I recently was sent a 35-page manuscript entitled, “Justification by Faith—Rome Versus the Reformers.”
As I opened the manuscript, the first thing that confronted me was a 10-point quiz entitled “Are You Catholic or Protestant?” The reader is urged to record his or her answers and then check them with the answer keys given a few pages later. That is supposed to show whether the reader is Catholic or Protestant in their concepts of justification by faith..
This quiz is not a new invention. It harks back to the time when Desmond Ford and Robert Brinsmead became aligned in their theology for a number of years. Their followers were zealous to button-hole Adventists to do the quiz, and then to shock them with the realization that they were more Catholic than Protestant, judged by their answers.
The questions are so crafted that most conservative Adventists would be considered more Catholic than Protestant. However, in actuality, sometimes there is an element of truth in both the Catholic position and the Protestant position. It also needs to be noted that when the Catholic position speaks of the importance of good works, it may mean works of penance, visiting shrines and relics of dead saints, going on crusades or making donations to the church. That is why Martin Luther was so adamant that works have nothing to do with justification. It also explains why he called the book of James an epistle of straw, because James maintains that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Luther was thinking of meritorious works as taught by the Catholic church.
According to the quiz, if you believe that “By the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, we can fully satisfy the claims of the Ten Commandments ” you are Catholic. Or if you believe that “We receive right standing with God by faith which has become active by love,” you are Catholic in your theology. On the other hand, if you believe that “God first pronounces that we are good in His sight, then gives us His Spirit to make us good ” you are a Protestant in your theology.
What makes this questionnaire confusing is that it deals with half truths, or it stretches the truth so far that it actually becomes dangerous error. According to the authors of this quiz, we are justified before any preliminary work of the Holy Spirit in the life to lead us to repentance and obedience to God’s law. But the Bible tells us that “ if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). They do not recognize that there are conditions to justification and acceptance before God and that the Holy Spirit is given to enable us to fulfill those conditions.
Consequently, they have to ignore James 2:24 which tells us that “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." They would also have to ignore what Paul wrote in Romans 2:13 that “the doers of the law shall be justified." They might even have difficulty with the theology of Jesus when he told the rich young ruler that “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17).
Of course Jesus and the Bible writers did not imply that obedience to the law merits eternal life. They never presented it as a ’means’ of salvation, but rather as a condition to receiving it. The apostle John clearly spelled out the conditions when he wrote
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (Revelation 22:14).
We find the same principle clearly stated in the Spirit of Prophecy. In Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 279 we read that “So all who hope to be saved by the merits of the blood of Christ should realize that they themselves have something to do in securing their salvation. While it is Christ only that can redeem us from the penalty of transgression, we are to turn from sin to obedience."
And in RH December 22, 1885 we read,
“Those who imagine that because Christ has done all that is necessary in the way of merit, there remains nothing for them to do in the way of complying with the conditions, are deceiving their own souls."
“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. . ." (The Faith I Live By p. 115).
In all the debates over the doctrine of justification by faith, there is one point that is usually overlooked by many fundamental Adventists which gives the teachers of error an advantage. It is the reality of what Inspiration calls the corrupt human channel, or the filthy garment, which defiles even the good deeds of the saints. We may wonder why the Bible unequivocally states that “There is none righteous, no, not one" and that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" Romans 3:10, 1 John 1:8. It is due to what we read in the following from 1 Selected Messages p. 344.
“The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God's right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God."
Men like Desmond Ford, Robert Brinsmead, George Knight or Martin Weber might use this passage to prove the existence of original sin in all true believers, and that this inherited problem makes perfection of character impossible until the body is changed at Christ’s second coming. But truth lies close to the track of error.
If this problem is inherited, then to be consistent, they also have to teach that Christ did not inherit our fallen, sinful nature, as Inspiration calls it. They also would have to negate all the passages in Inspiration which state that He did indeed take our fallen heredity upon Him, leaving us an example that we can follow in His steps. So we need to identify what the corrupt channel of humanity really is and how we get it.
In Zechariah 3:1-5 it is represented as a “filthy garment. In 5 Testimonies p. 475 we read about the filthy garments being removed just before the saints are sealed. But what might these garments be? Inspiration gives us the answer. “Satan pointed to their sins which had not yet been blotted out, and which he had tempted them to commit, and then reviled them as being sinners clad with filthy garments. But Jesus changes their appearance" (21 Manuscript Release p. 384). Here we are told that the filthy garments to which Satan points are “their sins which had not yet been blotted out.”
The filthy garments, the corrupt human channel comes through personal sinning and not from our sinful ancestry. The scarring, defiling influence of past sins, even though they have been confessed and forsaken, still leave a deleterious, marring effect in the life. “The Lord may and does forgive the repenting sinner; but though forgiven, the soul is marred" (Desire of Ages, p. 302). That is why the Wise man asks the rhetorical question, “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" (Proverbs 20:9). And the answer is, “There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10).
As long as God’s people have this disability, “righteousness without a blemish can be obtained only through the imputed righteousness of Christ" (RH Sept.3, 1901). The corrupt channel mars the righteousness which is imparted so that they will need the justifying merits of Christ added to all that they do to make it acceptable to God.
This is the major problem that Christ’s ministry in the most holy place is to remedy. The corrupt human channel, the filthy garment is annihilated when the sins of God’s people are blotted out. This was prefigured in the ancient day of atonement service.
"For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD" (Leviticus 16:30).
Here is good news. By the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, God’s people will be wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ’s character. Then Christ can throw down the censer, cease His intercession and prepare to descend to earth to receive to Himself a glorious church which is without spot or wrinkle.
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.