Righteous by Faith, and the Joy of Salvation

Keith Phillips

Reason for This Article:
There are many who find satisfaction in identifying themselves with false doctrines, that there may be not disturbance or difference between themselves and the world; but the children of God must bear testimony to the truth, not only by pen and voice but by spirit and character.1

As I visit and talk with many in our churches today, there is something that concerns me more and more. The concern has to do with why many of us are so depressed, angry, and frustrated—so much so that many have become victims in their own minds. Their frustration manifests itself as: “If only the church would do this or that, I would find happiness.” The natural course of these feelings leads to the next logical step and reasoning: “Maybe I am in the wrong church. Maybe we are not the remnant because if we were, then I would not feel this way.”

I am not saying that there aren’t times of pain, hurt feelings, discouragement and, yes, even suffering. But they are no longer merely occasional or out of the norm for the church these days; rather, they seem to be the rule and almost an expected part of everyday life—and I emphasize every day of life.

It is my belief that Seventh-day Adventists should be some of the happiest people walking the face of the earth. After all, we have a message that has been laboriously and sacrificially worked out, and besides, we have the Spirit of Prophecy.

So, What Is the Problem?
Could it be that many do not understand righteousness by faith? Are we caught hanging by a thread on either side of the rope and cannot understand why we are having a problem of getting a grip, or solid hold, on our faith? On one side we have those who push law, and on the other those advocating grace. Those at either extreme don’t realize that we can’t have one without the other, and that they both mean absolutely nothing without Jesus. He is the focal point of the law and the grace that each and every human being needs.

One of the most powerful quotes that I have been blessed to read concerning righteousness by faith is:

Paul had ever exalted the divine law. He had shown that in the law there is no power to save men from the penalty of disobedience. Wrongdoers must repent of their sins and humble themselves before God, Whose just wrath they have incurred by breaking His law, and they must also exercise faith in the blood of Christ as their only means of pardon. The Son of God had died as their sacrifice and had ascended to Heaven to stand before the Father as their Advocate. By repentanceand faith they might be freed from the condemnation of sin and through the grace of Christ be enabled henceforth to render obedience to the law of God. [2]

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. (Proverbs 3:13, emphasis supplied)

Next, let us review the three steps to righteousness by faith.
  1. We must repent.
    “Despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14, 15).
    • Repentance: if it is genuine, it will enable the individual to find the peace of forgiveness through Christ our Righteousness. He can find justification through the Justifier.
    • Why is this so important? “God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.”3Repentance is the understanding that God is right and we are wrong, and it will lead us to feel our need of Him for our purification.

  2. We must exercise faith in the blood of Christ as our only means of pardon.

    “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).

    “In order for man to be justified by faith, faith must reach a point where it will control the affections and impulses of the heart; and it is by obedience that faith itself is made perfect.”4

    “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
    1. Do I really believe that the blood of Jesus Christ can atone for my sins?
    2. Do I really believe that the blood of Jesus Christ has covered my sins?

  3. Grace will enable us to render obedience to the law of God. 

    Without the grace of Christ, the sinner is in a hopeless condition; nothing can be done for him; but through divine grace, supernatural power is imparted to the man and works in mind and heart and character.5
    1. “Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).
    2. “The Lord requires at this time just what He required of Adam and Eve—perfect obedience to the law of God.”6 This is only possible as God imparts His righteousness to us.
    3. “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18, emphasis supplied).
Understanding how these three elements work in our lives is central to our happiness.

The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner’s account. [7] Praise God!

Great peace have they that love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them. (Psalm 119:165)

After people repent and by faith learn to trust that Christ’s atonement for us is sufficient, God will impart His grace to give them the power to obey His law. We cannot keep God’s law with joy unless we have followed the first three steps previously mentioned. Could this be the reason why so many people struggle with the joy of salvation,
struggle to have peace with God and His church and His people?

What About Luther?
Martin Luther struggled with this joy-in-salvation issue. Until he discovered the text: “The just shall live by faith,” this great Reformer, who helped so many others to strengthen their hold on faith, had a perpetual battle with his own faith. He had no peace. No matter what he did, there was no rest for his soul. “The content of the depressions was always the same, the loss of faith that God is good and that He is good to me.”8

“His concern was all the more intense because he was a physician of souls; and if the medicine which he had prescribed for himself and for them was actually poison, how frightful was his responsibility. The problem for him was not to know where his depressions came from, but to know how to overcome them.”9 He did not realize that he must understand both where his depressions came from and how to overcome them.

