Justification by Faith Alone
Sabbath School Lesson 2017 Quarter 3 Lesson 4 Sabbath Afternoon
What does the title mean to you? What law lens to you hear these words through?
Before we even address questions like justification and atonement, we have to determine some basic facts;
- What is sin? –transgression of the law
- Is this transgression a behavior—a deed, a bad act, or is it a condition of heart and mind?
- “everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Romans 14:23
- Is the focus on the specific act, or the motivation for the act?
- Then, how does transgression of the law relate to a condition of heart and mind?
- What is God’s law?
- How does God’s law function?
- Does God’s law function no differently than man’s law—rules imposed requiring imposed punishments? –this is Satan’s allegation “Every sin must meet its punishment urged Satan.” Desire of Ages page 761
- Is God’s law design law, protocols upon which life and health are constructed to operate?
- If sin is breaking laws that function like human laws and therefore require the lawgiver to inflict just punishment, then what is justification? It is a legal solution—which is what many theologians argue.
- However, if God’s law is design law, protocols upon which reality and life is built, then what is justification—putting right what is not as God designed it to be.
This week I discovered a lecture given to a conference of pastors by a theology professor who spoke for over an hour on why what we teach in this commentary is wrong.
The theologian said that the word justification is legal language and therefore by definition of the word requires a legal explanation.
There are several problems with the theologian’s explanation: first the Bible was not written in English, or Latin, thus the word justification does not exist anywhere in Scripture. It is a word used by the translators who, already have a legal bias and thus, introduce legal ideas.
Secondly, even if we use the word justify, legal definitions are not the only legitimate definitions to that word. Justify also has meaning with no legal elements at all, to justify the margins on your document is not a legal act, but an actual moving or setting what is not in line to being in line.
Finally, justify can also mean to show, demonstrate or prove an action, position, person, claim to be right. The legal view has justification being declaration not demonstration. But the justification of setting right and demonstrating are the true Biblical definitions. The legal definition is not Biblical, it is the lie and I will give you the evidence for this so every person can be fully persuaded in their own mind.
The demonstration aspect of justify is what God was doing in the Great Controversy; God is the one being justified—God is showing, demonstrating, proving His righteousness and Paul speaks about this in Romans 3:25, 26:
God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people’s sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus. GNT
Thus, justify can mean something legal, but it can also mean simply proving what is already true (God’s character and methods of love) and also setting what is not in harmony or in line with God’s design back to God’s original design.
We cannot tell from the word itself, which meaning is the correct one. So the theologian who says it must be legal because it is a legal word demonstrates a huge bias and denies other possibilities.
From Wikipedia, which does a really good job of defining the penal substitutionary view of justification by faith, states:
Sola fide (Latin: by faith alone), also known as justification by faith alone, is a Christian theological doctrine that distinguishes most Protestant denominations from the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some parts of the Restoration Movement.
The doctrine of sola fide asserts God’s pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith alone, excluding all “works”. All mankind, it is asserted, is fallen and sinful, under the curse of God, and incapable of saving itself from God’s wrath and curse. But God, on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus), grants sinners judicial pardon, or justification, which is received solely through faith. Faith is seen as passive, merely receiving Christ and all his benefits, among which benefits are the active and passive righteousness of Jesus Christ. Christ’s righteousness, according to the followers of “sola fide,” is imputed (or attributed) by God to the believing sinner (as opposed to infused or imparted), so that the divine verdict and pardon of the believing sinner is based not upon anything in the sinner, nor even faith itself, but upon Jesus Christ and his righteousness alone, which are received through faith alone.
Martin Luther opposed the Catholic teaching of righteousness by combination of Jesus’ sacrifice and our works. Luther’s position was that our works of penance, pilgrimage, offerings, abasement, flagellation or any other work could not justify us. We agree completely!
The question that separates our position with the legal penal view is not whether we can contribute to our own justification—we absolutely state we cannot. The question is: What is justification? Is it legal, or is it actual something that is achieved in human beings? Is it declared by not experienced, or is it only declared once it is experienced?
The reason this division exists is because there are two ways to understand God’s law and depending on what view of God’s law one holds that directly determines how one understands justification.
The legal penal theologians hold that God’s law functions no differently than the laws sinners make— rules imposed requiring judicial oversight and imposed punishment. And therefore claim, as Wikipedia states above, that justification is when the righteousness of Jesus is imputed which means declared or accounted in a legal way in the courts of heaven, but not experienced in the believer. They make God out to declare something as true which is not actually true.
Further, they accuse us, because our model has an actual change occurring within the believer, of teaching Moral Influence Theory. (MIT)
Their accusation is actually diagnostic of their level of understanding. They claim we teach MIT because they are operating at level four moral development and people can only comprehend one level above their current level—and Moral Influence is level 5.
We do not promote Moral Influence Theory, and in fact we demonstrate its deficiencies, however the theologians who oppose us cannot comprehend what we are saying and thus claim we are Moral Influence. In the lecture the theologian admitted this multiple times “I really didn’t understand what he meant by that.” “He dressed it up with things not typically in MIT but if you eliminate those elements you get moral influence theory.”
That would be like saying, “he put wings and an engine on it and called it an airplane, but if you remove the wings and engine you get a soap box.”
They are being as honest as they are capable of being—they simply don’t comprehend this perspective. This has happened many times in human history:
- Jesus presents design law truth and the legal theologians oppose Him and take offense that He doesn’t support their legal views
- Apostles refuse to promote legal theology and are opposed by the Judaizers
- John Wesley and was opposed by leaders of the Church of England and they made fun calling him a Methodist (GC 257)
- Jones, Waggoner, and Ellen White when they presented the healing view were opposed by the legal believing leadership in the SDA church
- We are still facing the same long battle—who is God and how does His government work— like sinful humans, which is what penal substitution teaches, or do we worship the Creator and Designer who operates upon the laws of love, truth, and freedom?
Design law understands Justification differently:
- When Adam and Eve sinned did God get changed?
- Did God’s law get changed?
- Did the condition of humankind get changed?
- So what needs to be “set right” in order to bring unity or at-one-ment?
- Does something need to be done to God, to God’s law?
- Does something need to be done in sinners to fix what sin has done to them?
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