Darren L. Slider
Righteousness by Faith
Righteousness by Faith
“Righteousness by faith” is like a plant that grows in the “soil” of the many doctrines, issues, truths, restoration concept, etc., of the Bible. It relates to God, His righteousness, how man is reunited to God, the work of Christ on earth and in heaven for the sinner, the issues in the great controversy, and God’s healing and restoration to His image. DISCUSS THIS “SOIL” FOUNDATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH.
God is love, law, justice, mercy, goodness, grace, and every good quality, inasmuch as He exemplifies these character traits. Sometime after the creation of the angels, Lucifer (a.k.a. Satan), for no explainable reason whatsoever (GC), chose to rebel against such a God (Isaiah 14:12-14). He put forth the claim that God was unfair in requiring angels to keep His law, that angels should be quite capable of governing themselves. Many of the angels were at first astounded, not being aware of having kept any law in doing God’s will (EGW). After having persuaded a third (Revelation 12:4) of the angels to join his rebellion, and after persisting in rebellion despite having been thoroughly convinced by God that his accusations were groundless (PP), Satan was cast out of heaven to the earth (Revelation 12:9).
Following the creation of man, Satan proceeded to tempt man to sin against God (Genesis 3), bringing the battlefield of the great controversy to earth. God countered by promising mankind a Savior from sin and enmity against the power of Satan and sin (Genesis 3:15). As an illustration of what Christ would do for man when He came to earth, God gave man the sacrifical system.
Later in Old Testament times, the sacrificial system became incorporated into the very fabric of the life and laws of the nation of Israel (see Leviticus). The Israelites were the descendants of Abraham, to whom God promised a great nation of descendants, which would inherit the land of Canaan, and through which God intended to bless the rest of the nations (Genesis 12:2,3).
Having maintained ever since Adam sinned that God’s law could not be kept, Satan set out to corrupt Israel. Repeatedly, for a thousand years, Satan led Israel to imitate the idolatrous systems of the heathen nations around it, instead of leading the heathen to God. These systems were a perversion of true sacrificial worship and made the character of God appear unfair, arbitrary, and capricious, as well as unloving and merciless. Finally, God allowed Israel to be taken captive by Assyria and Babylonia.
Upon returning from captivity, the Israelites no longer fell into heathen worship. Satan, however, led them to the opposite extreme: they isolated themselves from all contact with the heathen and looked down upon the heathen as hopelessly lost and unworthy of God’s favor. Furthermore, obeying God’s laws became the means for Israel to earn God’s blessings and salvation (righteousness by works) instead of the outgrowth of a relationship with God (the moral laws) or an illustration of the spotless life and sacrificial death of Christ.
When Christ came to the earth as a man, He lived a life of perfect obedience to God, depending completely on God’s power to obey rather than His own will (Matthew 26:39) or on His divinity, which He voluntarily set aside. He thus disproved Satan’s claim that the law could not be kept, and made it possible for all who will to be restored to the image of God through justification and sanctification by God’s gift of faith.
Satan, in order to maintain his claim that God’s law cannot be kept, advanced the claim that Jesus, in obeying God’s law, had some extra resource (the nature of Adam before the fall, etc.) that no other human being can have. He also distorted such Scriptural passages as Romans 10:4, Colossians 2:14-17, Matthew 5:17, etc., to make it appear that Christ’s death on the cross, which made forgiveness possible, abrogated God’s law.
In the time of the end, Satan’s last great deception (EGW) will be to make the law of God of none effect by replacing the Sabbath of the fourth commandment with Sunday, the day of his own choosing, and legally enforcing this change in the nations of earth. During this period (the time of trouble Matthew 24:21) just prior to the second coming of Jesus, the 144,000, God’s last remnant people (Revelation 7; 14:1-5), will disprove Satan’s claims. They will do so not only by keeping God’s Sabbath despite all opposition, but by having developed such a close personal relationship with Jesus that they obey God’s law with perfect consistency.
After the millennium, every intelligent being in the universe, including Satan and the wicked, will make an unforced and unqualified confession of God’s perfect justice and mercy in all His dealings through all time. God will then, having obtained the consent of all involved, destroy the wicked and create new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 20:9; 21; 22; GC). And sin “shall not rise up the second time” (Nahum 1:9).
God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26), with his every thought, feeling, and inclination in harmony with God’s will, and in perfect physical and mental condition as well. He gave him dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:27), subject to God. When man sinned, he lost the ability to love as God loves, and instead became selfish. His stewardship over the earth was forfeited to Satan, and he began and continued to deteriorate physically, spiritually, and mentally.
The perfect obedience and sacrificial death of Christ on earth, and His high-priestly ministry in heaven, make it possible for man to be completely restored to God’s image, physically, mentally, and spiritually. This takes place through justification and sanctification by faith, which will be discussed in detail in the next two essays.
What is justification by faith? Make the concept real, appealing, understandable, workable to yourself and your listener.
The justice of God demands the death of the sinner. Furthermore, deterioration and death take place as a natural result of sin (Romans 6:23), since sin separates the sinner from God (Isaiah 59:2), the source of life and health.
The Word of God, in Romans 3:10,23 and other passages, establishes that every human being who lives or has ever lived on this earth (with the exception of Jesus Christ) has deliberately chosen to sin against God and has thus come under the penalty of death.
