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Lesson 4: “Justification by Faith Alone”

Sabbath School Today

The Gospel in Galatians

Lesson 4: “Justification by Faith Alone”

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“‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 5:1). What does this mean? What is it to be justified? Both professors and non-professors often mistake its meaning. Many of the former think that it is a sort of half-way house to perfect favor with God, while the latter think that it is a substitute for real righteousness. They think that the idea of justification by faith is that if one will only believe what the Bible says, he is to be counted as righteous when he is not. All this is a great mistake” (E. J. Waggoner, The Signs of the Times, May 1, 1893).

Our Sabbath School lesson “wrestles” with those same questions, and in Wednesday’s lesson arrives at a similar conclusion: ” … an intellectual assent to the gospel is not enough, for, in that sense, “even the demons believe.”

Something our lesson did not cover, however, is one of the main “gospel truths” concerning justification by faith: “The 1888 message is especially ‘precious’ because it joins together the true biblical idea of justification by faith with the unique idea of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. This is a Bible truth that the world is waiting to discover. It forms the essential element of truth that will yet lighten the earth with the glory of a final, fully developed presentation of ‘the everlasting gospel’ of Revelation 14 and 18” (Ten Great Gospel Truths That Make the 1888 Message Unique, p. 34).

Justification by faith is greater than a legal declaration; it’s the “dynamite” of the 1888 message. A correct motivation for serving Christ is another term for the dynamic of genuine justification by faith. It produces heart obedience to all the commandments of God. The truth of justification by faith in the 1888 message is the missing ingredient in both “historic Adventism” and the “new theology.” Both generally follow the Arminian view, which in effect makes the sinner’s salvation dependent on his own initiative.

The Faith of Jesus: But Paul says “a man [person] is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16). Thus the 1888 message was the first powerful message in Adventism that joined “the faith of Jesus” to God’s law. Here is the 1888 idea:

“The faith of Christ must bring the righteousness of God, because the possession of that faith is the possession of the Lord himself. This faith is dealt to every man, even as Christ gave himself to every man. Do you ask what then can prevent every man from being saved? The answer is, Nothing, except the fact that all men will not keep the faith. If all would keep all that God gives them, all would be saved” (Waggoner, Signs of the Times, Jan. 16, 1896).

What exactly is the “faith of Jesus Christ”? Ellen G. White has given us a clear definition:

“The third angel’s message is the proclamation of the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ. The commandments of God have been proclaimed, but the faith of Jesus Christ has not been proclaimed by Seventh-day Adventists as of equal importance, the law and the gospel going hand in hand. …

“‘The faith of Jesus.’ It is talked of, but not understood. What constitutes the faith of Jesus, that belongs to the third angel’s message? Jesus becoming our sin-bearer that He might become our sin-pardoning Saviour. He was treated as we deserve to be treated. He came to our world and took our sins that we might take His righteousness. And faith in the ability of Christ to save us amply and fully and entirely is the faith of Jesus” (Selected Messages, book 3, p. 172; emphasis supplied).

Crucified With Christ: For “self” to be crucified with Christ does not mean a human effort to torture ourselves by an agonizing do-it-yourself crucifixion. It is always “with Christ.” When Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ,” he is not saying, “See what a strong Christian I am! I am nailing nails through my hands and feet, I am crucifying myself!” Rather he is saying, “My proud self is already ‘crucified with Him.” I have learned from Him–“I [too] am crucified with Christ.” I kneel with Him in Gethsemane. Paul says, self in human nature is so strong that it was like sweating blood for Christ to say “No!” to self; but I, Paul, say “let this mind be in me, which was also in [Him].”

Self cannot live and reign any longer because His agape has annihilated the love of self. Honest human hearts identify with Christ on His cross. As with Him, the natural result is: self is crucified. The slightest taint of legalism “frustrates the grace of God” and denies the cross (2:20, 21).

Now, Paul goes on to say, “nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” To respond any less than that, says Paul, would be to “frustrate the grace of God,” and that I now refuse to do, he adds (vss. 20, 21).

When in verse 16 he says emphatically it’s “not of works” he means not even 1 percent. His impassioned Letter to the Galatians is on one side of the perennial debate: “I do not frustrate the grace of God [even 1 percent ‘works’ will frustrate that grace!]: for if righteousness come by law, then Christ is dead in vain” (vs. 21). There’s no “balance” between righteousness by faith and righteousness by works (Laodicean lukewarmness, hot and cold water “balanced;” this confusion is Laodicea’s problem).