Like many today, “Luther felt that his depressions were necessary. At the same time they were dreadful and by all means and in every way to be avoided and overcome.”10 This is another problem for those who do not have a clear understanding of righteousness by faith. 
  1. Many today do not realize that we need to understand that Jesus Christ is the only means by which we can overcome . . .
  2. We also need to know where the depression comes from. This knowledge usually comes when we understand that we can add nothing to what He has done already. It is by faith in Him, not ourselves.
  3. Some have even come to the conclusion that unless they suffer or go around depressed about something, they have not afflicted the soul enough. See what happened to Martin Luther:

One day, among others, wishing to obtain an indulgence promised by the pope to all who should ascend on their knees what is called Pilate’s Staircase, the poor Saxon monk was humbly creeping up those steps, which he was told had been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. But while he was performing this meritorious act, he thought he heard a voice of thunder crying from the bottom of his heart, as at Wittenberg and Bologna, “The just shall live by faith.”11  

There are many who make promises just like the popes of old and of now. If accepted, such promises will lead precious souls down the path of frustration and despair.


From the pulpits of today the words are uttered: “Believe, only believe. Have faith in Christ; you have nothing to do with the old law, only trust in Christ.” How different is this from the words of the apostle who declares that faith without works is dead. He says, “But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1: 22). We must have that faith that works by love and purifies the soul. Many seek to substitute a superficial faith for uprightness of life and think through this to obtain salvation. [12]

Through all the battles Luther faced—the self-inflicted abuse whether beating himself, climbing Pilate’s Staircase on his knees, or the withholding of all worldly comforts, no sacrifice could add anything to the price Christ paid. That is why Luther could not find peace while trying to accumulate favor with God. It was faith in what Christ had done that finally gave Luther the peace he so much craved.

There are still many churches today that will give their people tools or methods by which they are supposed to find pardon. Yet no peace comes, nor can it come, with anything other than simple faith in Christ.

This righteousness is heavenly and passive: which we have not of ourselves, but receive it from Heaven: which we work not, but apprehend it by faith. . . [13]

In that righteousness and life [of Christ] I have no sin, no sting of conscience, no care of death. . . . I have another righteousness and life above this life, which is Christ the Son of God, Who knoweth no sin nor death, but is righteousness and life eternal. [14]

What About Our History?
The 1888 Minneapolis General Conference session was a meeting of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is regarded as a landmark event in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Key participants were Alonzo T. Jones, Ellet J. Waggoner, and Ellen G. White, who were pitted against G. I. Butler, Uriah Smith, and others. The session discussed crucial theological issues such as the meaning of “righteousness by faith” and the relationship between law and grace.

Let us now take a look at that pivotal time in our church history concerning the topic of righteousness by faith.

Prior to 1888, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones challenged the church’s understanding of righteousness by faith. Not surprisingly, Sister White eventually would be drawn into the discussion, as well.

Ellen White tried valiantly to counteract the tendency of Adventists to flatter themselves on their good moral character and obedience to God’s laws. “We must renounce our own righteousness,” she wrote in an article prepared for the 1882 camp meetings, “and plead for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to us. We must depend wholly upon Christ for our strength. Self must die. We must acknowledge that all we have is from the exceeding riches of divine grace.” As Ellen saw it, faith in Christ’s sacrifice and merits should be followed by love, “and love by obedience.” Then the Holy Spirit would provide the power to transform the believer into “the divine image.” Sadly Mrs. White expressed the belief that “this experience is understood by but few who profess the truth.” [15]

Because of this unfortunate misunderstanding and pride in their own righteousness, many were not experiencing the joy, the true fruitage of love. Might it not be the same in our day? Do we claim, as our forefathers did, to be a good, moral people without the humility to give God all the credit? Have we really renounced all of our  righteousness? Look how the church treated the modern prophet, and let us see if the same problem concerning Ellen White is as relevant today as it was then. 

If church leaders could not hear, Ellen White would go directly to the people. But first she would make one more attempt to reach those at the top. Thus the month following the conference saw her in Battle Creek, where others had arrived before her. Their reports, along with letters from Minneapolis, confirmed Elder Butler’s prejudices and suspicions. Ellen White tried to impress Butler with her desire for unity, that all she desired was “to see the matter as it is, and make things straight”; but she felt he virtually ignored her. . . . Others in Battle Creek also treated Mrs. White coolly. Always before when in this city, so long her home, she had been urged to speak in the tabernacle. Now, although the customary invitation was given, two of the local elders called to inquire what her topic would be. The hint was not very subtle, and Ellen White firmly told them that this was a matter best left between her and the Lord. She also urged them to invite A. T. Jones to speak in the tabernacle. They hedged, saying they would need to check first with Uriah Smith. Then do so quickly, Ellen urged, because Elder Jones has a message from God for the people. Jones did get to preach, and many were benefited. [16]

I believe that today we have the same problem in the church as we did at that time. Because of our misunderstanding of righteousness by faith, many have been led to question our doctrine and the legitimacy and precision of the prophet.

