Righteousness by Faith

STUDY 5

 

"Sin originated with him who, next to Christ, had been most honored of God and who stood highest in power and glory among the inhabitants of heaven." GC 493. When he was "no longer free to stir up the rebellion in heaven, Satan's enmity against God found a new field in plotting the ruin of the human race." PP 52. The Bible clearly tells the story of the temptation and fall of our first parents: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Romans 5:12. As the result, the world was blighted with the curse of sin and inhabited by beings doomed to misery and death.

 

I-THE SIN PROBLEM AND ITS SOLUTION

This sin-darkened earth was not left without hope. In the courts of heaven it was decided that the Son of God should be sent to us, "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10), to "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21), and to "destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Sin had originated in the self-seeking exaltation of Lucifer; the plan of salvation in the self-sacrificing love of God. So great was His love for us that He consented to sacrifice His best, to save at least some of us. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16. And His Son volunteered to make the great sacrifice and pay the price of our redemption. So He chose to step down from the throne of the universe, leaving the glory that He had with the Father, that He might bring help to this benighted and perishing world. Jesus, "being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Philippians 2:6-8.

Notice that Jesus came in "the form of a servant," "in the likeness of men." Before His coming, provision had been made for His incarnation. He said, "a body hast thou prepared me" (Hebrews 10:5). The glory of His divinity, which we could not have endured, had to be veiled in the flesh of humanity, that He might draw near to fallen men. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." John 1:14. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same [flesh and blood].... Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren." Hebrews 2:14, 17. For this reason the "Son of God" was also called the "Son of man."

"By His humanity, Christ touched humanity; by His divinity, He lays hold upon the throne of God. As the Son of man, He gave us an example of obedience; as the Son of God, He gives us power to obey." DA 24.

When humanity and divinity are associated in the same person, complete victory over sin and perfect reproduction cf Christ's character in man, is possible. This fundamental truth was expressed by Paul in these words: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Romans 8:3, 4.

Through His divine power (Romans 1:16) God has provided "all things that pertain unto life and godliness," making it possible for us to become "partakers of the divine nature" and grow in faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity, and all other fruits of the Spirit, in which we must abound to make our "calling and election sure." "For so [not in any other way, but so] an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:3-11.

 

II-GETTING RIGHT WITH GOD

The Bible tells us that all men have an inherent deficiency, which is fatal to them: "There is none righteous, no, not one. . . . For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:10, 23, 24. In other words: Through sin we have all lost an essential part of our being the glory of God, His moral image, His character, His righteousness-without which we are but hopeless sinners, doomed to eternal perdition. But thanks to a special provision of God, the fundamental need in our being can be supplied-God's righteousness can be restored in us-and we can have everlasting life. This is the essence of Paul's exposition.

From the very beginning, men have been trying to find their way back to God, and the question, "How then can men be justified with God?" (Job 25:4), has been repeated over and over since sin came into the world. But, sad to realize, by following their own ideas, men have generally missed the way.

When our first parents fell into transgression, and lost their white robe of innocence and righteousness, they tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves sewn together. "This is what the transgressors of God's law have done ever since the day of Adam and Eve's disobedience.... They have worn the garments of their own devising, by works of their own they have tried to cover their sins, and make themselves acceptable with God." COL 311.

The controversy between Cain and Abel was not limited to those two brothers; it has continued all through religious history. "Abel was determined to worship God according to the directions God had given. This displeased Cain. He thought that his own plans were best, and that the Lord would come to his terms. Cain in his offering did not acknowledge his dependence upon Christ. He thought that his father Adam had been treated harshly in being expelled from Eden. The idea of keeping that sin ever before the mind, and offering the blood of the slain lamb as a confession of entire dependence upon a power outside of himself, was torture to the high spirit of Cain." TM 77, 78. "To outward appearance their religion was the same up to a certain point; but beyond this the difference between the two was great.... Abel chose faith and obedience; Cain, unbelief and rebellion." PP 72. The majority have always followed, and are still following, the way of Cain. They say to themselves, "I'm a sinner, but I'm not worse than other sinners in this world. I know I'm doing things that I shouldn't do. But everybody else is doing wrong things. God will finally have to make a special concession; He will have to lower His standard before He can get any of us into heaven; otherwise none will be saved. He knows I'm doing my best after all." This is how so many people deceive themselves, and there can be no greater deception than self-deception.

 

III-RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR TODAY

"O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day." Daniel 9:7.

1. What Is Righteousness?

There are some stock answers we are in the habit of giving. One of them is that righteousness is right doing. This is certainly true and we can show an inspired statement to that effect. We must not, however, pass by all the other statements. Sometimes we become experts at taking sentences out of context and ignoring the rest. If righteousness is nothing more than right doing, then all you would have to do to become righteous would be to concentrate on doing all the right things. There is a hidden trap here, however. Someone else maintains that righteousness is conformity to the will of God. That again is true and we can find an inspired statement for it also. But if you're not careful you can be led to think that all you have to do is to conform to the law of God. The danger is that this conformity can be merely external. And we can become like the Pharisees of old. "Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness." Luke 11:39.

