The entire Plan of Salvation is no short story; it’s more like a saga.
Each part of the bigger story involves several events and concepts that inspire profound exploration and study.
It’s also a story that isn’t finished yet… though God Himself has declared how it will end.
Fortunately for us human beings, the ending God has planned is in our favor. In its finality, it will matter most on the personal level. It all comes down to a choice: Where do you really want to be, and Who do you really want to be with?
All the rest is taken care of by Jesus Christ.
Wow. That’s a pretty simple deciding factor for whether or not we receive salvation. All we have to do is choose? It seems unbelievable—too good to be true. It’s almost too easy.
But there’s a reason God allows it to be this way (see 2 Peter 3:9). Remember, God wants us to choose Him—He wants to save us! All of us!
And He’s promised unimaginably wonderful things for those who genuinely accept His gift of salvation.
“’…What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9, ESV).
So what’s going on behind the scenes in this Plan of Salvation, and why does it all depend on Jesus?
The answer to that question—among many others—was diligently studied by the group of Christians who eventually helped organize the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And it remains a key topic of study and reflection today.
Part I – The Great Controversy. What do we need to be saved from?
Sin. Selfishness. Corruption. Fear.
Evil has many faces, but it’s rooted in one thing—separation from God, the creator of the entire universe.
The saga starts at the first recorded sin. It happened in Heaven.
The angel who sinned is now known as the Devil, or Satan…but before all this he was Lucifer, an angel in heaven known for his vibrant appearance. The name “Lucifer” even means “light bringer.”
Revelation 12:7 tells us “war broke out in heaven.” This war was the result of Lucifer letting pride and selfishness overcome him.
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:12-14, NKJV).
Lucifer allowed himself to think he was superior to the Most Holy God. He planted thoughts of fear and doubt into the minds of the other angels. He spread lies against God and deceived one third of the heavenly beings into darkness.
Lucifer demonstrated to all those in heaven that he no longer belonged in the presence of God. God had no choice but to cast Lucifer out.1
He turned his back on Heaven, on God, and on the other angels. This was when he lost the right to the name Lucifer and became known as Satan, the accuser.
But why the name “Satan?” Who is he accusing?
Satan began to publicly accuse God of being unjust and selfish. And the only way to combat accusations of injustice is to show justice.
God spared Satan to show that He is just and will allow everyone the opportunity to either accept or deny Him. Satan’s choice was utter denial.
And even today, he’ll stop at nothing to try to coax human beings away from God and keep them focused on themselves. The process of doubt, temptation and sin had begun.
Part II—The Fall of Mankind
The story of Lucifer becoming Satan brings sin into existence on earth, but how did sin become a human problem? Adventists find that answer at the end of the Creation story.2
In the beginning of Earth’s history, God created two people—Adam and Eve—and gave them the Garden of Eden.3 Both the people and the garden were perfect, but amidst their perfection stood a barrier: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
When God gave Adam and Eve the garden, He told them everything in it was theirs—everything except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That tree was forbidden.4
But…why would God put something in this perfect garden that was off-limits?
Because He was being just. He was allowing Adam and Eve to exercise the power of choice. He was not forcing them to follow Him. If they wanted to, they could eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But He asked them not to.
They understood God’s rule and kept their distance.
Until one day, Eve got a little too close and Satan got a little too bold.
In Eve’s wanderings, Satan, in the form of a serpent, approached her. He questioned why she had not taken fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and mocked her acceptance of God’s rule.
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’
And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’
Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:1-4 NKJV).
Like he did with the angels, Satan planted seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind.
When the doubt was strong enough, Eve took a piece fruit from the tree and ate it. Then she gave it to Adam, who also took a bite. With their single act of disobedience, the purity of the human race came crashing down.
Up until then, Adam and Eve had known only what was good. After eating the fruit, they knew both good and evil. And they’d have to live with those two forces being in constant battle.
It took merely seconds for Adam and Eve to realize their sin. Feeling shame—a new concept for them—they ran to hide from God.
But that was not enough to protect them from the wages of their sin.5 God had to cast them out of the Garden of Eden.6
Adventists believe it was the moment Adam and Eve let sin have a foothold on their lives that proved humanity’s need for the saving power of Jesus Christ.
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Part III – The Need for a Redeemer
As mentioned earlier, Adventists believe Jesus Christ is the very reason salvation is possible for humanity.
So who is Jesus Christ?
The Bible tells us Jesus is the Son of God.7 He came and lived on this Earth for 33 years with the sole intent to save humanity by reconciling them to God, His Father.
He was born to a seemingly plain mother, Mary. She was engaged to be married—a virgin—when she learned she would be the mother of the Son of God.
“And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.’
Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:35-38 NKJV).
Talk about stressful! But God was with her. He blessed Mary and her soon-to-be husband, Joseph. God even guided them to a perfect birthing place: a manger in a stable.8
If you’re a parent, you may not think that would be the “perfect place,” but for little baby Jesus, it was. It was His humanity and humility on display.
Though Jesus was worthy of the most beautiful palace to be born in, and the most prestigious parents to raise Him, God would accept no man-made fanfare of what the world finds important. He began His life on earth from the lowliest of positions.
As Jesus grew up, God continued to lead Mary and Joseph. Raising a child is difficult, but can you imagine the pressure of raising God’s Son? He was 100% man and 100% God, which means He was without sin.
It didn’t take long for Jesus to demonstrate His godliness. When Jesus was 12, instead of following His parents out of the city of Jerusalem, He lingered in the temple to discuss Scripture with the elders.9
“Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.
And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.’
And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’” (Luke 2:46-49 NKJV).
From that moment on, Jesus’ ministry only grew.
