December 19, 2012

The Mathematics of Salvation

Despite the assorted horrors etched on its calendar, the seventeenth century began what’s known as the scientific revolution. It wasn’t just what people knew that changed; but what it meant to know something—that changed as well.

One of the greatest paradigm shifts in this epistemological revolution occurred when, breaking away from the intellectual hammerlock of Aristotelian Scholasticism, thinkers developed a quantitative (as opposed to qualitative) understanding of nature. They stopped looking at “essences” and “perfections” and instead studied ratios and quantitative relationships between force and matter.

The climactic historical example of the change was, of course, Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687). This shift brought mathematics to the forefront of scientific study, where it remains today. Numbers were, said Galileo, the language of nature, and the following few hundred years have proved him right. After all, what science or technology doesn’t, at some level, employ mathematics?

In fact, we can use math to understand the science of salvation.

Ellen White wrote: “The condition of eternal life is now just what it always has been—just what it was in Paradise before the fall of our first parents—perfect obedience to the law of God, perfect righteousness” (Steps to Christ, p. 62).

2012 1535 page29Let’s use an analogy for this “perfect righteousness”: Let’s parallel it to 100 percent. To meet the “condition of eternal life” you need a score of 100 percent righteousness. Unfortunately, 99.7 percent falls short, just as surely as 9.97 percent. Only a 100 percent, “perfect righteousness,” meets the condition of eternal life.

Now, suppose you are “born again” (John 3:3) at 14, so your average righteousness comes to only 85 percent because, well, we all have fallen “short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). But by living “a new life” (Rom. 6:4), you rack up a 100 percent the first year.

Let’s do the math: 85 percent for each of the first 14 years of your life combined with 100 percent now equals 86 percent. An increase, but nowhere near the “condition of eternal life.” Suppose that by taking up your “cross daily” (Luke 9:23) you get 100 percent the next year, too. Do the math: your average is now 86.875 percent. Still not the requisite 100. The next year, well, you struggle a bit, repent, and press on in faith, but your score is 84. Your average now is 86.706 percent, well below the “perfect righteousness” needed for salvation.

Maybe, however, you attain “sinless perfection” (we’ve all met some of those wonderful folk, haven’t we?), and for the next 50 years you rack up a score of 100 percent every year until your death. Your previous 86.706 percent, averaged with your 50 100s, gets you to a whopping 96.627 percent. Impressive, but as far as salvation goes, 96.627 is as useless as .96627. In fact, if you lived forever, and scored a 100 percent every year, the math shows that you could never reach 100 percent.

How, then, can we possibly have “perfect righteousness”?

On the same page in Steps to Christ quoted above, Ellen White said that Christ lived a perfect, sinless life; that, in a sense, He got the needed 100 percent, and the great provision of the gospel is that His perfect score, His 100 percent, is credited to us. “He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Savior, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.”

Or, as Paul wrote: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:21, 22).

The 100 percent score, that’s the “righteousness of God” Himself, the righteousness of Jesus—and the only way that, as sinners, we can get it is as a gift, credited to us by faith.

Don’t take my word. Do the math.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. This article was published on December 20, 2012.