We can go through other definitions and still find nothing but frustration until we come face to face with the only live definition: Righteousness equals the gospel of Jesus. Romans 1:17. "Therein is the righteousness of God revealed" in the gospel of Jesus. The only kind of righteousness that this world has ever known in a real live person was in the Lord Jesus Christ. The best single definition for righteousness is Jesus. When we read, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness," what the verse is saying to us is: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after Jesus." An important breakthrough in our study of salvation by faith is that you don't get righteousness by seeking righteousness. Righteousness comes only by seeking Jesus. Jesus said in John 15:5, "Without me ye can do nothing." There are people out there in the world who are apparently doing great things without God, but they need to be reminded of who it is that keeps their hearts beating in their chests. What we need to understand from this text is that we are helpless to produce righteousness in ourselves, because righteousness is found only in Jesus. There is a vast difference, however, between being helpless and being worthless. Without Him we are certainly worth something. Jesus on the cross proved that every human being is worth the entire universe, yet when it comes to righteousness we are totally bankrupt. "There is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags"Isa. 64:61.

"Sinful man can find hope and righteousness only in God: and no human being is righteous any longer than he has faith in God and maintains a vital connection with Him." TM 367.

2. Righteousness Through Relationship

"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings." Philippians 3:10.

There is an important and vital truth that all should understand, and that is, that the certainty and assurance of eternal life is not based upon our performance, but upon our being in relationship with Christ. That's why the question, "Do you know Him?" is an important question. It is so important in fact that Jesus equated "knowing Him" with "eternal life." "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." John 17:3. Romans chapter 5, talks about the gift of righteousness, which is nothing less than Jesus Himself.

If we accept His gift today but don't stay with Him, can we claim we still have this gift? Let us repeat again the statement: "[N]o human being is righteous any longer than he has faith in God and maintains a vital connection with Him." TM 367. There is a text which should help us understand this truth, l John 5:12: "He that hath the Son hath life." What does it mean to "have the Son"? We say that we have a friend. I have a wife, you have a wife, or husband. What does that mean? It simply means that you have a relationship with that person. When the text says, "He that hath the Son," it means having a relationship with Him. We are made righteous so long as we are in Him. Righteousness is never independent of Jesus Christ. There is no such thing as righteousness apart from Jesus.

 

IV-RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH IN ADVENTISM

We have already brought the attention of our readers to that epochal General Conference Session of 1888, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The history and content of the 1888 message is of keen interest to spiritually-minded SDA's around the world. They hear conflicting reports as to how the message was received by the leading brethren at that time as well as to the content of the message itself. We read the thoughtful account of A.G. Daniells in his book Christ Our Righteousness, where he made it clear that the "message has never been received, nor proclaimed, nor given free course as it should have been in order to convey to the church the measureless blessings that were wrapped within it" (COR 47). In the preface to the book Testimonies to Ministers, 1923 edition, we read: "The General Conference held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1888, marked a crisis in the work of the great threefold message. From the wrong side of the crisis the spirit of prophecy brought us." If we had nothing else in print, this first edition would make it clear that something terrible happened at Minneapolis. There are pages regarding "the spirit that ran riot at Minneapolis"; a "satanic work began there" (TM 76, 80). "The true religion, the only religion of the Bible, that teaches forgiveness only through the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour, that advocates righteousness by the faith of the Son of God, has been slighted, spoken against, ridiculed, and rejected." TM 468.

In the year 1889 the Lord's messenger Ellen White made this statement: "The doctrine of justification by faith has been lost sight of by many who have professed to believe the third angel's message." RH Aug. 13, 1889. "There is not one in one hundred who understands for himself the Bible truth on this subject [justification by faith] that is so necessary to our present and eternal welfare." RH Sept. 3, 1889. While early SDA's accepted the basic evangelic view of the gospel, we cannot help but notice a conspicuous absence of a message of salvation. It would seem that evangelism had become largely a process of convincing others of doctrinal truths, the assumption being that if one could be led to believe what the church was teaching in terms of doctrinal truth, he would be compelled to embrace the message. This assumption had validity to those people who were already persuaded of the basic claims of Christianity. The approach no doubt bore fruit. Those who were already evangelical Christians in their experience regarded the acceptance of the Advent doctrines as a forward step in their Christian life. Those who were backslidden from their Christian upbringing and principles, upon being revived by the clear presentation of the great Bible truths were often brought to a conviction and rededicated their hearts to the Lord simultaneously with their acceptance of the truth. As the years went by, however, a new generation came to the stage of action who were well versed in the theory of the message, but many of them had never experienced a true conversion. Truth had been accepted into "the outer court" as it were, but had never entered into the "inner sanctuary of the soul." If the ministers lacked this experience, how could they possibly feed the flock of God with the spiritual food they needed? "Many sermons preached upon the claims of the law have been without Christ, and this lack has made the truth inefficient in converting souls." COR 118. "Our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths." COR 119.

