Today, numerous errors are being circulated among God’s people regarding justification by faith, sanctification, and other salvation doctrines. As a result, many members are being misled and captivated by gross errors, most of which have originated in the churches of the world which we know as Babylon.
Concerning justification, the servant of the Lord has told us, “The enemy of man and God is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken.” Review and Herald, September 3, 1889. Is it any wonder, then, that Satan has infiltrated God’s true church with some of his ministers whom he has inspired to preach a false justification by faith?
Recently, I found these alarming inspired passages concerning righteousness by faith: “There is not one in one hundred [now notice this—not one in one hundred] who understands for himself the Bible truth on this subject that is so necessary to our present and eternal welfare.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 360. And then this quote, “Our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ.” This Day With God, 93.
These very disturbing facts have led me to prepare this series of messages. First, let us note that, strange as it may seem, the teaching and preaching of error to our people can at times result in a great blessing. I think I can hear you say, “Brother Nelson, how could this be possible?” Let us take courage from the following counsel from the Lord: “Every time that error is advanced, it will work for good to those who sincerely love God; for when the truth is shadowed by error, those whom the Lord has made His sentinels will make the truth sharper and clearer. They will search the Scriptures for evidence of their faith. The advancement of error is the call for God’s servants to arouse, and place the truth in bold relief.” The Signs of the Times, January 6, 1898. This we shall endeavor to do, for it is my greatest desire, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be a watchman for God.
The Scriptures introduce the basis, or the foundation, upon which justification by faith rests by explaining what Christ wants to do for us. John 1:29 says, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 6:33 tells us, “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” In John 3:17, we read, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
That which Christ has provided for us, and wants to do for us, is the basis or foundation of justification by faith. Now, as we begin this study, we need to know not only the basis upon which justification is possible, but also what the conditions are for receiving justification.
Basis of Justification
But first, let us study more about the basis. In the Bible, both Adam and Christ represent the human race. Therefore, what spiritually occurred with Adam and Christ has to do with everyone born into this world. For example, when Adam, the representative of our race, was tempted by Satan to rebel against God, and in doing so sinned, he brought death upon himself and all his descendents. When Christ became our representative by coming to earth in human flesh through the miracle of the Holy Spirit, He likewise was tempted by the devil to sin. But He did not rebel as Adam did. He obeyed God. He never sinned. And because of His victory over Satan, He was able and willing to die for our sins so that the sentence of death, through Adam, could be reversed to eternal life if we accept Christ’s death in our place.
The result of Adam’s sin was that all mankind have likewise sinned and received the death penalty. But, praise God, the Son of God chose to take the place of Adam, as head and representative of the human race, and by His death on the cross He paid the penalty of our death sentence, providing an offer of redemption to all who will believe in Him. We read, in John 3:16, 17, “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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Throughout the entire Word of God, this basis for justification by faith is confirmed. For example, let us read Romans 5:12, 17–19, which says, “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.” “(For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one [judgment came] upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [the free gift came] upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
The Spirit of Prophecy, which is always in harmony with God’s Word, likewise teaches that Jesus, in order to save us, took the place of Adam as our representative. “Jesus humbled himself, clothing his divinity with humanity, in order that he might stand as the head and representative of the human family.” The Signs of the Times, January 16, 1896.
Let us consider the conditions upon which justification by faith and sanctification are possible for individuals. Did I hear someone ask, “Are there conditions for a man to be justified? Is not justification a free gift?” From New Zealand, Ellen White wrote to A.T. Jones. He was one of the two men who presented the truth of righteousness by faith to God’s church in 1888. But, by the year 1893, he had begun to proclaim over and over, “There are no conditions.” The Lord showed his mistake to Ellen White in a vision. Her letter to Jones, from which the following sentence is taken, is recorded in Selected Messages, Book 1, 377. “There are conditions to our receiving justification and sanctification, and the righteousness of Christ.”
