At Issue Index
by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf
6. Personal Involvement Through Justification by Faith
There is but one door to eternal salvation, That door is Jesus. As the snow during the northern winter covers the entire landscape, so Christ died for all men. Nevertheless, Christs death on Calvary does not guarantee every sinners salvation. No person will be saved eternally solely as a result of Christs death for all, nor because of Gods temporary universal justification.
When the Philippian jailer inquired as to what he must do to be saved, Paul and Silas told him: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:3 1). To the Ephesian believers Paul later wrote: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). The sinner can lay hold of justification and eternal salvation by no other means than through faith in Jesus and His atoning death for him on the cross. God can save sinners only through faith in Jesus.
In the plan of salvation, faith is the means that connects the sinner to Jesus - the only door to salvation. It is the upraised hand that puts a sinner into a life-giving connection with Jesus. Through it the gift of forgiveness is received and fellowship with God restored. "Whoever believes in him should [shall] not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). The ground of salvation is Jesus, not faith, but we lay hold of salvation by faith. Through faith the sinner grasps the gift of salvation.
To make salvation possible for every person, God gives each individual a "measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3). But each individual decides what to do with that gift. Some choose to use it and develop it; others do not. As a result, a persons faith either grows or atrophies. That is why some have much faith while others have but little faith or may be altogether devoid of it.
There is no salvation apart from our connection, or union, with Jesus. And faith is the only connector. It is like the rope with the life preserver that dangled from the U.S. Park Service police helicopter over the icy waters of the Potomac River after the crash of Air Floridas Flight 90 to Tampa on January 13, 1982. It was not the rope that was the savior of the passengers in the water. It was the pilot and the helicopter that saved them. But the rope was necessary to connect them with the will and the power hovering above. So, through faith, a life-giving connection must be established between the sinner and Jesus. Jesus saves the repentant sinner by means of faith, just as the pilot and the helicopter saved the crash survivors by means of the rope.
There is a common misconception among Christians that mere mental assent to truth constitutes saving faith. They think that because they believe that Jesus is God, that He died for them on Calvary, they will be saved. But such is not the case. Even the demons believe that Jesus is God (see Mark 5:7). Indeed, "the demons believe—and shudder" (James 2:19). "A nominal faith in Christ, which accepts Him merely as the Saviour of the world, can never bring healing to the soul.... The only faith that will benefit us is that which embraces Him as a personal Saviour; which appropriates His merits to ourselves."1
A familys backyard apple tree was bearing its first fruit-one apple. Mother told little Jack to be careful when playing ball with his friends in the backyard to make sure the ball would not be tossed in the direction of the apple tree. She did not want the apple to be hit. But the unfortunate happened. The ball hit the apple, and it fell to the ground. Jack went inside and found his mothers sewing basket. From it he took a spool of thread with which he tied the stem of the green apple to the twig where it had been growing. So again the apple was hanging on the tree.
Day after day Jacks mother continued to watch the apple from a distance, anticipating the time when it would be ripe for picking and eating. But before long she thought the apple did not look so fresh and healthy as it used to. So she went up to the tree and discovered that the apple was attached to its twig only by a thread. The apple had no life-giving connection with the tree.
There are many Christians who believe the truth but sustain no life-giving union with Jesus—the Living Vine—through a living, fruit-producing, and saving faith.
In Greek and in Hebrew, the original languages of the Bible, the same words denote both faith and belief. Both are translated from the same words. The same is true with the verb forms. The only reason English has two different words—faith and belief, with different corresponding verbs—is to satisfy its tendency toward richness of meaning by drawing two synonyms from two different language sources.
But as we commonly use the terms faith and belief in English, there may be a difference between them. Belief is the road map; it shows the road, or route, of travel. Belief knows the will of God. Faith, on the other hand, does not rest satisfied by merely knowing the road, or the will of God. By actually traveling the road, or making the journey, the person with faith is distinguished from the person who merely believes. Faith is trust; it leads to obedience, or doing, or acting, in conformity with ones belief.
With a friend I was standing one day last winter on the edge of one of the small ponds in the George Washington Memorial Cemetery, just outside Washington, D.C. The past few nights had been rather cold, and the ice on the pond was now more than an inch and a half thick. As we looked at the ice, I said, "This ice is strong enough to bear you up.
