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The Nature of Christ

Our understanding of the nature of sin bears directly on our understanding of what human nature Christ took. We therefore would encourage you to read and consider our study on the nature of sin before reading this study.

 

Is knowing the nature of Christ important?

Not according to General Conference President, Jan Paulsen.

 

“In his comments, Paulsen also said that continuing controversy over the church’s definition of the nature of Christ will not, “on my watch,” cause a reevaluation by the church.

 

“I think there is a reason for why we have chosen generous language in describing our position as a church on the nature of Christ. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ (Wholly God and wholly man – no one else matches the “only-begottenness” of that One) leads us to say that,” Paulsen said.

 

He added, “I have to tell you I just cannot imagine a post-modern person in Europe, a business man in Asia or Latin America, any more than a farmer in Africa will care one iota whether Christ had the nature of man before the fall or after the fall. The realities of the world in which we live have other concerns which occupy us.”

 

Paulsen said such discussions often focus on the possibility of living a victorious Christian life. However, he added, such victory will not be attained by “settling the precise human nature of Christ; it will be by experiencing the ‘power of His resurrection.’ It will not be by the power of His example; it will be by the ‘power of His resurrection,’ for in that lies the power to live a new life.”1

 

Q. Did Ellen White think it was important to have a correct understanding of the human nature of Christ?

 

“We need not place the obedience of Christ by itself as something for which He was particularly adapted, by His particular divine nature, for He stood before God as man's representative and tempted as man's substitute and surety. If Christ had a special power which it is not the privilege of man to have, Satan would have made capital of this matter. The work of Christ was to take from the claims of Satan his control of man, and He could do this only in the way that He came--a man, tempted as a man, rendering the obedience of a man. . . . Bear in mind that Christ's overcoming and obedience is that of a true human being. In our conclusions, we make many mistakes because of our erroneous views of the human nature of our Lord. When we give to His human nature a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts with Satan, we destroy the completeness of His humanity. His imputed grace and power He gives to all who receive Him by faith. The obedience of Christ to His Father was the same obedience that is required of man”. Selected Messages, Vol. 3, p. 139

 

God's prophet was very plain that if we hold to a view that Jesus’ human nature had any advantage over us, then this is an erroneous view. The contemporary teaching that Jesus did not have fallen human nature is an erroneous view because it teaches that Jesus possessed a nature that was not like ours. Surely this would have given Him an advantage over what we have which is just what Satan wants us to believe.

 

Jesus took upon Himself fallen human nature

“For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren...For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” Hebrews 2:11, 16-18

 

“Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” Romans 1:3

 

“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:” Romans 8:3

 

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16

 

"Christ's life represents a perfect manhood. Just that which you may be, He was in human nature. He took our infirmities. He was not only made flesh, but He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. His divine attributes were withheld from relieving His soul anguish or His bodily pains (Letter 106, 1896). S.D.A. Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, p. 1124.2

 

“The example He has left must be followed. He took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature, that He might know how to succor those that are tempted." Medical Ministry, p. 181.3

 

“Jesus also told them that they should have a part to act, to be with him, and at different times strengthen him. That he should take man's fallen nature, and his strength would not be even equal with theirs.” Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 1, p. 25.1

 

“Satan again rejoiced with his angels that he could, by causing man's fall, pull down the Son of God from His exalted position. He told his angels that when Jesus should take fallen man's nature, he could overpower Him and hinder the accomplishment of the plan of salvation.” Early Writings, p. 152.2

 

“It was in the order of God that Christ should take upon himself the form and nature of fallen man, that he might be made perfect through suffering, and himself endure the strength of Satan's fierce temptations, that he might understand how to succor those who should be tempted.” The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 2, p. 39.3

 

“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 or sinfulness; he was ever pure and undefiled; yet he took upon him our sinful nature. Clothing his divinity with humanity, that he might associate with fallen humanity, he sought to regain for man that which, by disobedience, Adam had lost for himself and for the world.” The Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1896 par. 7

 

“What a sight was this for Heaven to look upon! Christ, who knew not the least taint of sin or defilement, took our nature in its deteriorated condition. This was humiliation greater than finite man can comprehend. God was manifest in the flesh.” Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 253.1

 

“In taking upon Himself man's nature in its fallen condition, Christ did not in the least participate in its sin.” Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 256.1

 

“Though He had no taint of sin upon His character, yet He condescended to connect our fallen human nature with His divinity. By thus taking humanity, He honored humanity. Having taken our fallen nature, he showed what it might become, by accepting the ample provision He has made for it, and by becoming partaker of the divine nature.--Letter 81, 1896.” Selected Messages, Vol. 3, p. 134.2

 

“Think of Christ's humiliation. He took upon himself fallen, suffering human nature, degraded and defiled by sin.” The Youth's Instructor, Dec. 20, 1900 par. 7

