Righteousness by Faith

Righteousness by faith is the study and the foundation of salvation. Everyone wants to know how to be saved…what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? said the ruler (Mark 10:17, Luke 18:18) . But what does the Bible say about salvation and can we ever be Righteous by faith?

This is a chapter taken from the book Christ our Righteousness by J.W. Lehman pp 79-89.

Many believe that righteousness by faith is only following Christ as our example, and as we copy Him we become righteous. There are many quotations and Bible texts that seem to support this idea. Others believe that the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy present Christ as our substitute in righteousness as well as in death. They say that He lived a righteous life on our behalf, that His righteousness is offered in place of our sinfulness, and since I have no righteousness of my own and cannot produce it, He literally is righteousness for me, and not merely the example, or pattern, of righteousness.

It is apparent that these two ideas are in conflict, for if Christ is doing something for me and offers to give His righteousness to me, then I do not receive righteousness by copying Him. On the other hand, if I must copy Christ in order to be righteous, then righteousness is not something He has done for me, nor do I receive it as a gift.

Most people hold one or the other of these two views. Whatever philosophy you establish and accept is the way you will attempt to live Christ our righteousness. There are many conflicting ideas about Christ our righteousness, and many who hold a particular view fully believe that they are following the truth about this subject. Those who claim to follow Christ as their pattern say that is Christ our righteousness. This is another one of those problem areas that cause us to misunderstand and misinterpret this subject.

Let us first examine Christ as our example. There are many texts in the bible that seem to say this. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” John 13:34. Jesus seems to be saying here that we are to love as he loved.

Here is a similar text: “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” 1John 2:6. In other words, live just like He lived. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” 1 Peter 2:21,22. We are to follow in the steps of Christ who suffered, who did no sin, and who had no guile. He was righteousness, and we assume we will be righteous if we follow Him by suffering, committing no sin, and by removing all guile from our hearts.

The wording in this next text is different but it says essentially the same thing: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? There we are buried with Him by baptism into death and like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”

Romans 6:3-6. If you are like Him in death and burial, you will be like Him in resurrection. Do as I do is what it says to many people.

Now I want to ask you a question: Are we righteous because we do right things? If I flawlessly follow the pattern of Jesus, will I be righteous? Is the doing of right things righteousness? Many think it is, and have thought that for years. They have assumed that if they are doing everything just right, then they are going to be saved. They think that is righteousness.

There are a few questions that seem to present Christ as our example and as our pattern. “Christ is our pattern; His life was an example of good works.” 1T 505.

How many imitate the great exemplar? All who have professed to be followers of Christ have, in taking this step, pledged themselves to walk even as He walked.” 2T 32.

“A pattern has been given you…If you turn from this correct, this perfect pattern, and take an incorrect one… your course of action will receive its merited reward; your life will be a failure.” 2T 396. You have a correct Pattern. If you turn from the correct one to follow an incorrect one, your life will be a failure and you will be lost.

“It is not by looking away from Him that we imitate the life of Jesus, but by trying through faith and love and by earnest, persevering effort to approach the perfect Pattern.” 6BV1098,1099.

“All should copy the Pattern as closely as possible.” 5T 254.

“You are not excusable for not living a Christ-like life. Christ came to the world, subject to His Father’s will, for one great purpose – to show men and women what God desires them to be and what they may be.” MM42.

If you go and look up these quotations, you will note that I omitted a few words form two of them. The reason I did that is because I wanted to show you how most people read them. Stay with me and I will come back to these quotations again later.

Now we will ask some difficult questions. Can we attain to righteousness merely by imitating, or copying the right pattern? If that is true, the best copier is the best Christian, right? Did Jesus in His sermon on the mount say blessed are the copycats for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven? If you can copy Jesus and be righteous, why could we not copy the law and be righteous? Isn’t the law righteous? And isn’t the law God’s character written down? So why not just copy the law and be righteous? And what difference does it make if we are copying the law or copying Jesus?