Without the Spirit and power of God, it will be in vain that we labor to present the truth. "The plan of salvation is not presented in its simplicity for the reason that few ministers know what simple faith is. An intellectual knowledge of the truth is not enough; we must know its power upon our own hearts and lives." 5T 159. It is by contemplating Christ, by exercising faith in Him, by experiencing for ourselves His saving grace, that we are qualified to present Him to the world. If we have learned of Him, Jesus will be our theme; His love, burning upon the altar of our hearts, will reach the hearts of the people.

It is only by gaining an insight into the real spiritual condition of the church in the early Eighties, that we can understand the import of the 1888 message and why it brought such mixed reactions.

In a letter of warning and instruction in 1881 we note the following: "I am filled with sadness when I think of our condition as a people. The Lord has not closed heaven to us, but our own course of continual backsliding has separated us from God. Pride, covetousness, and love of the world have lived in the heart without fear of banishment or condemnation. Grievous and presumptuous sins have dwelt among us. And yet the general opinion is that the church is flourishing, and that peace and prosperity are in all her borders.

"The church has turned back from following Christ her Leader and is steadily retreating toward Egypt. Yet few are alarmed or astonished at their want of spiritual power....

"And what has caused this alarming condition? Many have accepted the theory of truth who have had no true conversion. I know whereof I speak. There are few who feel real sorrow for sin, who have deep, pungent convictions of the depravity of the unregenerate nature. The heart of stone is not exchanged for a heart of flesh. Few are willing to fall upon the Rock and be broken." 5T 217, 218.

From the very first presentation at Minneapolis and during the following decade, the Spirit of Prophecy placed the seal of approval upon this message. We were told in the most plain and positive language that the Lord was leading and impelling men to proclaim the definite message of Righteousness by Faith. Of that General Conference Session and of the men specially called to give this message, it is declared:

"The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people.... This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many have lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family.... This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure." TM 91, 92.

 

V-FOCUS ON THE 1888 MESSAGE

What was the content of this message that had such power to move hearts? Christ.

Let Waggoner explain what he taught both before 1888 and in the years that followed concerning the nature of Christ "in the likeness of sinful flesh."

"[T]here were two questions handed me, and I might read them now. One of them is this: Was that holy thing which was born of the virgin Mary born in sinful flesh, and did that flesh have the same evil tendencies to contend with that ours does?' . . .

"Now I do not know anything about this matter, except what I read in the Bible; but that which I read in the Bible is so clear and plain that it gives me everlasting hope. I have had my time of discouragement and despondency and unbelief, but I thank God that it is past. That thing which for years of my life made me discouraged, after I had as earnestly and conscientiously as any one ever did, tried to serve the Lord-that which made me give up in my soul and say, 'It is no use; I cannot do it,' was the knowledge, to some extent, of the weakness of mine own self, and the thought that those who in my estimation were doing right, and those holy men of old of whom we read in the Bible, were differently constituted from me so that they could do right. I found by many sad experiences that I could not do anything but evil.... I ask you: If Jesus Christ, who is set forth by the Father as the Saviour, who came here to show me the way of salvation, in whom alone there is hope-if His life here on earth was a sham, then where is the hope? 'But' you say 'this question presupposes the very opposite of the fact that His life was a sham, because it presupposes that He was perfectly holy, so holy that He never had even any evil to contend with.'

"That's what I am referring to. I read, He 'was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.' I read of His praying all night. I read of His praying in such agony that the drops of sweat like blood fell from His face; but if that were all make-believe, if it were all simply show, if He went through that and there was nothing to it after all, if He were not really tempted, but was merely going through the motions of prayer, of what use is it all to me? I am left worse off than I was before.

"But O, if there is One-and I do not use this 'if' with any thought of doubt; I will say-since there is One who went through all that I ever can be called upon to go through, who resisted more than I in my own single person can ever be called upon to resist, who had temptations stronger than ever has come to me personally, who was constituted in every respect as I am, only in even worse circumstances than I have been, who met all the power that the devil could exercise through human flesh, and yet who knew no sin-then I can rejoice with exceeding great joy.... And that which He did some nineteen hundred years ago is that which He is still able to do, which He does to all who believe in Him." GCB (1901) 403, 404.

By emphasizing this important Bible truth, Waggoner holds out to us the wonderful possibility of us gaining the victory over all sin. What Christ accomplished by overcoming in His flesh on earth He can accomplish in the flesh of all who believe in Him truly.