To meet the conditions does not mean that we make a payment for our salvation. Man’s works either before or after justification are valueless in themselves. They cannot purchase salvation. Salvation is a free gift, but, God says, only to those who meet the conditions. Adam chose to believe the lie of Satan. He rebelled against his Maker by sinning. He accepted the conditions for believing the lie of Satan that he would become as the gods. He ignored God’s truth that the wages of sin is death. But, when we choose to obey what Christ says, this process is reversed. We reject Satan and accept the following conditions laid down by Christ in order that we might escape death and receive eternal life.
There are five conditions:
1. We accept by faith Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on Calvary’s cross for us.
2. We surrender completely, repent, and confess our sins to God.
3. We believe that God forgives our individual sins.
4. We personally experience the gift of justification by faith by being born again.
5. We abide in Christ through a continual, loving relationship of trust and obedience. This fifth condition results in our sanctification.
Let us consider these five conditions one at a time. The first condition requires that we believe and personally accept Christ’s sacrifice. As this topic unfolds, we shall observe that there is more to the term believe than many have supposed. In fact, all five of the listed conditions are embodied in the words, “Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
The second condition is surrender. This involves repentance, death to self and sin, and confession. In Acts 2:38, we learn that we must repent. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Notice the importance that Ellen White gives to this condition: “Repent, repent, repent, was the message wrung out by John the Baptist in the wilderness. Christ’s message to the people was ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ Luke 13:5. And the apostles were commanded to preach everywhere that men should repent.” Selected Messages, Book 2, 19.
But take note, can we repent in our own strength? No way! Through His servant, the Lord says, “Who is desirous of becoming truly repentant? What must he do? He must come to Jesus, just as he is, without delay. He must believe that the word of Christ is true, and, believing the promise, ask, that he may receive. When sincere desire prompts men to pray, they will not pray in vain. The Lord will fulfil His word, and will give the Holy Spirit to lead to repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ibid., Book 1, 393.
We must also confess our sins. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The same condition existed in Old Testament times. In 11 Chronicles 7:14, we read, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin.” How beautiful that is!
How important are these conditions? Pay close attention to this: “Those who have not humbled their souls before God in acknowledging their guilt, have not yet fulfilled the first condition for acceptance. If we have not experienced that repentance which is not to be repented of, and have not with true humiliation of soul and brokeness of spirit confessed our sins, abhorring our iniquity, we have never truly sought for the forgiveness of sin; and if we have never sought, we have never found the peace of God. The only reason why we do not have remission of sins that are past is that we are not willing to humble our hearts and comply with the conditions of the word of truth.” Steps to Christ, 37, 38.
Consider now the third condition, which reveals that we must believe that God forgives our sins. Remember, there are conditions to be met before we can truly believe that He has done this. “Man must be emptied of self before he can be, in the fullest sense, a believer in Jesus.” The Desire of Ages, 280. This is very important, for Jesus says to the unforgiven, “I never knew you.” Why? “You have not exercised genuine repentance toward God for the transgression of His holy law, and you cannot have genuine faith in Me, for it was My mission to exalt God’s law.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 239.
“To believe in Jesus is to take Him as your Redeemer, as your Pattern.” This Day With God, 299. After we have met these specified conditions so that we can truly believe in Christ, then we can believe. “The moment we ask for forgiveness in contrition and sincerity, God forgives. Oh, what a glorious truth! Preach it, pray it, sing it.” The Signs of the Times, September 4, 1893.
And so, speaking plainly, we are justified by faith in Christ, who died for us. Faith in itself does not save us. It is faith in the Son of God that saves. Permit me to present this in the words of Elder John Janiuk as given in his book, The Great Controversy End Game, Book 2 (publisher unknown, 1999, 3): “When you and I, by faith through repentance, confession, surrender, accept Christ’s death on the cross for us and His righteousness as our substitute and our Saviour, then God accepts us because we accept His Son. He sees us as if we had never sinned and He accepts us as if we are sinless. This is the heart of justification by faith.” How beautifully that is stated!
