to the Sabbath, He risked His life repeatedly to clear the Sabbath of misunderstanding. An arbitrary approach to the Sabbath puts the Father in the worst possible light. So Jesus ran the risk of healing and helping to redeem the Sabbath of arbitrariness, because the Sabbath speaks so eloquently of God. And He ran into trouble every time.

Lou: Here’s another very important question: “In the parable of the prodigal son, the father just forgives. No one has to die. There is no sacrifice or animal that has to be killed, and the Father doesn’t have to die. Why couldn’t God forgive all of us in the same way?”

Graham: Well, in a way He does. I think the story was told in that way to indicate that absolutely nothing had to be done to persuade the father to love his son and to forgive him. I believe the father had forgiven the son long before the son headed for home. But that’s not the whole story in the Great Controversy. God is forgiveness personified, but questions have been raised. God has been accused, and these questions must be answered. Satan’s charges must be met. All the misunderstandings regarding the consequences of sin or the seriousness of sin must be handled. And that’s why more has to happen than this story tells. But the story is clear that nothing needs to be done to win the Father to our side, to “assuage His wrath” before He’ll forgive. The story of the prodigal son is really more about the father than the son. We call it the story of the prodigal son. But it’s actually the story of a father who was so delighted that his son came home, he didn’t even let his son finish his speech of repentance.

Lou: Several people wanted you to retell the rat poison story to again underline the difference between the legal approach and the “larger view” you have been talking about in this book.

Graham: Just to give the essence of it, the difference is this. In the legal way of approaching the plan of salvation, the father says to the son, “If I catch you taking that poison, I’ll kill you!” Then the father hears the son falling down in the garage. He runs in there and finds the son drank the poison and is dying. And the father reminds him, “The punishment for drinking the poison is that I’ll kill you.” And the boy says, “Please forgive me.” And the father says, “Well yes, son, I love you, so I’ll forgive you.” The trouble is, being poisoned, he dies anyway. The legal model has difficulty conceiving of sin as a poison in itself, that sin is intrinsically bad.
In the other model, the father says to his son, “Don’t touch the poison, I don’t want you to die.” He runs out to the garage. The boy is dying. Forgiveness would not keep the boy from dying. The boy needs an antidote. If only he’d trust his father enough, the father could heal him. That’s the key difference in these two models. Is the death from sin an imposed penalty because we have offended the One in charge? Or is the death that comes from sin the result of poisoning ourselves? We don’t need forgiveness as much as we need a healing antidote. And if we trust God, He can heal the damage done. That’s the difference between the two: Sin is not primarily a legal infraction, it is a poison.

Lou: That seems like an absolutely pivotal understanding. It makes a real difference in terms of how God views sin and why God hates sin. It isn’t just His personal opinion.

Graham: No! He doesn’t want us to die! And certainly He wouldn’t kill His dying Son, would He? Would He say, “Hey, don’t die too quickly, because I have to kill you as a penalty.” Doctors don’t kill their dying patients, and God does not kill His dying children.