“Is it possible for a Christian to attain full, sinless perfection of action and character prior to Jesus’ Second Coming?”
This may be one of the most dangerous questions you could ever ask to a random group of Seventh-day Adventists. The varying views and opinions in the church on this subject make me wonder whether there exist multiple denominations within one Adventist umbrella.
One view to this question is known as Last Generation Theology or LGT (I know this abbreviation is going to throw someone off and think LGBT). This view is essentially the belief that overcoming sin (and therefore perfection of will and character) can and will be achieved by a certain group of people in the last generation prior to the Second Coming. In some cases, this claim is tied to the idea that the exact number of those who will accomplish this incredible feat will be 144,000.
Going in-depth on this subject will send quickly make this post extremely long. This post is mostly about informing you about what it is. I’m also going to show my hand regarding why I don’t believe this view to be the best one.
Before going any further, it is important to talk about the attributes of LGT because- while we may disagree on theological grounds- there are many good people who embrace this concept. I recognize that many honest people began on their path to spiritual growth and developed a relationship with God by hearing these types of messages; I count myself among them.
Last Generation Theology obviously has a strong emphasis on Christian works. They look at the condition of the church and the disparity between those who claim to be Christian and how they act and realize something has to be wrong there. Proponents of this view typically also have a strong emphasis on traditional public evangelism which comes as a byproduct of their desire to “hasten the Lord’s coming” (a point which will be discussed later). Many popular Adventists ministries like Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) and Amazing Facts were initially influenced in some respects by LGT thought.
Again, we may have different methods and mindsets, but the mission of winning people to Jesus is still the same among my friends who believe this view.
That being said, we need to take a step back and look at how Last Generation Theology itself began; starting with one of its most important proponents: M.L. Andreasen. Andreasen was a prominent Adventist theologian during the early part of the 20th century and the most important theologian associated with LGT. In his influential book, The Sanctuary Service, he wrote what became the essence behind LGT thought:
“Through them [the last generation of men living upon the earth] God’s final demonstration of what He can do with humanity will be given. He will take the weakest of the weak, those bearing the sins of their forefather, and in them show the power of God. They will be subject to every temptation, but they will not yield. They will demonstrate that it is possible to live without sin- the very demonstration of which the world has been looking for and for which God has been preparing. It will become evident to all that the gospel really can save to the uttermost. God is found true in His sayings.”
The drive behind LGT is that, in order for God to be vindicated (proven right or justified) for sending Jesus to die on the cross on behalf of sinful humans, a sinless generation of human beings must exist on this earth and conquer in the same way which Jesus did. To overcome means to live perfectly, in the most literal sense of the word.
God will wait for the “maturing of Christian character in a significant number of people as the chief condition determining [the timing of] those events, such as the latter rain, loud cry, sealing, and Sunday law, which affect the time when probation for the world shall close, and thus the time of the Second Coming. ” This is part of what is meant by the phrase “hastening the Lord’s coming.”
Other well-known pastors and theologians that have continued developing, and promoting this aspect of Andreasen’s theology after his lifetime including Jack Sequeira, Robert Pierson, Herbert Douglass, Joe Crews, Dennis Priebe, Doug Batchelor, and Peter Gregory among others.
However, this theological position presupposes several important factors. Among them include their concept of Christology (that is to say, their thoughts about Jesus), Sin and Salvation.
Proponents of LGT believe that Christ came to this world with the fallen human nature of Adam after his fall. This is to say that he had the same desire to sin as we do versus the pre-fall Adam who only had a conceptual idea of Sin and disobedience until he experienced it for himself after the fall in Genesis 3. The justification for this position comes from Biblical passages like Romans 1:3, 8:3; Hebrews 2:17, 4:15 and Ellen White statements like this one:
“Notwithstanding that the sins of a guilty world were laid upon Christ, notwithstanding the humiliation of taking upon Himself our fallen nature, the voice from heaven declared Him to be the Son of the Eternal.”
What is missing in this paradigm is the understanding that Jesus, whom the Bible refers to as “the second Adam”, was just that- the second Adam. He was someone who, although was affected by Sin’s power, was never infected by its influence. Jesus, in conversation with religious leaders who accused him of being as sinful as they were said these words:
Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?(John 8:46)
LGT also seems to defines Sin primarily by the acts that we commit rather than a state of being, and power that we are under. To be “saved” under this paradigm would mean the ceasing of actions that constitute as sin. Therefore, those who are alive when Jesus comes will have stopped committing sinful actions and be considered saved. Those that may still have aspects of their character or actions that require growth would be lost.
You may ask, “well, what’s the problem with any of this?” I’m glad you asked.
1) It teaches that space is limited.
As initially mentioned, some people who believe in LGT say that 144,000 literal people will be alive and ready to be saved when Jesus comes back. There are currently about 7.5 Billion people one the planet and about 17 Million Adventists. You do the math. In short, if you thought tickets to a “Hamilton” show were hard to get, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Implicitly, you are against the clock of probation and at any moment, your time could be up. This would mean that God would have a different standard for salvation for everyone that lived before the Final Generation: faith in Jesus. Yet, the conditions would change to being sinless before the Second Coming. This is quite different from who is eligible for salvation as written in John 3:16: “whoever believes in Him.”
2) It teaches escape as the goal.
The goal of LGT is transformation of the will and perfection of character. To do this, the public preaching of the Gospel is key. It is not often that you will find a push for social justice among believers of this view. The idea of bettering society here could be seen as nonsense to them because this world is already lost and Heaven is our goal.
Yet, if you look at the entirety of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, the bulk of what is written is regarding matters here on Earth: how we treat and relate to those around us in society. This theme is almost all of the minor prophets and many of the majors, Paul’s letters, and Jesus’ teachings among others. Eternal life isn’t built upon an action, or a destination, but upon a relationship. Jesus said you can even start experiencing Eternal life today as it says in John 17:3:
“This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent–Jesus Christ.”
Now, I’m not saying that Heaven isn’t real. What I’m saying is that it isn’t the ultimate goal. We can’t be so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good.
3) It teaches that salvation at the end of time depends on you.
Ultimately, I believe that the object of our salvation rests, not in what we do, but in what Christ has already done in us and is now doing for us in the heavenly sanctuary. I’m not against the idea of striving for perfection in the Christian life. After all, because of Jesus, we are no longer under the power of Sin, we are liberated to live under Him.
I also believe in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit on anybody’s life. However, I am against perfectionism. I am against the idea, however it’s packaged, that our own efforts are in any way the cause rather than effect of salvation. By isolating texts like Philippians 2:12 “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” we miss out on the joyous freedom that Jesus’ victory over Sin allows us to experience today.
The fact that, in our fallen condition, God considers us friends and declares us perfect (the fundamental definition of Justification) as we believe and accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, is precisely why it is called the Gospel or good news. No strings attached. No contract required. What good news it is!
“Is It Possible to Live Without Sinning” by Joe Crews
The Sanctuary Service by M.L. Andreasen
Cleanse and Close: Last Generation Theology in 14 Points by Larry Kirkpatrick
Last Generation Theology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Generation_Theology#cite_note-2
The Desire of Ages by Ellen White