"[W]e have mourned the fact that we inherited evil tendencies, sinful natures, we have almost despaired, because we could not break with these inherited evils, nor resist these tendencies to sin.... Jesus Christ was 'born of the seed of David according to the flesh.' . . . Jesus was not ashamed to call sinful men His brethren.... Thus we see that no matter what our inheritance may have been by nature, the Spirit of God has such power over the flesh that it can utterly reverse all this and make us partakers of the divine nature." GCB (1901) 408.

The evidence that the Spirit of Prophecy supported this idea of the 1888 messengers is overwhelming, particularly in the years that followed the Minneapolis Conference. Examples:

"Temptation is resisted when man is powerfully influenced to do a wrong action, and knowing that he can do it, resists by faith, with a firm hold upon divine power. This was the ordeal through which Christ passed." YI July 20, 1899.

"In this conflict the humanity of Christ was taxed as none of us will ever know.... These were real temptations, no pretense. . . . The Son of God in His humanity wrestled with the very same fierce, apparently overwhelming temptations that assail men-temptations to indulgence of appetite, to presumptuous venturing where God has not led them, and to the worship of the god of this world, to sacrifice an eternity of bliss for the fascinating pleasures of this life." 1SM 94, 95. "The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us. It is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God." l SM 244. "By His humanity, Christ touched humanity; by His divinity, He lays hold upon the throne of God. As the Son of man, He gave us an example of obedience; as the Son of God, He gives us power to obey." DA 24. "The union of the divine with the human is one of the most mysterious, as well as the most precious truths of the plan of redemption.... While it is impossible for finite minds to totally grasp this great truth or to fathom its significance. we may learn from it lessons of vital importance to us in our struggle against temptation. Christ came to the world to bring divine power to humanity to make man a partaker of the divine nature." GCB (1895) 333.

In order that there may be no misunderstanding we should note that neither Waggoner nor Jones ever said that Christ "had" a sinful nature. They said Christ "took" our sinful nature, a nature that had within it all the capability of being tempted from within or without, and like our nature bearing all the results of our heredity. Note how Sr. E.G. White expresses the same thought: "He was ever pure and undefiled; yet He took upon Him our sinful nature." RH Dec. 15, 1896.

 

VI-VARIANT VIEWS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH

How did the 1888 message differ from the historic Protestant doctrine of justification by faith?

In reality it is built upon the solid foundation of the Reformers' message of justification by faith and was in full harmony with it. However, it went far beyond the 16th century concepts.

The Reformers came out of the midnight darkness of Romanism, and could only bear so much light, otherwise it would blind them. We might wonder why they did not see the light on the Sabbath truth. One of the most serious errors the Reformers inherited from Romanism was the doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul. Augustine was one of the "fathers" of the 16th century Reformation, yet his views of the plan of salvation were distorted by this and other errors. Luther personally rejected the doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul, but his followers accepted it and believed in it.

Calvin was one of the noble men God raised up to continue the work that Luther had started. He was instrumental in promulgating truths that were of special importance in his time, and yet his doctrines were not free from error. Such teachings as the natural immortality of the soul, the eternal torment of the wicked, and predestination, make it impossible to have a clear view of God's character of love. No understanding of the gospel could be complete if such false doctrines affect it.

The 1888 message re-confirmed what the Reformers recovered that is, the finished work of our redemption in Christ's doing and dying. It went beyond the emphasis of Luther and the other 16th century Reformers, in that it taught not only a legal redemption from sin's guilt and punishment, but also redemption from the power and dominion of sin. Further, the 16th century Reformers did not understand the Three Angels' Messages, therefore they could not preach "the third angel's message in verity," as the 1888.message was declared to be. This clearer understanding of the gospel is God's means of arousing the world and accomplishing in His people a work parallel to what Christ is accomplishing as High Priest in the most holy apartment of the heavenly sanctuary. These two great truths-righteousness by faith and the sanctuary doctrine-come together in the 1888 message.

Does the Seventh-day Adventist Church have an official position in regard to righteousness by faith?

Geoffrey Paxton, an Anglican clergyman from Australia, was a keen student of Reformation theology. He had heard the claim that SDA's were ardent believers in the righteousness by faith concepts of the 16th century Reformers. In a writing entitled The Reformation and Adventism he tells us what his research disclosed:

"Since the Adventist Church has come through as a fairly tight organizational structure, I was shocked when I began to examine the Adventist mentality to find that there is by no means any unanimity in the Adventist Church today on the meaning of the essence of Christianity.... Instead I found three distinct movements, or mentalities, in the Adventist Church. I will describe them by these three general designations: (1) the Liberal mentality; (2) the Traditionalist mentality; and (3) the Reformationist mentality. I only wish the evangelical world were as stirred up and as divided at the moment on the issue of righteousness by faith as is the Adventist Church." He said he found one generally accepted belief at Andrews University and an entirely different concept at the Review and Herald.

This of course is one man's opinion and we present it here for what it is worth. We should also like to designate three variant views of the gospel being taught within Adventism.

