How to Obtain Righteousness by Faith
By Elder Lawrence Nelson
In a book by Margaret Davis, I discovered a very heart-rending experience. The author tells how she and her husband returned home after spending twenty years in the mission field to find that both of her parents were in poor health. Her father had a most serious health condition that could bring death at any time. As he lay on his bed, knowing that he could die at any moment, he was deeply concerned because he had never experienced victory in controlling his temper.
This dear father knew that he must gain victory over this sin in order to be ready to meet Jesus. Since his daughter, Margaret, had been a missionary, leading many to Christ and helping them to gain the victory over their sins, he cried, “Margaret, please help me before I die. I’m seventy-eight years old, and I have this fatal heart condition and could die at any moment. Please help me to obtain righteousness by faith so I can be ready to meet Jesus.”
Margaret’s father needed to know how to obtain victory, and he had a right to know. During his life he had accepted the teaching that all he had to do was to believe in Jesus, do his best, and Jesus would have to make up the difference. He had tried to overcome his evil temper but was frustrated because he always yielded to his temper rather than yield to Christ for victory. Now that he was about to die, his life of guilt rose up before him in a crushing defeat. He wept upon his bed.
Like the apostle Paul, he too experienced the problem as recorded in Romans 7:19 and 24: “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” “O wretched man that I am!” Dearly beloved, is this story of Margaret’s father the story of your life? O, I know it may not be the problem of a temper but of some other evil, but is there some sin in your life that you have not overcome and gained the victory?
Before we search for God’s solution let us pray. Loving Father, in Thy holy word we read in 2 Peter 3:9 that “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise…not willing that any should perish.” Father, we pray that Thou wilt send us Thy Holy Spirit to teach us how we may obtain the victory over every sin through the righteousness of Christ. This we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.
In the book of Luke we discover a word-by-word discourse uttered by two young men. One was a rich young ruler, the other an expert lawyer. Both of these men were members of the Jewish religion in the days of Christ. Both were acquainted with the doctrines of their faith. Both considered themselves in full obedience to the Ten Commandments. Therefore, both expected that their salvation was assured, yet down deep in their heart they felt that something was missing. They knew that they were not ready for the coming kingdom so it is not strange that they both asked precisely the same question. In Luke 18:18 and in Luke 10:25 – 28 the ruler and the lawyer asked, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Apparently both of these young men were under deep conviction of the Holy Spirit. Outwardly they were living a godly life, but inwardly they knew that something was wrong.
Now, for a moment let’s leave these two young men in our thoughts and focus our minds on our Christian experience. We are members of God’s church. We know the correct Bible doctrine, and most of us are outwardly living the Christian life, but are we positive that we are ready for Christ’s Second Coming? Let me suggest that both you and I permit the Holy Spirit to freely examine our hearts as we consider the following from inspiration. In Christ’s Object Lessons p. 315 we read, “Many (now that’s a large group, isn’t it?) who call themselves Christians are mere human moralists. …The work of the Holy Spirit is to them a strange work.” Could it be that we are unwittingly trusting in our own obedience. Could it be that we are classed as those who are trying to work our own way to heaven?
In The Mount of Blessings p. 7 we are told, “He who feels whole, and who thinks that he is reasonably good, and is contented with his condition, does not seek to become a partaker of the grace and righteousness of Christ.” Now that’s an eye-opener, isn’t it? What a statement! So I question: “Have we gone through the last couple of months feeling we are right with God?” Have we said to ourselves: “I’m in the right church. I pay my tithe, I give of my offerings, I think I’m doing pretty good.” Have such thoughts been in our mind? Let me put it bluntly: Are we satisfied with our spiritual condition? Could it be that we are not a partaker of Christ’s righteousness?
Inspiration tells us in Testimonies for the Church, Volume 4, p. 394, “The people are more ignorant in regard to the plan of salvation and need more instruction upon this all-important subject than upon any other.” But instead of pastors feeding the flock in such spiritual preparation they are being forced by the conference to spend precious time in weight control, stress control, marriage seminars and a lot of other agenda items that have nothing to do with the preparation so necessary to meet Jesus.
Both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy have something to say about this alarming need. In Romans 10:2, 3 we read, “For I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, and have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
In Ministry of Healing p. 143 we are told, “Everywhere there are hearts crying out for something which they do not have. They long for a power that will give them mastery over sin, a power that will deliver them from the bondage of evil.” So this is why I ask the question, “Could it be that we, too, have been a product of this new theology that is invading God’s church, which teaches that we have been born in sin, and that we can never expect to overcome sin until Jesus comes; that it is at that time He makes us so that we cannot sin? All that we need is to do our best and believe that God will save us in our sins?”
But beloved, the Bible has an answer to this false conception. The Word of God positively states in Matthew 1:21, God “shall save his people from their sins.” This is a life and death issue facing every individual who expects to see the coming of Christ. This is not a time to rest on supposed hope. In Testimonies for the Church, Volume 1, p. 163 I read, “A supposed hope, and nothing more, will prove your ruin … since you are to stand or fall by the word of God.”
