May 6, 2014

Steps to Christ: A Chiastic Reading

Laura Muse, MDiv

Steps to Christ, the classic book by Ellen G. White about salvation, gives advice on walking with Christ, conversion, and the Christian life in general. The book may be read within a detailed chiastic structure.

CHIASM?

Chiastic structure may be effectively explained by considering a club sandwich—two slices of bread with identical fillings on either side of a bit of wham or veggie meat. Both identical sides accentuate the meaty bit in the middle. The lower half of the chiasm may be called the “prime” side, indicated by a superscript [1] to distinguish it from the upper half. The graphic to the right illustrates:

The center of a chiasm is often the most important, a point that has to be highlighted, but matching sides need not be identical in order to help explain and emphasize what is important about the center.

Chiasms may also be depicted as mountains instead of sandwiches:

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24 1 3

The Steps to Christ Chiasm

I find it instructive to read the chapters of
Steps to Christ as a chiastic progression, with chapter 7 being the middle of the chiasm:

The first half of the chiasm [A-F] concentrates on the initial steps of coming to Christ, the process leading up to conversion. The prime side of the chiasm [A
1-F1] discusses the daily aspects of the Christian life after initial conversion. Both sides lead to the apex of the chiasm, which discusses conversion itself, the sacrifice of Christ, and the gift of justification.

This focus on conversion itself (
Steps to Christ, p. 60) highlights a vital point: Conversion is an important part of salvation both at the beginning of the Christian experience and throughout the daily life of the believer. The experience of conversion should be repeated in the life of the believer throughout the process of sanctification. We need to die every day (1 Cor. 15:31).

Climbing the Steps

I read chapters 1 and 13, (A, A1), as the chiasm’s first level. Chapter 1 describes how God saved humankind from sin because He loves us. Obvious parallels between the chapters include the use of nature to describe the joy God puts into this dark world: “The world, though fallen, is not all sorrow and misery. In nature itself are messages of hope and comfort. There are flowers upon the thistles, and the thorns are covered with roses” (p. 10).

Similarly, chapter 13 compares concentrating on the good things in life with gathering “the roses, the lilies, and the pinks,” for “the briers and thorns will only wound and grieve you” (p. 117). Both sides of the chiasm use the same floral imagery to discuss joy in the midst of life’s trials. As “nature and revelation alike testify of God’s love” (chap. 1, p. 9), so “the children of God are called to be representatives of Christ, showing forth the goodness and mercy of the Lord” (chap. 13, p. 115).

Chapters 2 and 12, the chiasm’s B and B1, deal with “the sinner’s need of Christ” and “what to do with doubt,” topics that seem not to have any parallels, but compliment each other nicely. Chapter 2 discusses how helpless we are to free ourselves from the bondage of sin. Ellen White writes that the Fall ruined human nature so thoroughly that it requires “a power working from within, a new life from above, before [we] can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ” (p. 18).

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White illustrates how Jesus becomes the medium between God and humans to save us from helplessness by referencing the story of Jacob’s ladder: “The mystic ladder of his dream represented Jesus, the only medium of communication between God and man” (p. 20). Through this ladder the Lord “made known to Jacob that which met the need and longing of his soul—a Savior” (p. 20). Jacob’s ladder was his steps to Christ.

Chapter 12 seems to comment on this passage from chapter 2: “Thus the plan of redemption is laid open to us, so that every soul may see the steps he is to take in repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 107). White goes on to connect the steps to Christ with being given the mind to understand the mysteries of Scripture (pp. 107, 108). As chapter 2 describes how God saves us from the helplessness of sin, chapter 12 outlines how the helplessness of sin leads to the doubting of Scripture. Only through the help of the Holy Spirit may we escape and overcome this doubt. Thus the two chapters share parallel topics that contrast with and explain each other.

Chapter 3 (C in the chiasm), “Repentance,” and chapter 11 (C1), “The Privilege of Prayer,” highlight the connection between prayer and repentance. Repentance is “sorrow for sin and a turning away from it” (p. 23). As, in repentance, the sinful heart “yields to the influence of the Spirit of God,” the sinner discerns “something of the depth and sacredness of God’s holy law,” and “longs to be cleansed and to be restored to communion with Heaven” (p. 24).

