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The sweetest melodies that come from God through human lips, Ellen White says,
are justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ (6T 426). They are water to the thirsty
traveler, a free gift from God (1SM 360). Justification is by *faith alone (ibid. 389), and the
moment that sinners exercise true faith in the merits of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, claiming
Christ as their personal Savior, they are justified (3SM 195). At that moment their sins are
pardoned. This is justification by faith (FLB 116). “Justification is a full, complete pardon of sin”
(ibid. 107), and sinners are justified because they have been pardoned (OHC 52).
However, Ellen White cautions that when speaking of justification there is danger of placing
merit on faith (FW 25). “Faith is not our Savior. It earns nothing. It is the hand by which we lay
hold upon Christ” (DA 175). Faith recognizes and accepts Christ as the only door by which to
enter the kingdom of heaven (FW 25).
She also addresses the theological issue of legal or forensic justification. “The grace of Christ
and the law of God are inseparable” (1SM 349). Justice is the foundation of God’s throne and the
fruit of His love (DA 762), and since His government has been violated and His law transgressed,
the penalty for sin is death (3SM 193). Without Christ the sinner is under the condemnation of the
law (1SM 330). “Justification is the opposite of condemnation” (FW 104), and the sinner is
justified only when God pardons sins and remits punishment (3SM 194). “A full, complete ransom
has been paid” by which humans are pardoned (1SM 363). “At the cross justice was satisfied”
(ibid. 349). The sinner now “stands before God as a just person” (3SM 191). God imputes to the
believer the righteousness of Christ and pronounces or declares them “righteous before the
universe” (1SM 392).
Besides the forensic aspect of justification, there is also the subjective aspect. The atonement
of Christ is not merely a legal means by which to satisfy God’s justice and pardon the sinner, but
also a divine remedy for healing and restoration. It is the means whereby the righteousness of
Christ is “not only upon” them, but “in” their “hearts and characters” (6BC 1074). “Those who are
justified by faith must have a heart to keep the way of the Lord” (1SM 397). It is by continual
surrender of the will to Christ that the blessing of justification is maintained (ibid.; SC 62). The
fact that Jesus paid humanity’s indebtedness does not give individuals license to transgress the law
of God (1SM 229, 230). “In order for man to retain justification, there must be … active, living
faith that works by love and purifies the soul,” leading to “continual obedience” (ibid. 366). While
good works will not save a single soul, it is impossible even for one soul to be saved without good
works (ibid. 377), because the faith that justifies always produces good works, as the fruit of that
faith (3SM 195; SC 61).
There is danger, Ellen White cautions, of trying to define too minutely the distinction between
justification and sanctification (6BC 1072). “Justification means the saving of a soul from
perdition, that he may obtain sanctification, and through sanctification, the life of heaven” (7BC
908). The righteousness by which a sinner is justified by Christ is their title to heaven. The
righteousness by which they are being sanctified and restored also comes from Christ; it is their
fitness for heaven (MYP 35).
Ellen White did not teach justification apart from faith and repentance. While she says, “Christ
made satisfaction for the guilt of the whole world, and all who will come to God in faith will
receive the righteousness of Christ” (1SM 392); she also says, “He is a Savior who forgiveth
transgression, iniquity, and sin, but will by no means clear the guilty and unrepentant soul” (ibid.
361). Sin is expiated and guilt is removed through the process of repentance and faith, not prior to
it (ibid. 393).
Calling and justification are not one and the same thing (ibid. 390). “Calling is the drawing of
the sinner to Christ … by the Holy Spirit.” As one “responds to this drawing,” he or she “advances
toward Christ” in order to repent and be pardoned and justified (ibid.). The graces of repentance
and contrition are gifts from Christ as truly as are pardon and justification (SC 26).
Ellen White urges Christians not to continue in ignorance of the wonderful gift of salvation
that has been provided for them through justification. They are not to think that at some future
time a great work will yet be done for them. That work has been done by Christ. It is complete
(1SM 394, 395).

Further reading: SC 59–62; 1SM 377–382, 389–398; 3SM 190–204.