1. The Traditional View

When we say "traditional" we are referring to the general understanding of most Seventh-day Adventists. The "traditional" view of the gospel is in theory mostly sound.

1. Justification is the forgiveness of all past sins, made possible through the death of Christ. When a person by repentance and confession "accepts Christ," he experiences a new birth and is brought into a right relationship with God. This is referred to as justification. It is the work of a moment and is often referred to "as our title to heaven."

2. Sanctification is necessary, however, in order for us to qualify for heaven. It is referred to as "positive righteousness." Thus sanctification or holiness of living (obedience to the law) is essential. This obedience to the law proves that we really love Jesus or are therefore prepared for heaven.

3. During the process of sanctification, which is the work of a lifetime, believers will inevitably commit sins. These must be forgiven through daily repentance and confession.

But since 1 and 2 are continual day by day experiences throughout our lifetime, the believer can never be assured of eternal salvation until judgment day.

2. Reformation Gospel View

For the past decade or more some highly respected Adventist theologians in top circles have been promoting a variant view of the Gospel known as the Reformation Gospel. It is part of what is referred to as the New Theology. The chief proponent of this view was for twenty years the head of the department of religion at the Australian Missionary College. While some of the older experienced brethren warned the administration that false concepts were being taught, little notice was taken. The result was that over the years, hundreds of ministerial students imbibed these ideas and did not hesitate to promote them wherever they went. The seriousness of the situation was not recognized until it brought an actual confrontation with the Australian Division and the General Conference on the subject of righteousness by faith. Without going into details about the efforts made to bring Dr. Desmond Ford back into line, and about his final dismissal from the work, it is well known that the New Theology has widely permeated the denomination, not only in Australia, but in the United States and other countries of the world.

Those who profess this view claim that righteousness by faith only refers to justification. Sanctification, while important, has no part with the doctrine of righteousness by faith. Briefly, this is how they explain their understanding of the gospel as it relates to justification and sanctification:

1. Righteousness by faith and justification by faith are one and the same thing. It is a legal declaration of God in which He proclaims the believing sinner perfectly righteous on the basis of the doing and dying of Christ. This differs from the "traditional" view in that, according to the New Theology, justification is more than the forgiveness of past sins-it is God declaring the sinner perfectly righteous in Christ, including full forgiveness of all sins both past and future. Through this justification the believer is fully qualified for heaven now and in the judgment.

2. They insist that justification is solely a legal (or forensic) declaration. Under no circumstances will they admit that the new birth or any other subjective experience in the believer has any part of the righteousness by faith.

3. Sanctification does not belong to the doctrine of righteousness by faith, but is only the outcome. The justified person will give evidence of his justified state by living a holy and godly life. Sanctification is never by faith alone, but involves the believer's own efforts and works and since his nature is still sinful he can never expect to be completely free from sin until glorification. The believer can easily be led to conclude that since sanctification does not contribute to one's salvation, he should not be unduly concerned about the besetting sins in his life, as his hope is in Christ's righteousness already guaranteed to him in heaven.

3. Evaluating the "Reformation Gospel" Concept

1. Many SDA's in recent years have felt an unsatisfied longing in their hearts for a deeper understanding of the gospel. While they are fully loyal to the unique doctrinal truths that identify Seventh-day Adventism, they are conscious that something is missing and they are determined to find it. While strictly warned against attending meetings conducted by non-Adventists, they have in one way or another listened to gospel preaching by men who were truly lifting up Christ in all His fullness and beauty. Whether on the radio or in a church service, what they heard touched a responsive chord in their soul-an element of the gospel they had never heard in their own churches. Not having learned of the 1888 message, they are drawn closer to other non-Adventist Christians who appear to be rejoicing in the gospel, and finally they are led to doubt the doctrinal truth itself. Thus many have aligned themselves with churches which they once believed were part of Babylon.

2. The "Reformation Gospel" view is an attempt to supply the lack in the current "traditional" Adventist teaching and to correct its deficiencies. It is a reaction to its legalistic trend. It is true that "traditional Adventism" has missed the glorious truth of justification as recovered by the Reformers of the 16th century, and resorted to a subtle form of legalism. It is wrong, however, to imply that the gospel taught by Luther and the other Reformers was the third angel's message "in verity."

3. While there is some truth to be commended in the Reformation Gospel, it fails to appreciate and welcome the 1888 message. It has no use for the unique Seventh-day Adventist truth of the cleansing of the sanctuary and the final atonement as understood in the 1888 message. As the result, it would try to take us back to the confusion of many of the popular evangelical churches.

4. Failing to understand New Testament faith, it devalues justification by faith by emphasizing man's self-centered concern to escape hell, or get to heaven. As justification is purported to be entirely a legal declaration of God outside of us and does not include in any way the experience of the believers, either in the new birth or in the work of sanctification, the one who claims to accept Christ believes he is saved now and for eternity. This is what is basic in the popular evangelical teaching of "eternal security," "Once saved, always saved."

