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Chapter 21. Obtaining Righteousness By Faith

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"And be found in him, 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" (Philippians 3:9).

What is righteousness?

You may have heard the phrase "That's righteous dude!" perhaps exclaimed after biting into a particularly loaded, juicy and delicious burger. As wonderful as a burger really can be, the righteous characteristics of the new creature are vastly superior.

What is righteousness? The Greek word translated to righteous means equitable in character or act. The same word is often translated to "just" or "right". More insight is gained from the following texts.

"Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:18).

"Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God" (I Cor. 15:34).

Righteousness is the opposite of sinfulness. But, what is sin?

The definition of sin

The Bible gives us a straightforward definition of sin:

"Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4).

"Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression" (Romans 4:15).

Sin means to break God's law. But, remember Jesus revealed that truly keeping God's law must be done in action AND in thought. He said that lust is as bad as adultery. The 10 commandments can easily be mistaken for a list of cold rules. But Jesus revealed that all of the commandments are summarized as love for God and love for your fellow human. Keeping the commandments properly, means that love springs from your heart and you want to treat others well, not only refraining from hurting them, but also actively seeking to help them.

"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).

Even if you managed to clean up your act outwardly, you could never truly keep the law without Christ's inward cleaning of your thoughts, desires and motives. And this inner cleansing is only possible after you choose to believe and assent to His will, which is faith. Without faith it is impossible to truly keep the commandments, and thus any action performed without faith is sin. A relationship with God must come first, and then you will love Him, want to do what is right, and be enabled to keep His commandments from the heart.

"...for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).

It can be helpful to think of sin as being separated from God. In fact, the sin of separating from God is covered in the first and greatest commandment that "thou shalt have no other God's before me" (Ex. 20:3). If anything is ever more important to you than God, you sever your connection to Him and will not be able to keep the other commandments. Separation from God is sin (part of the commandments), it results in sin (because you cannot keep the law without God) and sin causes separation from God (it cannot abide in His presence).

"It was sin that separated man from his God, and it is sin that maintains this separation" (Selected Messages Book 1 253.4).

"Now, we want to understand what sin is--that it is the transgression of God's law. This is the only definition given in the Scriptures. Therefore we see that those who claim to be led of God, and go right away from Him and His law, do not search the Scriptures. But the Lord will lead His people; for He says that His sheep will follow if they hear His voice, but a stranger will they not follow. Then it becomes us to thoroughly understand the Scriptures. And we will not have to inquire whether others have the truth, for it will be seen in their characters" (Faith and Works 56.1).

Based on the Bible verses above (1 John 3:4, Rom. 4:15, Rom. 14:23), we know that sin means to transgress God's law and that the law cannot be kept without faith. But, there is another level to this issue. What about someone who hasn't yet understood or learned about God's law and is living wholly according to what they believe, but what they believe is wrong?

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17).

"Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth" (John 9:41).

"For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26).

"Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression" (Romans 4:15).

According to the verses above, when a person knows they should do something, but they don't do it, they commit sin. The opposite would also apply. If a person doesn't know that something is wrong and they do it, then they do not commit sin (though it still causes harmful effects and must be atoned for). God leads a person step-by-step out of life-destroying habits and into loving, life-promoting habits. People don't learn everything at once, and God does not hold people accountable for what they do not know. Thus, we end up with two definitions related to sin, as follows.

SIN: Breaking the law of God, in action or in thought.

ACCOUNTABLE SIN: Intentionally breaking the law of God, in action or in thought.

The solution of righteousness

Since sin is breaking the law of God, and righteousness is the opposite of sin, we have a clear definition for righteouness.

Righteousness: The opposite of sin; the keeping of God's law from the heart.

In order to be righteous, you would have to; (A) keep the law perfectly, all the time, and (B) your past would have to be perfectly free from all sin. Of course, we know that without God's intervention this is impossible, for the Bible teaches:

"All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8).

"All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6).

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah. 17:9).

Righteousness is needed from a source outside of yourself. You cannot look inside for the solution if all you have are filthy rags (Is. 64:6). As we've been studying, God provides the source of righteousness and the solution for experiencing it in your own life.

The definitions reveal four goals that God presents to each person as part of a complete solution:
  • A) to be pardoned for breaking God's law in the past,
  • B) to become equipped to keep God's law by a source outside of yourself,
  • C) to stop intentionally breaking God's law, and
  • D) to become educated in all aspects of God's law.
The first goal of dealing with past sins has been covered in previous chapters, but is repeated below through a new term as "Imputed Righteousness". The second goal has also already been dealt with in earlier chapters, as you become equipped to keep God's law when you are converted and become a new creature. The third and fourth goals are currently being addressed as we study the "Overcoming" phase. They are further explained below in the new term "Imparted Righteousness".

