The truth of justification by faith is a grand, basic truth of salvation which has suffered from much misunderstanding and misrepresentation, especially since the Minneapolis Conference in 1888. Satan hates this truth and has continually tried to contaminate it. Surprisingly, five years after the Minneapolis conference we find A.T. Jones, whom the Lord wonderfully used in 1888, beginning to bring in a confused presentation of this message. Ellen White wrote to him, warning him not to make such strong assertions which misrepresented the truth of justification by faith. Her letter recorded in 1 Selected Messages p.377 begins as follows:
“I was attending a meeting, and a large congregation were present. In my dream you were presenting the subject of faith and the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith. You repeated several times that works amounted to nothing, that there were no conditions. The matter was presented in that light that I knew minds would be confused, and would not receive the correct impression in reference to faith and works, and I decided to write to you. You state this matter too strongly. There are conditions to our receiving justification and sanctification, and the righteousness of Christ."
This subject has suffered from extremes on either side. We find this warning in 2 Selected Messages p. 20.
“There are dangers to be guarded against on the right hand and on the left. 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."
Human reasoning has difficulty in understanding the relationship between faith and works of obedience. Some will believe that by diligent commandment keeping, they can gain acceptance before God. And some will err on the opposite side. If A.T. Jones was not beyond erring in this matter, then all of us need to examine this subject thoroughly until we understand the true Biblical teaching on it.
A common definition of justification is “to make and declare one righteous.” A good, Inspired example is found in 1 Selected Messages p. 394 which defines justification as“ Having made us righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ, God pronounces us just, and treats us as just. He looks upon us as His dear children.“ This reveals the marvelous gift of God’s grace and love. Instead of standing before God clothed in the filthy garments produced by our own righteousness, we stand before Him covered with imputed righteousness, so that we appear as though we had not sinned. This is a blessed truth that Satan has tried to subvert and misrepresent, knowing that his errors on this subject will lead to a false experience and the loss of souls. Therefore it is important that we understand the difference between truth and error on this point.
We can learn from the mistake which A.T. Jones made. It seems that in his eagerness to counteract the legalism that had affected many believers at that time, he succumbed to the opposite error when he stated that “works amounted to nothing, that there were no conditions.” He didn’t realize that such statements lead to a presumptuous faith which
“only encourages the sinner to believe that God will receive him while he continues in that which he knows to be sin. This is what some are doing who profess to believe present truth" (5 Testimonies p. 540).
There are numerous statements which clearly spell out the conditions to justification and acceptance before God. We have such Scriptures as Proverbs 28:13 and Isaiah 55:6-7. We have Spirit of Prophecy statements which tell us,
“The conditions of acceptance are, that we come out from the world and be separate, that we put away secret sins, and that we cease to transgress knowingly any of God's requirements" (RH March 16, 1886). “Christ imputes His perfection and righteousness to the believing sinner when he does not continue in sin, but turns from transgression to obedience of the commandments" (Faith I Live By p. 115).
The erroneous teaching on justification for which Ellen White reproved Jones, leads to other errors on this subject. One of these is the teaching that all men have been justified at the cross. That usually comes in connection with another error which teaches that all men were condemned when Adam sinned. This is a case of universal condemnation because of what Adam did and universal justification by Christ’s death on the cross. In both of these transactions, the work is done without the involvement of human will or choice. Both condemnation and justification, according to this teaching, are automatic. But our salvation is not an automatic. It’s manual. “Everything depends on the right action of the will" (Ministry of Healing p. 176). “Choose you this day whom ye will serve" (Joshua 24:15).
Even though Christ has provided full and free salvation apart from anything that we could do, yet we are not saved by that provision until we comply with the conditions. The human race has been given a second probation through the sacrifice of Christ. The world has been encircled with an atmosphere of grace. But that doesn’t mean the whole world is justified before God. Grace defers the wages of sin during probationary time so that the sinner can avail himself of the provision made for his salvation.