5. As the proponents of the Reformation Gospel reject the concept that "sinless living" is possible this side of Christ's coming, there is a tendency to excuse disobedience of God's law, and careless disregard of some of those vital principles which are an intrinsic part of the three angels' messages. Where this "gospel" has been taught over the past decade, there is found in its wake cynicism, doubt, apathy, and lowered standards that constitute an Adventist antinomianism.

 

VII-JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH AS UNDERSTOOD BY THE 1888 MESSENGERS

If the message of justification by faith was indeed the "third angel's message in verity," it must have something unique and special about it to offer, apart from the popular evangelistic ideas. As much as the message was needed by the church in 1888 and perhaps very much more today, it was not given just for church members but to be proclaimed to all the world. "The message of Christ's righteousness is to sound from one end of the earth to the other to prepare the way of the Lord. This is the glory of God, which closes the work of the third angel." 6T 19.

What did the 1888 messengers teach, essentially, in regard to justification by faith?

Both Jones and Waggoner recognized that there are two phases in justification: (a) a forensic or legal act accomplished for all men, entirely outside of us; (b) an effective transformation of heart in those who believe. Part b, which is strongly opposed by the "Reformation Gospel" proponents, was wholeheartedly supported by Sr. White. Take note how the messengers explained this important New Testament truth:

"The word of God is self-fulfilling.... Thus the word of God spoken by Jesus Christ is able to cause that to exist which has no existence before the word is spoken....

"In man's life there is no righteousness.... But God has set forth Christ to declare righteousness unto and upon men. Christ has spoken the word only, and in the darkened void of man's life there is righteousness to everyone who will receive it.... The word of God received by faith . . . produces righteousness in the man and in the life where there never was any before, precisely as, in the original creation.... Therefore, being justified [made righteous] by faith [by expecting, and depending upon, the word of God only], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." RH Jan. 17, 1899.

"Men must not only become just by faith-by dependence upon the word of God-but being just, we must live by faith. The just man lives in precisely the same way, and by precisely the same thing, that he becomes just." RH March 7, 1899.

"Here is the word of God, the word of righteousness, the word of life, to you 'now"at this time.' Will you be made righteous by it now? Will you live by it now? This is justification by faith. This is righteousness by faith. It is the simplest thing in the world." RH Nov. 10, 1896.

Jones and Waggoner both clearly taught that justification by faith makes a believer righteous in the sense that it makes him an obedient doer of the law. A lifetime of obedience on the part of the repentant sinner could never atone for his sins and could never give him an iota of merit. What faith in Christ does is to deliver him from his disobedience to the law, and set him in the path of obedience. This is really how the new covenant promise becomes a reality in the life of the believer: "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." Jeremiah 31:33. "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." Ezekiel 36:26, 27.

Jones and Waggoner repeatedly and emphatically said that justification by faith is "making righteous" and not only "declaring" righteous. We read again from Waggoner on this point:

"Justification has to do with the law. The term means making just. Now in Romans 2:13 we are told who the just ones are: 'For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.' The just man, therefore, is the one who does the law. To be just means to be righteous. Therefore since the just man is the one who does the law, it follows that to justify a man, that is, to make him just, is to make him a doer of the law.

"Being justified by faith, then, is simply being made a doer of the law by faith.... It will be seen, therefore, that there can be no higher state than that of justification. It does everything that God can do for a man short of making him immortal, which is done only at the resurrection.... Faith and submission to God must be exercised continually, in order to retain the righteousness-in order to remain a doer of the law.

"This enables one to see clearly the force of these words, 'Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law.' Romans 3:31. That is, instead of breaking the law, and making it of no effect in our lives, we establish it in our hearts by faith. This is so because faith brings Christ into the heart, and the law of God is in the heart of Christ. And thus 'as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.' This one who obeys is the Lord Jesus Christ, and His obedience is done in the heart of everyone who believes. And as it is by His obedience alone that men are made doers of the law, so to Him shall be the glory forever and ever." ST May 1, 1893.

That Ellen White fully supported this understanding of justification by faith should be evident in the light of such statements as the following:

"It [the 1888 message] presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God.... Therefore God gave to His servants a testimony that presented the truth as it is in Jesus, which is the third angel's message, in clear, distinct lines.... It presents the law and the gospel, binding up the two in a perfect whole." TM 91-94.

"[W]hile God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, no man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ's righteousness while practicing known sins, or neglecting known duties. God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.... In order for man to be justified by faith, faith must reach a point where it will control the affections and impulses of the heart; and it is by obedience that faith itself is made perfect." 1SM 366.

"There is a danger of regarding justification by faith as placing merit on faith.... What is faith? It is an assent of the understanding of God's words which binds the heart in willing consecration and service to God, who gave the understanding, who moved the heart, who first drew the mind to view Christ on the cross of Calvary....