Paul discussed our inability to copy the law when he wrote: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:3,4. There are some things the law cannot do. The law cannot cause us to be obedient to the law. Why? Because it is dependent on weak, human flesh. If I could not copy the law because of the weakness of my flesh, how can I copy Jesus with the same flesh? So, it does not matter what the pattern is if you are dependent on man’s inability. Something has to be done about that before we can do any copying of any kind. I am unable to copy the pattern of the law or of Christ because of my weak, human flesh.

Some will reason that justification is a gift of God, and following the Pattern is sanctification. That seems to be quite a logical concept, so I want to take a little detour and discuss sanctification in that context.

Concerning sanctification and righteousness Paul wrote: “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”.” 1 Corinthians 1:30. It does not sound like we copy Him to be sanctified, does it? It says He is “made” unto us sanctification. That is a vastly different thing than copying Him.

“And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Philippians 3:9. In the context here, as Paul talks about his hope of resurrection, he seems to say that when he has finished his life, he does not want his own righteousness. He wants to have Christ’s. Certainly when Paul finished his life, he was sanctified. Yet at that point (at the end of his life) he still does not want his own righteousness.

Some people say that in righteousness by faith there is a starting point where you have lots of Christ’s righteousness, but as you go along in the Christian life and begin to grow, you need less and less of His righteousness until finally you have all of your own. Paul does not see it that way at all. He says that at the end of his life, he does not want any of his own righteousness. Sanctification, then, is not necessarily copying the pattern.

“You are powerless to do good, and cannot better your condition. Apart from Christ, we have no merit, no righteousness. Our sinfulness, our weakness, our human imperfection makes it impossible that we should appear before God unless we are clothed in Christ’s spotless righteousness. 1SM333.

“The righteousness of Christ is presented as a free gift to the sinner if he will accept it. He has nothing of his own but what is tainted and corrupted, polluted with sin, utterly repulsive to a pure and holy God. Only through the righteousness character of Jesus Christ can man come night to God.” 1SM 342.

And one more: “In him is our hope, our justification, our righteousness.” 1SM 351. It seems that all of righteousness is found in Jesus, that none is found in us, and that man is incapable of following the Pattern. Man cannot perform although he would like to. The things he wants to do he cannot do because of the weakness of the flesh.

Why does the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy teach us to copy the Pattern? Why does EGW call Christ the Pattern and the Example and say we should imitate and copy Him? There are two very good reasons. When Jesus came to His people, the Jews, they were always discussing the law and righteousness. If asked to define righteousness, they would say it is to do what the law says (or at least, their interpretation of the law). Jesus did not agree with them. Both Jesus and the Jews believed in the law, but they did not agree on what obedience to the law is. They had two different opinions. The Jews thought they knew what the law said, but Jesus as the great I AM, said He wrote the law. He essentially said that He was the law in human flesh and the standard of righteousness.

This was made clear in an article by EGW titled “Christ the Impersonation of The Law” where she wrote: “He came to live out the law, and His words and character were daily a correct exposition of the law of God…Jesus was a living manifestation of what the law was…” ST, March 14, 1905. Jesus tried to convey to the Jews that what the law says, He is. The Jews were confused as to what constitutes obedience to the law; and a dispute about what the law really says continues to this day. Jesus says you can argue all you want, but the righteousness of the law is what He is. If your ideas about righteousness do not agree with what He is, then your ides are wrong.

Christ is the pattern of the standard of righteousness. We are to copy the standard. To be righteous you must be like Him. The Bible says when He comes we shall be like Him. He will be reproduced in us. He does not say that we are to copy Him in His actions, or try to mimic Him. He says that He is the standard of righteousness and that there is no other standard. He is the goal of righteousness. He is the goal to be attained. He is righteousness.

