Demonstrating the Great Controversy

At the end of earth’s history, the world is crying out for a demonstration of the mind of Christ.

Bob Stewart

The church of Christ has an image problem. No matter which denomination one looks at, the most recent statistics are showing that more and more people are identifying as “nones”—that is, claiming no religious affiliation.1 Churches are in decline; news headlines blare out the sins of Catholic and Protestant leaders; across the board, since the shutdowns of public worship or going to Zoom or live-streaming during the COVID pandemic, churches are struggling to get members to come back to worship. Christianity is no longer attractive—or relevant—to many in our world.2

At the time when the Elijah message needs to be the loudest; when the world needs a John the Baptist to come “‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’” (Luke 1:17, NKJV),3 we have a world in which people are not finding Christianity engaging. They are not being drawn to it because they don’t feel it meets their deepest needs or answers their heartfelt questions; or they feel that Christians are not that different than they are. In fact, the Christian Church at large has not given much demonstrable evidence that it is the best option of the many available.

In a ringing statement in Colossians 2:15, the apostle Paul summed up the premier evidence of Christ’s victory on the cross of Calvary: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”

In this exhibition contradicting all sense of what a victory should look like, Paul lays out the case for demonstrable triumph on this stage of the world. Indeed, there is nothing like a demonstration to prove a point. All arguments to the contrary are silenced; all protests are put to shame; all voices are overridden by crickets. In Colossians 2:15, using a special Greek word that the NKJV translates as “disarmed,” Paul explains that in the Cross, Satan’s masquerade is unmasked. This term literally means, “to strip off one’s clothes.”

In this verse, the Bible reveals the devastating result of Jesus dying on the Cross to Satan’s kingdom and his more than 6,000-year deception upon the universe. For endless eternity to come, the Lord took off the mask that had hidden the adversary’s deceptive ways and forever answered the Great Controversy’s questions he had imposed on the existence of all.

Paul gives us further evidence of this in another epistle (Philippians 2), making us privy to the dynamic between the Father and the Son in a remarkable exhibition of divine love and sacrifice, stripping the duplicitous clothing off Satan’s monstrous character and falsehoods about God. And it is here wherein lies the answer to the Christian’s dilemma in addressing the failing attractiveness of the Cross to the world.


Leaders in Conflict

Much has been written about the Great Controversy over the years that has expanded our minds and understanding of the issues and the stakes at play between Christ and Satan. There is one question that begs closer examination: What kind of mind prompts the actions of the leaders in this conflict? And while we have a pretty good view through the centuries of God’s antagonist’s mind, seeing God’s mind is not so clear, for we often see it through the lens of His opponent superimposed upon us via our fallen natures. That is to say, because we are sinners, our default setting is that we naturally tend to see leadership through Satan’s eyes. This leadership question is key to this subject because as goes leadership, so goes the flock of God.

What has the history of the Great Controversy as played out over the millennia taught us about this aspect of our convoluted past? It is certainly true that the mind and leadership styles of each protagonist in this epic battle couldn’t be further from each other in execution and results. The Bible displays this contrast in every book, every journey, every page-turning story of the trials and tribulations of the people of God from beginning to end. But many times the unschooled reader will attribute to God the leadership style of Satan in some of the harsher events, not realizing there is a difference.

And while the application of this study could be found in any story in the Bible and would be rich with insights and pregnant with meaning to delve into, the application to the remnant at the end of time is the one needing closer focus. The remnant are leaders in their own right. Just as the Lord sent John the Baptist to lead the people in preparing for the first coming of Christ, it is prophetically true that He will send another “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isa. 40:3) to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ. These leaders will not only tell the world about His coming through the messages of the three angels of Revelation 14, but they will also show the results of the messages’ effect on their own lives, thereby demonstrating the mind and leadership style of the righteous side of this controversy.

When John the Baptist cried out his message in the wilderness, it would have had little effect on the people he was preaching to if his life had not also demonstrated the truth of the message from God that he shared. This, with the Holy Spirit’s anointing, gave power to his words because the people saw that he lived the message he was asking them to accept. He showed that he had the same mind and heart in this controversy as that of his leader, Jesus Christ, which was different from the many false prophets and false christs who came along in those troublous days. “‘He must increase, but I must decrease’” (John 3:30), John said.

It is this aspect of practically demonstrating the mind of Christ that is sorely lacking in Christianity today. If, as he has been often quoted, Gandhi could complain in the early 20th century that, he’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians, what could be said today?


Mind vs. Mind

While it is undoubtedly true that if one were to ask an audience of people how many considered themselves leaders, probably only a few hands would be raised. The under-discovered truth is that everyone is a leader—from the child in school who “leads” a friend into trying something new, to the adult who unknowingly encourages the better angels of our natures by kindly letting someone else go first in a line at the grocery store.