The fourth condition states that we must experience the new birth. Christ told Nicodemus that before he could see the kingdom of God he must be born again. When God forgives a man, He provides him with a new heart, a new birth. In Ezekiel 36:26, we read, “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.”
Many do not realize that justification by faith includes the new birth, which is a new mind. Inspiration clearly reveals this truth: “To be pardoned in the way that Christ pardons, is not only to be forgiven, but to be renewed in the spirit of our mind.” Review and Herald, August 19, 1890.
This takes place when we come to the Lord just as David did after he had sinned against Bathsheba. Consider his prayer in Psalm 51:2, 7, 10: “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
In commenting on David’s experience, Ellen White said, “But forgiveness has a broader meaning than many suppose. . . . God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. [I like that!] It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.’ ” Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 114. When God forgives, He also cleanses the soul and creates a new heart in which Christ can dwell. Is that not marvelous?
How do we receive such righteousness? “We receive righteousness by receiving Him [Jesus].” Ibid., 18. So, when we die to self, the new birth brings Christ, with His Righteousness, into our hearts to dwell therein. In Testimonies, vol. 5, 46, we are told that, “[We] are not reconciled to God, neither can be, until self is crucified and Christ lives in the heart by faith.” What a wonderful experience to all who are willing to die to self. Then we can say, “Christ is my righteousness.”
Water to the Thirsty
I hope we are beginning to get a clearer picture of justification by faith. Ellen White wrote, “When the doctrine of justification by faith was presented . . . it came to many as water comes to the thirsty traveler.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 360.
In my younger days, I often hiked in the desert. I well remember once when I was completely out of water and desperate. Then I suddenly discovered a very small stream trickling into the sand. It was coming from a far-off mountain, but was just enough to quench my thirst. How thankful I was to God for finding the water. When we discover the marvelous truth of justification by faith, we too will exclaim with Ellen White, “The sweetest melodies that come from God through human lips—justification by faith, and the righteousness of Christ.” Testimonies, vol. 6, 426.
Garments of Righteousness
At justification, heavenly peace floods the soul. Paul tells us, in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Oh what a glorious truth! When we are justified, we stand faultless before God. But, you ask, “How can this be?” This is because we are clothed in the beautiful garments of Christ’s righteousness.
“When the penitent sinner, contrite before God, discerns Christ’s atonement in his behalf, and accepts this atonement as his only hope in this life and the future life, his sins are pardoned. This is justification by faith. Every believing soul is to conform his will entirely to God’s will, and keep in a state of repentance and contrition, exercising faith in the atoning merits of the Redeemer and advancing from strength to strength, from glory to glory.
“Pardon and justification are one and the same thing. Through faith, the believer passes from the position of a rebel, a child of sin and Satan, to the position of a loyal subject of Christ Jesus, not because of an inherent goodness, but because Christ receives him as His child by adoption. The sinner receives the forgiveness of his sins, because these sins are borne by his Substitute and Surety. The Lord speaks to His heavenly Father, saying: ‘This is My child. I reprieve him from the condemnation of death, giving him My life insurance policy—eternal life—because I have taken his place and have suffered for his sins. He is even My beloved son.’ Thus man, pardoned, and clothed with the beautiful garments of Christ’s righteousness, stands faultless before God.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, 1070.
The more we understand about righteousness by faith, the more glorious it becomes. But remember, “Without the transforming process which can come alone through divine power, the original propensities to sin are left in the heart in all their strength, to forge new chains, to impose a slavery that can never be broken by human power. But men can never enter heaven with their old tastes, inclinations, idols, ideas, and theories.” Review and Herald, August 19, 1890.