There is a second reason why He is called the Pattern, and it is a bit different than what many think it means. He is not only what righteousness is, but He is how righteousness is achieved. He is both the what and the how of righteousness. Of course, we have problems when we start talking about the how of righteousness. The method by which Christ lived that righteous life was by perfect faith and trust in His Father. Therefore, Jesus could say that the words He spoke and the works He did were not His, but those of the Father. He said He lived by faith in the Father. And if we live by faith in Christ, we live righteously. We, by faith, receive righteousness by receiving Him. Christ is the pattern by the way righteousness is accomplished and by the standard of righteousness. There is no other righteousness, and there is no other way.

Paul discussed this when he talked about the righteousness of God that we receive: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” Romans 3:22. Jesus was righteous because He lived by faith in the Father. If we live by faith in Christ, we may live by His righteousness and be righteous.

This is different than copying actions. Consider how when a man wishes to learn how to drive, he is given a driving instructor. They go through all the streets, up and down the freeways, practicing how to park and back up. Eventually the man can do everything the instructor does. Then he says, “Now I know how to drive like the instructor.” Does he? Of course not! There is more to driving than mechanical movements of a wheel and turn signal and brakes and gas pedal. Good driving is more than going through the motions. The instructor has been driving for many years and has learned judgement by experience. You cannot teach judgement in a driving course. We see many foolish people who think they can drive well because they completed a driving course. I was like that when I went to flying school. When I finished flying school, I could do all the things the instructor could do; but I was a flying fool. I could fly but I did not have any sense. The neighbours who lived close to where we used to fly knew that by the way we blew the shingles off their roofs. My instructor never did that. There were a lot of things he would not do that I did. He had better judgement.

There are a lot of things that Jesus will not do that Christians do, because Christians assume they can do like He does; but it is an assumption. The doing of certain actions is not being a righteous person. Righteousness is not simply doing what is right. Righteousness is being right. There is a vast difference. A fish does not swim to prove it is a fish. It swims because it is a fish. A Christian does not do righteousness to prove he is righteous. He does righteousness because he is righteous.

We can do the same thing with righteousness by faith as the Jews did with the ceremonial law. The Lord gave them specific instructions for the ceremonial laws through a vision He gave to Moses. If you committed a sin you were to bring a sacrifice; and He told them what kind, where to bring it, and all the things to do. Over and over they would come with a sacrifice, kill the sacrifice, and then say they are forgiven and righteous. By the time of Isaiah, the Lord said He was sick of their sacrifices. They thought their endless sacrificing was righteousness, but it was nothing but the bloodthirsty killing of thousands of animals. God tried to convey to them that it was not what they were doing (killing all those animals) that made them righteous. Those animals were only a symbol of Christ and His love and death for them. If they did not see Him dying for their sins, if they did not see the fulfilment of the symbol, they were as unrighteous as can be! They were doing everything right but they were lost!

The Jews thought that righteousness was merely the doing of right things. And we can copy the Pattern in much right doing and be as unrighteous as they were because our right doing can be just plain selfish and a way of trying to earn our way to heaven. It is not what you do on the outside. If Christ were inside their hearts they would become broken-hearted when having to kill that animal. The day must have come when they liked to kill animals, or they wouldn’t have killed so many. The day must have come when they were hardened on the inside. How could they kill animals to the extent that they did and yet think they were righteous before God?

The Lord knew that the human heart did not like to kill. The system of animal sacrifices was to be a divine deterrent that would turn them around from habitual sin and bring about repentance. The Jews fell into the deception of believing that they could be saved by following the pattern outlined by Moses in the ceremonial law. We can fall into the same trap by thinking that if we only imitate Jesus, we will be saved.

