Faith That Works

We know there is coming a great time of trouble before Jesus returns. Some of us might be in prisons, in mountain caverns, or in the woods somewhere. At that time, it will be comforting to remember the things that we have studied while there was freedom.

In an article by Elder Robinson in The Review and Herald in 1931, he wrote, “There can be no doubt in the mind of any true Seventh-day Adventist that the supreme need of God’s remnant people is true vital godliness as a preparation for the advent of Christ and for the tests that are to come upon them before that event. This need places upon the ministry the solemn responsibility of giving to the flock of God, in a clear, tangible, and definite way, such instruction as will help them to understand how to obtain the experience that will bring into their lives complete victory over sin. On the one hand we see the great success of the enemy in deceiving earnest souls by causing them to depend in a greater or lesser degree upon some works of their own, at least as a partial means of salvation.”

That paragraph records one of the great battlefields between the sixteenth century reformers and the Roman Catholic church, which, in fact, has never changed its position. One day I turned the radio on in my car and listened to a Catholic program. The person speaking was actually attacking Protestantism by trying to prove that salvation came by faith and works. Martin Luther said that no, salvation does not come by faith and works. Works have no merit of any kind to gain any part of your salvation. Ellen White said that if you said to the angels that our works had something to do with our salvation, they would consider it treason against the government of God.

James 2 is used by Roman Catholics in a powerful way to try to prove that salvation comes by faith and works.

Elder Robinson continued in his article, “On the other hand, is there not danger that the minister, in order to emphasize the truth that these deluded souls need, will, while presenting the riches of the grace of Christ in affording a full and complete salvation, fail to make equally clear the part every man himself must act in cooperation with God in order to receive the benefits of the atonement?

“The minister himself may understand this, and his life may be consistent. He may not in the course of his exposition of the doctrine of the righteousness by faith completely ignore the effort that is necessary to maintain a Christian experience. Yet if by dwelling disproportionately upon one side of the question, he leaves his hearers or readers to feel they may enter into a life of victory in which they are more or less passive, trusting Jesus to do everything for them without active, vigilant cooperation on their part, he has seriously failed to bring effective righteousness into their lives.”

That belief is very popular today, even among Seventh-day Adventists. People want a passive religion where Christ does everything and they do nothing, expecting to simply sit in a comfortable seat and allow Jesus to drive them to heaven.

Quoting Matthew 11:28–30 to prove their point, people have often said that it is easier to be saved than lost. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

It says, “My yoke is easy.” However, if you look at the Greek word that is used there, it does not mean easy. The word easy is actually a dynamic equivalence in translation. If you translate it literally it would read “My yoke is kind.”

Though this text is used to try to show that it is easier to be saved than be lost, it is not true. You do not have to do anything to be lost.

Ellen White says, “This is an age famous for surface work, for easy methods, for boasted holiness aside from the standard of character that God has erected. All short routes, all cutoff tracks, all teaching which fails to exalt the law of God as the standard of religious character, is spurious. Perfection of character is a lifelong work, unattainable by those who are not willing to strive for it in God’s appointed way, by slow and toilsome steps. We cannot afford to make any mistake in this matter, but we want day by day to be growing up into Christ, our living Head.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 500. [Emphasis in original.]

When you are a young person growing up in a Christian home, it is very easy to assume that if you work at it you will attain perfection of character. However, attaining perfection of character takes a lifetime of slow, toilsome steps. She says, “We cannot afford to make any mistake in this matter, but we want day by day to be growing up into Christ, our living Head.” Ibid.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:14, 15).

Christ is our living head. Concerning Him, Ephesians 1:22 says that “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church.”

At the Minneapolis General Conference in 1888, the subject of righteousness by faith was presented. This message was preached by Jones and Waggoner all over the country, but it was rejected by many Adventist leaders. However, in 1893 Ellen White sent to Elder A. T. Jones a caution concerning his preaching. She said, “I was attending a meeting, and a large congregation were present. In my dream you were presenting the subject of faith and the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith. You repeated several times that works amounted to nothing, that there were no conditions. The matter was presented in that light that I knew minds would be confused, and would not receive the correct impression in reference to faith and works.” Notebook Leaflets, vol. 1, chapter 21.

It was the way in which the message was presented that was in error, in a way that minds would be confused, and not the message itself. The result was that the relationship between faith and works would not be understood correctly.

