By Elder Lawrence Nelson
Christ Our Righteousness. In this message we will be discussing the subject of justification by faith. 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 that – 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, p. 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 p. 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.” 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.
Let us pray. Loving Father, the gospel of justification by faith is such a precious message. Help us in this presentation to proclaim this glorious truth so loud and so clear that all who listen will be 100% sure that this doctrine of justification by faith is clearly understood, clearly believed and experienced. And we ask this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
The scriptures introduce the basis, or the foundation, upon which justification by faith rest 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 what the basis is upon which justification is possible, but also what the conditions for receiving justification are.
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 though 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 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.”
Now 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.” Signs of the Times, January 16, 1896. So much for the basis upon which justification is built.
Now 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 Message, Book 1, p. 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.
Now we will discuss these five conditions one at a time. Let’s take Condition #1 which 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.”
To believe entails more than a mere verbal or intellectual ascent. We need to understand what took place as a result of Christ’s death on the cross. For instance we read in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Christ died to pay the wages of your sin and mine, which is death. But which death are we talking about – the first or the second death? God’s Word will give us the answer.
Revelation 20:6 says, “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! What a Savior who would die in our place. He died that we might have, not eternal death but, eternal life.
Condition #2 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 on sins.” Now 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, p. 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.” Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 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. 2 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 sins.” Isn’t that beautiful?
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 p. 37,38.
Now let’s consider Condition #3 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. Listen to the following, “Man must be emptied of self before he can be, in the fullest sense, a believer in Jesus.” Desire of Ages p. 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, p. 239.
“To believe in Jesus is to take Him as your Redeemer, as our Pattern.” This Day With God p. 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.” 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 state this in the words of Elder John Janiuk in his book The Great Controversy End Game, Book 2, p. 3 this understanding, “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 Savior, 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!
Condition #4 states that we must experience the New Birth. Christ told Nicodemus that before you can see the kingdom of God you 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. For 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 with Bathsheba. Consider his prayer in Psalm 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 comments on David’s experience. She 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.’” Mount of Blessings p. 114. When God forgives, He also cleanses the soul and creates a new heart in which Christ can dwell. Isn’t that marvelous?
How do we receive such righteousness? “We receive righteousness by receiving Him (Jesus).” Mount of Blessings p. 18. So, when we die to self, the New Birth brings Christ, with His Righteousness, into our hearts to dwell therein. In Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 46 it tells us, 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.”
I hope we are beginning to get a clearer picture of justification by faith. Ellen White wrote in Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 360, “When the doctrine of justification by faith was presented it…came to many 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. Then I suddenly discovered a very small stream trickling into the sand. It was coming from a far-off mountain but 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 for the Church, Volume 6, p. 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.” 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.
Bible Commentaries, Volume 6, p. 1070 states, “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…. 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.”
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 through 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?” Listen to this quote from Christ Object Lessons p. 163, “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. This 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?”
Could we ask for anything more? But don’t 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. Listen to this quote, “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.” Steps to Christ p. 12.
“The grace of Christ purifies while it pardons and fits men for a holy heaven.” That I May Know Him p. 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.” Isn’t 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 he were 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, and treats him as though he were righteous and loves him as He loves His Son.” Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 367.
Did you catch the significance of that last line? I repeat, “God receives, pardons, justifies the repentant, believing soul, and treats him as though he were righteous and loves him as He loves His own Son.” Why does God loves 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’s true! O 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. What assurance that brings to man.
“If you are right with God today, you are ready if Christ should come today.” Heavenly Places p. 227. Don’t 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 learned that continual obedience is the only way we can retain our justified state as well. In Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 366, it says, “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.”
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 has the Son hath life.” Desire of Ages p. 388 tells us, “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.” What a glorious truth. Beloved, this is exciting, good news.
This truth is further confirmed by the prophet, John. I’m reading from 1 John 5:11-13, “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.”
No wonder Paul exclaimed in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing 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.”
Let us pray. O Loving Father, may each of us today experience this living justification by faith because Christ lives within our hearts. For we ask it in the name of our precious Savior, Amen.