Jack J. Blanco1

1Jack J. Blanco, “Justification,” ed. Denis Fortin et al., The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia
(Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013), 912–913.
PERFECTION. The words “perfection,” “sanctification,” and “holiness” are used as virtually
interchangeable terms by Ellen White to describe the process of the believer’s character change
into the likeness of Christ. In terms of the goal of the Christian life, perfection and holiness describe
the objective of the process of sanctification. For Ellen White, justification and sanctification need
to be distinguished, but not separated. The same goes for sanctification and perfection.
Justification always formed the foundation for sanctification, and perfection was always the goal
of sanctification.
Her understanding of the transformed life was, in the grace of Christ, more optimistic than the
view espoused by some Reformers. In this she was directly influenced by her Wesleyan/Methodist
background. While she used the words “sanctification” and “perfection” (and their verbal
variations) in a very Wesleyan manner and shared a similar optimism of grace, she was very clear
that sanctification was an open-ended process, the work not of a moment, but “of a lifetime.” In
other words, she did not share the classic Wesleyan and American Holiness teaching that
sanctification would lead to a moment of instantaneous perfection before glorification—the
“second work of grace.”
Ellen White devoted large amounts of published space to the subject of salvation, and within
her writings on salvation gave her most extended attention to the subjects of sanctification and
perfection. She used many biblical passages as springboards for her expositions of the subject of
character change. The passage that she employed the most was Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore
perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Normally it was in the context of
expositions on this passage that she expressed the greatest optimism for full and complete victory
over “inherited” and “cultivated tendencies to evil.” The second most often used passage to express
her thought of the full victory over besetting sins was 2 Peter 1:4: “Whereby are given unto us
exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.”
One other passage was repeatedly used, especially to express the completeness of gracious
deliverance from both the guilt and the power of sin—“Ye are complete in him” (Col. 2:10).
Though not used quite as often, she would often employ Philippians 3:12–15 and John 15:1–10
(illustration of the vine and the branches) to express the dynamic and ongoing nature of the
experience of being perfected in Christ.
Her normal use of Scripture was to take key biblical expressions as inspirations to topical
expositions of perfection, not detailed interpretations of any particular passage (except Matthew
5:48). Such use of Scripture included not only the above-mentioned key texts (and many others)
but also the citing of major biblical characters as exemplars of the experience of perfection. Of
course, the great exemplar was Christ. She often repeats the theme that Christ came as a true human
being to demonstrate that perfect obedience to God’s law was possible, and that what He
demonstrated can be replicated in the sanctification experience of His dedicated followers. Aside
from Christ, other favorite exemplars are Enoch, Daniel, Joseph, Paul, John the Beloved, and
Abraham. Jacob and Isaiah merit occasional citation.
To grasp Ellen White’s teaching on perfection, the importance of the genuine experience of
justification by faith alone is absolutely essential. Forgiveness and the knowledge that Christ
stands as the penitent believer’s constant advocate and intercessor form the foundation and the
motivational springboard for all growth in grace. Repeatedly she will say that the “imputed”
“merits of Christ” are the means for a rich experience of perfection through the grace of Christ (5T
744). If, however, someone is claiming justification by faith and is not living a life of obedience,
such faith is condemned as false. Throughout her writings she repeatedly employs the phrase that
sinners are “saved from [their] sins, not in them” (RH, Sept. 27, 1881).
What she means by being saved from, not in, sin is quite clearly explained. Most certainly the
sincere believer who is in Christ by faith is forgiven all past sins and Jesus makes up for their
“unavoidable deficiencies” (3SM 196). Such an experience of justifying grace, however, cannot
belong to one who is presuming on the grace of God in either of two distinct ways. First, there
cannot be willful or premeditated acts of known sin (plainly going against the known will of God).
Second, there should not be manifest attitudes of excuse for any character defect. Thus, to be saved
from sin, not in sin, means to be receiving the grace of Jesus that leads to loving obedience to the
whole will of God and manifesting a ready and hearty acknowledgment of penitence for any
failure. In fact, one of the key marks of any Christian experience of perfection is repentance (ST,
July 29, 1889).
So within the “in Christ” or “union with Christ” experience will be obedience through the
power of God’s grace and a profound manifestation of penitential Christian humility. Yet there are
other key characteristics of perfection that round out Ellen White’s understanding of the “higher
life” in Christ.
Ellen White clearly expressed a very high goal of perfection and maintained that this goal is
attainable (at least in important qualified senses) this side of glorification. “We can overcome. Yes;
fully, entirely. Jesus died to make a way of escape for us, that we might overcome every evil
temper, every sin, every temptation” (1T 144). Possibly the most explicit statement of this high
goal is her claim that believers, after the Fall, must meet the same standard as required of Adam
before the Fall: God’s requirement of “Adam in paradise before he fell” is just the same “at this
moment” for all who live “in grace” (RH, July 15, 1890). She further enforced this by declaring
that it is “not the work of the gospel to weaken the claims of God’s holy law, but to bring men up
where they can keep its precepts” (RH, Oct. 5, 1886). The attainment (before the close of
probation) was assured and the key evidence was to be found in the examples of numerous biblical
characters, with Jesus Christ serving as the primary exhibit.
The vision of this attainment is clarified through her employment of numerous distinguishing
qualities. Perfection arises out of full surrender and consecration to God’s will. No halfhearted
commitment could attain the high goal of entire victory. The attainment of perfection is not a
passive affair, but requires the special, active effort of the believer. While there was to be
conscious, cooperative effort by the believer, such effort would lead to a certain natural and
imperceptible spontaneity of obedience. “And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our
thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying
Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses” (DA 668).
Perfection results from the experience of sanctification, which was conceived as the dynamic
and progressive work of a lifetime. There is nothing static in Bible sanctification. Perfection in
some qualified sense is attainable, but for the spiritually perceptive Christian it will always be a
consciously receding horizon, and no one is to claim perfection. Sanctification involves full
obedience to the law of God. Sinners are not saved by works of obedience, but neither are they
saved without them (ST, July 13, 1888).
Obedience in the life of a Christian is to be symmetrical, and there is to be a balance in carrying
out God’s will—not emphasizing one duty at the expense of another (3T 243–251). Perfect
believers are still subject to temptation and will be beyond temptation’s reach only after
glorification (ST, June 9, 1881; ST, Mar. 23, 1888). Any claim to freedom from temptation smacks
of perfectionism, not the true perfection experience. Feelings and impressions have their proper
sphere, but are not the determining factors in Christian perfection. The perfect Christian does not
cherish or excuse sin, but only Jesus is absolutely, sinlessly perfect. Those who claim to be “equal
with Him in perfection of character” commit “blasphemy” (RH, Mar. 15, 1887). Ellen White also
declared that “you cannot equal the Pattern, but you can resemble it” (2MR 126). Three particular
expressions of Christian perfection stand out: (1) a deep desire for unity among believers (ST, Oct.
23, 1879), (2) humility (GC 470–472), and (3) patience (HS 134).
Perfecting grace is primarily ministered through the Word of God and the Spirit working
together with the believer’s responsive faith. The overall vision that Ellen White portrayed for the
perfect believer can be summed up in six levels of maturity.
1. Reckoned perfection: the moment the penitent believer trusts the saving merits of Jesus is
the moment he/she is reckoned or accounted as legally or forensically perfect in him (SC 62; HP
23; ST, July 4, 1892). This level of perfection pertains to justification, and the one who is “perfectly
forgiven” is a child of God and should enjoy full assurance of salvation.
2. Dynamic growth seen as a relative perfection: those who are progressing in the Christian
life, growing in grace, are relatively perfect. Though still deficient in some areas, growing believers
are nonetheless perfect in the sense of Philippians 3:13–15.
3. Dynamic growth features loving obedience and the absence of willful sinning and attitudes
of excuse for sin. “The law demands perfect obedience.… Not one of those ten precepts can be
broken without disloyalty to the God of heaven. The least deviation from its requirements, by
neglect or willful transgression, is sin, and every sin exposes the sinner to the wrath of God” (ST,
Apr. 15, 1886; 1SM 218; cf. GC 472; OHC 177; ST, Dec. 15, 1887; 1888 Materials 144; 2T 400).
4. Perfection in the “time of trouble”: while this is one of the most controverted aspects of
perfection, the key characteristics of the perfected saints in this end-time crisis are total lack of
open, identifiable sinning and a loyalty to God that shows they would rather die than knowingly
sin (GC 621, 623). Furthermore, the tried and tested saints will have no sins that they can recall
that have not been repented of or forsaken (ibid. 620). Nevertheless, their “earthliness” must be
removed during this trying time so that they may reflect the character of Christ more perfectly
(ibid. 621). Thus in some sense, they are still sinners by nature, but not sinning (cf. PK 589).
5. Sinless perfection at glorification: perfection, sinlessness in the fullest sense of the word,
comes about only at the second coming of Jesus. This is when the perfected believer will receive
immortality and will no longer be subject to the passions of their sinful natures and Satan’s
6. Constant growth in perfection throughout eternity: perfection will continue to manifest itself
as the knowledge of God and love for Him increase (GC 678). Thus, there will be constant growth
in Christ’s likeness throughout eternity.