Elder Robinson in this article went on to write, “Surely such a caution should be passed on so that our ministry today may have the benefit of it. In order to make apparent this danger [of not understanding the balance between faith and works] there follow a few of these quoted statements of Mrs. White, pointing out the worthlessness of man’s efforts as being in themselves meritorious as a means of salvation.”

Our works have absolutely no merit in gaining salvation; we are saved on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ. If you believe that you are saved by both faith and works, Ellen White says the devil knows that he will overcome you.

Elder Robinson writes, “Following each of these quotations in shorter lines are other statements taken from the same article which cannot be ignored if a balanced presentation is to be assured. These statements are designated by the letters A and B, A presenting one side of the question, B the other side of the question. For the sake of brevity, a few typical instances are given, and these are limited to The Review and Herald articles, immediately following the Minneapolis conference.”

“There are many who seem to feel that they have a great work to do themselves before they can come to Christ for His salvation. They seem to think that Jesus will come in at the very last of their struggle and give them help by putting the finishing touch to their life-work. It seems difficult for them to understand that Christ is a complete Saviour, and able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. (See Hebrews 7:25.) They lose sight of the fact that Christ Himself is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6).” The Review and Herald, March 5, 1889.

The truth is that you need Christ’s help at the beginning of your Christian journey and all along the way. Ellen White says that we cannot keep ourselves from sin for one moment without Jesus (see The Ministry of Healing, 180).

It is in our weakness that Jesus can keep us from falling. When Peter walked on water to reach Jesus provides an illustration of living the Christian life. The impossible becomes possible when we fix our eyes on Jesus, and He is ever willing to help all who call on Him. He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, last part). We must not feel that we have to do something first and then Jesus will help us from then on.

In this same article Ellen White says, “Sabbath afternoon I had freedom in presenting to the people the necessity of obeying the law of God. It is not enough to say that we believe. We must have that genuine faith which works by love, and purifies the soul. God has given us a perfect standard of righteousness in His law.” …

“When the Spirit of God begins to work upon the hearts of men, the fruit is seen in confession of sin, and restitution for wrongs. All through the meetings, as the people sought to draw nearer to God, they brought forth works meet for repentance by confessing one to another.” The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, Chapter 30.

Here Ellen White talks about fruits meet or appropriate for repentance, referring to the statement made by John the Baptist to the Jewish leaders found in Matthew 3:8. She also talks about the faith that works by love. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). We are not saved by faith and works. However, we are saved by faith that works. Works are the result of faith and not the cause of any merit of our salvation.

“We thank the Lord with all the heart that we have precious light to present before the people, and we rejoice that we have a message for this time which is present truth. The tidings that Christ is our righteousness has brought relief to many, many souls, and God says to His people, ‘Go forward.’ The message to the Laodicean church is applicable to our condition.” …

“We thank God that there are souls who realize that they are in need of something which they do not possess—gold of faith and love, white raiment of Christ’s righteousness, eye-salve of spiritual discernment.” The Review and Herald, July 23, 1889.

Christ is our righteousness. Paul says, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). We see from this that Jesus is to us “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

In this same article is the following statement: “When the Lord gives us a work to do, if we do it in His fear, it will be wholly acceptable to God. Not one jot or tittle of His promises will fail to those who act their part with fidelity, who live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. We are to believe and obey the commandments of God.” The Review and Herald, July 23, 1889.

Not only are we to believe but we are to obey. To be perfect means to have the love of God within. Those who truly love God will want to obey His word.

“All who profess to believe the Lord is soon coming, should reveal their faith by corresponding works. … diligent zeal must be manifested to set the truth before the people by personal work. But the most enthusiastic zeal will accomplish nothing without the co-operation of God. Divine power must combine with human effort.” Ibid., August 13, 1889.

“The doctrine of justification by faith has been lost sight of by many who have professed to believe the third angel’s message.” Ibid.

“Divine power must be combined with human effort.” Ibid., September 8, 1896.

“If Satan can succeed in leading man to place value upon his own works as works of merit and righteousness, he knows that he can overcome him by his temptations, and make him his victim and prey. Lift up Jesus before the people. Strike the door-posts with the blood of Calvary’s Lamb, and you are safe.” Ibid., September 3, 1889.

Well does the devil know that by believing human works have some merit makes you an easy prey. Salvation is completely of grace. The struggle we do have is to learn to live by faith.