Now this counsel brings us back to the rich young ruler. What did he say? – “Good Master, what good things should I do that I might have eternal life?” And Jesus said unto him, If you will enter into life, keep the commandments. He said, Which? Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, honor thy father and thy mother, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man said unto Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth up. What lack I yet?”
Jesus said unto him: “If you will be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor and you shall have treasures in heaven: and come and follow Me.” Was this young man sincere? – Of course he was, but Jesus knew his heart. There was one thing lacking. Only one, but this one thing was of major importance. He needed to love God.
Sometimes we think that Christ was asking this young ruler to sell everything that he owned and we have missed the point. If he had done this he would have been a beggar. What the Master implied was that which He has always required of any individual who desires eternal life – “Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy might.” Deuteronomy 6:5. The fact remains, this young ruler did not love the Lord with all of his heart. Likewise this points the same question about ourselves.
In the book Sons and Daughters of God p. 49 Ellen White writes, “Many are deceiving themselves for the principle of love does not dwell in their heart.” Now could this involve you and me? Do we attempt to keep the law of God just to prove to ourselves that we are obedient and entitled to heaven? Let me illustrate. When we discipline our children do we become impatient and irritable and blame them for our lack of love? As husbands and wives do we resent our spouse and insist that our way is better than their way?
Now I think I hear someone say, “Brother Nelson, don’t you know that we are only human?” Are you ready for my answer? – How can we have God’s love in our heart and still be human? If we are only human we are not Christians. A true Christian is more than human, for a Christian has become a partaker of the divine nature and is no longer just “human.” In Christ Object Lessons p. 158 I read of a Christian, “They have Christ in them. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s love is controlling them. We may be active, we may do much work, but without love, such love as dwells in the heart of Christ, we can never be numbered with the family of heaven.” You see, this was the problem with the rich young ruler. The same can be said of the lawyer, as we read in Luke 10:25 – 28: “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”
The righteousness of Christ must abide in our hearts for this is absolutely essential to victorious living. Jesus said in John 3:3, “Verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is the problem with many within our church today for they have never experienced the New Birth. They try to live the “Christ life” in their own natural nature.
Now, do I hear someone say: Elder Nelson, you are using some pretty strong language. Beloved, I am simply stating what God’s servant says. Let me read it to you. It is found in Bible Commentary, Volume 6, p. 1075. “The new birth is a rare experience. …[It] is the reason why there are so many perplexities in the church. Many, so many, who assume the name of Christ are unsanctified and unholy. They have been baptized, but they were buried alive. Self did not die, and therefore they did not rise to newness of life in Christ.”
“Elder Nelson, are you trying to tell us that if we are not gaining victories over our evil habits through the divine power of God, that we have not partaken of the divine nature?” – Exactly. Let’s read further on p. 1101, “The old nature, born of blood and the will of the flesh, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The old ways, the hereditary tendencies, the former habits, must be given up and for grace is not inherited. The new birth consists in having new motives, new tastes, new tendencies. Those who are begotten into the new life by the Holy Spirit, have become partakers of the divine nature, and in all their habits and practices they will give evidence of their relationship with Christ.” The Bible agrees. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
So you see, this is now God, through Christ, who reconciles us to Himself. True conversion is a radical change. You and I may be living outwardly a godly life, but as with the ruler and the lawyer this will not count. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus said, “I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
God has not left us in doubt as to how His righteousness by faith can be obtained. In Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings p. 54, 55 we read, “While the law is holy, the Jews could not attain righteousness through their own efforts to keep the law. The disciples of Christ must obtain righteousness of a different character from that of the Pharisees, if they would enter the kingdom of heaven. God offered to them, in His Son, the perfect righteousness of the law. If they would open their hearts fully to receive Christ, then the very life of God, His love, would dwell in them, transforming them into His own likeness; and thus through God’s free grace they would possess the righteousness which the law requires…- a reproduction in themselves of the character of Christ.” Isn’t that beautiful! Nothing could be more plainly stated.
We read in Philippians 3:9, “Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” How is this righteousness of faith obtained? – In Messages to Young People p. 55 it says, “The Lord Jesus acts through the Holy Spirit; for it is His representative. Through it He infuses spiritual life into the soul, quickening its energies for good, cleansing it from all moral defilement, and giving it a fitness for heaven.” Praise the Lord. What more could we ask?
The most earnest prayer that Seventh-day Adventists should be praying these days is, “God, fill me with the Holy Spirit.” Such an experience comes to us only through the Holy Spirit. It is likened to the oil in our vessels. Remember those ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom? God says that five were foolish and five were wise. The foolish took no oil in their lamps. In Christ Object Lessons p. 406 – 408 we read, “The two classes of watchers represent the two classes who profess to be waiting for their Lord. They are called virgins because they profess a pure faith. By lamps is represented the word of God … oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit…. For a time there was seen no apparent difference between them [members within the church]. All have a knowledge of the Scriptures. All have heard the message of Christ’s approach, and confidently expect His appearing. [But] many are unready. They have no oil in their vessels with their lamps. They are destitute of the Holy Spirit. These virgins without their oil were not hypocrites; they advocated the truth, they supported the truth, but they had not yielded to the Holy Spirit. They had not fallen upon the Rock Christ Jesus and they had never permitted their old nature to be broken up. These five foolish virgins did not have on the wedding garment. They were content with a superficial work and of them it can be honestly said, ‘They do not know God.’” These foolish virgins were content with only forgiveness. They were not reaching out for victory.