"I believe it," my friend responded, but he remained firmly glued to the ground beside me.
My friend possessed belief, not faith. Belief is mere mental assent; it is inactive. If my friend had possessed faith in what I had said, he would have walked out onto the ice; he would have entrusted his life to the strength of the ice.
In the same way, saving faith is an attitude of complete trust in and loyalty to Jesus. It leads to a commitment to God, to His ways and plans, and to the doing of His will. Saving faith does not rest satisfied with a mere theoretical knowledge of Gods will; it is experimental. "Faith is trusting God-believing that He loves us and knows best what is for our good. Thus, instead of our own, it leads us to choose His way."2
But the value of even experimental faith depends upon whom or what it is placed. Faith is like sight. Apart from its object, sight is worthless. Eve possessed living, virile faith. But she placed it in the serpent. Eves living faith—not saving faith—led her to espouse and act upon Satans proposition. It would have been better if her faith in the serpent had been dead. Then she would have listened to his proposition without complying with his suggestion. But unfortunately her faith was a living, virile faith that led to action.
Prospective brides have living faith. But some brides place their faith in the wrong men. For them marriage, instead of being a foretaste of heaven, becomes a gateway to hell. Saving faith is anchored in Jesus. Only Christ-centered faith leads to salvation, for "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
A swimmer trusts himself to the water, knowing that it will support him; the wader, however, shrewd and prudent, keeps at least one toe on the bottom of the lake. But the wader does not know, and never will know, the exhilaration of swimming and being borne by the water. To do that, he must let go every toe support from the bottom of the lake and entrust himself in faith to the water. Without his doing this there is no possibility of swimming.
To the unbeliever, the risk of faith appears too great. He is like the person with his toe on the bottom of the lake. But to the person who has learned to swim, even 100 or more feet of water underneath him imparts sheer joy. The deeper the water underneath, the more exhilarating the sensation of mastery over it.
The swimmer commits himself to the bearing-up power of the water. The person with saving faith surrenders himself to Jesus and gladly brings his choices into line with Gods will. A wife is not afraid to surrender herself to her husband, whom she loves and trusts. And her surrender is not passive. Greater than passive surrender is to be active in love. Such surrender produces the most exhilarating joy and pleasure. So saving faith in God leads to active—not passive—surrender, with joy unspeakable.
With reference to God and His will, faith involves a person s free moral choice. It depends on an action of the will. No one trusts anyone or believes anything unless he chooses to do so; one trusts, or has faith in, a person or thing only by choice. Some people never travel by plane, because they choose to believe it is not a safe mode of travel. Millions of others choose to believe it is safe. Saving faith is a persons choice to trust Jesus; it is a willing personal response to the pleadings of the Holy Spirit, based on Gods promises in His Word.
Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). He is knocking at the hearts door of every person. But His knocking does not necessarily mean that He is admitted with His gift of salvation. It is true, as the chorus runs: "You must open the door."
If all were automatically saved by Jesus death for sinners, then no one would be lost. But nowhere does the Bible teach universalism, or that all will be saved by virtue of Gods temporary universal justification of all. Rather, it says that "whoever believes in him [Jesus] should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Those who do not positively choose to believe, or have faith, in Jesus, those who do not commit themselves to follow Him in obedience to His will, will be lost—some by deliberate choice and others by default. In order to be saved, the rebel must stop his insurgency and, by accepting and living gladly by the laws of Gods kingdom, respond to Gods invitation to eternal salvation.
On March 10, 1974, while we were living in the Philippines, the Japanese Army straggler Lt. Hiroo Onoda came out of the jungle of the island of Lubang, just south of Manila Bay, and surrendered.3 The war between the Philippines and Japan had ended on September 2, 1945, but Onoda had derived no benefit from the peace. To profit from that peace, he himself had to believe that peace had been concluded and personally accept it.
For almost three decades Onoda had refused to believe the reports of peace he had repeatedly received through public Japanese language broadcasts made on the island and through Japanese newspapers left for him on the beach. He thought all these were just American ruses to lure him to surrender. So he had continued his one-man war.
During those long years he had been constantly harassed by Filipino soldiers and others who had tried to find this hideaway. Every day he had been waiting for the Japanese Navy and Army to return to aid him in recapturing the Philippines.