Then in chapter 11 White describes prayer as bringing us up to God (p. 93). Relationship with God is an essential element of both repentance and prayer. In repentance God draws us by the power of the Holy Spirit to reconnect with Him (p. 28). Prayer allows that. White laments: “God’s heart of infinite love yearns toward [His children], ready to give them more than they can ask or think, and yet they pray so little and have so little faith” (p. 94). More prayer would deepen our repentance and strengthen our connection with God.

Steps 4 Through 7

The connection between chapters 4 and 10, (D, D1) is one of the most exciting parts of the entire structure. Confession of sin follows repentance. True confession must be specific, and leads to genuine personal reformation (pp. 38, 39). If there is no reformation, if sinners constantly excuses their sin, it is a sign that confession is not heartfelt. But if we give our sins to God and allow Him to cleanse us from them (p. 37), He is able to strengthen us through His Word (p. 90) revealing Christ, His righteousness, and the salvation we receive from God (p. 91).

Chapter 5, next on the chiasm (E), concerns the need to joyfully dedicate our life and will to God; it shows how God changes us into the useful person He needs us to be. Chapter 9, its chiastic companion (E1), concerns the work that dedicated Christians do, and how “the effort to bless others will react in blessings upon ourselves” (p. 79). God changes those who happily dedicate their lives to Him into godly people who can bring others to Him. “Through the right exercise of the will, an entire change may be made in your life,” White writes. “You will have strength from above to hold you steadfast, and thus through constant surrender to God you will be enabled to live the new life, even the life of faith” (p. 48).

In perfect concert chapter 9 adds: “Love to Jesus will be manifested in a desire to work as He worked for a blessing and uplifting of humanity. It will lead to love, tenderness, and sympathy toward all the creatures of our heavenly Father’s care” (pp. 77, 78). This “consecration” of the life to God must be out of love (p. 45) or the work that is described in chapter 9 will be drudgery and useless (p. 78).

The relationship between chapters 5 and 9 seems to be one of the most compelling in the sequence. Understood together, the truths of the chapters yield a happy message: God wants us to serve Him out of joy and love or not at all. What a kind and loving God we serve!

Chapters 6 and 8, “Faith and Acceptance” (F) and “Growing Up Into Christ” (F1), beautifully complement each other. “Faith and Acceptance” emphasizes how important it is to believe God has freed us from sin, and act upon that trust. “Growing Up Into Christ” vividly explains how this trust and surrender work in daily life. Just as God gives life to nature, He sustains our spiritual life: we must simply believe Him and dedicate our lives to Him daily: “Do not wait to feel that you are made whole, but say, ‘I believe it; it is so, not because I feel it, but because God has promised’” (p. 51). We are to believe that God has justified us and is sanctifying us because He has promised. We must take God at His word that as “you draw near to Him with confession and repentance, He will draw near to you with mercy and forgiveness” (p. 55).

Chapter 8 seems to continue chapter 6. Babies do not grow on their own. Neither do plants: “The plants and flowers grow not by their own care or anxiety or effort, but by receiving that which God has furnished to minister to their life” (p. 68). So with us: if we dedicate our lives to God every day and keep our eyes on Christ, God will grow us spiritually. We grow “by communion with Him” (p. 69). In chapter 6 we learn that we must believe God’s promises of salvation and grace. Chapter 8 illustrates how we do this in the Christian life.

The Apex

Chapter 7, “The Test of Discipleship” (G), is about conversion (p. 57), and is the apex of the chiasm. It repeats many points already stated, as if White is rehearsing them before coming to the most important statement. The heart of the chapter describes justification, what makes conversion and the Christian life so remarkable. Helpless as we are to save ourselves, “Christ has made a way of escape for us. He lived on earth amid trials and temptations such as we have to meet. He lived a sinless life. 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” (p. 62; italics supplied).

I see this as the point toward which everything in the book has been leading. The most important event in the history of the universe was the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross. Because He took our punishment upon Himself, we can receive the gift of eternal life. He can take our sinfulness away and re-create us in His own image. He relates to us as though we had never sinned!

Conclusion

My chiastic reading of Steps to Christ helps me better comprehend the plan of salvation and the nature of the Christian life. Conversion, coming to Christ, is not something that one does once and never repeats. These steps to Christ must be repeated each day and must be made practical in a real-life experience. I find that this understanding of foundational truth lends considerable value to a chiastic reading of this wonderful spiritual classic.

Laura Muse, MDiv
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