Saviour of the World: The Humanity of Christ in the Light of the Everlasting Gospel by Jack Sequeira (Pacific Press, 1996)
Saviour of the World, by Jack Sequeira, is an important work of Seventh-day Adventist theology because it is an honest attempt to harmonize Ellen White’s Christology with the teachings of scripture. Even though we disagree with Pastor Sequeira’s conclusions, we commend him for upholding the teachings of Ellen White without trying to minimize or re-interpret them. Sequeira’s approach is actually refreshing when contrasted with liberal SDA theologians who undermine Ellen White (and the concept of divine inspiration) by stating that Mrs. White’s understanding of her visions evolved over time. The evolutionary theory of inspiration enables liberals to discount inconvenient EGW statements as misunderstandings, but Sequeira doesn’t resort to this tactic in Saviour of the World. He upholds Ellen White’s literal teachings, presenting the topic of complete victory over sin in an encouraging manner. In addition, he primarily supports his views from the Bible rather than relying on Ellen White quotations (as some do).
We also commend Sequeira for understanding that the evangelical gospel is not the gospel as understood by Adventists. For instance, Sequeira points out that “salvation by grace alone” is a “false teaching,” according to SDA theology (5). He also flatly states that the idea that saved believers cannot fall from grace is “heresy” (17). Thus, Sequeira rightly recognizes that the SDA gospel and the evangelical gospel are antithetical (26). A person must accept one gospel or the other. They don’t mix. Such a stance is in marked contrast to the many SDA writers who minimize the differences between the Adventists and evangelicals.
In some places, Saviour of the World seems compatible with the Protestant understanding of salvation by grace alone. For instance, Sequeira states that the gospel “is the unconditional good news of the salvation Christ obtained by virtue of His holy history—His birth, life, death, and resurrection. It . . . is a finished or completed work to which we have made, and can make, no contribution whatsoever” (12). Unfortunately, Sequeira doesn’t stop there. He asserts that while “the New Testament teaches that we are justified by faith alone . . . we will be judged and rewarded by our works” (16). Thus, he rejects the belief that “righteousness by faith means God declaring righteous the sinner who believes in Christ”; instead, he believes that righteousness by faith “makes the believing sinner obedient to all the commandments of God” (207).
Sequeira makes two major points in Saviour of the World. First, he asserts that Christ possessed a fallen human nature that was no different from the nature of an ordinary human being (102). Thus, Christ had no physical or spiritual advantage, meaning that believers can overcome sin as He overcame (25, 153). Sequeira’s view harmonizes with the teachings of Ellen White, but it is out of step with the official SDA position that was articulated in Questions on Doctrine, a book written to gain acceptance of Adventism among the evangelical community. According to QOD, Christ took a fallen physical nature but inherited no sinful propensities or inclinations. Sequeira denies the position of QOD because, if Christ had no sinful propensities, He would have had an advantage over human beings. Any advantage on the part of Christ would undermine the teaching that humans can fully overcome sin while living on earth (152).
The second major teaching of Saviour of the World is that human beings will overcome sin as a natural result of being saved (99). According to Sequeira, victory over sin takes place only through faith in the strength of Christ (103). When the believer makes a complete surrender of his or her will, Christ accomplishes the rest (157), but living in faith is a struggle that “always involves effort and self-denial” (155). In the power of Christ, the true believer attains such a complete victory that he or she can live without a mediator during the tribulation (time of trouble) that follows the close of probation (156). The character perfection that enables God’s people to live without a mediator is the result of the “final atonement”—Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary (154, 160).
Sequeira rejects the term perfectionism to describe his beliefs because he contends that perfectionism implies human effort toward achieving sanctification (10, 162). We grant the distinction, but we disagree with Sequeira’s emphasis on complete overcoming no matter how perfection is achieved; therefore, we respectfully consider Sequeira a perfectionist. All forms of perfectionism are inconsistent with our understanding of the gospel because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer who demonstrates faith rather than works (Rom. 4:1-8).
We also disagree with Sequeira’s view of the humanity of Christ because it undermines the divinity of Christ, although we are sure Sequeira would disagree with our characterization. The incarnation is a mystery, and we must never fall into the trap of de-emphasizing either Christ’s humanity or His divinity. He was fully human and fully divine, and the fact of His divinity precludes any propensity or inclination to sin. The humanity of a fully divine Savior could not have any sinful tendencies.
The idea that Christ derived no advantage from His divinity plays into the notion that humans can keep the law perfectly if they imitate the Pattern—Christ. Peter disproves this notion in Acts 15:10 when he declares that the law is a burden that even the apostles could not bear (see Acts 15:5 for the context). There are four major problems for Sequeira and those who insist on perfection of the saints: First, they cannot prove from scripture that Jesus had a nature with a propensity to sin; second, they cannot prove that any human being apart from Christ has ever lived sinlessly; third, they can’t give any text proving that the perfection of believers is literal rather than imputed; and fourth, they are in violation of the Protestant understanding of salvation by faith alone.
If works are required as evidence of salvation, and if believers are judged on the basis of their works, then salvation is not by faith alone. Alone means alone. Don’t add anything. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
If one must produce works to validate faith, then someone has cleverly inserted works between God and the Christian. Under the traditional Adventist understanding that Sequeira promotes, the Christian who fails to produce perfect works fails to obtain entrance to heaven. It will be no consolation to inform this person that the failure was actually a lack of faith rather than a lack of works. The results are the same.
Thank God, salvation is actually very simple: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). The Savior of the world "imputeth righteousness without works" to those who believe (Rom. 4:6-7).
Joseph Rector, May 20, 2010