Justification By Faith

Reading the lesson for this week, halfway into the first page I was already upset. Perhaps stirring up readers is the author’s purpose when he/she notes that justification, “more than any other truth, brought about the Protestant Reformation. And despite all the claims to the contrary, Rome has no more changed regarding this belief now than it did in 1520, when Pope Leo issued a papal bull condemning Luther and his teachings. Luther burned a copy of the bull because if there were one teaching that could never be compromised, justification by faith was and is it.” Squeezing history to suit our purposes is slippery territory. What “claims to the contrary” is the author writing of? And why not mention rapprochement efforts over the past fifty years between Lutherans, Catholics, and others? To say that “Rome has no more changed regarding this belief now than it did in 1520…” is misleading.

In the build up to the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation the entire world is paying attention to how Christians are managing our differences. Even a modest knowledge of the history of Christianity highlights the fact that we Christians killed each other by the millions in the name of our Christ. Wouldn’t it honor our God for us to at least affirm our Catholic and Lutheran family at this special 500-year mark? We do acknowledge that we are at least part of the same Christian family. The official Church statement entitled, “How Seventh-day Adventists View Roman Catholics,” ends this way: “Adventists seek to be fair in dealing with others. Thus, while we remain aware of the historical record and continue to hold our views regarding end-time events, we recognize some positive changes in recent Catholicism, and stress the conviction that many Roman Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ.”[1]

Is it so hard to accentuate the positive in our relations with other streams of Christianity? I would argue that the importance of what Paul calls (in the NRSV) the “ministry of reconciliation” is as important as (okay, more important than) our efforts to distinguish ourselves from other Christians. The passage of which I speak is in 2 Corinthians 5.17ff and I find it particularly relevant for our study this week on Justification: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What, exactly, are we as Adventists doing in our God-ordained role of being ministers of reconciliation?

So, how has Catholicism changed through the years? Our beliefs have changed over our own short history. If it is legitimate to for us to say that our beliefs might change in the future as the Spirit leads us, as our Preamble to the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of Adventism[2] does, couldn’t it also be true that the beliefs of other branches of Christianity might change?

On the official websites of the Vatican as well as many Lutheran denominations and associations, one finds the document: “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.” As our Lesson author notes, justification by faith is “the great truth that, more than any other truth, brought about the Protestant Reformation.” So also, the Joint Declaration says on the first page, “From the Reformation perspective, justification was the crux of all the disputes. Doctrinal condemnations were put forward both in the Lutheran Confessions and by the Roman Catholic Church’s Council of Trent. The condemnations are still valid today and thus have a church-dividing effect.”[3]

Still setting the stage for statements of consensus, the document reads: “…This Declaration rests on the conviction that in overcoming the earlier controversial questions and doctrinal condemnations, the churches neither take the condemnations lightly nor do they disavow their own past. On the contrary, this Declaration is shaped by the conviction that in their respective histories our churches have come to new insights. Developments have taken place which not only make possible, but also require the churches to examine the divisive questions and condemnations and see them in a new light” (3). As leaders in Lutheranism and Catholicism studied together over the past fifty years, they have found “…a consensus in the basic truths of the doctrine of justification.” The condemnations of the past, thrown at each other, remain “salutary warnings” but the “doctrine of justification appear(s) in new light” (13).

In another important document, unpublished but referenced in the Joint Declaration as PCPCU, we read, “…Luther’s original concern to teach people to look away from their experience, and to rely on Christ alone and his word of forgiveness [is not to be condemned]” (PCPCU 24).

At one event in the fall of 2016 celebrating the Reformation,[4] Pope Francis said: “With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the church’s life.”[5]

There is a vast body of literature on this topic and one can only begin to highlight it here. Of course, there are detractors as well, such as Paul T. McCain’s First Things article accusing Lutheran leadership of “betrayal.”[6] Calling the document a “fraud,” McCain notes that “It was a sell-out by revisionist Lutherans to Rome.”

