Justification by Faith

Numerous errors are being circulated today, among God’s people, regarding justification by faith, sanctification and other salvation doctrines. As a result, many 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.” The 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 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. “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. 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. 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.

The Basis of Justification by Faith

The Scriptures introduce the basis or the foundation upon which justification by faith rests by explaining what Christ wants to do for us. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17. “For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” John 6:33.

That which Christ has provided for us and wants to do for us is the basis or foundation of justification by faith. In the Bible, both Adam and Christ represent the human race. Therefore, what occurred with Adam and Christ has to do, in a spiritual sense, with everyone born into this world. For example, when Adam, the representative of our race, was tempted 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, He likewise was tempted by the devil to sin. But He did not rebel as Adam had done; He obeyed God. And because of His victory over Satan, He was able and willing to die for our sins so that the sentence of death could be reversed to eternal life—if we accept the gift.

Thus, the result of Adam’s sin was that all 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 as 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, in Romans 5:12, 17–19 we read: “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 offense 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 offense of one judgment came upon all men in 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 the Bible, 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.

The Conditions

Now let us consider the conditions upon which justification by faith and sanctification are possible for individuals. You may be asking, are there really conditions for a man to be justified? Is not justification a free gift? In 1893, Ellen White wrote to A.T. Jones from New Zealand. Jones, of course, was one of the two men who had presented the truth of righteousness by faith in 1888. However, by 1893, he had begun to proclaim that there are no conditions for justification. The Lord showed his mistake to Ellen White in a vision. The following sentence is from the letter she wrote to him to deliver God’s message. “There are conditions to our receiving justification and sanctification, and the righteousness of Christ.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 377. Meeting 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 to those who meet the conditions.

Adam chose to believe the lie of Satan. 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 believe 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:

  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 being born again.
  5. We abide in Christ through a continual, loving relationship of trust and obedience.

Condition One – Accept and Believe

Condition one requires that we believe and personally accept Christ’s sacrifice. It is important that we realize that there is much more in 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.” Belief entails more than a mere verbal or emotional assent. To understand the real depth of what belief means, we must first understand what took place as a result of Christ’s death on the cross.

In Romans 6:23 we read, “The wages of sin is death.” Is Paul here speaking about the first or the second death? God’s word gives us the answer in Revelation 20:6. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power.” And why does the second death have no power? Because Jesus died the second death for those who believe in Him and accept Him as their Substitute. Praise God!

Condition Two – Surrender

The process of surrender involves repentance, confession and death to self and sin. In Acts 2:38, Paul enjoined upon us the necessity of repentance. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Now notice the importance that Ellen White gives to this condition. “Repent, repent, repent, was the message rung 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.

Can we repent in our own strength? We certainly cannot. 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 men desire to pray, they will not pray in vain. The Lord will fulfill 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.

How important are these conditions? God’s prophet wrote: “Those who have not humbled their souls before God in acknowledging their guilt, have not yet fulfilled the first condition of acceptance. If we have not experienced that repentance which is not to be repented of, and have not with true humiliation of soul and brokenness 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.

Condition Three – Believe that God Forgives

We must believe that God forgives our sins and before God can forgive our sins, we must take certain steps. “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.”

“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 our Redeemer and our Pattern.” Historical Sketches, 188. After we have met these specified conditions so that we can truly believe in Christ, then we can believe that “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.

Condition Four – Experience the New Birth

Christ told Nicodemus that before a man can 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 involves gaining a new mind. However, 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.” The Review and Herald, August 19, 1890.

The renewing of the mind takes place when we come to the Lord, just as David did after he had sinned with Bathsheba. Consider his prayer in Psalms 51, 2, 7, 10. “Wash me thoroughly 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.”

Ellen White wrote this in commenting upon David’s experience: “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.’” Mount of Blessings, 114.

As Water to the Thirsty

Are you beginning to get a clearer picture of justification by faith? Ellen White wrote that when the doctrine of righteousness by faith is presented in all its purity it is “as water comes to the thirsty traveler.” In my younger days, I often hiked in the desert. I well remember once when I was completely out of water and desperate. I suddenly discovered a very small stream trickling into the sand. It was coming from a far off mountain, but still contained enough water to quench my thirst. How thankful to God I was for finding the water.

When we discover the marvelous truth of justification by faith, we, too, will exclaim with Ellen White, “The sweetest melody that comes from God through human lips—justification by faith, and the righteousness of Christ.” Testimonies, vol.6, 426.

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.” What a glorious truth, that when we are justified, we stand faultless before God because we are clothed in the beautiful garments of Christ’s righteousness.

“As 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.…[For] 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. . . . Thus man, pardoned and clothed with the beautiful garments of Christ’s righteousness, stands faultless before God.” SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, 1070.

The more we understand about righteousness by faith, the more glorious it becomes. But remember that, “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.” The Review and Herald, August 19, 1890.

But praise the Lord, through justification by faith 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. Are you asking, But how can a man be holy? In Christ’s Object Lessons, 163, we find this amazing statement: “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.”

The reception of a new heart and the righteousness of Christ is what makes a man holy. Can you imagine, of a born again man, it is said that holiness “finds that it has nothing more to require?” Ibid., 163. But do not forget, a man will not feel or say that he is holy. Yet this is the way God looks upon him, because of Christ whose righteousness is accounted to him.

“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.” The Southern Work, 12. “The grace of Christ purifies while it pardons, and fits man 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, for Jesus begins to live out His life within man, imparting His righteousness, making him fit and still more fit for heaven as he develops a character according to the pattern Christ Jesus.

The experience of the apostle Paul is to be our daily experience. He wrote in Galatians 2:20, “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.”

Christ’s Righteousness Instead of Man’s Sinfulness

What wonderful news! In forgiving our past disobedience the obedience of Christ is placed to the account of the repentant sinner. “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 attain 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 place of man’s failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, [and] treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loved His Son.” Selected Messages, vol. 1, 367.

God loves us as He loved His Son. How incomprehensible! But, beloved, it is true. Oh, what a salvation! The true Christian does not work to be saved. He works the works of Christ because he is saved. Such an experience fills the heart with unspeakable joy and peace. He is having a true and living relationship with his Savior, an experience that makes it possible for him to achieve victory over every temptation and sin.

Condition Five – Continual Obedience

It is through obedience that we maintain our sanctified state, and also, we have learned, continual obedience is the only way we can retain our justified state as well. In Selected Messages, Book 1, 366, we read: “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, loving faith that works by love and purifies the soul.”

Now for one more grand truth. Did you know that as long as we maintain our justification and our sanctification that eternal life has already begun for us here and now? “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.

This truth is further confirmed by the prophet John. “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: and that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:11–13.

No wonder Paul exclaimed in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18. “Rejoice evermore.…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.”

Lawrence Nelson retired after thirteen years as General Conference Associate Youth Director, and is now speaker of Keep the Faith Audio Tape Ministry.