Onodas situation on the island of Lubang is comparable to the unconverted sinners state before God. Christs death for him on the cross does not bring him peace and salvation; Gods announcement of reconciliation as a result of Christs death does not profit him. It does not automatically bring the sinner peace and save him, any more than the peace concluded between Japan and the Philippines had brought peace to Onoda. He personally had to believe that peace had been concluded, and he had to accept that peace. So we must personally accept the peace God has already made and provided for us through Jesus. Peace with God and salvation come only by trusting Gods promise. Salvation by faith presupposes a personal involvement through choice, with personal commitment of ones life and plans to God.
Onoda himself did not bring about peace between Japan and the Philippines. He accepted the peace that had already been made. So "the believer is not called upon to make his peace with God; he never has nor ever can do this. He is to accept Christ as his peace, for with Christ is God and peace."4 "All that man can possibly do toward his own salvation is to accept the invitation, Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."5
As sinners before God, we must do like Onoda-surrender. "The surrender of the heart to Jesus subdues the rebel into a penitent, and then the language of the obedient soul is: Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."6
All that God requires for restoration of our peace with Him has been done by Him, acting in the person of His Son. His achievement is credited to anyone, however vile, who is willing to change from being an enemy to being a loyal follower of God by accepting His gift of peace and salvation and by going His way and doing His works. But like Onoda, the sinner must first trust the standing offer of peace and choose to accept it.
Justification by faith rests on our acceptance of what Christ has already done, not upon what you and I have done or can do. The sinner s response to Gods love would be utterly worthless if Jesus had not obtained our redemption on Calvary.
The law, though perfect, is powerless to bring us into a right relationship with God. But the gospel tells of One who represented the entire race, One to whom our sins were imputed that His righteousness might be imputed to us. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:2 1). "He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share."7
Through His temporary universal justification, God acquits the sinner of deserved instant death for sin and guilt and treats him during his earthly life as if he were righteous. Through justification by faith, the sinner accepts Gods reconciliation and receives forgiveness and peace from God as Christ arrays him in the garment of His own righteousness and seals him with the Holy Spirit. As long as the converted sinner—now a believer—abides in Christ, he enjoys escape from the bondage to sin and has the assurance of salvation and eternal life.
In a church service I attended some years ago, the minister held up a $1 bill and offered to give it to anyone who would come up and claim it. I was sitting at the very back of the church, which seated about 800 people. No one in front of me moved to receive the offered gift. I had ample time to rise from my sat and go forward and claim it.
Paul writes, "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Rom. 5:10). But Gods reconciliation will not save us apart from our choice to claim it. Just as I had to arise from my seat and go up and claim the ministers offer, so we must claim Gods offer in order to be saved.
Reconciliation wrought by Christ on the cross is comparable to the slain Passover lamb at the Exodus. Every Israelite household slew a Passover lamb, but no one was protected from death by the mere spilling of its blood. The blood of the slain lamb had to be applied to the doorposts and the lintel of each home. Only then did the slaying angel spare the members of that particular home. In the same way, the reconciliation provided by God must be personally claimed by each sinner in order to insure eternal salvation.
The blood of reconciliation, which Christ shed for all men on the cross, becomes valuable to the sinner first when the sinner personally accepts Jesus as his Saviour by faith and trusts Gods offer of forgiveness. All are called and receive the invitation, but not all accept it.
A young suitor asks a girl to marry him. But their marriage never takes place if the girl declines his marriage proposal. In the same way God asks every person to accept salvation through faith in Jesus shed blood. Some do accept and are saved; others spurn Gods invitation; still others fail by default to profit from Christs sacrifice. These are ultimately eternally lost, even though Jesus verily died also for their salvation. "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14). Only those who positively accept the gift of salvation will be with God in His kingdom.
Through personal faith in God, or by an attitude of trust and loyalty toward Him, the universal justification wrought for all men on the cross becomes personal justification by faith. Through this God Himself justifies, or accounts the sinner righteous. "Christ has become our sacrifice and surety. He has become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Through faith in His name, He imputes unto us His righteousness, and it becomes a living principle in our life."8 This renewal of spirit and mind implies restoration of fellowship.