Further reading: H. E. Douglass, E. Heppenstall, H. K. LaRondelle, and C. M. Maxwell,

Perfection: The Impossible Possibility (SPA, 1975); H. E. Douglass, God at Risk (Riverside,
Calif.: Amazing Facts, 2004), pp. 178–184; J. Fowler, “The Concept of Character Development
in the Writings of Ellen G. White” (Ed.D. diss., AU, 1977); G. R. Knight, The Pharisee’s Guide
to Perfect Holiness (PPPA, 1992); H. K. LaRondelle, Perfection and Perfectionism (AUP,
1971); W. R. Lesher, “Ellen G. White’s Concept of Sanctification” (Ph.D. diss., New York
University, 1970); A. L. Moore, The Theology Crisis (Corpus Christi, Tex.: Life Seminars,
1980); R. W. Olson, “Outline Studies on Christian Perfection and Original Sin,” Ministry
Supplement, October 1970; H. Ott, Perfect in Christ (RHPA, 1987); D. E. Priebe, Face to Face
With the Real Gospel (PPPA, 1985); W. W. Whidden, Ellen White on Salvation (RHPA, 1995);
J. R. Zurcher, Christian Perfection: A Bible and Spirit of Prophecy Teaching (RHPA, 1967).

Woodrow W. Whidden2

2Woodrow W. Whidden, “Perfection,” ed. Denis Fortin et al., The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia
(Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013), 1021–1024.