So, the real question is not whether we are leaders or not, but what kind of leaders are we? In the Great Controversy contest that we are all born into, it is vital that we see clearly the leadership of the Father and the Son—and that of Satan—so that we can choose what kind of leader we want to be. There are, after all, only two proverbial choices and ultimately two demonstrations of who you are following.

In the world in which we live, we generally consider leaders as those who are chosen to be above us; that is, someone is promoted to supervisor, or director, or foreman, or any position that is above us in paygrade and authority. These leaders step up in leadership and tell us what to do. They are above, and we are below either in a major or just a subtle way.

But the Bible speaks of leadership—heavenly leadership—in a different way. Leaders in the church, for instance, do not step up to lead; they step down to lead. The premiere example of this is Jesus Himself. And the best place to see this displayed and to see the mind and attitude John displayed and the remnant need to display, is in Philippians 2. While this chapter, and specifically verse 5, has been analyzed many times over the years, there can be found some gems that will gleam if brought to the surface. In fact, it is here that the Father and Son act out the Great Controversy between Themselves and answer the dispute convincingly. So, let’s look at this mind of God—our Leader—one more time, only perhaps this time see it in a whole new light.


The Leadership of Christ

1. It is in Philippians 1:27 that Paul first introduces the concept of mind. He says, “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The mind, he says we should have is one that understands “the faith of the gospel”; that we have been given the privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake (vs. 29), and experience the same conflict as Paul did (vs. 30). That conflict is all about carrying the fatherly burden and weight in one’s heart (vs. 7) for the lost sheep and sacrificing oneself for others. It is a demonstration of what Christianity is all about.

2. “Therefore . . .” in chapter 2, he begins to describe that mind. It is a mind that brings “consolation [margin: encouragement] in Christ,” has “comfort of love,” brings “fellowship of the Spirit.” and bestows “affection and mercy” (vs. 1).

But Paul is not done describing this mind. He goes on in verse 2 to say it is a mind of “the same love” and brings others into “one accord” with itself and the Father (which the gospel does). Both descriptions are sandwiched between “like-minded” at the beginning, and “one mind” at the end of the verse. And to make sure we understand the nature of this mind better, Paul uses the present active participle for “one mind” so his readers know this is a continuous mindset, not just one revealed on the Sabbath or periodically. This is a lifestyle.

The apostle continues his description in verse 3 by saying this is a mind that humbles itself in “lowliness,” and that esteems others better than itself. And finally in verse 4, he caps off his portrait by saying that this is a mind that will also “look out for the interests of others.”

3. Then, and only then, does Paul write in verse 5: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (italics supplied). Studied out this way, it is obvious the characteristics of the mind he has just been describing in verses 1 to 4 are identified as the mind of Christ in verse 5. It is also interesting that though Paul many times in his epistles names the Lord as “Jesus Christ,” there are occasions that he reverses the order, as it is here, and calls Him “Christ Jesus.” The apparent reason is that he is emphasizing the divinity of the Lord. In other words, this is a divine mind that he has described, not an earthly mind. For the honest reader, then, there is the realization that however many traits Paul has laid out here, one of them may actually come far short. And if this delineation is not enough, the demonstration of this mind in the next verses will leave no doubt in the honest heart.

4. In verses 6 to 8, Paul explains how this mind revealed itself in the life of Jesus. Notice this commentary on the indictments of God’s accuser: “Satan had accused God of requiring self-denial of the angels, when He knew nothing of what it meant Himself, and when He would not Himself make any self-sacrifice for others. This was the accusation that Satan made against God in heaven; and after the evil one was expelled from heaven, he continually charged the Lord with exacting service which He would not render Himself. Christ came to the world to meet these false accusations, and to reveal the Father.”4

And further, here: “With what intense interest was this controversy watched by the heavenly angels and the unfallen worlds, as the honor of the law was being vindicated. Not merely for this world, but for the universe of heaven, was the controversy to be forever settled. The confederacy of darkness was also watching for the semblance of a chance to triumph over the divine and human Substitute of the human race, that the apostate might shout, ‘Victory,’ and the world and its inhabitants forever become his kingdom.

“But Satan reached only the heel; he could not touch the head. At the death of Christ, Satan saw that he was defeated. He saw that his true character was clearly revealed before all heaven, and that the heavenly beings and the worlds that God had created would be wholly on the side of God. He saw that his prospects of future influence with them would be entirely cut off. Christ's humanity would demonstrate for eternal ages the question which settled the controversy.”5

The stunning accusation of Satan was that God showed no self-sacrifice toward His creation but just lorded it over them (in reality, an echo of Satan’s mind and what he wanted). But Satan “reached only the heel; he could not touch the head,” or, it may be said, the mind of Christ.

Answering the above accusation, Paul wrote in Philippians 2:6 that Christ, though He was and is God, did not try desperately or otherwise to hang on to His position as God, but humbled Himself (vs. 7) and became a man. He saw the condition of humanity in its fallen state and chose willingly to sacrifice Himself to encourage, comfort, give mercy, love, fellowship, and put us first to bring us back into unity with Him.