 

“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.” The Desire of Ages, p. 112.3

 

“The humanity of Christ reached to the very depths of human wretchedness and identified itself with the weaknesses and necessities of fallen man, while His divine nature grasped the Eternal.” Confrontation, p. 38.1

 

"The love that Christ manifested can not be comprehended by mortal man. 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 blessings in behalf of the fallen race. Thus he has made it possible for us to partake of his nature. By making himself an offering for sin, he opened a way whereby human beings might be made one with him. He placed himself in man's position, becoming capable of suffering. The whole of his earthly life was a preparation for the altar." The Review and Herald, July 17, 1900 par. 8

 

Propensities of sin

Q. What extreme did Ellen White warn about concerning the human nature of Christ?

 

"Be careful, exceedingly careful as to how you dwell upon the human nature of Christ. Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him; he was in the image of God. He could fall, and he did fall through transgressing. Because of sin, his posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature, and was tempted in all points as human nature is tempted. He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. He was assailed with temptations in the wilderness, as Adam was assailed with temptations in Eden." Manuscript Releases, Vol. 13, p. 18.1

 

Q. If Jesus did not have any propensities of sin, doesn't that make Him different to us?

 

We need to understand what Ellen White meant when she mentions propensity.

 

Adam's posterity are born with inherent propensities of disobedience

 

“The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him; he was in the image of God. He could fall, and he did fall through transgressing. Because of sin, his posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature, and was tempted in all points as human nature is tempted. He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. He was assailed with temptations in the wilderness, as Adam was assailed with temptations in Eden.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 13, p. 18.1

 

We have natural and acquired propensities

 

"No longer let any evil influence or propensity, natural or acquired, lead you to subordinate the claims of future, eternal interests to the common affairs of this life. No man can serve two masters whose interests are not in harmony. 'Ye cannot serve God and mammon.'". . . The Upward Look, p. 313.5

 

Indulgence of appetite strengthens propensity to incorrect habits of eating

 

“The tables of our American people are generally prepared in a manner to make drunkards. Appetite is the ruling principle with a large class. Whoever will indulge appetite in eating too often, and food not of a healthful quality, is weakening his power to resist the clamors of appetite and passion in other respects in proportion as he has strengthened the propensity to incorrect habits of eating.” Child Guidance, p. 403.1

 

How does Ellen White use the word propensity?

 

“Sister R, your brain is wearied and taxed by reading. You should deny your propensity for crowding your mind with everything it can devour.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 2, p. 434.2

 

“Brother B has cultivated an almost ungovernable propensity for sight-seeing and trips of pleasure. Time and means are wasted to gratify his desire for pleasure excursions. His selfish love of pleasure leads to the neglect of sacred duties.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, p. 26.2

 

“Long discourses and tedious prayers are positively injurious to a religious interest and fail to carry conviction to the consciences of the people. This propensity for speechmaking frequently dampens a religious interest that might have produced great results.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, p. 261.1

 

“In thus acting, they have yielded to a natural propensity that should have been firmly subdued.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, p. 268.2

 

“At times reason and conscience remonstrate, and you feel rebuked because of your course; your soul longs after holiness and the surety of heaven; the din of the world looks repulsive to you, and you put it aside and cherish the Spirit of God. Then, again, your worldly propensity comes in, and overrules everything. You will surely have to meet the assaults of Satan, and you should prepare for them by firmly resisting your inclination.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, p. 351.3

 

“The higher, noble powers of his being have been brought very much into subjection to the close, selfish propensity of acquisitiveness. His only hope is in overcoming this propensity, and breaking the bands of Satan. He has tried to do this, by doing something after his conscience had been wrought upon; but this is not sufficient. This merely making a mighty effort and parting with a little of his mammon, and feeling all the time that he is parting with his soul, is not the fruit of true religion. He must train his mind to good works. He must brace against his propensity to acquire. He must weave into all his life good works. He must cultivate a love of doing good, and get above the little, penurious spirit which he has fostered." Testimony for the Churches at Allegan & Monterey, p. 34.1

 

Ellen White uses the word propensity in a number of ways. These include:

  1. A desire for sin
  2. An inclination for sin

We are not born with every propensity of sin. Some propensities we acquire. When we understand how Ellen White used the word propensity, it is easier to understand her statement concerning Jesus and propensity:

 

“Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities [desire or inclination] of sin. He is the second Adam... He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity [desire or inclination]" Manuscript Releases, Vol. 13, p. 18.1 (emphasis added)

 

Q. Can we overcome our propensities of sin?

 

“In his prayer to the Father, Christ said, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." We must learn of Christ. We must know what he is to those he has ransomed. We must realize that through belief in him it is our privilege to be partakers of the divine nature, and so escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. Then we are cleansed from all sin, all defects of character. We need not retain one sinful propensity.” The Review and Herald, April 24, 1900 par. 6