Our own Ganoune Diop, General Conference Religious Liberty Department head, reported at the 2017 Annual Council on the cooperative manner with which the main branches of Christians are behaving themselves in the lead up to the 500-year mark of the Reformation. Adventism’s general attitude toward Ecumenism is deeply negative for understandable reasons. But must we cling to the idea that Churches who seek common ground betray themselves and their convictions? I don’t believe it is necessary. We should see the Ecumenical movement as a positive dynamic for our present time. Diop “noted that while many denominations signed the Joint Declaration on Justification, Adventists did not because it did not fully reflect Adventist belief on the doctrine of justification by faith. Diop said that Adventists should be distinguished not only for what they are against but also for what they are for. He said that Adventists will mingle with other denominations while guarding their identity.”[7] Would it be so difficult for us to openly affirm something about our theological family members? Does affirming joint convictions and beliefs represent an illicit revisionism or could it be an honest expression of the ministry of reconciliation?

I wonder sometimes if our identity depends upon Catholicism and “apostate Protestantism?” Might our need to criticize others for not changing their view be a weak tool to maintain our own identity. Maybe we need them to hold to their theology and not make any changes so that we can have a foil? Does our very existence as a Church owe itself to their position? I certainly hope not, though sometimes I wonder.

The doctrine of justification by faith itself calls us to a greater whole as we accept our new life in Christ. I assert that this greater whole includes worldwide Christendom; all branches of the faith. While our personal salvation is something deeply individual, we are nothing if not connected to others similarly devoted to following Christ. Yes, even those other Christians who do not worship with us on Sabbath.

Could we not find some strength in that which binds us even if we remain clear-eyed about our differences? How many divisions in Christianity must there be? How many divisions in Adventism must there be before we shift our propensity away from being combative and toward unity? This is particularly true for us now that we have GC leadership bent on “unity” of a certain sort. If we continue to cling to that thread of Lutheran identity that emphasizes Martin Luther’s Here-I-Stand-stubbornness, we will eventually be standing by ourselves. Individually and corporately, persons and Churches who are by conviction bent toward fighting with others to establish and maintain identity will eventually stand alone.

Like most Adventists, I work with non-Adventist people daily. People among whom God’s Spirit moves in amazing ways to adjust their life and faith convictions, including Catholics and Lutherans on a personal and corporate (i.e. denominational) level. One day at work I sat in the audience of a session focused on why Catholics are involved in healthcare. A Priest had presented the history of the Catholic Church noting the Reformation as an essential part of their history. When he finished I went to the Priest to correct him so that he didn’t make the same mistake twice, “You missed a word,” I said. “It is the Protestant Reformation.” His head tilted back in surprise as he immediately responded with, “On the contrary, the Reformation changed Catholicism forever!”

Scripture for this week’s lesson has some relevance for us. Romans 3.20 (Message): “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.” We might put ourselves in this text: “Our involvement with Seventh-day Adventism (and its policies) doesn’t put us right with God.” Indeed, verse 27 says: “So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counterclaims? Canceled? Yes, canceled.” Again place “Adventist” in place of “Jewish” here and feel Paul’s assertion!

Can we embrace the ministry of reconciliation? Can we break down the divisive lines that have become so pervasive among us? Can we really accept Paul’s teaching on justification by faith:

The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this…. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ…. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.… And where does that leave our proud [Adventist] claim of having a corner on God? Also canceled. God is the God of outsider [non-Adventists]as well as insider [Adventists].How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8339

Thank you Mark for this article and the courage it took to write it.

Towards the end of a lifetime in Adventism it has been a battle to be able to accept without reservation that as believers from all denominations and often no denomination, by God’s doing and His grace we all equally “are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness (justification), and sanctification, and redemption…”

I would be interested to know how the SDA theology of justification by faith is so different from other church theologies.