Imputed righteousness

Righteousness that is imputed refers to the saving work that Christ does for us. This includes:
  • Christ's perfect life substitutes for our sinful record in the books of heaven, and we are declared innocent.
  • His substitutionary sacrifice pardons us from the penalty of breaking the law (death) and we receive the opposite of what we deserve...eternal life.

Imputed Righteousness: The transferral of innocence from Jesus to the sinner resulting in the legal release of the sinner from the penalty of the law (death).

Receiving Christ's imputed righteousness means that God looks upon you as though you had not sinned. This gift is available to anyone who will accept it.

"And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also" (Romans 4:11).

"And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousnes. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; (Romans 4:21-24).

"The filthy garments are removed; for Christ says, "I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee." The iniquity is transferred to the innocent, the pure, the holy Son of God; and man, all undeserving, stands before the Lord cleansed from all unrighteousness, and clothed with the imputed righteousness of Christ. Oh, what a change of raiment is this!" (That I May Know Him 108.5).

"The mediatorial work of Christ commenced with the commencement of human guilt and suffering and misery, as soon as man became a transgressor. The law was not abolished to save man and bring him into union with God. But Christ assumed the office of his surety and deliverer in becoming sin for man, that man might become the righteousness of God in and through Him who was one with the Father. Sinners can be justified by God only when He pardons their sins, remits the punishment they deserve, and treats them as though they were really just and had not sinned, receiving them into divine favor and treating them as if they were righteous. They are justified alone through the imputed righteousness of Christ. The Father accepts the Son, and through the atoning sacrifice of His Son accepts the sinner" (Our High Calling 52.3).

"And what is it to believe? It is to fully accept that Jesus Christ died as our sacrifice; that He became the curse for us, took our sins upon Himself, and imputed unto us His own righteousness. Therefore we claim this righteousness of Christ, we believe it, and it is our righteousness" (Faith and Works 70.2).

"Genuine faith appropriates the righteousness of Christ, and the sinner is made an overcomer with Christ; for he is made a partaker of the divine nature, and thus divinity and humanity are combined" (Faith and Works 93.3).

"When, through faith in Jesus Christ, man does according to the very best of his ability, and seeks to keep the way of the Lord by obedience to the Ten Commandments, the perfection of Christ is imputed to cover the transgression of the repentant and obedient soul" (The Faith I Live By 85.6).

"Those who with sincere will, with contrite heart, are putting forth humble efforts to live up to the requirements of God are looked upon by the Father with pitying tender love; He regards such as obedient children, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed unto them" (Mind, Character, and Personality Volume 2 787.3).

"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, is a precious thought. The enemy of God and man is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken" (The Faith I Live By 111.6).

This process of imputing is not a one-way street. Just as Christ imputes His righteousness to us, our sins were imputed to Christ. The wonderful gift is free to us, but we should solemnly understand that there was a high price that was paid.

"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

Imparted righteousness

Righteousness that is imparted refers to the saving work that Christ does in us through the Holy Spirit. This includes:
  • Christ's spiritual nature is implanted in us, in place of our sinful nature, changing our motives, purifying our desires, and we begin to want what is right, becoming free from that overpowering pull of sin.
  • His righteous character is imparted to us, replacing our selfish habits, as we whole-heartedly cooperate and obey, which changes our habits and hurtful hereditary tendencies and we grow more and more like Him, loving, temperate and truly free.

Imparted Righteousness: The transferral, by the Holy Spirit, of the perfect attributes of Jesus to the sinner resulting in a transformation of character that enables the receiver to overcome sin and live in harmony with God's law.

Receiving Christ's imparted righteousness means that you are a new creature, connected to the source of life and power, purifying your habits and restoring your character.

"Righteousness within is testified to by righteousness without. He who is righteous within is not hard-hearted and unsympathetic, but day by day he grows into the image of Christ, going on from strength to strength. He who is being sanctified by the truth will be self-controlled, and will follow in the footsteps of Christ until grace is lost in glory. The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven" (Messages to Young People 35.2).

"The parable of the wedding garment [Matt. 22:1-14] opens before us a lesson of the highest consequence. . . . By the wedding garment in the parable is represented the pure, spotless character which Christ's true followers will possess. . . . The fine linen, says the Scripture, "is the righteousness of saints." It is the righteousness of Christ, His own unblemished character, that through faith is imparted to all who receive Him as their personal Saviour" (God's Amazing Grace 24.2).

"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... 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 garment of His righteousness. Then as the Lord looks upon us He sees, not the fig-leaf garment, not the nakedness and deformity of sin, but His own robe of righteousness, which is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah" (Christ's Object Lessons 311.4).

"By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God's commandments. 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 garment of His righteousness. Then as the Lord looks upon us He sees, not the fig-leaf garment, not the nakedness and deformity of sin, but His own robe of righteousness, which is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah" (Christ's Object Lessons 311.4).