 

"In thus acting, they have yielded to a natural propensity that should have been firmly subdued. This is not the calm justice of the Christian executive, but the harsh criticism of a hasty temperament." Gospel Workers, p. 79.2

 

Q. Did Jesus have any evil tendencies to overcome?

 

Because Jesus had no desire in His heart to sin, some may conclude that His nature was different to ours. However we are told:

 

"When Christ first announced to the heavenly host His mission and work in the world, He declared that He was to leave His position of dignity and disguise His holy mission by assuming the likeness of a man, when in reality He was the Son of the infinite God. And when the fullness of time was come, He stepped down from His throne of highest command, laid aside His royal robe and kingly crown, clothed His divinity with humanity, and came to this earth to exemplify what humanity must do and be in order to overcome the enemy and to sit with the Father upon His throne. Coming as He did, as a man, <to meet and be subjected to>/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, quoted in Adventist Review, 17 February 1994, page 7 (the interlineations indicated between the symbols < > were added by Ellen White).2


“He was made like unto his brethren, with the same susceptibilities, mental and physical. He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin; and he knows how to succor those who are tempted. Are you harassed and perplexed? So was Jesus. Do you feel the need of encouragement? So did Jesus. As Satan tempts you, so he tempted the Majesty of heaven. Jesus, as your representative and substitute, did not yield on the field of conflict; and in his strength you may resist and conquer.” The Review and Herald, Feb. 10, 1885 par. 7

 

“The lessons of Christ upon the occasion of receiving the children, should leave a deeper impression upon our minds. The words of Christ encourage parents to bring their little ones to Jesus. They may be wayward, and possess passions like those of humanity, but this should not deter us from bringing them to Christ. He blessed children that were possessed of passions like His own.” Ye Shall Receive Power, p. 137.2

 

“The human family have all the help that Christ had in their conflicts with Satan. They need not be overcome. They may be more than conquerors through Him who has loved them and given His life for them. "Ye are bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20). And what a price! The Son of God in His humanity wrestled with the very same fierce, apparently overwhelming temptations that assail men-- temptations to indulgence of appetite, to presumptuous venturing where God has not led them, and to the worship of the god of this world, to sacrifice an eternity of bliss for the fascinating pleasures of this life. Everyone will be tempted, but the Word declares that we shall not be tempted above our ability to bear. We may resist and defeat the wily foe.” Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 95.3

 

“Cast yourself, helpless, unworthy, upon Jesus, and claim His very promise. The Lord will hear. He knows how strong are the inclinations of the natural heart, and He will help in every time of temptation.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, p. 177.2

 

“The Elder Brother of our race is by the eternal throne. He looks upon every soul who is turning his face toward Him as the Saviour. He knows by experience what are the weaknesses of humanity, what are our wants, and where lies the strength of our temptations; for He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” The Desire of Ages, p. 329.1

 

Questions concerning certain Ellen White quotes

Q. Didn't Ellen White say Christ took a sinless nature?

 

“We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ. Our faith must be an intelligent faith, looking unto Jesus in perfect confidence, in full and entire faith in the atoning Sacrifice.” Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 256.2}

 

It was the purity and sinlessness of Christ's humanity that stirred up such satanic hatred.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 16, p. 118.3}

 

Ellen White did not say Christ took sinless human nature, otherwise she would be contradicting herself. What she said was the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ. There is a big difference. Even though He had a fallen nature, He never once fell into sin. This is made clear in the next point.

 

Q. What did Ellen White mean by sinlessness?

 

“Let those who feel inclined to make a high profession of holiness look into the mirror of God's law. As they see its far-reaching claims, and understand its work as a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, they will not boast of sinlessness. "If we," says John, not separating himself from his brethren, "say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." The Acts of the Apostles, p. 562.2

 

“When enlightened by the Spirit of God, the believer beholds the perfection of Jesus, and beholding this perfection, he rejoices with joy unspeakable. In self he sees sin and helplessness; in the Redeemer sinlessness and infinite power.” Sons and Daughters of God, p. 124.2

 

“Satan charged God with possessing the attributes that he himself possessed. Christ came to this world to reveal God's character as it really is. He is the perfect representation of the Father. His life of sinlessness, lived on this earth in human nature, is a complete refutation of Satan's charge against the character of God. Bible Training School, Oct. 1, 1902 par. 2

 

"He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed." He laid off His royal robe and kingly crown, and clothed His divinity with humanity, that He might live in our behalf a life of sinlessness, and on the cross make an atonement for our transgressions. He consented to take the body of humanity. He could have refused to be thus humiliated; but it was to suffer humiliation and death that He came into the world. Signs of the Times, August 9, 1905 par. 1

