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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

The Domino Effect

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Character Transformation: When and How?
Davi Paes Silva

The wisest man in the Bible, king Solomon, wrote: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).

The New International Version puts it this way: “[Men] have gone in search of many schemes.”

In the beginning, God created man in a perfect way—physically, mentally, and morally. As a result of sin, human nature became corrupt. God’s image in man was replaced by Satan’s image. The whole nature was affected by sin, and the apostle Paul declares that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). By transgression of God’s holy law, man, animals, and all of nature were negatively affected for the worse.

When man was brought into existence, he reflected the divine nature and divine character, even though his character wasn’t fully developed. However, when the first couple submitted themselves to the deception of Satan, their character became corrupted.

“After their sin Adam and Eve were no longer to dwell in Eden. They earnestly entreated that they might remain in the home of their innocence and joy. They confessed that they had forfeited all right to that happy abode, but pledged themselves for the future to yield strict obedience to God.But they were told that their nature had become depraved by sin; they had lessened their strength to resist evil and had opened the way for Satan to gain more ready access to them. In their innocence they had yielded to temptation; and now, in a state of conscious guilt, they would have less power to maintain their integrity.”1

Sadly, this is the human condition to this day, and in fact, human nature has become increasingly worse over the centuries. This was the reason why God destroyed the world by the Flood, and, for this same reason, He will destroy this world by fire.

When we study human history from the Bible perspective, we see that in regard to his character, man is always the same. Israel is a very appropriate example.

From the time God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, in spite of His working powerful miracles day by day in behalf of His people during 40 years of their journey in the wilderness, they always manifested a spirit of ingratitude, rebellion, and unbelief.

At Mount Sinai, the people declared their good intention to obey all God’s instructions conveyed to them by Moses. However, only a few weeks later, they revealed that despite the best of human intentions, they could not change their character. At the end of their history, Israel as a nation eventually joined forces with the Romans to crucify their Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Today, we see that almost everything is changing. Technology in general is progressing in a marvelous way. We now have much better forms of communication and better ways of transportation; medical science is progressing enormously, but sadly, man’s character is the same.

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, the best knowledge without God’s love cannot change man’s character. On the contrary, the more knowledge we have, without love, the more dangerous we become. Modern war machinery, missiles, and other modern devices are the result of the progressive knowledge used to destroy humanity.

Even in the religious environment, people are trying to improve themselves, but the result is the same: It is impossible to change our character by our own efforts. Throughout religious history, man jumped from paganism to legalism, and from legalism to antinomianism, but with no positive results.

Improvement is not the solution. We really need character change.

Ellen White accurately summarized this thought, when she wrote: “The Christian’s life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature.”2

In His night interview with Nicodemus, Christ said: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

How can we be born again?

We are born again when we believe in Jesus: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”(John 1:12, 13).

When we surrender our life to Jesus, we are justified by faith and are born again.

Justification and forgiveness are the same thing.

In the Lord’s prayer we ask: “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Justification or forgiveness is the beginning of our character transformation.

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:1–5).

How can we change our wrong tendencies?

“God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:10). And again he says, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us’ (Chapter 103:12).”3

In order to enter heaven, we need a changed character. However, no human power can work this transformation.

“It is impossible for us, of ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are sunken. Our hearts are evil, and we cannot change them. ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.’ ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Job 14:4; Romans 8:7). Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness.”4

On the other hand, yes, our character needs to be—and can be—changed. Power is needed: “That power is Christ. His grace alone can quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul, and attract it to God, to holiness.”5

“Not only intellectual but spiritual power, a perception of right, a desire for goodness, exists in every heart. But against these principles there is struggling an antagonistic power. The result of the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is manifest in every man’s experience. There is in his nature a bent to evil, a force which, unaided, he cannot resist. To withstand this force, to attain that ideal which in his inmost soul he accepts as alone worthy, he can find help in but one power. That power is Christ.”6

When human beings are connected with Christ by faith, two divine agents work for the transformation of character: The Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

“By looking constantly to Jesus with the eye of faith, we shall be strengthened. God will make the most precious revelations to His hungering, thirsting people. They will find that Christ is a personal Saviour. As they feed upon His word, they find that it is spirit and life. The word destroys the natural, earthly nature, and imparts a new life in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes to the soul as a Comforter. By the transforming agency of His grace, the image of God is reproduced in the disciple; he becomes a new creature. Love takes the place of hatred, and the heart receives the divine similitude. This is what it means to live ‘by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ This is eating the Bread that comes down from heaven.”7

“’Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17). The Scriptures are the great agency in the transformation of character. Christ prayed, ‘Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth’ (John 17:17). If studied and obeyed, the word of God works in the heart, subduing every unholy attribute. The Holy Spirit comes to convict of sin, and the faith that springs up in the heart works by love to Christ, conforming us in body, soul, and spirit to His own image. Then God can use us to do His will. The power given us works from within outwardly, leading us to communicate to others the truth that has been communicated to us.”8

“In all who submit to His power the Spirit of God will consume sin.”9

Our sinful actions are forgiven by God through Christ when we repent and confess them. Our sinful tendencies are put under control and destroyed when we keep our connection with Christ through constant communion with Him.