Receiving Christ's imparted character is not an instantaneous, one time event. It occurs only as you are connected to the vine (100% committed and submitted to Christ). If you disconnect (begin to doubt or live for yourself), the Bible even says that you "can do nothing."

"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).

The imparting of Christ's righteousness to you, or the transforming of your character, can only progress as you allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in you, which maintains your connection to Christ. Only then will the fullness and abundance of Christ's attributes and knowledge flow to you.

"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Imputed righteousness clears us legally from past sins where we have broken God's law, and imparted righteousness empowers us to overcome sin and keep God's law. The solution is complete!

What is Faith?

The Greek word translated to faith is "pistis", which refers to persuasion, moral conviction, assurance or belief.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).

"Faith is not feeling. . . . True faith is in no sense allied to presumption. Only he who has true faith is secure against presumption, for presumption is Satan's counterfeit of faith. Faith claims God's promises, and brings forth fruit in obedience. Presumption also claims the promises, but uses them as Satan did, to excuse transgression" (The Faith I Live By 122.4-5).

"Faith, saving faith . . . is the act of the soul by which the whole man is given over to the guardianship and control of Jesus Christ. He abides in Christ and Christ abides in the soul by faith as supreme. The believer commits his soul and body to God, and with assurance may say, Christ is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. All who will do this will be saved unto life eternal. There will be an assurance that the soul is washed in the blood of Christ and clothed with His righteousness and precious in the sight of Jesus" (In Heavenly Places 104.3).

"Faith and feeling are as distinct as the east is from the west. Faith is not dependent on feeling. We must earnestly cry to God in faith, feeling or no feeling, and then live our prayers. Our assurance and evidence is God's word, and after we have asked we must believe without doubting. I praise Thee, O God, I praise Thee. Thou hast not failed me in the performance of Thy word. Thou has revealed Thyself unto me, and I am Thine to do Thy will (Letter 7, 1892).

Faith is a whole commitment; a conviction or belief in something AND acting according to it. Faith in Jesus is believing in His claims, words and promises, including the amazing promise that He can make you righteous. And it is the complete submission or giving of yourself to Christ's plans because you are convicted it is the right thing to do.

Faith: Conviction or belief in something and acting according to it.

Faith encompasses your entire being.

"...for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17).

As the texts above indicate, faith includes the moral conviction that what you are doing is the right thing; that you are wholeheartedly following your conscience. Even if you believe that Jesus is who He says He is, you are not exercising faith unless you live according to that belief. Living in faith means following Jesus' instructions that have been revealed to you.

The Israelites were, unfortunately, a good example of not living according to what had been revealed to them. They had been freed from slavery, delivered from their enemies, saved from hunger and thirst, safely led across a wilderness, promised prosperity, health and happiness, and were poised on the border of the promised land. But, they became afraid of the inhabitants of the land and decided to doubt that God would fight for them. They wouldn't do what God had instructed them to do. Their lack of action revealed their lack of faith.

"And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:18-19).

Faith includes living wholly according to what you believe is right. This places faith in close connection with the process of sensitizing the conscience. As one progresses, so does the other. The conscience only becomes more sensitive/accurate as you follow it. Faith only becomes stronger as you embrace what small measure of faith you have already been given. Faith, or the moral persuasion and conviction of something, can be seen as the result of listening to the Holy Spirit and following (acting) your conscience. The Bible calls faith "the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Faith is the evidence, proof, or result, of submitting to the Holy Spirit's invisible work in the life.

Faith vs. Works

Righteousness' close association with God's law can make many uncomfortable. After all, doesn't keeping the law mean you believe in righteousness by works (2 Tim. 1:9, Rom. 3:20)? No. It isn't the act of keeping the law that is wrong, but rather it is the belief that you can save yourself by keeping the law that is wrong and is labeled righteousness by works.

Righteousness By Works: The false assumption that an individual can perfectly keep God's law by his or her own efforts.

God wants you to keep the law (10 commandments). Remember from a previous chapter how He writes the law on your heart? But the key is that He wants you to understand that you cannot keep the law without His power. Furthermore, even if you did keep the law perfectly from now on, you would still be unrighteous because of your past sins.

That makes sense, but what about the following text?

"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24).

This text can be confusing, because at first it seems to promote salvation by works and takes away from salvation being a free gift accepted by faith alone. However, it is in perfect agreement with the rest of the Bible. Read the verses that immediately follow the above verse.

"Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:24-26).

Faith ceases to be faith if actions do not correspond to it. It is just like a light bulb. You only get light when you have electricity AND the light bulb. You only have faith when you have a conviction of truth AND act accordingly. If you do not act according to your convictions, you desensitize your conscience and lack faith.