We sometimes also present truth in a wrong spirit. In the spring of 1887, Ellen White sent a letter of censure to all the major participants in the 1886 debate. She reproved Waggoner and Jones for “their overconfident attitude and for publicly agitating matters.” She wanted them to show a united front before the world. “Butler and Smith were reminded that they were not infallible.”17

Now let us to see what can happen when a person truly understands righteousness by faith.

Ellen White was especially burdened for Elder Uriah Smith and made several appeals to him. “These, coupled with her moving Week of Prayer call for church members to truly repent and really come to Christ, had a deep effect on Uriah Smith. Only a few days later he requested a personal interview with Mrs. White, during which she noted a much different attitude on Smith’s part. This was followed by his meeting with a small group of church leaders two days later to confess his wrong attitudes and mistaken opposition to the messages presented in 1888. . . . Ellen White rejoiced that Elder Smith had “fallen on the Rock and was broken.”18

Oh, how I believe many of us need to fall once again on that same Rock and be broken. Pride, conflict, strife, power struggles, and discord in the church have not only led to hatred amongst members but also have taken many innocent casualties in the process.

A matter that all need to understand is that we can experience real joy in our salvation:
  1. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2; emphasis supplied).
  2. “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10; emphasis supplied).
  3. “Repentance is associated with faith and is urged in the Gospel as essential to salvation. . . . This repentance has in it nothing of the nature of merit, but it prepares the heart for the acceptance of Christ as the only Saviour, the only hope of the lost sinner.”19
  4. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit” (Psalm 51:7–12; emphasis supplied).

One of the key indicators, then, that we have salvation is joy, or peace.

In verse 13, we see the results of being forgiven and having faith that His blood is sufficient. The Bible says, “Then.” “Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee” (emphasis supplied).

Another clear indicator is that after we have repented and accepted Christ’s atonement for our sins by faith, we will, according to Psalm 51:13, teach others of that salvation. But we must remember that we can only be truly happy when we are at one with our God and that loyalty is the fruit of that love. Remember what we read from The Acts of the Apostles, page 393: “By repentance and faith they [mankind] might be freed from the condemnation [count it all joy to us!] of sin and through the grace of Christ be enabled henceforth to render obedience to the law of God.”

From all that we have considered thus far, it is clear that we struggle when we do not understand righteousness by faith. We struggle with doubt, frustrated with all the efforts of keeping the law and yet still coming short of where we know we should be. Salvation under such conditions is not a joy, and if we are not careful, the next logical place we find ourselves is in doubting our message—doubting the very church that God has set up to shine forth amongst all the false churches in the world.

Under this dark cloud of doubt, we may even come to the place where we start questioning the Spirit of Prophecy, then the Bible: Are they really inspired? Next might come a move to Sunday worship, then perhaps even blaming God Himself for our backsliding. 

Beloved, it all leads to Sunday. If we would fall in love with Christ we will see and find love in keeping His fourth commandment. Then by faith—righteousness by faith—we may believe that His blood does cover our sins, that He died specifically for each of us. Here is where we really find the “joy in thy salvation” of Psalm 51:12.

Why Our People Must Understand Righteousness by Faith

The thought that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, not because of any merit on our part, but as a free gift from God, is a precious thought. The enemy of God and man is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken. [20]


  1. Ellen G. White, Faith and Works (Nashville TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1979), 92.
  2. Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1911), 393; emphasis supplied.
  3. Faith and Works, 100.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 89.
  7. Ibid., 101.
  8. Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand—A Life of Martin Luther (New York: New American Library, 1950, 1978), 282.
  9. Ibid., 283.
  10. Ibid.
  11. J. H. Merle D’Aubigné, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 5 vols. (New York: American Tract Society, n.d.), vol. 1, bk. 2, chap. 6, p. 207.
  12. Faith and Works, 89.
  13. John Dillenberger, ed., Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), 105.
  14. Ibid., 105, 106.
  15. R. W. Schwarz, Light Bearers to the Remnant (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1979), 184.
  16. Ibid., 190, 191.
  17. Ibid., 186.
  18. Ibid., 193.
  19. Faith and Works, 99.
  20. Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association), 161.