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Righteousness by Faith

We have restored in the Scriptures quoted the Names of the Father and Son, as they were originally written by the inspired authors of the Bible.  Click here to download the Restored Names Version (RNV) of Scripture.  -WLC Team

Reaction to the incredible practice of literally buying forgiveness for sin from the Roman Catholic Church at the turn of the sixteenth century was one of the factors that sparked the Protestant Reformation. At the time, the Catholic Church was bleeding central Europe dry of funds for the building of St. Peter's in Rome. The story of a man buying such an indulgence for the sin of stealing from the very one who sold them has become famous.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

The realization of righteousness by faith began with Luther in his visit to Rome. Luther was shocked by the ostentation and the corruption of the priesthood on all levels. While climbing Pilate's staircase on his knees to gain an indulgence himself, he was suddenly overwhelmed by the Bible text ”The just shall live by faith.” He got up from his knees and began the Reformation in Germany on that principle.

"For in [the Gospel] the righteousness of Yahuwah is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'" (Romans 1:17, Restored Names Scripture) 

One should always remember that it was the experience of seeing sin, the transgression of the ten commandments, in the church, that inspired the realization of righteousness by faith. The idea that faith in Yahushua without obedience to the law can bring salvation is diametrically opposed to Luther's experience and teaching, to say nothing of Paul's.

But righteousness by faith did not begin with Luther and his realization that adoration of saints' images and relics, acts of prostration in churches, fasting, belief in purgatory, and dozens of others forms of holiness could save no one. Nor did the concept of righteousness by faith begin with Paul in the New Testament. The book of Genesis is structured around this grand truth from the very day of Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden through Abraham's great declaration of faith to Joseph's recognition of divine providence. Salvation has always been a gift of divine grace, not something earned by human efforts.

The masthead of the Review and Herald magazine for years had a summary of doctrinal statements:

The baptism, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Yahushua into the heavenly sanctuary to intercede for the faithful and make an atonement for sin is not expressed here. Of course, they believed these things. But the fact that they were left out of the summary left a gap between the Law of Yahuwah and the second coming of Yahushua. This contributed to preaching that neglected these truths. This lack was brought to the attention of believers in the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis, where elders Waggoner and Jones preached the message of Righteousness by faith.

"Many commit the error of trying to define minutely the fine points of distinction between justification and sanctification. Into the definitions of these two terms they often bring their own ideas and speculations. Why try to be more minute than is Inspiration on the vital question of righteousness by faith?

"As the penitent sinner, contrite before [Yahuwah], discerns [Yahushua's] atonement in his behalf, and accepts this atonement as his only hope in this life and the future life, his sins are pardoned. This is justification by faith.

"Sanctification is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime. It is not gained by a happy flight of feeling, but is the result of constantly dying to sin, and constantly living for [Yahushua]. Wrongs cannot be righted nor reformations wrought in the character by feeble, intermittent efforts. It is only by long, persevering effort, sore discipline, and stern conflict, that we shall overcome.

"It {sanctification} is not merely a theory, an emotion, or a form of words, but a living, active principle, entering into the everyday life. It requires that our habits of eating, drinking, and dressing be such as to secure the preservation of physical, mental, and moral health, that we may present to [Yahuwah] our bodies--not an offering corrupted by wrong habits but--'a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto [Yahuwah].'

"The Scriptures are the great agency in the transformation of character. . . . If studied and obeyed, the Word of [Yahuwah] works in the heart, subduing every unholy attribute.

This text gives valuable advice and information, indeed, a summary of the entire issue in a nutshell. First of all, it shows that what the Bible says about the subject is sufficient, and we should be satisfied with that, and not engage in further speculation. At the same time, the text shows that righteousness by faith consists of justification and sanctification.

silhouette of a contemplative man against orange skyJustification is defined as the experience of penitence. That is, it can exist only under the condition of contemplating the law, the Ten Commandments, which define what sin is. Pardon for sin occurs when the penitent and contrite sinner accepts the atonement of Yahushua. Sanctification is rather a more complex and less precisely defined thing. It is the lifelong transformation of character that takes place when one studies and obeys the word of Yahuwah. That word works in the heart, subduing every unholy attribute. Both are divine acts, but they are acts that require the human cooperation of laying hold on the atonement with faith, and daily coming to the word of Yahuwah.