“There is indeed a narrow way in which we must walk; the cross is presented at every step. We must learn to live by faith; then the darkest hours will be brightened by the blessed beams of the Sun of Righteousness. …

“Earthly blessings cannot be obtained without toil, and can we expect that spiritual and heavenly blessings will come without earnest effort on our part? …

“Those who believe that God for Christ’s sake has forgiven their sins, should not, through temptation, fail to press on to fight the good fight of faith. Their faith should grow stronger until their Christian life, as well as their words, shall declare, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth me from all sin’ (1 John 1:7, last part).” Ibid.

We are told, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).

How would you explain the fight of faith? I have discovered that within Seventh-day Adventist circles there are many differences of opinion on this subject.

In 1890 Ellen White wrote an article in The Review and Herald in which she has some interesting statements about the law and the gospel. She says, “Do not stand as many of you have done, apparently wavering between dependence upon the righteousness of Christ, and dependence upon your own righteousness. Deception has come upon some minds until they have thought that their own merits were of considerable value. Their minds are confused and perplexed where all is clear and plain. The end is near! We have no time to halt between two opinions.” Ibid., May 27, 1890.

Now is not the time to remain confused. Our dependence is not on anything that we can do. Our dependence is on Christ alone.

Paul presents this same dichotomy in writing to the Philippian church. He says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13). [Emphasis supplied.] Here Paul makes it clear that although it sounds like you are working it out, actually, it is God working in you.

In an article recorded in Testimonies, vol. 4, 383, Ellen White was shown a panoramic view of the judgment of the entire world, but more specifically, concerning those who profess to be Seventh-day Adventists.

As she looked, she was particularly concerned about certain people. She said, “They had presumed too much upon the mercy of God.” Ibid., 385. They had not cooperated with the Holy Spirit to develop a perfect character. It is something I believe we should study often so that we don’t become lackadaisical and settle down accepting a passive, easy religion that is so common today. The Bible predicted this to be a problem in the last days. In 2 Timothy 3:5, it says the people will have a “form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.” Those described here are professed Christians.

Are you aware of the fact that as we approach the end of the world’s history there is going to be a revival such as the world has never seen? It is going to look as if the whole world has been converted. Inspiration tells us that they are going to come to the Seventh-day Adventists and say that the whole world has been converted. If you would just cooperate, the millennium could begin. But because there are a few people who refuse to deny their faith and cooperate with the masses, a decision will be made to introduce a death decree and get rid of the non-conformists.

“We must unite with Christ. There is a reservoir of power at our command, and we are not to remain in the dark, cold, sunless cave of unbelief; or we shall not catch the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness.” The Review and Herald, January 24, 1893.

“Satan is now working with all his insinuating, deceiving power, to lead men away from the work of the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with mighty power. When the enemy sees that the Lord is blessing His people, and preparing them to discern his delusions, he will work with his masterly power to bring in fanaticism on one hand and cold formalism on the other, that he may gather in a harvest of souls. Now is the time to watch unceasingly. Watch for the first step of advance that Satan may make among us.” Ibid. Whenever there is a revival and reformation movement, the devil tries to destroy it by bringing in fanaticism on one hand and cold formalism on the other.

“Some will not make a right use of the doctrine of justification by faith. They will present it in a one-sided manner, making everything of faith, and belittling works. Others will seize the points that have a leaning toward error, and will ignore works altogether. Now, genuine faith always works by love; it supplies a motive power. Faith is not an opiate, but a stimulant. Looking to Calvary will not quiet your soul into nonperformance of duty, but will create faith that will work, purifying the soul from all selfishness. In laying hold of Christ by faith, we but just begin our work. Every man has corrupt and sinful habits that must be overcome through vigorous warfare. Every soul must fight the fight of faith. He who is a follower of Christ, cannot deal deceitfully; he cannot be hard-hearted and devoid of sympathy. He cannot be coarse in speech. He cannot be a surmiser of evil, an accuser of the brethren. He cannot be full of pomposity and self-esteem. He cannot be overbearing, using harsh words, and censuring and condemning those around him. …

“To be a Christian requires more than a profession of faith. There must be an earnest effort to conquer through the grace freely given of God.” Ibid.

Today, our prayer should be: “Then the language of the soul will be, Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee. Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristlike self. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 159.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.