Righteousness is not achieved by trying to mimic Jesus. “Having made us righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ….” 1SM 394. We are made righteous by something He puts into us or imputes to us. So it is not a mere following of a pattern. It is something that happens to us that He causes. We must be born again. In other words we must receive new hearts that “are created in righteousness and true holiness.” Ephesians 4:24. When I get a new heart, things are different. Righteousness is of the heart, not of the hand or the tongue or the eye or the appetite. It is of the heart. That is where righteousness is. If I do not have a new heart, my hands may do right things but for the wrong reasons. Righteousness is not something that is on the outside, but something that comes from the inside of me which God has put there, which is the new heart.

Christ had much to say about that, especially in Matthew 25 where He talked about people who clean up the outside of the cup so nicely, but leave the inside dirty. He said that people like that are nothing but beautiful tombstones, but inside they are just filled with dead men’s bones. They emphasize the outside and never worry about the heart. Righteousness is of the heart. All that right doing will accomplish nothing, no matter how right it is.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5. “In order to serve Him aright (which is the doing), we must be born of the divine Spirit. This will purify the heart and renew the mind, giving us a new capacity for knowing and loving God. It will give us a willing obedience to do all His requirements. This is true worship.” DA 189. This “new capacity for knowing and living God” is an unusual thing. When we are unconverted, we do not know what it is like to be converted; but we assume we do because we assume we are converted. We go on and on thinking we know and thinking we love; and all the time based on a wrong concept.

This righteousness the devil throws at us is counterfeit, and a counterfeit looks very much like the real thing. A person might look like a Christian and not be a Christian because they lack that new heart. When you set out to copy the pattern, there is always the danger that you only have the appearance of righteousness. The Lord looks on the heart, but man does not see the heart. In fact, we do not even want to look at the heart. We prefer to judge by appearances. If you do not think so, listen to our gossip everyday. We are everlastingly judging by appearances. We like that. We indulge it. We swear up and down that we are right in how we judge people based on what appears to us as sins they commit;’ and thus we feel justified in telling the neighbours about what we saw another person doing. What did we see? Externals. What do we know about the heart? Nothing. Have you never been guilty of judging people by their external behaviour? Our ignorance is abominable.

This matter of following the Pattern, if not properly put into perspective, can be a dangerous trap. When Christ is in my heart, I have a new capacity for knowing and loving Him. I begin to understand things I never saw before. Things that were obscure and dark before are now plain to me; and I marvel at how I could have misunderstood it before.

At the heart of all this is a statement of Jesus: If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15. If you do not love Him, don’t try, for all your trying is a counterfeit. If you love Him, then and only then copy the Pattern. Without the love, you need not bother trying.

This is the entire secret about following the pattern. The Bible says that God is love, and Jesus taught that the law is love. And love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 1310). Obedience to the law is righteousness; therefore the righteousness that is obedience to a law of love is also love. “Righteousness is love.” MB 18. Love is not what I do with my hands necessarily, but what I have in my heart. Many people do nice things with their hands that seem to be acts of love, but something is missing. But when love is in the heart, then you know it is genuine love. You sense it, you perceive it, and you respond with love. Love is not something you can act out or put on. Love comes out of the inside of you – if Jesus is in the heart. God is love. His very Being is love. He does not love to prove that He is righteous. He loves because He is love.

Truly understanding that God is love does something for my heart. It changes me on the inside, and I begin to love Him in return. “When as erring, sinful beings, we come to Christ and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love springs up in the heart. Every burden is light; for the yolk that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure. The path that before seemed shrouded in darkness, becomes bright with beams from the Sun of Righteousness. The loveliness of the character of Christ will be seen in His followers. It was His delight to do the will of God. Love to God, zeal for His glory, was the controlling power in our Saviour’s life. Love beautified and ennobled all His actions. Love is of God. The unconsecrated heart cannot originate or produce it. It is found only in the heart where Jesus reigns. ‘We love because He first loved us.’ In the heart renewed by divine grace, love is the principle of action. It modifies the character, governs the impulses, controls the passions, subdues enmity, and ennobles the affections. This love, cherished in the soul, sweetens the life, and sheds a refining influence on all around.” SC59. Not until Christ comes into the heart is there genuine love for God and for our fellow man; but when this love comes in, we are righteous. If love is righteousness, when Christ by His love is there, that love is righteousness.