He connected with people. He could relate to them. People were drawn to Him. He gathered a group of followers and appointed 12 disciples who believed in Him and His message.
But as fervently as Jesus’ disciples followed Him, the pharisees and other religions leaders of the time opposed Him. They hated Jesus and His teachings as it exposed their manipulation of God’s laws. They were so overcome with sin that they plotted to kill Him.10
Jesus was ambushed. A group of pharisees and one of His own disciples had Him arrested. He was sentenced to death on a cross.
Wait. That’s not how this was supposed to go, is it? Did God really just send His Son to live on earth and get people excited about His ministry, only to kill Him? How could that be?
That part of story is hard to wrap our human minds around. But remember the other stories that led to this point? The fall of Lucifer and the fall of mankind? Both stories show just how important this part of the story is.
Why? Because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NKJV). But whose death does that verse refer to? Adventists believe the plan of salvation clears that up for us.
Biblically, the one responsible for the sin deserves death. So, whoever has sinned (all of us) is sentenced to death.
But here’s the important part: Jesus willingly took that responsibility upon Himself.
He accepted the sins of everyone in the world, throughout all of history, and died in our place. That means everyone who accepts Jesus as their Savior can be saved. Understanding Jesus’ sacrificial role in the plan of salvation is foundational for Adventists.
After Jesus died on the cross, He was buried in a tomb. A group of guards were placed in front of the tomb to guard Jesus’ body. But even the strongest of soldiers could not stop God’s plan.
Jesus spent the weekend in the tomb. However, on the third day, the stone was miraculously rolled away, and Jesus got on His feet and walked out.
Our Savior conquered death!
Part IV – The Experience of Salvation (Our Part)
These are the major “chapters” of the salvation epic that are covered in the Bible. But we are part of the plan, too.
To recap, we know how sin entered this world and what it does: it separates God from His people—us.
We’ve also learned of Jesus’ role in God’s plan of salvation. He became human, lived on Earth, died in our place, and was brought back to life as a conqueror of sin.
But what does that mean exactly?
In early biblical times, God’s people were asked to make sacrifices to Him. These were animal sacrifices, most often using lambs. The innocence of a lamb is something the people understood. It symbolized the innocence of Jesus.
These sacrifices were an outward demonstration of confessing sins. The only thing that could atone for the sins of people was bloodshed.5
But after Jesus died on the cross, the need for an animal sacrifice was no more because He was the ultimate sacrifice—the Lamb of God sacrificed for His people.
“Behold, the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, ESV).
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the price had been paid. There was now a way to be reconciled to God.
So what do we do then? Are we automatically “saved” because Jesus sacrificed Himself?
Think back to the earlier stories of the fall of Lucifer and the fall of mankind. Both situations involved doubt and temptation, but what sealed the deal was the choice.
Similarly, that’s how the redemption part works. Jesus paid the price, and offers this act of reconciliation as a gift to us. All we have to do is make the choice to accept it.
But once again…isn’t that just too easy? We sinned! We chose to separate ourselves from God, choosing to know both good and evil! How can we get off scot free by answering “yes” to a yes-or-no question?
Adventists throughout their history have intently studied this very facet of the Plan of Salvation, as it’s important to consider what this all means on a personal level.
Yes, the idea of making a choice is simple. But what does that choice entail?
What about works?
Adventists believe that how you act—your works—are the result of your relationship with Jesus, not the foundation of it.
There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. All of us are too sinful to deserve heaven. If salvation was based on whoever earns it, we’d all be in trouble. Thankfully, however, it’s not about us. It’s about Jesus.
“The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:22-25, CSB).
All we need to do is accept Him and His gift. That is the ultimate act of faith. Adventists hold to the belief that each and every human being can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
Then, and only then, do works come into play.11
Works—the way we live our lives—are our response to Jesus’ gift. When we truly choose Him, our lives change, and our works reflect that change. The proof is in the pudding.
Think about it: If you believe a book to be interesting, you’ll choose to read it. If you believe a person is a good friend, you’ll choose to spend time with them. So if you believe Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so you alone could be reconciled to God and live forever with Him in Heaven, how might that be shown in your daily life?
You may have heard the adage, “We are what we repeatedly do…” The same goes for living your life after choosing to be loyal to Jesus Christ. If you sincerely decide to follow Jesus, your life will change. Your habits will be affected. And it’s not always easy at first. Choosing Jesus every day does “set you apart.”
What’s more, while all of Heaven rejoices when you choose to follow Jesus, Satan continues to plot against you.
You will still be tempted. You will still struggle with sin. And depending on your existing habits, relationships, challenges and priorities, choosing Jesus continually might mean you don’t choose other things you used to.
But the blessings in store for you are eternal, and beyond measure. And God promises to be with you the whole time.
“Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB).
Part V – The End of the Saga
So what does being saved “look like?”
Early members of the Advent Movement took particular interest in what’s referred to as the “Second Coming” of Jesus. Before that time, many Christians didn’t think of it as a literal return at all. But as these believers studied Scripture, it became clear to them that this Second Coming was an event of finality, signifying the end of an age.
Learn more about the Second Coming of Christ
This will be when God conquers sin once and for all, and those who have chosen Jesus are “made new,” then taken to Heaven with Him.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He described to His disciples what the “End of the Age” would be like, and what it will look like when He comes back:
“…And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. … Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:30, 44).
Right after Jesus ascended into Heaven after the completion of His earthly ministry, angelic messengers provided us with another description:
“And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11, ESV).
1 Thessalonians tell us we will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (verse 16, 17).
Next comes Heaven, where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4, ESV).
Eternal life in paradise with the very Jesus we chose to follow, because He loves us enough to take on our “death sentence” (see Romans 6:23)—that’s an ideal ending to the epic story of the Plan of Salvation.
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