If the current SS lesson is the answer I have a major problem. The author is more interested in trying to prove the pre-eminence of the 10 commandment law and so the Sabbath. I would think that the doctrine of justification is about glorying in faith and grace and salvation and reconciliation and the love of God poured out on Calvary through the death of our Lord. Where in the SS lesson is the great truth that God made Christ, who had no sin, to be sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God in Him?

And speaking of this righteousness, it is a righteousness that comes apart from the law because it is the righteousness of God, the glory of which outshines the righteousness of the law as the light of a thousand suns outshines the light of a candle.

Christ is the revelation of the Father. A ten point law established because of transgression as a guide for sinful human beings is hardly a transcript of God’s infinite character of love and righteousness and holiness and compassion and forgiveness.

Maybe there are aspects of Adventist theology that also need to come into line with Scripture.

Jeremy, this statement disturbs me deeply when it talks about faulty sanctification being justified through faith because it is expressed through our fallen human nature.

Let’s take 1 Corinthians 1:30 for starters. We are in Christ by God’s doing. Christ has become to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. How can this sanctification be in any way faulty if it is from Christ by God’s doing?

Paul is still speaking to the believers in Corinth in chapter 6:11, believers who had come from some rather sordid backgrounds. But, they were washed, they were sanctified, they were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God. Christ is not the source of faulty sanctification.

I think we need to take more heed to passages such as Ephesians 4:17-24. In reference to our old way of life we are admonished to lay aside the old self. Romans 6 explains how this is done by baptism in the Holy Spirit which means that our old self was crucified with Christ in His death. We are admonished to put on the new self which means to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. Romans 6 refers to this as participating in Christ’s resurrection to walk in newness of life.

Paul in Ephesians then makes one of the most profound statements that I believe details the new birth experience. The new self is in the likeness of God and has been created - creation! in God’s likeness - Adam and Eve! the new creation in God’s likeness - the gospel new birth!

Our new heart has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

As born again believers David’s prayer has been realised - create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our new heart.

But, our new heart and the Holy Spirit are in conflict with the flesh. We do not have two natures. Our old sinful, fallen human nature, our old self is dead and buried - it was crucified with Christ.

At the time of our new birth there was a literal spiritual heart transplant, remembering that our spiritual nature is what defines us. We rose to walk in newness of life. God is Spirit and we worship Him in spirit and in truth. Our righteousnesses are no longer like filthy rags because we have Christ’s righteousness in our new hearts - remember, our heart has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.

However, sin, as a foreign invader, lurks in our flesh. We need to study passages like Philippians 3 to see how Paul defines the flesh. We still have old human coping mechanisms, claims to human position and achievements, old habits and emotions.

We sin but we rejoice that all our sins are forgiven because Christ shed His blood on the cross. God never holds our sins against us. He keeps no record of them because Christ became sin for us. Christ dealt with our sins on the cross. They’re gone, forgiven. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world and that includes us.

Faulty sanctification has no place in my understanding of Scripture.



I caught that point as well.
Maybe the 2nd sentence is the clue. Yet it is ambiguous, obscure, unclear.

Actually the current spin on justification by faith has undermined the Protestant work ethic.

All of this anti-works and anti-law heresy has driven people toward lazy, selfish barbarianism attitudes.

SDA’s were presented with justification by faith last quarter ( lesson #4) in Galatians but it made little difference because hardly anyone cares. Most don’t read the SS lesson or their bibles. Pastors & SS teachers have made the lessons so complicated and/or irrelevant that most attendees suffer from religious amnesia as soon as class or the sermon is over.

How can justification by faith compete with the obsession on WO, bashing Ted Wilson, News, WW3 , sports, politics, sex & violence entertainment???
Romance takes precedent over Romans.

Also…most Adventist have no clue what the verses in lesson #3 are about: Rom 1:16 & 17.
The warping of justification by faith has perpetuated the Laodicean mentality.
This is why the greater majority of Adventists don’t attend Sabbath school or read through their weekly lesson.