"The law of the human heart and the divine action makes the receiver a laborer together with God. It brings man where he can, united with divinity, work the works of God.... Divine power and the human agency combined will be a complete success, for Christ's righteousness accomplishes everything." MS 36, 1890.

 

VIII-SANCTIFICATION

You have noticed that the truth of "justification" was given so much emphasis in the 1888 message and it covers so much more than most of us have been taught. As it is generally understood, justification is what gets us right with God. All our past sins are washed away, and we are accepted as a child of God with an assurance of "an heritance incorruptible." We have as it were in our hands a passport for heaven. This is entirely because of Christ's doing and dying on our behalf. "Nothing in my hand I bring, Only to Thy cross I cling." This is all ours, not because of any goodness of our own, or anything we could do, but all because of the sacrifice of Calvary. It is ours by faith.

In order to understand the 1888 message it is most important to rightly define faith. Treasure this priceless definition of Sr. White:

"You may say that you believe in Jesus, when you have an appreciation of the cost of salvation. You may make this claim, when you feel that Jesus died for you on the cruel cross of Calvary; when you have an intelligent, understanding faith that His death makes it possible for you to cease from sin, and to perfect a righteous character through the grace of God, bestowed upon you as the purchase of Christ's blood." RH July 24, 1888.

Sanctification we understood was something entirely distinct from justification. While justification was the work of a moment, sanctification was the work of a lifetime and it had to do with making us fit for heaven. We had never thought of sanctification being by faith alone. It was the work of the Holy Spirit in us combined with our best efforts. This we thought was where faith and works were combined in the work of our salvation.

As we have come to better understand what righteousness by faith really is, we learn that we are not sanctified by faith and works, but rather by a faith that works. Commentators and theologians have so often led us astray, as they have seen justification out of focus. So it is also with sanctification. You may ask, Where does one draw the hairline distinction between justification and sanctification? The two may be distinct but they are never separate. Sanctification is God's work. Anyone who is justified by New Testament faith is automatically in the process of sanctification. There is no such thing as having to change gears from salvation by faith to salvation by works. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him . . . stablished in the faith." Colossians 2:6, 7. The "faith" here is not a creed or a set of doctrines but, as we have before put it, it is a heart appreciation of Christ's cross. This of course is all by faith.

"Being justified by faith . . . we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand." Romans 5:1, 2. The work of sanctification is summed up in Paul's comprehensive statement: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:23, NIV.

We ask, where then does human effort come in? While it is true that the Lord does the sanctifying as long as we do the believing, we do have a part and a very important one. It is a continuing sense of the constraint of the love of Christ that motivates us to live, not for ourselves but for Him who died for us and rose again. This is what it means to be sanctified by faith. (Acts 26:18.) While the Holy Spirit does the sanctifying, it still depends on us whether we let him or not. The "carnal mind" will constantly resist the work of the Holy Spirit. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:5. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Colossians 3:15, 16, NIV. How wonderful it is to be assured that in our helplessness and weakness we are not left to our fate. The power of choice is ours and what the Lord does, always depends on our choosing to let Him do it. How true are these inspired words of wisdom:

"What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure." SC 47.

"Paul holds up the standard of perfection and shows how it may be reached. 'Work out your own salvation,' he says, 'for it is God which worketh in you.'

"The work of gaining salvation is one of copartnership, a joint operation. There is to be cooperation between God and the repentant sinner. This is necessary for the formation of right principles in the character. Man is to make earnest efforts to overcome that which hinders him from attaining to perfection. But he is wholly dependent upon God for success. Human effort of itself is not sufficient. Without the aid of divine power it avails nothing. God works and man works. Resistance of temptation must come from man, who must draw his power from God." AA 482.

"[T]hough Christ is everything, we are to inspire every man to unwearied diligence. We are to strive, wrestle, agonize, watch, pray, lest we shall be overcome by the wily foe. For the power and grace with which we can do this comes from God, and all the while we are to trust in Him, who is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him. Never leave the impression on the mind that there is little or nothing to do on the part of man; but rather teach man to cooperate with God, that he may be successful in overcoming." 1SM 381.

"No man can be forced to transgress. His own consent must first be gained; the soul must purpose the sinful act before passion can dominate over reason or iniquity triumph over conscience. Temptation, however strong, is never an excuse for sin." 5T 177.

The apostle Paul beautifully expresses the "good news" of sanctification by faith in his letter to Titus:

"For the grace that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good." Titus 2: 14, NIV.

 

IX-CONCLUSION

These biblical truths were clear to our Adventist pioneers and to Sister White:

Defective characters will find no place in heaven (Matthew 13:41; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Revelation 21:27). Only righteous men and women lin white robes) will be admitted into the kingdom (Matthew 5:19, 20; 13:43; 25:46; l Peter 4:18; Revelation 22:14).

Therefore, Christ came to save sinners, not in their sins, but from their sins (Matthew 1:21; Tit. 3:14). In Christ we have both justification and sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30).