“When Christ dwells in the heart, the soul will be so filled with His love, with the joy of communion with Him, that it will cleave to Him; and in the contemplation of Him, self will be forgotten (this copying the Pattern). Love to Christ will be the spring of action. Those who feel the constraining love of God, do not ask how little may be given to meet the requirements of God’ they do not ask for the lowest standard, but aim at perfect conformity to the will of their Redeemer. With earnest desire they yield all, and manifest an interest proportionate to the value of the object that they seek. A profession of Christ without this deep love is mere talk, dry formality, and heavy drudgery.” SC44,45. When He comes into the heart, the heart is filled with love.

When you love Him, you want to behold Him. You cannot take your eyes off of Him. The Bible talks about this in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where it says by beholding Him, we are transformed into the same image or likeness. But why do we behold Him? You only behold those things for a long time that you adore. This is why the disciple John looked to Jesus. “Even John, the beloved disciple, the one who most fully reflected the likeness of the Saviour, did not naturally possess that loveliness of character…But as the character of the Divine One was manifested to him, he saw his own deficiency, and was humbled by the knowledge. The strength and patience, the power and tenderness, the majesty and meekness that he beheld in the daily life of the Son of God, filled his soul with admiration and love. Day by day, his heart was drawn out toward Christ, until he lost sight of self in love for his Master. His resentful, ambitious temper was yielded to the molding power of Christ. The regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit renewed his heart. The power of the love of Christ wrought a transformation of character. This is the sure result of union with Jesus. When Christ abides in the heart, the whole nature is transformed. Christ’s Spirit, His love, softens the heart, subdues the soul, and arises the thoughts and desires toward God and heaven.” SC 73. I keep looking at Him, and I can never fill my soul with enough. He grows more lovely every minute I look at Him, and I am drawn out of myself until I can no longer see myself. All I see is the lovely Jesus. Then, copying the Pattern is fun; otherwise it is “mere talk, dry formality, and heavy drudgery.”

To sit and behold Jesus, to meditate on Him, to be absorbed in Him, to revel in Him is a fantastic experience. And only those who love Him will do it. They will like to talk about Him, they will like to witness concerning Him, and not so much about cold, sterile doctrines. Jesus is not a theory. He is an intimate, living Being. He lived all those doctrines. Tell people about Jesus. Loving people is practical. We can do that. When we love the Pattern, we can copy Him and we can tell people about Him.

What is righteousness? Is it the following or imitating of a pattern, or is it loving Jesus (remember that righteousness is love)? As we love Jesus, there is righteousness in us. We do the right things because we love Him. But the righteousness is not what we do. Righteousness is Whom we have abiding in our hearts. God first implants this love in our hearts. As I behold that love and grace, I am transformed – I have a renewed heart with a greater capacity for knowing and loving God. As I comprehend more about forgiveness and how He first loved me, I understand even more. When we see ourselves forgiven we know that not only are the sins of the past gone, we know that we belong to the family of God and that we are reinstated as though we had never sinned. We are treated as righteous because God has declared us righteous. I take in the fullness of what it means to be forgiven and see that I am not only a sinner forgiven, but that now I am reinstated as a righteous person, belonging to the family of God. And God says to all the angels in heaven, “This man is righteous.” And I say, “Glory to God in the highest! Praise His name!” Something has happened to me. Something is different. And what Jesus does for me in changing my life is a gift. I have not earned a thing. It is all by His grace. I copy the Pattern because the gift of love is in my heart. This loving Christ with all my heart is righteousness, and not the copying of the Pattern. Righteousness is the result of the love God has placed in my heart. After that love is there, there is the drawing of my mind and heart out to Him, and I cannot stay away from Him.

