19 September 2022  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Is Jesus delaying his coming because he is waiting for us to perfectly replicate his character? I am a fourth-generation Adventist, in the church for 80 years, and have heard this preached. It sounds like it is our fault that Jesus hasn’t returned! 

It seems to me Jesus may never return if that’s the case. How will we ever attain sinlessness? 

Signed, Not Perfect Enough Yet

Dear Not Perfect,

Perfectionism—living without sinning in any word, deed, or thought—has been an aspiration for Adventists almost from the very beginning. Some of our Adventist pioneers traced their spiritual heritage back to Wesleyanism, which taught “entire sanctification,” and you still hear much about sanctification among us, especially in food and Sabbath-keeping. 

Perhaps this history also helps to explain why we Seventh-day Adventists began to think our perfect behavior was responsible for the return of Jesus. This idea, often referred to as Last Generation Theology, is based on an out-of-context passage from Christ’s Object Lessons, page 69: 

When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. 

Aunty believes this is unbiblical.

  • It begins by ignoring the very clear statement of Jesus that God the Father decides the time of Jesus’ return on his own. There is no biblical evidence that God will send Jesus back to earth only when Seventh-day Adventists have become sinless. 
  • The word the King James Version translated as “hastening” (σπεύδοντας) in 2 Peter 3:12 is often used to assert that we have some control over Jesus’ return. But the word is better translated as “to desire earnestly.”
  • Jesus’ saying, “Be ye also τέλειοι,” has been mistranslated as “Be ye also perfect,” when τέλειοι actually means “complete” or “mature.” Scripture surely teaches that we should all desire to overcome sin, but the New Testament doesn’t say anyone ever becomes so good that they don’t require justification by faith in Christ.
  • To make God’s decision dependent upon our good works is a corruption of the teaching that salvation (both individual and universal) is a gift of God given to those with faith in Jesus. 

But if all you read is one Ellen White passage out of context, it is easy to make such an accusation: “See? It’s your fault that Jesus hasn’t returned. You’re not perfect enough. Get over every sin, and then God will send Jesus back.” 

After all these years of hearing this, Aunty wonders: where is this whole generation of people who have perfectly reproduced Christ’s character? Aunty knows some very good people, but none as sinless as Jesus. Even the apostles, by their own admission, weren’t sinless. 

And how arrogant to think we have control over the decisions of our sovereign God! 

Aunty urges you to trust wholly in God’s goodness for your salvation, whether Jesus returns before you die, or not. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.…” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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