The Closing Work: Ellen White linked the message of justification with the work of the great High Priest in His “closing work of atonement” in the Most Holy Apartment. She said our people didn’t understand this. Her messages to the ministers and the church after 1888 suggest she was obsessed with this aspect of what Jones and Waggoner had presented at the 1888 General Conference Session. She was excited; if the ministers and people would follow Christ in His closing work, the coming of the Lord would be very soon.* The High Priest can never cleanse the sanctuary in heaven until He can first cleanse human hearts here on earth.

The Good News! Paul points us to Christ’s cross: in His sacrifice, was He motivated even 1 percent by egocentric concern for Himself? His assurance to the believing thief appears to say yes (“Hang on, fellow victim; you and I will be in Paradise today!”). But that was in the morning when the sun was shining; “at the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land,” including the heart of the Son of God. He cried, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He “poured out His soul unto death,” even the second (Isa. 53:12). Not even 1 percent of an egocentric motivation—totally love for us, none for Himself. That was agape.

–Compiled mainly from the writings of Robert J. Wieland


* See the succession of statements in the Review and Herald, Jan. 21, 28; Feb. 4, 11, 25; March 4, 18; April 8, 1890. Ellen White’s emphasis here is astounding.

Suggested reading:

1. Ellen G. White, “The Message of Justification by Faith,” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 91-94.

2. Ellet J. Waggoner, “Being Justified,” The Signs of the Times, May 1, 1893:

Lesson 3: “The Unity of the Gospel”

Sabbath School Today

The Gospel in Galatians

Lesson 3: “The Unity of the Gospel”

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The unity of the church is a precious fruit of “the truth of the gospel.” Jesus is the Truth. “The most precious message,” which uplifts and honors the sacrifice of Christ, unifies. So-called “gospels” derived from the old covenant–man’s power to be saved–divide the church.

The issue of circumcision threatened to split the early church. The rites and ceremonies of the law of Moses as a means of salvation assumed an idol-status in the minds of certain “false brethren” (Gal. 2:4) who came to the Antioch church from Judea (Acts 15:1). They taught “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1, NKJV). “They insisted that the Jewish laws and ceremonies should be incorporated into the rites of the Christian religion. They were slow to discern that all the sacrificial offerings had but prefigured the death of the Son of God, in which type met antitype, and after which the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic dispensation were no longer binding” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 189). They succeeded in gathering to themselves the support of the Jewish Christians in Antioch, creating no small stir.

The Apostle Paul felt obliged to confront this matter head-on, for it was an issue over “the truth of the gospel.” Is it the power of God’s grace that saves sinners; or, is it circumcision that saves, and hence the power of man’s obedience to the whole law that saves?

It had been some time since Paul had paid a visit to Jerusalem. The church of Antioch thought it would be a good thing for him to go and discuss this matter with the other apostles and brethren assembled there (Acts 15:2).

Paul’s visit to Jerusalem was a divine mandate–“by revelation” (Gal. 2:2). God’s purpose for him going was to preserve the unity of the church leadership regarding the gospel. Obviously the “false brethren” were intentionally seeking to unsettle the minds of the apostles and create a division between the churches and an internal conflict among the apostles over the gospel. Paul’s purpose in going was not to see whether his gospel was in harmony with the brethren. He was clear that “the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11, 12). His purpose in going to Jerusalem was to proclaim the gospel to the apostles in order to preserve the unity of the church. That which creates disunity in the church is “another gospel” which is not the real gospel, Satan knows this and seeks to bring in the principle of the old covenant self-reliance, and self-sufficiency, in every possible way to create dissension and disunity.

The entourage that accompanied Paul to Jerusalem were Barnabas and Titus. Paul brought Titus into the church without circumcision. The significance of this detail is that the apostles in Jerusalem didn’t require Titus to be circumcised in order to fellowship with them. This was a confirmation of the unity which prevailed among the apostles.

The “false brethren” conspired to enslave the Gentiles to the yoke of bondage–the old covenant. Peter said: “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). “Peter here referred to the law of ceremonies, which was made null and void by the crucifixion of Christ” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 193). Whoever induces people to trust in the law for righteousness without Christ simply puts a yoke upon them and fastens them in bondage.