When you sacrifice yourself for another, you are esteeming others better than yourself. When you allow yourself to be born into the body of one of your fallen creatures and then brutalized and nailed to a cross, you are looking out for the interests of others and demarcating a distinct line between divine and earthly minds. When, knowing that you are God, you set aside your unlimited power and let the abuse and murder happen, and obediently lay out your hands and feet to be nailed to the most shameful and mortifying death devised at the time, you do indeed have a different mind than this world knows.

The Great Controversy was started by an angelic being who was unwilling to submit himself to the position for which he had been created because he believed he deserved a better position. He was not willing to obey his Creator or abide by His word. And the greatest irony of it all was that he was unwilling to self-sacrifice—the very thing he accused God of not doing! It is an unambivalent truth that the creator of something has the ultimate right to tell the creation what to do.

To answer the accusation by Satan of God’s unwillingness to sacrifice anything and also to demonstrate how a created being ought to behave toward his Maker, God the Father and God the Son take on those roles. Jesus willingly submits to becoming a created being (as Satan is) and responds to His Father in heaven just as every created being should—even though He is still God! In other words, Jesus demonstrates how every angel, every human being, every creature (every Christian) should submit to the word and will of his or her heavenly Father.

In one fell swoop Jesus not only answers the false charge of God’s lack of self-sacrifice by doing just that, but also rescues and redeems lost creatures whom He esteems better than Himself in that He is willing to forgo life itself that their interests might be realized (John 10:10).

In an amazing exhibition of self-sacrificing love, the stunningly beautiful divine mind of Christ is on display for the entire universe to see. No question is left in anyone’s mind how Satan should have responded to his God. All can see on display the leadership styles of Satan and God. Every doubt is dislodged from its hiding place when God the Son shows His created beings how they ought to behave toward Him, by becoming one of them and submitting to His equal, the Father, even though He, Jesus, is God! The most humbling display of unmerited compassion and loving condescension toward His creation is engraved forever on the fabric of time—as well as In the hands and feet of Jesus. The accusations are answered. Here is pre-eminently the answer for Christianity today.

5. The results of having this mind are next described. In verses 9 to 11, because Jesus had demonstrated this self-sacrificing mind, He was exalted above all creation and given “the name which is above every name,” and all should worship Him. In the world we see exaltation coming from stepping up to lead. This is really what Satan wanted, using the supposed logic that if you want to go higher, you push upward, disregarding your created position or purpose in creation. Jesus showed that in heaven’s economy—indeed, the very core and nature of life—to be exalted, one must first step down to service and sacrifice. Selfishness—self-service—has no place in the fabric of true life.

Thus, God, destroyed Satan’s logic and faulty reasoning by showing us that self is not the most important thing in the universe, but others are. That is the mind of God.


The Leadership of the Remnant

Paul’s whole premise in Philippians 1:27 to 30 and 2:1 to 11 is that we should have this same mind that was in Christ Jesus. He stepped down from heaven to lead fallen humanity back to a right relationship with his God. Step by step, He showed us—He demonstrated—how creatures should act toward God and their fellow creatures.

Through the centuries since it was established, Christianity has morphed into a parody of the wrong mind, clothing itself with Christian talk, Christianized living, but in reality looking a lot like the world dressed in Christian clothing. The Christ described above is not being lifted up and is therefore not drawing people to Him. In the end times, the remnant are to call people back to or into this right relation with God (Rev. 14:7). They are to lead with the mind of Christ, esteeming others better than themselves. They are to look out for the interests of others, as Christ did, not worrying about their position, but focusing on sacrificing themselves that others may be saved. Having this mind of Christ in the remnant people will magnify the beauty of what Christ did—and is still doing. It will show the universe what the power of the mind of Christ can do in human beings who used to be controlled by the mind of God’s adversary—self-oriented, coveting position, power, authority—but have been born from above and now step down to lead just like their Savior.

At the end of earth’s history, it has never been more true that the world is crying out for this kind of a demonstration of the mind of Christ to prepare them for His soon coming. The image of the Christian Church—indeed, the people who make up the church—is not that of its Savior in Philippians 2:1 to 11 and until it is, there will be reversal of its decline. Only the Holy Spirit can implant within us this precious Mind. But we have to be willing to give up the other mind first.


Bob Stewart is a Ministerial Associate at the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Lansing, Michigan, U.S.A.



1. Gregory Smith et al., “Religious ‘Nones’ in America: Who They Are and What They Believe,” Pew Research Center (January 24, 2024).

2. “Decline of Christianity in the Western World,” Wikipedia.

3. All Scripture references in this article are quoted from the New King James Version of the Bible.

4. Selected Messages 1:406, 407.

5. Ibid., 255.