“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).

“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 [Ephesians 2:1-6 quoted.] . . . .

“As we partake of the divine nature, hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong are cut away from the character, and we are made a living power for good. Ever learning of the divine Teacher, daily partaking of His nature, we cooperate with God in overcoming Satan’s temptations. God works, and man works, that man may be one with Christ as Christ is one with God. Then we sit together with Christ in heavenly places. The mind rests with peace and assurance in Jesus.

“In His Word God reveals what He can do for human beings. He molds and fashions after the divine similitude the characters of those who will wear His yoke. Through His grace they are made partakers of the divine nature, and are thus enabled to overcome the corruption that is in the world through lust. It is God who gives us power to overcome. Those who hear His voice and obey His commandments are enabled to form righteous characters. Those who disregard His expressed commands will form characters like the propensities that they indulge.”10

When does this transformation need to occur?

“Now is the time for all to cultivate the powers that God has given them, that they may form characters for usefulness here and for a higher life hereafter.”11

“It is now that we are to form characters for the future, immortal life. It is now that we are to prepare for the searching judgment.”12

“It is now that we must keep ourselves and our children unspotted from the world. It is now that we must wash our robes of character and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. It is now that we must overcome pride, passion, and spiritual slothfulness. It is now that we must awake, and make determined effort for symmetry of character. ‘Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts’ (Hebrews 4:7). We are in a most trying position, waiting, watching for our Lord’s appearing. The world is in darkness. ‘But ye, brethren,’ says Paul, ‘are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief’ (1 Thessalonians 5:4).”13

God will finish the work He has begun.

A prophecy for today

Zechariah 3:1–4: “And [the Lord] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.”

“Zechariah’s vision of Joshua and the Angel applies with peculiar force to the experience of God’s people in the closing up of the great day of atonement.”14

As the people of God afflict their souls before Him, pleading for purity of heart, the command is given, ‘Take away the filthy garments’ from them, and the encouraging words are spoken, ‘Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.’ The spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness is placed upon the tried, tempted, yet faithful children of God. The despised remnant are clothed in glorious apparel, nevermore to be defiled by the corruptions of the world. Their names are retained in the Lamb’s book of life, enrolled among the faithful of all ages. They have resisted the wiles of the deceiver; they have not been turned from their loyalty by the dragon’s roar. Now they are eternally secure from the tempter’s devices. Their sins are transferred to the originator of sin. And the remnant are not only pardoned and accepted, but honored. ‘A fair miter’ is set upon their heads. They are to be as kings and priests unto God. While Satan was urging his accusations and seeking to destroy this company, holy angels, unseen, were passing to and fro, placing upon them the seal of the living God. These are they that stand upon Mount Zion with the Lamb, having the Father’s name written in their foreheads. They sing the new song before the throne, that song which no man can learn save the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. ‘These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God’ (Revelation 14:4, 5).”15

Now is the time

“We believe without a doubt that Christ is soon coming. This is not a fable to us; it is a reality. We have no doubt, neither have we had a doubt for years, that the doctrines we hold today are present truth, and that we are nearing the judgment. We are preparing to meet Him who, escorted by a retinue of holy angels, is to appear in the clouds of heaven to give the faithful and the just the finishing touch of immortality. When He comes He is not to cleanse us of our sins, to remove from us the defects in our characters, or to cure us of the infirmities of our tempers and dispositions. If wrought for us at all, this work will all be accomplished before that time. When the Lord comes, those who are holy will be holy still. Those who have preserved their bodies and spirits in holiness, in sanctification and honor, will then receive the finishing touch of immortality. But those who are unjust, unsanctified, and filthy will remain so forever. No work will then be done for them to remove their defects and give them holy characters. The Refiner does not then sit to pursue His refining process and remove their sins and their corruption. This is all to be done in these hours of probation. It is now that this work is to be accomplished for us.”16 

1 Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 61.
2 The Desire of Ages, p. 172.
3 Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, p. 114.
4 Steps to Christ, p. 18.
5 Ibid.
6 Education, p. 29.
7 The Desire of Ages, p. 391.
8 Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 100.
9 The Desire of Ages, p. 107.
10 10 The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 7, p. 943.
11 Child Guidance, pp. 164, 165.
12 Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 342.
13 Christian Experience and Teachings of E. G. White, pp. 190, 191.
14 Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 472.
15 Ibid., pp. 475, 476.
16 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 355.