Those who “seemed to be pillars” (Cephas, James, and John) in the church, “perceived,” “the grace that was given unto Paul” (Gal. 2:9). They finally relented and humbled their hearts and extended to Paul “the right hands of fellowship” (vs. 9). In effect the apostles said, “Paul, thank God, you are preaching the true gospel. You must go to the Gentiles and we will go to the Jews.” Even with this the apostles didn’t go far enough.

What the apostles should have said was, “Paul, we want you to go to the Gentiles, but go to the Jews also; and we will go to the Gentiles also.” So Peter, James, and John still weren’t clear that it was their job to go to the whole world as is indicated by the incident which followed.

At Antioch Peter was accustomed to eating in fellowship with the Gentiles. When he saw a delegation from Jerusalem headquarters sent by James, he got up from eating with the Gentiles. He went to another table and the Jewish Christians followed him. Peter’s action was prompted by “fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).

Paul had brought these Gentiles into church fellowship with the knowledge that Christ was their Messiah. Now Peter’s actions sent the wrong message to the Gentiles. The Gentiles might be led to think, “We are lost because the Messiah is only for the Jews.” Paul was not afraid of these “false brethren.” So Paul confronted Peter publicly over the issue “because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11).

Paul “saw that they [Peter and the “false brethren”] walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). Peter was sending the message to the Gentiles that in order to be saved they must be circumcised. In other words, believing that Christ is the Messiah is fine; however, the power of man’s obedience to the whole law must be added to this in order to be saved. This false gospel had the potential of dividing the church.

The 1888 message brings to the forefront the principles of the two covenants. The old covenant is manifested by many different so-called “gospels,” all based on self-sufficiency. “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8). God’s new covenant promise is the “much more abounding grace” of Christ crucified and resurrected. It is this true gospel which unites the church. The old covenant “gospels” generate bondage to sin and are the very source of disunity.

There is only one “truth of the gospel” that is in harmony with all God’s ten commandments and that is the “most precious message” which uplifts and honors the sacrifice of Christ. It is “present truth” in the setting of our cosmic day of at-one-ment-with God. That is, it is God’s love revealed in the ever-present cross, that reconciles alienated hearts to Himself by means of Christ’s High Priestly ministry. This gets to the taproot of unconscious sin so that the soul identifies with the crucified One. Justification by faith and the cleansing of the sanctuary truth become one grand truth which lightens the earth with God’s glorious true character of self-denying agape-love.

Paul E. Penno.

Lesson 2: “Paul’s Authority and Gospel”

Sabbath School Today

The Gospel in Galatians

Lesson 2: “Paul’s Authority and Gospel”

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The Seventh-day Adventist Church is repeating the history of the church in Galatia. Our divine commission is to proclaim the “third angel’s message in verity” to the world. The first chapter of Galatians contains this message. There is a counterfeit gospel that is vying for first-place contender and we need the Apostle Paul’s help.

The Apostle was sent from God and his words are the commandments of God (John 3:34). He tells us there are only two gospels, and he sets forth the genuine at the outset. “The everlasting gospel” (first angel, Rev. 14:6) is “grace” and “peace.”

Strictly speaking, we are saved by God’s grace alone (Eph. 2:8). Christ has been given to every man (Eph. 4:7; John 1:9). If a rich man gives you a check for $1000 and you do not cash it, what have you lost?

Christ has given every man the forgiveness of sins and the peace of reconciliation with God. He “gave Himself for our sins” (Gal. 1:4). Does it make any difference what we believe about what Christ accomplished at the cross? Has “the Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people” in these last days that honors and glorifies Christ in His sacrifice? (See Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91.) Is He indeed “the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42) or does He merely offer to be? Are all men actually infinitely and eternally in debt to Him for even their next breath? Why can the Father send His rain and sunshine on “all men,” “the just and the unjust,” unless Christ has actually accomplished something for them all and has given them the gift?

He went to hell. He died a death in which He could not see the resurrection coming up. He poured out His soul unto death says Isaiah 53:12. There was nothing left to pour out. The last drop was drained. He emptied Himself for us. How amazing is Christ’s grace? The woman to whom Christ spoke the words, “Your sins are forgiven,” cashed the check. She received the at-one-ment with God as Christ said to her, “Go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50).

The first angel’s message announcing the everlasting gospel has as its burden, “Fear God, and give Him glory” (Rev. 14:7). Here the Apostle Paul in Galatians ascribes the glory to God by setting forth the everlasting gospel (Gal. 1:5).