The words faith and righteousness are used together in only a few texts, but they refer to the very beginning of the Bible. The first person who is said to have attained righteousness by faith is Abel:

By faith Abel offered unto Yahuwah a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, Yahuwah testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” (Hebrews 11:4)

Nearly all of these texts are found in the Pauline epistles. But Peter also joins the terms faith and righteousness:

”Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Yahushua, the Anointed, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of our Eloah and our Saviour, Yahushua, the Anointed.” (2 Peter 1:1)

It is worth noting that our faith lays hold, not on some supposed righteousness of our own, but on the righteousness of Yahuwah Himself. Paul also introduces his discussion of righteousness by faith with the same point:

”For therein is the righteousness of Yahuwah revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

Paul goes on to make the point that the righteousness of Yahuwah, being the only righteousness to be obtained, is not limited to any certain group of people. That is an obvious conclusion, if the righteousness is not human righteousness but divine:

”Even the righteousness of Yahuwah which is by faith in Yahushua, the Anointed, unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.” (Romans 3:22)

It is established that only Yahuwah's righteousness is effective, and that it is accessible to all people without distinction. But it is not yet seen how that righteousness is transmitted to humankind. The process is described next:

”Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in the Anointed, Yahushua: Whom Yahuwah hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of Yahuwah.” (Romans 3:24, 25)

The human mind is so perverse that it naturally runs to the question of what a person must do. The contemplation of so-called works arises already in Paul's writings:

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the irreverent, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

open BibleBut what exactly the works are that are futile is a matter of argument. In Luther's time, it was a matter of unscriptural ritual, for the most part. At the time of Paul, the burning question in Judaism was whether an adult convert must be circumcized on conversion. Consequently, this quarrel spilled over into the early ekklesia as well:

The reason why we use Ekklesia and not church when referring to Yahuwah's faithful in WLC content is because the word "church" does not accurately convey the meaning of the original Greek, "Ekklesia." Throughout the New Testament, Ekklesia refers to the Called Out Ones. The word "church," which emphasizes a group, is therefore an erroneous translation and should never have been used. Christians are literally the Called Out Ones. The true followers of Yahushua are indeed the Called Out Ones from the organized denominations and religions of fallen Babylon. When the call to flee Babylon has been heard, none are to again return to Babylonian churches and forms of religion.

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.” (Romans 4:9)

Paul takes the example of Abraham:

”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)

Interestingly enough, Paul evades the issue of good deeds as works altogether and focuses on the opening of righteousness by faith to all humankind. Again, the focus of the promise is not to humankind as such, as that would imply works, but to the seed of Abraham, that is to Yahushua, who is the heir of the world. The opening of salvation to all men is not in function of all men, but in function of the heritage that Yahushua has won. This is the logical reason behind the ineffectiveness of works:

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13)

”What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.” (Romans 9:30)

Works are really defined, as through circumcision, as belonging to a particular people instead of merely to the believers of all peoples whom Yahushua inherits. The aspect of divinely appointed kingship in regard to righteousness by faith has been greatly neglected.

Given that righteousness by faith is the legal heritage of Yahushua, who inherits the world, conquers death, and becomes the fountain of life, it depends directly on the human relation to Yahushua's resurrection:

”But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise,... The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Master Yahushua, and shalt believe in thine heart that Yahuwah hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:6,8-10)

Paul gives a briefer exposition of the issue to the Galatians:

”For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” (Galatians 5:5)

Both in Romans and Galatians, Paul relegates one's own ineffectual righteousness to that of the law. The context is of course the first century Jewish accommodation to Rome, by which the law is emphasized, and thus skewed and abused. The two strands of Israelite faith were the law and the divinely appointed, the Messiah figure. The Romans were very sensitive to any rival to Caesar. For survival, the Jews focused on the law and laid aside the Messiah. The Pharisees did this by rabbinical method, the scholarly application of the law to all aspects of life. The Sadducees did this by what they thought was a literal application of the law, but which limited it to the stated areas, leaving the rest of life open to compromise with Rome. Thus, both advocated a righteousness of the law that denied Yahushua. At the same time, the kingly role of the Messiah is central. Paul is really the champion, not of a new faith, but of conservative Israelite faith, faith that was absolutely loyal to the appointed ruler, the divinely established king. This appears in summary in Philippians 3:9:

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith in the Anointed, the righteousness which is of Yahuwah by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)

But that does not relieve people of their moral obligations any more after the coming of Yahushua than it did before He came, or earlier under the messiahs of the kingdom of Israel or even earlier under the messiahs of the judges and patriarchal period. All of the earlier messiahs or anointed ones could provide only earthly, physical satisfaction. The literal keeping of the Ten Commandments was both the means and the end, but keeping the commandments could not keep people from dying. Yahushua could and does provide eternal life. He does not provide less than the Old Testament messiahs, who provided the means for keeping the Ten Commandments, but he provides more. He provides eternal life for those whom He inherits through His conquering of death. So, in writing to Timothy, Paul combines the terms of righteousness and faith with those of piety, love, patience, and meekness:

”But thou, O man of Yahuwah, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, piety, faith, love, patience, meekness.” (1 Timothy 6:11)

The positive virtues are complemented by fleeing sin:

”Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Master out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)

A full theology of righteousness by faith is thus found merely by examining the less than a score of texts that mention the words "righteousness by faith" directly.

Noah's Ark: A true example of righteousness by faithPerhaps no figure of righteousness by faith is more compelling than that of the ark. Those who endeavored to keep the law, but failed to enter the ark, drowned along with the outright sinners. Nothing can more vividly and eloquently express why and how righteousness by faith is not by the works of the law.

”By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” (Hebrew 11:7)