Back in the time of Genesis, the first man was created with a physical and spiritual nature in full harmony with God. His appetites and passions were under the control of the Holy Spirit and he delighted to commune with God with no hindrance or barrier at all. The condition to live eternally was perfect and perpetual obedience to God’s holy law—the moral law of Ten Commandments. The principles of this law were engraved in the hearts of our first parents.
Having disobeyed God, Adam became a sinner and thus broke his relationship with his Creator. His whole being became corrupt, as he forfeited his power to obey God’s law. Thus he lost all the blessings that came from the sweet harmony he previously enjoyed with his Maker. Adam lost paradise and was condemned to eternal death. But this not only affected him and his wife—all humanity was doomed to be lost as well. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (). The entire human race became subject to sin and eternal death. “The wages of sin is death” ( ).
“The fall of man filled all heaven with sorrow. The world that God had made was blighted with the curse of sin and inhabited by beings doomed to misery and death.”1
“After their sin Adam and Eve . . . pledged themselves for the future to yield strict obedience to God. But they were told that their nature had become depraved by sin; they had lessened their strength to resist evil and had opened the way for Satan to gain more ready access to them. In their innocence, they had yielded to temptation; and now, in a state of conscious guilt, they would have less power to maintain their integrity.”2
In the beginning, humanity had been created in the image of God. Yet after sin, the procreation of the race produced offspring in their own image instead of God’s. “Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image” (). When Adam and Eve had sinned, they became sinners. Now they possessed a sinful nature and sinful tendencies. So their descendants were likewise born with the same sinful nature and sinful tendencies.
Yet in His omniscience and love, God had provided an everlasting covenant of grace by which humanity could be rescued from this lost condition. After the moral fall, the Lord implemented the plan of salvation. He came to save the human race from their miserable condition. But He wouldn’t change the necessary prerequisite for eternal life—that was still perfect and perpetual obedience to His law, even though the race in its fallen, corrupt condition was now powerless to keep that law. Human beings were now friends of Satan and were enslaved by his bewitching power.
God said that “in the day” the first man would disobey Him, he would “surely die.” Why didn’t Adam and Eve die the same day they first sinned? It was because the prophetic Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world () was there to suffer the penalty of their guilt. The same day the first couple rebelled against God by succumbing to the temptation of Satan, Christ put Himself as the One who would receive the penalty of their transgression, and become “sin” in their stead ( ).
Paul summed up the principles of the gospel with the following words: “For he [God] hath made Him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [Christ]” ().
Likewise, “in his Epistle to the Romans, Paul set forth the great principles of the gospel. . . . The great truth of justification by faith, as set forth in this epistle, has stood through all the ages as a mighty beacon to guide the repentant sinner into the way of life. This light scattered the darkness which enveloped Luther’s mind, and revealed to him the power of the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin. It has guided thousands of sin-burdened souls to the same source of pardon and peace. Every Christian has reason to thank God for that epistle to the church at Rome.”3
In Romans chapter 1, Paul exposes the depravity of the Gentiles who reject divine light and have become perverted through behavior totally contrary to God’s law. In chapter 2, he proves that the ancient Jewish nation, despite having the divine oracles and knowing the law, also had become corrupt. In chapter 3, he proved that all humanity is under divine condemnation. Then he explained the way we can become righteous before God.
First he declares that our effort to obey God’s law cannot justify us before God. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (). And then he reveals the only way we can be considered and made righteous—by faith alone in Christ, that God “might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” ( ). Since Christ in His human nature developed a perfect character and died on the cross of Calvary in our stead, it is only through His life, death, and resurrection that He can impute His perfect righteousness to those who believe in Him.
In His life of 33 years, Christ maintained a consistently righteous character. His death on the cross consummated His right to justify sinners, since He paid the price for all humanity—to be accepted by whomsoever would be willing to appreciate and cherish His free gift of grace. Then Paul gives his inspired verdict: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” ().
In chapter 4, the apostle presents the experiences of Abraham and David, revealing the power of faith. (See).
Abraham was justified before God by faith (he believed God). About David, Paul says that God “imputeth righteousness without works” and “will not impute sin.” Why? It’s because the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to the repentant sinner who believes on Him. When we believe in Christ, our sins are imputed to Christ, and His righteousness is imputed to us. Our sins are placed on Christ’s account and His perfect life is registered to replace our blemished account.
Minneapolis 1888— Justification by faith within Adventism
“The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Savior, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.”4
As we see above, Ellen G. White considered the message of justification by faith to be “a most precious message.” The main objective of this message is to exalt Christ as the only hope for the sinner. The acceptance of the righteousness of Christ by faith enables the believer to obey all the commandments of God.