1. Justification

Justification is "remission of sins that are past." Pardon is freely granted to repentant sinners by grace through faith (Romans 3:23-25) .

Justification is not only a forensic declaration; it involves a subjective experience, in which the old man dies: "[O]ur old man is crucified with him [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed [Greek, justified] from sin." Romans 6:6, 7. "[N]o man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ's righteousness while practicing known sins." 1SM 366. The filthy garments of our self-righteousness must be removed before we can be clothed with change of raiment. Only then can we stand before God "clothed with the imputed righteousness of Christ" (4BC 1178). And "having made us righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ, God pronounces us just, and treats us as just." 1SM 394. This is justification.

It is evident, therefore, that the sinner cannot be justified before he shows repentance; and genuine repentance involves obedience to God's requirements. Let these statements be borne in mind:

"There is no safety nor repose nor justification in transgression of the law." 1SM 213.

"His [Christ's] righteousness is imputed only to the obedient." 6BC 1072.

"The sinner, through repentance of his sins, faith in Christ, and obedience to the perfect law of God, has the righteousness of Christ imputed to him." 3T 371.

Obedience, like faith, has no merits. It does not give us any credit. It is, nevertheless, a requirement (a condition) for our salvation (Romans 3:20, 21, 28, 31; Hebrews 5:9; Luke 10:25-28; Matthew 7:21). As far as merits are concerned, we can be saved only through the merits of the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9; 1 Peter 1:18, 19).

2. Sanctification

When a person is justified, that is when sanctification begins (7BC 908). "[J]ustification [is] through the blood of Christ, and sanctification through the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit." TM 97. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:13; John 16:13; 17:17.

"The sanctification of the soul by the working of the Holy Spirit is the implanting of Christ's nature in humanity." COL 384.

In the plan of salvation, "we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (this is justification), and, "being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (this is sanctification) . Romans 5:10. In the example of Paul we can see how a person can be saved by the life of Christ. Paul wrote:

"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20.

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13.

3. Perfection of Character

In the process of sanctification there is a goal to be reached. Christ said:

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:48.

"As God is perfect in His sphere, so man may be perfect in his sphere." 8T 64.

Perfection of character-as far as perfection is possible in our human sphere-is required of those who will enter into the kingdom. Read Ephesians 4:11-13; 5:27; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Peter 3:14.

This condition must be reached under the investigative judgment (Matthew 22:11-14), before the latter rain is poured out (Acts 3:19). When the door of probation is shut, immediately before the wedding, it will remain shut forever for those who are not prepared (Matthew 25:10-12; Luke 13:23-27).

"[W]hen he [the Lord] will return from the wedding" (Luke 12:36), He will not extend a second chance to the class of people represented by the evil servant (Luke 12:46). Therefore, we are to reach a condition of blamelessness now, while the door is open, that we may be "preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

"When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own." COL 69.

As complete victory is to be obtained before the work of atonement is finished, we certainly need to know the way by which to obtain it.

"Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ.... Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father's commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble." GC 623.

Preparation for the coming of Christ involves learning to know Him so intimately that deception will be impossible. This was an essential of the 1888 message.

"[W]hen Jesus comes, it is to take His people unto Himself. It is to present to Himself His glorious church, 'not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing,' but that is 'holy and without blemish.' It is to see Himself perfectly reflected in all His saints And before He comes, thus, His people must be in that condition. Before He comes we must have been brought to that state of perfection in the complete image of Jesus. Ephesians 4:7, 8, 11-13 And this state of perfection, this developing in each believer the complete image of Jesus this is the finishing of the mystery of God, which is Christ in you the hope of glory. This consummation is accomplished in the cleansing of the sanctuary....

"And the blotting out of sins is exactly this thing of the cleansing of the sanctuary; it is the finishing of all transgression in our lives; it is the making an end of all sins in our character; it is the bringing in of the very righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ....

"Therefore now as never before, we are to repent and be converted, that our sins may be blotted out, that an utter end shall be made of them forever." Alonzo T. Jones, The Consecrated Way, pp. 123-125.

"God calls every man to repentance, yet man cannot even repent unless the Holy Spirit works upon his heart. But the Lord wants no man to wait until he thinks that he has repented before he takes steps toward Jesus. The Saviour is continually drawing men to repentance; they need only to submit to be drawn, and their hearts will be melted in penitence.

"Man is allotted a part in this great struggle for everlasting life; he must respond to the working of the Holy Spirit. It will require a struggle to break through the powers of darkness, and the Spirit works in him to accomplish this. But man is no passive being, to be saved in indolence. He is called upon to strain every muscle and exercise every faculty in the struggle for immortality; yet it is God that supplies the efficiency." 8T 64, 65.

"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Romans 5:19.

"Think of what Christ's obedience means to us! It means that in His strength we too may obey.... Christ came to this world to show us what God can do and what we can do in cooperation with God." 6BC 1074.