 

Q. Didn't Ellen White say Christ did not possess our sinful, corrupt nature?

 

“Through being partakers of the divine nature we may stand pure and holy and undefiled. The Godhead was not made human, and the human was not deified by the blending together of the two natures. Christ did not possess the same sinful, corrupt, fallen disloyalty we possess, for then He could not be a perfect offering.--Manuscript 94, 1893.” Selected Messages, Vol.3, p.131.1

 

This may sound like Ellen White taught Jesus had a sinless human nature, but that is reading into the passage something she never wrote. Again, the overall consensus of Ellen White's writings teach that Jesus took upon Himself our fallen nature. This quote simply says that Jesus never sinned, He never possessed our sinful, corrupt, fallen disloyalty.

 

How and when did the church change it’s position on the nature of Christ?

Woodrow W. Whidden

 

"The traditional critics of QOD will be gratified to know that Knight has pulled no punches, especially when it comes to exposing the way L. E. Froom and his colleagues were 'less than transparent' about the denomination's long-held (since the 1890s) consensus on the 'post-Fall' humanity of Christ. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Knight also suggests that Froom and his colleagues gave a false impression as they developed the notorious 'Appendix B," entitled "Christ's Nature During the Incarnation,' which consists of Ellen White statements.


Knight claims that the controversial heading, which says Christ 'Took Sinless Human Nature,' was "problematic in that it implied that this was Ellen White's idea when in fact she was quite emphatic in repeatedly stating that Christ took 'our sinful nature' and that 'He took upon Himself fallen, suffering human nature, degraded and defiled by sin.'" Questions on Doctrine: Then and now, Woodrow W. Whidden, Ministry, Aug. 2003, p. 143


Graeme Bradford

 

“Regarding the nature of Christ—whether He had a nature like Adam before or after the fall—Andreason made no comment in his publications during the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. Possibly this is because the sinful nature of Christ—being like Adam after the fall and thus being like us today, in a poor sinful state—was an assumed tenet and thus was not an issue. It was not to become a contentious issue until the late 1950s with the printing of the book Questions on Doctrine.” Graeme Bradford, More Than a Prophet, p. 187 (chapter 21) 4

 

Herbert E. Douglass


“Froom took a poll of Adventist leaders and discovered that 'nearly all of them' felt that Christ had our sinful nature. Further, the recently retired General Conference president, W. H. Branson, wrote in the 1950 edition of his Drama of the Ages that Christ in His incarnation took "upon Himself sinful flesh.

 

But Froom and Anderson nevertheless affirmed in what appeared to George Knight to be a 'less than transparent' way that 'the majority of the denomination has always held' the humanity of Christ 'to be sinless, holy, and perfect' despite the fact that certain writers had occasionally gotten into print with contrary views. Unfortunately, this is what they told Walter Martin.

 

Froom and Anderson kept the new General Conference president well informed. One of Froom's letters acknowledged that in QOD 'some of the statements are a bit different from what you might anticipate.' He went on to suggest that their approach was necessary in view of the backgrounds and attitudes of the Evangelicals….

 

Adventist position for a century was solidly based on biblical statements such as Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Romans 1:1-3; 8:3, 4; 2 Peter 1:21; Revelation 3:21.

 

This biblical foundation lies at the core of Ellen White's understanding of Christ's humanity.” Thoughts on the republished Questions on Doctrine, by Herbert E. Douglass, Ministry, p. 16-21"5

 

Conclusion

Up until the 1950's, the majority of Adventism was united on their understanding of the nature of Christ. However the book Questions on Doctrine caused a shift in the church which has grown larger and larger until now the majority of the membership either fully believe Jesus came with a sinless nature that is different to our nature, or they are sick and tired of the debates this false teaching has caused and choose to ignore the subject. This is just what the devil wants. He wants to cause division, confusion and a false conception of the life our Saviour lived here on earth. If he succeeds in this, then the next step toward apostasy (which we are fully in now) is to believe that we cannot attain to a perfect life like Jesus lived. This will then encourage church members to lower standards and reason within their hearts that so long as I'm living a reasonably decent Christian life, so long as I pay my tithes and go to church, I'm ok. When this happens, we are in the devils hands.

 

For further reading on the subject, we recommend the book "He took it for us" by Kevin Tregenza.

 

Citations:

  1. http://www.adventistreview.org/article.php?id=1427
  2. Adventist Review, 17 February 1994. See here for a copy of this reference on page 7. See here for the entire issue.
  3. http://www.ministrymagazine.org/archives/2003/MIN2003-08.pdf(or here for a saved pdf)
  4. http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/books/bradford/prophet-21.htm (or here for a saved pdf)
  5. www.ministrymagazine.org/archives/2004/MIN2004-08.pdf