Adventist Teaching: Yes
Biblical teaching: No
The Seventh-Day Adventist Church, by way of Ellen G. White, teaches that in order to be with Christ in glory, one must get to a state of perfect holiness, completely free from sin, demonstrating a life of total surrender to Jesus, proving that Satan’s accusation that the law can’t be kept perfectly is false, thus showing to all the watching intelligences of the universe that God’s Law is fair and can be kept perfectly. You are not truly converted to Christ until you attain a perfected Christian character identical to what Jesus had. This is central to their Great Controversy worldview—an extra-biblical, pre-earth origin narrative that holds that Satan began attacking God’s Law in heaven prior to the creation of the earth and everything that is happening in the world is a part of this Great Controversy between Christ and Satan.
When one is opposed to this, the common response will be that you are then advocating for a life of lawlessness and licentiousness. But this is not true. How perfect is perfect has been an ongoing debate within Adventism from its inception with many trying to classify these statements by Ellen White as simply trying your best. Others—such as the Adventist Biblical Research Institute—claim its the glorious opportunity in Christ to strive successfully against all sin and overcome it. But the reason there’s always been a rift amongst Adventists regarding perfection is because of Ellen G. White’s unambiguous statements. Complete sinlessness is a must within their system of theology, not simply trying your best.
Ellen White plainly said, when writing to an Adventist who was concerned about other people’s behavior, that the individual should be focused on themselves and their own character development because one blot upon the character, one sin unconfessed and unrepented of, will close for you the gates of the city of God. If the standard to pass the investigative judgment is the 10 Commandments (which the SDA Church does teach by way of Ellen G. White), and any sin on your record will stand against you for your condemnation if it hasn’t been confessed (even unforgotten sins), then it logically follows that one has to get to a point of no longer sinning at all in order to make it through this judgment and be saved. She explicitly states that, in order to stand in the Time of Trouble and not fall away, one will have to be as sinless as Jesus was during His temptation with Satan.
In fact, Ellen White said to cease from sin is to be redeemed. It’s actually what she taught Christ died for. She also claimed Christ saves no one in disobedience. Which means any person who still struggles with sin can’t say that they are actually redeemed until they get to a point where they have totally ceased from sin (what they call “total victory”). The root of the SDA issue is their low, truncated view of God’s standard which is often times boiled down to “trying your best,” which completely misses how holy God is and how far we fall short.
In her book Mind, Character, and Personality, Vol. 2, she plainly says that Christ came to demonstrate the fact that humanity, allied by living faith to divinity, can keep all the commandments of God. He came to make plain the immutable character of the law and declare that disobedience and transgression can never be rewarded with eternal life. Which means only those who arrive at a sinlessly perfect state (complete and total sinlessness) will be saved.
To try and downplay these or do mental gymnastics to make them, in totality, be referring to some form of “trying your best” is almost an insult to one’s intelligence and reading comprehension. Especially considering when we examine the systematic presentation of the Seventh-Day Adventist system of theology as a whole and the larger role arriving at a sinlessly perfect state plays. In Seventh-Day Adventist theology, one must arrive at a perfectly sinless state before the “close of probation” to make it through the Time of Trouble. “Trying your best” is not enough in this system.
The Bible teaches that we are reconciled to God by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Romans 5:9-11). We are secure in Him upon being born again (1 Peter 1:23, Titus 3:5) and given the Holy Spirit as a seal, down payment, and guarantee of our inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
It is after this that the Holy Spirit begins the work of sanctification in our lives which will happen over the entire course of our life. After being born again, the flesh and the spirit begin to war against one another. Paul explains this about his own life in Romans 7, specifically Romans 7:14-20. Born again believers war with their sin, have a growing awareness of the depth of their sin over time, and take the posture that the Lord Jesus Christ taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, which is one of humble submission asking “Father, forgive me my sins as I forgive others who have sinned against me” (Luke 11:1-4). Jesus told His followers to pray that prayer daily, which includes asking for the forgiveness of our sins. Why would he teach His disciples to pray like that if His expectation was that they were to attain to sinless perfection? This doesn’t mean we don’t seek to live holy lives and grow in our walk with Christ, but we properly understand that attaining sinless perfection isn’t how one finds acceptance with God.
Furthermore, John tells us in his first epistle, written to believers, that whoever says he is without sin is a liar and the truth is not in him. He is deceiving himself (1 John 1:8). Ecclesiastes 7:20 says there isn’t anyone on earth who never sins.
Faith does not elevate one to a position where their law keeping can now be found acceptable before God like the SDA Church teaches. Our hope is in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that we are given—in full—when we accept Christ by faith (Philippians 3:8-9). Not imparted to you in small amounts over time to make up where you fall short as a co-operative effort. It is at that moment a person is seen as completely righteous and accepted by being “in Christ Jesus.” The war against sin in the believers life will continue until they die. Perfection comes after one is resurrected and God glorifies the resurrected body. This is why Martin Luther exclaimed simul justus et peccator (latin for “simultaneously justified and sinner”) because we are judged off of Jesus’s perfect righteousness, not one we develop in ourselves with His help.
The root issue in all of this is the SDA Church’s faulty definition of sin only being character flaws and not a condition.