Also, there is nothing whatsoever that man can do within himself to deserve or earn forgiveness for his past sins, or to live a life of attitudinal and practical obedience to God in the present and future (Isaiah 64:6). Thus, everyone stands in need of a Savior outside of himself, one who can rescue him from the penalty and the power of sin.
Jesus Christ, God the Son in human form (John 1:1-3,14), came to this earth and lived a life of perfect obedience to God, relying completely on God’s power (and not His own divinity) at all times. At the end of His life, He died the death of the sinner on the cross in man’s place. Thus displaying the lengths to which the eternal love of God would go to rescue undeserving, fallen man from sin, He made it possible for whoever so desires (John 3:16) to be credited with His death and His perfect life.
The experience through which this takes place in the life of a man or woman is referred to, in theological circles, as justification. This experience enables God to forgive man while the demands of His justice are fully satisfied (Romans 3:24-26). Man, by means of this experience, is fully forgiven for every sin he has ever committed (I John 1:9). He is covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness (Zechariah 3:1-5), so that when God looks upon man’s past record, He sees nothing but Christ’s life of perfect obedience. Thus, He declares man as righteous as Christ Himself, as righteous as if He had never sinned. He proceeds to accept man into His family as an adopted child (John 1:12; Romans 8:15-17), as an heir to the reward of the righteous: the new earth and the fellowship of God for eternity (Revelation 21:1-5).
To attain to this experience, man needs first to “believe that Christ’s promises are true.” He must then come to Christ as he is (SC), sinful and defiled. He must not wait until he can make himself good enough, because he cannot without Christ, nor until he can produce faith or repentance, as these are gifts of God (Romans 2:4; 12:3) and are not possible for man to produce of his own accord.
Upon coming to Christ, man must ask for and receive these gifts of faith, repentance, and confession, declaring himself on the Lord’s side and renouncing the sins he has committed. As he does this, God forgives, acquits, and adopts him, as described above.
This experience must be repeated throughout the experience of man. Man will need God’s forgiveness as long as he continues to sin; even when he grows so close to Christ that he ceases to sin, he will not be aware of it, seeing only his own inherent sinfulness in contrast to Christ’s perfect righteousness (EGW). The experience of justification establishes a relationship of love, obedience, and blessing between God and man.
What is sanctification by faith? How does it relate to justification? Define it. Explain it. Show how one may grow successfully for a “lifetime.” Where do you see our typical understanding as having weaknesses, if it does? Can one be truly obedient? If so, how?
When man experiences justification, he is set completely free of the penalty of sin and put in right relationship with God. Man, however, is still habitually bound to sin against God and destroy the relationship (Isaiah 59:2), unless he seeks, and God provides, the power to overcome sinful thoughts and practices, which power man cannot himself produce (Isaiah 64:6). Furthermore, man cannot be truly happy in this life, nor be fit for and enjoy the fellowship of God in a perfect world, unless he learns to hate sin and to love to do God’s will.
Even as justification establishes a relationship between God and man, so sanctification by God’s gift of faith in Christ facilitates the growth of this relationship (II Peter 3:18). The growth of this relationship, as with all others, begins with (and thrives on) communication. One of God’s greatest means of communication with us is His Word, the Bible (Hebrews 4:12; II Timothy 3:16). In spending time every day studying the Bible, out goal is to get to know Jesus better by beholding His dealings with man in the Old Testament and His life and death on earth in the New Testament (as well as His guidance of the apostolic church and His plans for man’s future). As we behold, we learn more and more of the inexhaustible will of God, and the Holy Spirit moves upon our hearts, filling us with love for Jesus, coupled with an intense desire to be like Him in character (I John 3:1,2). Thus, day by day, we see more and more of the sinfulness of ourselves in contrast with the perfect righteousness of Jesus, and we hate our sins, which caused the suffering and death of the One we love and continue to cause Him pain, no longer desiring to commit them. In their place, the Holy Spirit gives us the desire and the power to do God’s will (Philippians 2:13).
In prayer, we communicate back to God our sense of unworthiness, of inadequacy, of needing His forgiveness and power to obey. Just as with a friend (SC), we share with Him our deepest joys, sorrows, frustrations, and our gratitude and love for Him as a Person and for what He has done for us. Our hearts are still further endeared to His, and His to ours, and we ask Him for forgiveness, for new desires and power to obey, and He imparts these to us. Furthermore, as we witness to others of what God has done and does for and in us, we not only fulfill His command to preach the good news (Matthew 28:19,20), but God also uses us to draw others to enter into the same right relationship with Him, as our obedience demonstrates the truth of our experience and our words (John 13:34,35 and others). We ourselves, as we express our love and gratitude to God, grow to love and appreciate Him even more.
Our growth in His grace, our sanctification, continues all through life. It is promised to us that we may reach the place where we love Jesus and hate sin so much that we will not choose to sin even by a thought (EGW), a state which is often referred to as “perfection of character.” When we reach this state, we will be unaware of it, for we will see only our own inherent sinfulness in contrast to Christ’s perfect righteousness (EGW), as mentioned earlier. In fact, limitless growth is possible even within perfection of character, as finite man can never attain to infinite knowledge or infinite love, which are attributes of the character of the one infinite God.
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” John 17:3.
“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” John 21:25.
Author’s Note: I wrote this paper on June 2, 1987, as my in-class final examination for a religion course entitled “Righteousness by Faith” while a sophomore at Andrews University. It is a fairly broad and succinct explication of Seventh-day Adventist soteriology.