Righteousness by faith as a phrase in the book of Romans is the same as justification by faith. It’s not difficult to understand. Paul, the Apostle, to whom Christ revealed it on the road to Emmaus brings us to a judgment scene in Romans 3:19 where ‘the whole world is held accountable to God’, and ‘every mouth is silenced’. But it’s speaking to ‘those who are under the law’. However, Paul says, NO ONE will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather through the law we become conscious of our sin’. (Rom. 3:20).
Paul continues, ‘But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’ (Rom. 3:21-22).
So, initially, we get the idea of a final judgment scene where God weighs all of humanity and levels us all because we are all sinners. But Paul goes on to say, that is not how God has done it. He’s given us righteousness as a gift. Faith is a hand that reaches out with no merit and takes it gratis.
In our denomination, we have been taught to focus on the very end of time where judgment awaits us. Let me suggest again that this is not what Paul is teaching. The righteousness of God is ‘given by faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’. It is APART FROM LAW. It is by faith and it is a gift of God to us. The reason for this is that there is no other way into heaven than Christ. God looks at Christ’s perfect life and his atoning death, not ours (as far as our salvation).
Adventism has been in error when it has taught that justification is a relationship, or when it says justification is an experience. This is not what the New Testament is teaching.* Justification is a declaration of something that has happened outside of us. It is speaking about how we are saved, about our status before God. And at this level, nothing we do or experience can add to God’s verdict.
The doctrine of justification leads to an experience and involves a relationship; and it leads to sanctification. These things result from justification, but they are separate and have to be distinguished from it to understand what it really means.
A friend I visited recently said justification is both forensic and eschatological. Adventists seem to hate this word forensic and the word legal. But it’s not the same as legalistic. It’s just the language of the court, and Judaism was a legal economy. When we say justification is eschatological, we mean that instead of the judgment taking place at the end of all things, it has happened at the Cross, and we enter into that judgment when we believe and accept Christ’s work for us on our behalf—with nothing added from or by us. Christ’s work plus nothing.
John 5:24: ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life’. Read it repeatedly to see what it means.
Paul taught that the Last Days had come with Christ and that we are living in the end times. He taught that those who accept Christ have already died with him, been buried with him, been raised with him and ARE seated in heavenly places. Adventist preachers rarely preach with this conviction and assurance.
Adventists have continually stuck sanctification into bed with justification or made justification a doctrine for the beginning of the Christian life to be outdone by sanctification (often a bald work righteousness ending up in perfection before Christ comes). Let’s be clear, this is heresy and will never bring the kingdom of God. Such teachings are associated with a denial that we can have the assurance of salvation. Pastors preach that ‘we hope one day we will have assurance that we are saved’. However, Paul is saying, ‘my children, by the hand of faith you may enter into a reality that is far more real than life down here—you have passed through [the judgment], and you have already arrived’.
- Though you can make a case for a judgment of works at the end of time, it seems likely that James and other apostles did not comprehend what Paul was saying.