But there is a bewildering, inconsistent situation, when at the same time the genuine gospel is proclaimed to the world, there is a counterfeit–“another gospel,” which is not another gospel nor is it good news. Its source is a fallen “angel from heaven” (Gal. 1:8). “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light … his ministers … transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14, 15). Their counterfeit gospel is the reason “Babylon is fallen” (second angel, Rev. 14:8). These “ministers” “pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7) because the gospel of self-love “please[s] men” (vs. 10). It is based on nothing but the theories of men and is designed to attract followers to men.

There are five gospels in the Laodicean church today: Historic Adventism (“obey and live, disobey and die”); the Social Gospel (humanitarianism); the Pentecostal gospel (“enthusiasm”); Evangelical Adventism (Arminian theology); the Calvinist gospel (the sovereignty of God who “forces” the final solution). All of these “gospels” are anti-law and so cannot be the third angel’s message in verity. “The truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:5) is: “Here are they that keep [“grasp” the everlasting covenant] the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).

Why should anyone be “accursed” for preaching a different gospel? Because “there shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and … shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24). “Let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9, the awful warning of the third angel’s message [Rev. 14:9-11]). These preachers are leading God’s people to trust for their salvation in something which is nothing. These counterfeit gospels are devised by men, so they are leading people to trust in their own power for salvation.

If you don’t have the facts and logic to defeat the message, attack the messenger. It is as old as when Lucifer questioned God’s authority to control His creation. For unknown eons, the universe enjoyed peace and happiness under God’s governing principles of love and devotion between the Creator and His creatures. When Satan came to tempt Eve, rather than directly attacking God’s message of unselfish love, he attacked God Himself. He argued to Eve that God was selfishly denying them the knowledge of evil because with it, they would become just like Him. In effect, Satan was arguing that God had no authority over Adam and Eve because if He allowed them access to what He had forbidden, they would become equal with Him.

The arguments being used against Paul are so similar that their source should have been readily apparent. Why were the Galatians deceived? A counterfeit can deceive only if it is close to the original. I recently saw what at first looked like a very large denomination bill on someone’s desk. Closer examination revealed it was a joke as the value was $1,000,000,000,000,000. It had a picture of Mickey Mouse, not a president, so it fooled no one.

Paul’s response to this is not an egotistical listing of his accomplishments to impress. Today, we would call it something like a curriculum vitae or resumé, which gives the history of a person’s education and work experience. The argument against Paul had been that he wasn’t trained by Christ Himself, as had the eleven apostles, but Paul defeats that by referring to his time in Arabia and Damascus where he learned from the Holy Spirit, not humans (Gal. 1:11-24). Notice that Paul does not list his extensive training in the schools of the Pharisees, which might have impressed those who did not believe divine authority.

Similar methods are used today to question the authority of a gospel teacher. A modern Adventist historian describes the unpolished and supposedly unlettered A. T. Jones as “a towering, angular man, with a loping gait and uncouth posturing and gestures” (A. W. Spalding, Captains of the Host, p. 591). Ellen White did not agree, and defended him: “It is evident that he walks with God, that he has been with Jesus and learned of Him. … He is earnest and sincere, and beloved by those for whom he labors. … His defects will be forgiven and forgotten. His hearers will not become weary or disgusted, but will thank God for the message of grace sent them through His servant” (“Christian Education,” 1893, quoted in Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 242, 243; Review and Herald, April 18, 1893).

Another way to undermine authority is to revise history. If church members are taught that everything was accepted in 1888, there is no need to investigate original sources, and the status quo is accepted. The worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church has been taught through authoritative publications that the 1888 message of righteousness by faith alone was accepted in that generation by the predominant leadership, and has been the secure doctrinal possession of the church ever since (cf. A Further Appraisal of the Manuscript “1888 Re-examined,” General Conference, September 1958, p. 11). Unfortunately, A. G. Daniells thought differently: “This message of righteousness in Christ … met with opposition on the part of earnest, well-meaning men in the cause of God! The [1888] message has never been received, nor proclaimed, nor given free course as it should have been … (A. G. Daniells, Christ Our Righteousness, p. 47 [1924]).

Ellen White agreed with Daniells. “At Minneapolis … Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit. … The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world. … The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world” (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235).

The only true gospel is “by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). The “revelation” is yours just as much as it is anybody elses. If you have a Bible and you can read, if you’ve got eyes to see, sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Let the gospel leap at you from these pages and find a place in your heart. You’ll never be the same.

If you learn to understand the gospel, and accept and believe the gospel, you will win souls. The gospel will flow out from you to somebody else.