The Faith Equation

Righteousness By Faith: Right standing with God, given in response to your choice to wholeheartedly believe in and act in accordance with (faith) God's promises that Christ substitutes His innocence for your guilt (imputed righteousness) and that His efforts and power enable you to keep God's law (imparted righteousness).

"And what is it to believe? It is to fully accept that Jesus Christ died as our sacrifice; that He became the curse for us, took our sins upon Himself, and imputed unto us His own righteousness... It is to hear and to see that with the righteousness of Christ which you hold by faith, righteousness supplied by His efforts and His divine power, you can keep the commandments of God" (Faith and Works 71.3).

True faith involves living according to what you know is right, which means that good works will naturally accompany it. Good works are proof that your faith is real. True faith is doing what Jesus says to do. If you are convicted of something and submit to it, you are faithful to do everything you can in harmony with that conviction. The two concepts are inseparable. In fact, the words "faith" and "faithful" are one in the same, even though some may tend to associate faith only with thought, and faithful with thought plus actions.

"Many hold faith as an opinion. Saving faith is a transaction, by which those who receive Christ join themselves in covenant relation with God. A living faith means an increase of vigor, a confiding trust, by which, through the grace of Christ, the soul becomes a conquering power" (The Ministry of Healing 62.2).

"Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" (James 2:22).

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).

"The only true faith is that which 'worketh by love' (Galatians 5:6) to purify the soul. It is as leaven that transforms the character" (MB 53.2).

"Faith and works will keep us evenly balanced, and make us successful in the work of perfecting Christian character" (A New Life 36.3).

No one can be saved by good works, but any can be lost if they fail to practice good works, since genuine faith is accompanied by good works. Think about it. If one only believed what God says, but didn't do what God says, they would not start producing fruit or be a very good witness of Christ's power. The Bible refers to the evil angels and Satan as believing, but they are certainly not obeying, doing good works or submitting to Christ, and thus will not be saved. Faith is belief PLUS surrender.

"Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:18-20).

"When we speak of faith, there is a distinction that should be borne in mind. There is a kind of belief that is wholly distinct from faith. The existence and power of God, the truth of His Word, are facts that even Satan and his hosts cannot at heart deny. The Bible says that "the devils also believe, and tremble"; but this is not faith. Where there is not only a belief in God's Word, but a submission of the will to Him; where the heart is yielded to Him, the affections fixed upon Him, there is faith--faith that works by love and purifies the soul. Through this faith the heart is renewed in the image of God. And the heart that in its unrenewed state is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be, now delights in its holy precepts, exclaiming with the psalmist, 'O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.' Ps. 119:97. And the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, 'who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.' Rom. 8:1." (The Faith I Live By 90.4).

Faith is not gained by your own effort

"Faith that enables us to receive God's gifts is itself a gift, of which some measure is imparted to every human being. It grows as exercised in appropriating the word of God. In order to strengthen faith, we must often bring it in contact with the word" (Education 253.4).

As with everything else we've discussed, surrender and faith is something God gives to you. You cannot develop or manufacture it, only embrace it.

Faith is an ongoing requirement

Faith is a requirement in order to be forgiven and justified (imputed righteousness), and faith is required in order to receive Christ's attributes, be sanctified and develop character (imparted righteousness). Faith is not limited to the beginning of your walk with God, but necessary the entire way. True faith and true acceptance of Christ result in a new direction in the life because He empowers you at every step. Exercising your faith means doing the things you know are right and taking every opportuntity to learn more about what is right. It is an intense conviction and corresponding action.

"Those who are united with Christ through the daily, hourly exercise of the faith which works by love and purifies the soul receive the forgiveness of their sins, and are sanctified unto eternal life" (Reflecting Christ 77.8).

"In order that we may have the righteousness of Christ, we need daily to be transformed by the influence of the Spirit, to be a partaker of the divine nature." (Selected Messages Book 1 374.1).

"But while God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, 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" (Faith and Works 100.1).

"When we bring our lives to complete obedience to the law of God, regarding God as our supreme Guide, and clinging to Christ as our hope of righteousness, God will work in our behalf. This is a righteousness of faith, a righteousness hidden in a mystery of which the worldling knows nothing, and which he cannot understand" (MS 43, 1907).

"Christ in the weakness of humanity was to meet the temptations of one possessing the powers of the higher nature that God had bestowed on the angelic family. But Christ's humanity was united with divinity, and in this strength He would bear all the temptations that Satan could bring against Him, and yet keep His soul untainted by sin. And this power to overcome He would give to every son and daughter of Adam who would accept by faith the righteous attributes of His character" (Review & Herald Jan. 28, 1909).

"Faith . . . reaches out to grasp the hand of Christ, knowing that He will hold more firmly than it is possible for the human hand to hold, and that He will never let go. While the human agent is willing to be led, Christ will lead him" (The Upward Look 72.2).

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).

Next Bible Term: Walking With God
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