Praise the Lord that, through justification by faith, in which we are forgiven and renewed, the image of Christ is stamped upon the mind, heart, and soul, making it possible for man to have the mind of Christ as did the apostle Paul. Only a holy person can enter heaven. Did I hear you ask, “How can a man be holy?” “As the sinner, drawn by the power of Christ approaches the uplifted cross, and prostrates himself before it, there is a new creation. A new heart is given him. He becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. Holiness finds that it has nothing more to require. God Himself, ‘is the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’ Romans 3:26.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 163. This reception of a new heart and the righteousness of Christ is what makes a man holy. Can you imagine a born-again man, of whom it is said that holiness finds that it has nothing more to require?
Could we ask for anything more? But do not forget, a man will not feel that he himself is holy, nor say he is holy, yet this is how God looks upon him because of Christ—His righteousness is accounted to him. Further, by this same process he is made fit for heaven—born again and converted, which are one and the same. “When the sinner is converted he receives the Holy Spirit, that makes him a child of God, and fits him for the society of the redeemed and the angelic host. He is made a joint heir with Christ.” Selected Messages, Book 2, 488.
“The grace of Christ purifies while it pardons, and fits men for a holy heaven.” That I May Know Him, 336. It is Christ’s indwelling righteousness that both justifies and fits men for heaven. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27. When justification is completed, sanctification has just begun. Jesus begins to live out His life within man, imparting His righteousness, making him more and still more fit for heaven as he develops a character according to the pattern, Christ Jesus.
The experience of the apostle Paul will be our daily experience. In Galatians 2:20, it says, “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.” Is all of this good news, or should I say thrilling news, exciting news?
In forgiving our past disobedience, the obedience of Christ is placed to the account of the repentant sinner, just as if it were he himself who had obeyed. “The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can obtain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner’s account. Christ’s righteousness is accepted in the place of man’s failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 367.
Did you catch the significance of that last line? Why does God love us such? Is it not that, through the Spirit, God’s Son dwells within the heart of man? Then, when God looks at man’s heart, He sees not man’s filthy rags of disobedience, but the righteousness of His own Son dwelling there within the heart. Oh, what a God! God loves us as He loved His Son. Incomprehensible! But, beloved, it is true! Oh, what a salvation!
The true Christian does not work to be saved. Such an experience fills the heart with unspeakable joy and peace. He is having a true and living relationship with his Saviour—an experience that makes it possible for him to achieve victory over every temptation and sin. What assurance that brings to man.
“If you are right with God today, you are ready if Christ should come today.” In Heavenly Places, 227. Do you like that kind of assurance? But how can I know that Jesus, with His righteousness, is living within my heart and my mind? In the Review and Herald, June 4, 1895, we are told, “Righteousness within is testified to by righteousness without.”
Now we come to the last condition, which is continual obedience. It is through obedience that we may maintain our sanctified state. But there is more. We also have learned that continual obedience is the only way we can retain our justified state as well. Ellen White wrote, “While 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.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 366.
Now for one more grand truth: Did you know that as long as we maintain our justification and our sanctification that our eternal life has already begun for us here and now? Oh friend, this is for real! 1 John 5:12 says, “He that hath the Son hath life.” “It is through the Spirit that Christ dwells in us; and the Spirit of God, received into the heart by faith, is the beginning of life eternal.” The Desire of Ages, 388. What a glorious truth! Beloved, this is exciting, good news.
This truth is further confirmed by the prophet John. In 1 John 5:11–13, we read, “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; [and] he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
No wonder Paul exclaimed, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” No wonder Ellen White proclaims, “Preach it, pray it, sing it.”
For over 60 years Pastor Lawrence Nelson served as an evangelist and minister for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Of that time, he served 13 years as the director of evangelism for youth at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Upon retirement from the General Conference, he continued to pastor, but when, as a result of his stand for truth, he was denied the opportunity to continue his pastorate, he started Keep the Faith Audio Tape Ministry, recording his sermons and making them available to individuals. Before his retirement from this ministry in 2004, over 18,000 audio tapes were being sent around the world each month.