I think it would be intellectually and spiritually beneficial for us (i.e. Adventists) to read the Decree on Justification of the Council of Trent. It would be instructive indeed to present that Decree to Adventists without identification of its origin and see how many Adventist church administrators as well as members in the pews would heartily endorse the understandings articulated there. I predict there would be almost no one who would find anything with which to fundamentally disagree. We seem obsessed with a desire to distinguish ourselves from other Christians. This is an unholy appetite not least because it causes us to fail Christ’s own test of how a Christian is to be identified, namely that they love other Christians. Moreover, and thank God it is so, we simply are not distinguished from the great Body of Christ by what we believe.

It may be helpful to consider the possibility that the ecclesiastical schism that arose from Luther’s scholarship and preaching was as much about power as it was about truth. The distance between Rome and Wittenberg was greatest concerning the power of the hierarchy and not with the manner of our salvation. Readers of this blog will have no trouble noting relevant comparisons within our denomination today.


my guess is that ganoune diop didn’t want to get caught up in the notion that justification by faith means the decalogue has been done away with or diminished, which is our necessary position, given the thousands of egw statements on this subject, not to mention many of the implications of our sanctuary doctrine, which itself is heavily dependent on egw…

it is, of course, interesting to note that egw takes paul a step further than luther did…whereas luther - whose anti-semitism probably led him away from the decalogue, which in turn may explain why he wanted the book of James deleted from the canon - stressed the importance of works for no apparent soteriological reason other than that evil works, or works of the flesh, lead to negative salvation, or damnation, as in fact paul himself constantly stressed, egw stresses that it is our necessarily faulty sanctification that is justified through our faith…that is, christ adds his perfect merits to our spirit inspired responses and efforts - polluted because they are expressed through the original sin in our fallen human nature - to make them acceptable to god…the necessary logical step here, which egw also stresses, is that christ’s fallen human nature, from the moment of his immaculate conception, was uniquely sinless - untouched by adam’s guilt - so that not only could he be our perfect offering, but also the source of holiness and perfection all of us must have in order to be saved…

this particular contribution by egw, so often misunderstood, or simply not understood, is remarkable and singular…while it clearly harmonizes all known biblical texts, even where there exists apparent contradiction, it is the case that no-one in any other denomination teaches it…

A correction: Lund is situated in Sweden, not in Switzerland. The mass held at pope Francis visit was quite interesting to watch. Sweden has a female archbishop over the Lutheran church, theol. dr. Antje Jackelen - but she was not permitted to officiate at the fellowship mass-only male Lutheran ministers! Yet the meeting took place in her realm as an archbishop.

This visit was held at the beginning of the year marking the Protestant reformation with the idea that it was time for reconciliation after 500 years.

So although the Roman Catholic church has indeed changed in many ways ,some things seems to be as unchanged as in the Adventist church.
As a sideline I remember what my teacher in Church History at Newbold College once said(the late dr. Andrew Mustard) : We have to be aware so we do not become like the enemy we fight most.



Justification by faith in Romans must be viewed in light of the overall purpose for which Paul wrote this letter. I would say, from a close reading of the text, that it was to establish and strengthen Christian unity in what seemed like a divided church.

After Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome, sometime about AD 48, the Roman house churches had become much more Gentile in their makeup and leadership. With the return of Jews and Jewish Christians to Rome around 54-55, it seemed that a factionalism and tension over Jewish and Gentile differences regarding belonging, the role of the Law in the life of the church, and corresponding lifestyle differences within the church, were driving wedges into their fellowship.

