Seeing the Goldsmith”s Face. When preparing his children for the kingdom, does God press the process of refinement to the point of absolute perfection?
- The title for our discussion this week is suggested by an anecdote in which a goldsmith is refining his gold, continuing with the process until the gold perfectly reflects the goldsmith’s face. The implication is that God keeps on with the process of refining us until he brings us to full perfection. Is complete refinement God’s goal? Is that kind of perfection possible this side of the second coming?
- Job 23. Job cannot understand his trials. He states his conviction that “when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold” (Job 23:10). Yet Job also describes his feelings with very strong language, admitting that he is “bitter,” “faint,” and “terrified.” Are believers often torn between certainty and uncertainty when they find themselves in the crucible of suffering?
- Divine expectations at the end of time. Matthew 25 contains two stories that indicate something of God’s expectations from his children when he comes:
- Matthew 25:1-13: Parable of the virgins. In this story the wise were unshaken when the delay occurred. Indeed, both the wise and the foolish were able to sleep. But when the bridegroom actually came, the wise were fully prepared. If this story represents the character of God’s people, what does it suggest about the expected state of our character at the end of time and our own perceptions of our character? To what extent can we know when we are prepared? Would knowledge of a perfected character constitute an inappropriate perception of sinless perfection?
- Matthew 25:31-46: Parable of the sheep and goats in judgment. In this story, the judgment seems to reflect a life-as-usual approach to God’s final judgment. In other words, what he wants is faithfulness in daily living, not necessarily heroic survival of dire persecution. Can we generalize from this parable to say that God simply expects faithfulness in life’s tasks as an indication of our commitment to him? Does the fact that the king’s assessment catches both the sheep and goats by surprise provide a strong enough protection against the idea of salvation by works?
- Eph 4:11-16: Community preparation at the time of the end. When Paul lists the gifts to the church in Ephesians 4, he notes that the purpose of the gifts is to make it possible for “all of us to come to the unity of the faith” (Eph 4:13). To what extent is a perfected body of Christ one of the conditions of Christ’s return?
Note: What is known in Adventism as “last generation theology” applies a key Ellen White quote to the individual experience: “Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.” (COL 69.1). Since the context applies the idea of perfection to the church, would that mean a corporate rather than an individual application for this quotation?