The erroneous teaching which ignores the conditions of salvation, has become a full-blown apostasy in our church. We have had books written which promote the same kind of errors that Tetzel was promoting with his sale of indulgences, which supposedly would take care of all sins committed for the next year. In 1975 the Pacific Press published a book by Sakae Kubo entitled ‘Acquitted.’ This book seems to follow Tetzel’s idea of forgiveness for future sins. On page 54 it states that“When he accepts Christ, he stands totally under the cover of the cross. Not only his past sins, but his present and future sins are covered as he stands under the cross.” However, the Bible knows nothing of remission for future sins. Romans 3:25 says
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God."
The doctrine of unconditional justification and salvation especially impacted the church during the Desmond Ford era in the latter half of the 20th century. He promoted the idea that we are saved alone by justification, that sanctification is an automatic result of justification, and obedience is not a prerequisite condition. When Desmond Ford was defrocked at Glacier View, some of his adherents left the church. Others stayed in the church but continued to promote Ford’s errors. Tragically, they have been successful to make these errors generally accepted, especially in our Seminary and Universities.
When Desmond Ford fell out of favor, many of his followers embraced Morris Venden as their spiritual mentor. Venden did not employ the same kind of theological jargon in presenting his message, but he also strongly taught the false gospel of salvation in your sins. Some people may claim that Venden delivered them from legalism. But there is no benefit in being pulled into the opposite ditch, going from legalism into liberalism.
What makes the Roman church so attractive to many people is that it offers them two different options.
“It is prepared for two classes of mankind, embracing nearly the whole world,—those who would be saved by their merits, and those who would be saved in their sins. Here is the secret of its power" (Great Controversy p. 572). And the same options exist in our church.
What attracted such large Venden crowds at camp meetings and multiplied his book sales was his ability to give people the assurance that they are saved in their sins. In his book entitled ’To Know God’ he makes his big point that we can have a saving relationship with Jesus while we are still knowingly sinning. On page 84 he asks the question, “Is it possible to sin and know that you are sinning, and keep doing what you are doing wrong, and still be a Christian? “ Then he goes through a circuitous route and a lot of gobbledygook before he comes out plainly with his answer on page 93. There he states, “ So it is possible for the growing Christian to discover that he has a known sin going on in his life and at the same time a continuing relationship with Jesus. . . The disciples had a relationship with God going on and a known sin going on in their lives at the same time. “ Apparently Venden never read Isaiah 59:2 which tells us that our sins separate us from God. Or this statement from Sanctified Life p. 92 which says:
“The willful commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit and separates the soul from God. Whatever may be the ecstasies of religious feeling, Jesus cannot abide in the heart that disregards the divine law."
The truth of the matter is clearly spelled out in Inspiration. Jesus said, “ Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you “ John 15:14. And 1 Selected Messages p. 366 tells us that
“. . . 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."
Not only do we need justification when we sin, but we need Christ’s merits applied to our good deeds during sanctification, to cover our filthy garments.
“Oh, that all may see that everything in obedience, in penitence, in praise and thanksgiving, must be placed upon the glowing fire of the righteousness of Christ. The fragrance of this righteousness ascends like a cloud around the mercy seat" (1 Selected Messages p.344). This is a humbling realization that should impact upon our Laodicean mentality.
We are in the great day of atonement when everyone is to humble themselves before the Lord and empty their hearts of all self-righteousness.
In ST July 21, 1890 we read:
“Not to hate ourselves in sin, is not to love Jesus. Not to see our own deformity, is not to see the beauty of Christ; for it is when the heart is fully aroused to its own state of degradation that Jesus will be appreciated. The more humble our views of self, the more exalted will be our views of Christ, and the more clearly we shall discern the sacred, spotless character of our Redeemer."
In the end, every facet of truth will combine into one sublime truth when, in the judgment, Christ “asks for his people not only pardon and justification, full and complete, but a share in his glory and a seat upon his throne “ (Great Controversy p. 484).
Then, “One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other,--Christ our righteousness. . . ." (Sons and Daughters of God p. 259).
Floyd Sayler attended Walla Walla College as a music major and completed his diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Music, University of Toronto. Along with a passion for Bible study & research, Floyd also enjoys writing for Creation Illustrated and the Adventist World magazines.