Paul’s entire extended argument and exposition of his gospel was to close those gaps. Thus, the letter almost invariably refers to justification by faith not only in reference to the relationship of humans individually to God, but to the relationship of Jews and Gentiles to one another. To not take this into account, or to see this as a tangential issue to righteousness by faith, is to miss Paul’s purpose in writing Romans, and to render individual passages, and even extended sections such as chapters 9-11, as almost incomprehensible. This is why statements such as, “…there is no difference…” meaning that Jews and Gentiles are on a level playing field regarding sinfulness and hostility towards God, and then belonging to God through faith in his faithful saving action in Christ/ the righteousness of God, are crucial to Paul’s understanding and emphasis of righteousness by faith…and to our understanding as well.

The entire letter can be read broadly but coherently in this light. Chapters 1-3:20 reveals the solidarity of Jews and Gentiles under sin. 3:23 -4:25, focuses on the solidarity of both groups as the covenant people of God through faith in God and his salvation creating power through Christ, to both the circumcised and the uncircumcised, with Abraham as the forerunner and father of both groups through faith. Chapter 5 shows how both Jews and Gentiles are equally caught in the dilemma of sin caused by the first Adam, but which has now been reversed by the new Adam, Christ. This overarching theme of Jewish and Gentile solidarity before God in Christ can be seen as a thread all the way through to chapter 15, where Paul urges the members of the church, despite differences of lifestyle and conscience regarding holy times and food, to “…accept one another, as God in Christ accepted you.” He concludes the main body of the letter with this emphasis on unity, mutual love, and freedom amongst the believers, and how his gospel, his ministry, and the obedience of faith to his gospel, has this as its object in the here and now.

The righteousness of God revealed to faith can never be divorced from this overall concern that Paul had concerning this type of unity between Jews and Gentiles before God, and in their equal belonging to the people of God. God plays no favorites…religious pedigree, works of law, and assumed insider/outsider status based on such visible badges of belonging mean nothing to him, and indeed are antithetical to the gospel itself. God puts people right with himself by faith alone, regardless of these status symbols. To try to attach them to the gospel is to not walk in line with the truth of the gospel, and to undermine its unifying power, as Peter did when he led the Jewish walkout from the fellowship table in Antioch over food, purity, and circumcision.

To bring this home, the entire reason for being of the SDA church is to mark itself off from other Christian denominations, over issues of holy time, food laws, and its own esoteric eschatology. How can we not give a clouded view of righteousness by faith in Christ alone, especially in terms of united Christian community, when we are by nature doctrinally divisive over points of law? When we insist on pointing people back to its letter that Paul says kills, and that we, as Christians have actually died to in Christ? When we insist on a denominational status as the “remnant church of Bible prophecy” over against all other Christian bodies, which is tied eschatologically to Sabbath observance…again, a visible marker of Law, rather than faith in Christ alone, and the power of his Spirit to create and sustain a united and loving community of believers?

Is it any wonder that we, like so many other denominations bent on individualistic readings of justification, faith, and relationship to God, and in our preoccupation with and reducing of the gospel to our own individual perfection and righteous standing before God, are approaching schism?




I really appreciate this insight. That next to last paragraph is eye opening and quite damning.
Thank you.


Thank you, Yvonne, for this clarification and further information about the meeting in Lund. Much appreciated!

Thanks Daryll. Is this the document you refer to? https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/TRENT6.HTM#1
Appreciate you pointing it out to us.

I take it from your comment here that you reject my thoughts on there being two different Biblical definitions of sanctification (which I tried to share with you in my comment on the Oct2 SS lesson ‘The Daily Bread of the Soul’). I believe my understanding to be Scriptural and it certainly brought some clarity on this issue to me.
For example, Paul declares in 1Cor 1:2 that the Corinthian believers ‘have been sanctified in Christ Jesus’, past tense. He says the same thing in 6:11 ‘but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus’. Surely these are both past declarations and so are examples of the first definition of sanctification (the act of setting apart for holy purposes). Then he goes on to chastise them for their sinful behaviours: sexual immorality, arrogance, boasting and fraud (in ch5 & 6) because they are doing poorly in the sanctification process (the journey to Biblical holiness - the second definition of sanctification).