To many who saw no connection between justification by faith and the third’s angel message, she declared: “Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in verity.’ ”5
She clarifies issues about the message. Here is a very simple and clear definition: “What is justification by faith? It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which it is not in his power to do for himself.”6
“When through repentance and faith we accept Christ as our Savior, the Lord pardons our sins, and remits the penalty prescribed for the transgression of the law. The sinner then stands before God as a just person; he is taken into favor with Heaven, and through the Spirit has fellowship with the Father and the Son. Then there is yet another work to be accomplished, and this is for a progressive nature. The soul is to be sanctified through the truth. And this also is accomplished through faith. For it is only by the grace of Christ, which we receive through faith, that the character can be transformed.”7
Amazingly, the wonderful message brought during the General Conference of Minneapolis actually brought about a crisis, especially among the leaders present at the session. Some of them joyfully accepted the message, experienced a reconversion. Other strongly rejected the message. Among those who rejected were the General Conference President, the Secretary, the President of the European Division and other prominent leaders. Ellen G. White lamented: “I am sorry that so many are doubtful regarding justification by faith, and that some are standing in opposition to the light that God has given on this subject. . . . Nothing but the grace of Christ is sufficient to free the transgressor from bondage. Through His grace those who are obedient to God’s commandments are made free. If sinners repent their pardon is procured through the merits of Christ.”8
By faith alone
“Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”9
“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.”10
“There is great need that Christ should be preached as the only hope and salvation. When the doctrine of justification by faith was presented at the Rome [a town in central New York state] meeting, it came to many as water comes to the thirsty traveler. The thought that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, not because of any merit on our part, but as a free gift from God, seemed a precious thought.”11
“The exceeding great and precious promises given us in the Holy Scriptures have been lost sight of to a great extent, just as the enemy of all righteousness designed that they should be. He has cast his own dark shadow between us and our God, that we may not see the true character of God. The Lord has proclaimed Himself to be ‘merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth’ (12).”
The fruit of the message
“The present message—justification by faith—is a message from God; it bears the divine credentials, for its fruit is unto holiness.”13
“Justification by faith in Christ will be made manifest in transformation of character. This is the sign to the world of the truth of the doctrines we profess. The daily evidence that we are a living church is seen in the fact that we are practicing the Word. A living testimony goes forth to the world in consistent Christian action.”14
Avoiding extreme ideas
“No one can believe with the heart unto righteousness, and obtain justification by faith, while continuing the practice of those things which the Word of God forbids, or while neglecting any known duty.”15
“There are dangers to be guarded against on the right hand and on the left. There will be inexperienced ones, newly come to the faith, who need to be strengthened, and to have a correct example before them. Some will not make a right use of the doctrine of justification by faith. They will present it in a one-sided manner.
“Others will seize the ideas that have not been correctly presented, and will go clear over the mark, ignoring works altogether.
“Now genuine faith always works by love. When you look to Calvary it is not to quiet your soul in the nonperformance of duty, not to compose yourself to sleep, but to create faith in Jesus, faith that will work, purifying the soul from the slime of selfishness. When we lay hold of Christ by faith, our work has just begun. Every man has corrupt and sinful habits that must be overcome by vigorous warfare. Every soul is required to fight the fight of faith. If one is a follower of Christ, he cannot be sharp in deal, he cannot be hardhearted, devoid of sympathy. He cannot be coarse in his speech. He cannot be full of pomposity and self-esteem. He cannot be overbearing, nor can he use harsh words, and censure and condemn.
“The labor of love springs from the work of faith. Bible religion means constant work. ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (). Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. We are to be zealous of good works, be careful to maintain good works. And the true Witness says: ‘I know thy works’ ( ).
“While it is true that our busy activities will not in themselves ensure salvation, it is also true that faith which unites us to Christ will stir the soul to activity.”16
The divine diagnosis and remedy
The message of the True Witness to the Laodiceans is urgently needed at this time. (See.) Why?
“Today a large part of those who compose our congregations are dead in trespasses and sins. They come and go like the door upon its hinges. For years, they have complacently listened to the most solemn, soul-stirring truths, but they have not put them in practice. Therefore, they are less and less sensible of the preciousness of truth. The stirring testimonies of reproof and warning do not arouse them to repentance. The sweetest melodies that come from God through human lips—justification by faith, and the righteousness of Christ—do not call forth from them a response of love and gratitude. Though the heavenly Merchantman displays before them the richest jewels of faith and love, though He invites them to buy of Him ‘gold tried in the fire,’ and ‘white raiment’ that they may be clothed, and ‘eye salve’ that they may see, they steel their hearts against Him, and fail to exchange their lukewarmness for love and zeal. While making a profession, they deny the power of godliness. If they continue in this state, God will reject them. They are unfitting themselves to be members of His family.”17
Our message to the world—the beginning of the loud cry
“And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory” ().
About the message presented in Minneapolis in 1888, E. G. White wrote:
“The time of test is just upon us, for the loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth. . . .
“If you would stand through the time of trouble, you must know Christ, and appropriate the gift of His righteousness, which He imputes to the repentant sinner.”18
“Justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ are the themes to be presented to a perishing world.”19
“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” ().