We are plainly told in Christ Object Lessons p. 419, 420, “The religion of Christ means more than the forgiveness of sins; it means taking away our sins and filling the vacuum with the graces of the Holy Spirit.” Righteousness by faith is not a religion of just trying to do our best, it is more than having a relationship with Jesus; it is an overcoming experience. It is victory over sin. Believe me, the Lord is just waiting to give victory to His people today. In Christ Object Lessons p. 419 it says, “All heaven is waiting for channels through which can be poured the holy oil to be a joy and blessings to human hearts.” If we are willing all would be filled with the Holy Spirit.
The marriage of the Lamb is going to take place. I read in Revelation 19:7, 8, “Rejoice…for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” Let me tell you, a perfect character can be ours. In Christ Object Lessons p. 310 it reads, “It is the righteousness of Christ, His own unblemished character, that through faith is imparted to all who receive Him as their personal Saviour.” Amen.
“But pastor, please explain how this robe is actually put on.” Again I read in Christ Object Lessons p. 311, “This robe, woven in the loom of heaven, has in it not one thread of human devising. Christ in His humanity wrought out a perfect character, and this character He offers to impart to us. (Now notice how it becomes a part of us…) ‘All our righteousness are as filthy rags,’ Isaiah 64:6. Everything that we of ourselves can do is defiled by sin. But the Son of God ‘was manifested to take away our sins.’ 1 John 3:5…By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God’s commandments.”
Now the question: “How is this righteousness obtained?” – I continue to read, “When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garments of His righteousness.” Oh beloved, this is talking victory.
I read in Desire of Ages p. 555, “The righteousness of Christ is not a cloak to cover unconfessed and unforsaken sin; It is a principle of life that transforms the character and controls the conduct…. It is the entire surrender of the heart and life to the indwelling of the principles of heaven.” So friend, I believe in moral perfection and it is obtainable before Jesus comes. In Christ Object Lessons p. 330 are these words, “Moral perfection is required of all. Never should we lower the standard of righteousness in order to accommodate inherited or cultivated tendencies of wrong doing. We need to understand that imperfection of character is a sin. All righteous attributes of character dwell in God as a perfect, harmonious whole, and every one who receives Christ as a personal Saviour is privileged to possess these attributes.”
This is the time when we should do the washing and ironing. In the book In Heavenly Places p. 356 are these beautiful words, “If it were possible for us to be admitted into heaven as we are, how many of us would be able to look into the face of God? How many of us have on the wedding garment? How many of us are without spot or wrinkle or any such thing? This is the washing and the ironing time; the time when we are to cleanse our robes or character in the blood of the Lamb.”
Like the rich young ruler, and the lawyer, we need a Savior. Believe me, I am not trying to discourage anyone, I’m trying to awaken all of God’s dear people out of their satanic deep sleep. We are facing a life and death issue and there is no question about it. I read in Testimonies for the Church, Volume 2, p. 453, “God will accept nothing but purity and holiness. What we need is this robe of Christ’s righteousness that gives the sinner admittance to heaven.” If we would gain the victory we must cooperate with Christ. We must respond. In Messages to Young People p. 147 we read, “To make God’s grace our own, we must act our part. The Lord does not propose to perform for us either the willing or the doing. His grace is given to work in us to will and to do, but never as a substitute for our efforts.”
Our souls are to be aroused to cooperate. The Holy Spirit works in us that we may work out our own salvation. The secret of righteousness by faith, which Margaret’s father obtained a year before he died, can work for you. How did he do it? – It is as simple as it can be. I’ve tried it myself and discovered it is a divine plan that will give victory over any sin.
Here is how it works: When you awaken in the morning, before you roll out of bed, pause to have a little talk with Jesus. Ask Him, “Lord, please fill my heart so full of Thy Holy Spirit today that when the devil comes to tempt me, the Holy Spirit will at once alert me that I’m being tempted so that I can immediately cry, ‘God, help me.’” Suddenly you will feel divine power flooding your soul and the devil will flee from you.
So beloved, it is actually this simple. This is what righteousness by faith is all about. This is how Margaret Davis’ father gained the victory over his temper. He found God’s power was sufficient, and you too can have such victory in your life.
Let me close with inspiration’s promise found in Review and Herald, September 27, 1906. I quote, “To everyone who surrenders fully is given the privilege of living without sin in obedience to the law of heaven.” Praise God. All it takes is to permit this godly plan of righteousness by faith to be experienced in our daily life.
Let us pray. Loving Father, how we praise Thy name for giving us this simple, divine plan of righteousness by faith so we may gain the victory over every sin and live without sinning. For we ask this in the name of Thy dear son, Jesus. Amen.