You say we don’t now have two natures and sin in the flesh is some outside invader. But then you rightly say we still sin. Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers in 15:34 to ‘Become sober-minded as you ought and stop sinning;’, in 10:14 to ‘flee from idolatry’ and in 8:12 says, ‘And so by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.’ These are acts of volition, acts of selfishness. Who is committing these sinful acts? Is not the outer man, our Adamic man born alienated from God, even though legally crucified and buried with Christ, still present and active here? If we have only the divine nature now, how is it possible for us to commit these sins?

The male begets and the female gives birth. We have been ‘begotten from above’ by the Holy Spirit much as Jesus was. (We are the female here, betrothed to Christ and receiving the divine seed). This is the gospel, the good news, the new creation life that has been begotten in us and is growing to maturity within (1Cor 4:15) to be born as a son or daughter of God at glorification. (I mention this because I think it is more Biblically accurate than saying we have already been ‘born again’ as it highlights the fact that we are still growing and developing). 1John explains that the divine seed implanted within cannot sin (3:9) but also says if we say we have no sin we lie and if we confess our sins we will be forgiven (1:8-9). Does John not also see two differing natures?
God’s plan is that we are to struggle to overcome our still-present human condition, as Christ did (Heb 5:8).

Perhaps it’s only semantics (and I shouldn’t use the word ‘nature’ to describe our old self) because I think you, Paul and John agree that we are to identify ourselves with the new creation, the new divine nature maturing within.

In this age, before we are glorified, Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed (or reckoned) to us by God. We accept this act of God on our behalf by faith. Thus He counts us as righteous now even though we are not fully there (Rom 4:17). We believe that His law will one day be perfectly written on our new creation hearts and thus our nature will be in complete accord with His.

In my view, salvation has nothing to do with Christ adding to my righteousness. As Ray says, Christ is our righteousness (1Cor 1:30). Yet Adventism insists that our works are essential to salvation. Jeremy, I think this is what you are saying, that our efforts are the basis of our salvation and Christ adds to them so God is satisfied.
So, I guess that means our righteous works (meaning, if I read you correctly, our ’Spirit inspired responses and efforts’) are salvific. I would be interested in knowing the Biblical texts that you think support your (and Ellen White’s) view on this, so please give some Scriptural references for your position and be sure to explain how these verses do not contradict Paul’s repeated statements in Romans that righteousness is by faith alone as is highlighted in this week’s SS lesson. (In past comments I have tried to explain that in passages such as Phil 3:11-14 and 1Cor 9:24-27 I honestly believe Paul is not talking about his salvation.)

I appreciate your comments on the doctrinal differences between denominations that keep them apart and foster the attitudes of exclusion and superiority. I don’t think that is the primary reason for Paul’s letters, but the love and acceptance for those of differing backgrounds and the emphasis on shared essentials certainly are present. Christ prayed for the unity of believers. I have faith this will happen and I think each denomination will see there is much that can be learned from the others. Both Calvinists and Arminians will come to see that there is truth in the other position.

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As for the Catholic Church system changing, it isn’t happening. Rome’s vaunted claim is that Rome never changes. There is enough evidence through history that supports that statement. Also the early reformers did not always agree on everything. Just look at Luther and Calvin. The one thing that they did agree upon unanimously was that Rome was the little horn, that came out from the 4th beast. There is enough biblical evidence. The prophecies point it out oh so clearly. Josiah litch presented more evidence for the year to day principle by predicting to the day that the Ottoman Empire would come to an end. So if the bible points out Rome as that little horn power, you are at a crossroads; either God is lying or Rome is lying. those are the options when the prophetic reckons are taken into account. So when it comes to faith you must take God at his word. That’s why Abraham was used as an example of faith, he has some clear evidence as to what constitutes faith. When that is understood justification by faith becomes much clearer. Also as adventists we see justification by faith in light of the Sanctuary message.

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