Let’s go back to two previous quotes and add in the words omitted. The first quote is used by those who teach that righteousness is achieved by copying Jesus: “Christ is our pattern; His life was an example of good works.” 1T 505. But notice what follows: “He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…Compare your course of life with that of your Master, who made so great a sacrifice that you might be saved. He frequently spent the entire night upon the damp ground in agonising prayer. You are seeking your own pleasure. Listen to the vain, frivolous conversation……Is this imitating the pattern?” In other words, can you really imitate the Pattern? Or is your life so filled with selfishness that you could never come close to copying the life of Jesus?

Here is the second quote: “You are not excusable for living an un-Christlike life. Christ came to this world, subject to His Father’s will, for one great purpose – to show men and women what God desires them to be and what they may be.” When I quoted this originally, I left out three words. When I put them in, it shows how we should understand this quote: …”to show men and women what God desires them to be and what, through His grace, they may be.” MM 42. Note that it is “through His grace” that we are to do what God desires us to do.

The next paragraph (on page 42) sheds even more light: “But I do not begin to write this letter to condemn you, but to encourage you to look away from sinful examples to the perfect Example, to point you to the path of peace and holiness. The Lord’s merciful love is still for you. But He would have you follow a better way than you have followed in the past. This you are to do, not by keeping our eyes fixed on the defective lives or professing Christians, but by beholding Christ, the Sent of God who in this world and in human nature lived a pure, noble, perfect life, setting an example that all may safely follow. The Lord is reaching out His hand to save you. I long to see you responding to His invitation.”

This is so different from the way many view the idea of following the Pattern. Only if His grace and love abide in our heart can we copy Him. If you love Him, copy Him. If that love and grace is not there, your efforts at copying Jesus are futile.

“It is not by looking away from Him that we imitate the life of Jesus, but by talking of Him, by dwelling upon His perfection, by seeking to refine the tastes and elevating the character, by trying through faith and love (not just by trying), and by earnest, persevering effort to approach the perfect Pattern. By having a knowledge of Christ, His words, His habits, and His lessons of instruction, we borrow the virtues of the character we have closely studied, and become imbued with His Spirit we have so much admired. Jesus becomes to us the Chiefest among ten thousand, the One altogether lovely.” 6BC 1098,1099.

When Christ becomes the Chiefest among ten thousand to me, I won’t even consider following self or Satan. There is no one like Jesus. I sit at His feet charmed, because no one ever cared for me like Jesus. Like John the beloved who leaned on Jesus’ breast, we do not care what happens just as long as we can be with Jesus. And the Pattern becomes wonderful because He is altogether lovely. He is the epitome and standard of righteousness and righteousness is love. Jesus so loved me, how can I help but love Him? And as I love Him, I behold Him. That is copying the Pattern.

But it is not the copying that makes me righteous. It is that wonderful love put into my heart to give me a new capacity for knowing and loving God and my fellow man. That is righteousness. I imitate Him because I love Him so much. And I do the right things because the love I have in my heart is righteousness. I have the right spirit and motivation because the Spirit of Jesus and the love of God are in my heart.

I believe with all my heart that Christ is trying to touch your heart. He doesn’t just worry about what your hands do, and your lips say, and what you eat. He is asking, “Do you love me? Haven’t I loved you? Don’t I still love you? Haven’t I forgiven you for a mountain of debts of sin? And haven’t I imputed you my righteousness? Don’t you have much to love Me for? Haven’t I pronounced you righteous before the heavenly universe? Don’t you belong to My family? Aren’t you overjoyed that I am so good to you? Why do you look elsewhere for righteousness? How can you reject so much love?”

This is what Christ wants to do for us. This will make us different. And the world will take knowledge that we have been with Jesus, because we are so different. We will possess that softening, sweetening influence. And the world will marvel that such sinners as we could become like Jesus. May God grant you this marvellous experience.