This positive aspect of forgiveness, followed by obedience and devoted service, is illustrated by the prodigals return home. Gustaf Aulen aptly observes that "the principal danger is that forgiveness might be interpreted negatively as simply remission of punishment. Such an interpretation is not satisfactory and does not exhaust the rich content of this idea. The essential element is the positive reestablishment of broken fellowship." Luther, he observes, uses it in this fuller meaning, so that "where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and blessedness."9
This renewed fellowship eliminates rebellion. Jesus did not hang and die on the cross to give rebels license to remain such and still inherit eternal life. The plan of salvation is designed to do away with rebellion and sin, not to perpetuate them. Jesus died to pay our penalty for sin. The waiting father had probably forgiven his son while he was still in the far country. That was forensic, or objective, justification. Legally, the son had been put right with his father, even while he was still in the foreign country. But fellowship, with blessed "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17), was restored and experienced only when the straying son willingly relinquished his rebellion and gladly returned home.
And he did not return home to remain a rebel. When the prodigal left home, he was a rebel in both sentiment and deed; when he returned, his rebel spirit had melted away. He returned eagerly, willing to live by his fathers rules. In the same way, the person justified by faith has experienced a change in attitude. This has been effected by the Holy Spirit, to whom the sinner has responded by divinely inspired faith, which implies confidence, trust, and commitment to God and His will. "In faith a man as it were switches himself in on a circuit parallel with Christ."10
Like the returning prodigal, the repentant sinner has no righteousness of his own to commend him to God. But again like the prodigal, he places his trust in the graciousness of the Father, and everyone who believes in him [Jesus] is set free [justified] from all sins" (Acts 13:39, TEV). God "justifies [unto salvation] him who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). "They are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Rom. 3:24, 25).
"The sinner is justified through the merits of Jesus, and this is Gods acknowledgment of the perfection of the ransom paid for man. That Christ was obedient even unto the death of the cross is a pledge of the repenting sinners acceptance with the Father."11 "Justification is a full, complete pardon of sin,"12 and "to be pardoned in the way that Christ pardons is not only to be forgiven, but to be renewed in the spirit of our mind."13 " The moment a sinner accepts Christ by faith, that moment he is pardoned. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to him."14 "He becomes a member of the royal family, a child of the heavenly King, an heir of God, and joint heir with Christ." 15
In justification by faith, Christs perfect righteousness, or law-keeping, is credited to the sinner. "It is the righteousness of Christ that makes the penitent sinner acceptable to God and works his justification. However sinful has been his life, if he believes in Jesus as his personal Saviour, he stands before God in the spotless robes of Christs imputed righteousness."16 Justification by faith is a gift of God; it attributes to the repentant sinner the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness the sinner obtains by faith alone through the Holy Spirit.
Christs death alone cannot impart eternal life to the repentant sinner. Christ must needs be "raised again to secure our justification" (Rom. 4:25, Phillips). The New International Version reads: "He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." The word Paul uses here as well as in Romans 5:18 for justification, dikaiosis denotes "a process as well as its result." It is an "acquittal [from condemnation] that brings life."17 Todays English Version renders Romans 4:25 as follows: "He was raised to life in order to put us right with God." To Paul, the sinners justification by faith and the resurrection of Jesus are indissolubly tied together.
"What Paul calls justification, redemption, or reconciliation is the same powerful event that is described as forgiveness in other New Testament books. In Acts 13:38-39 Luke renders a speech of Pauls in such a way that Paul himself identifies forgiveness with justification. Through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed. . . in him each who believes is justified."18
On one occasion Jesus was walking with Jairus to his house, but a vast crowd thronged them. In this crowd was a woman who for 12 years had suffered from a discharge of blood. She had heard of Jesus and believed that her only hope was to see and touch Him. In her weakness she placed herself in a position in the oncoming crowd where she thought He would come. She was fortunate. He did come close to her. Now there were only two others between the Great Healer and her. She reached out between the two and just managed to touch the hem of Jesus garment. Instantly she felt a surge of health, possibly like an electric shock, go through her whole body. She knew she was healed.
At this point Jesus stopped and asked, "Who touched my garments?" (Mark 5:30). The disciples were close to Him, and Peter, always the spokesman for the group, almost with a chuckle in his voice, asked, "Master, you asked who touched you. You can see that the people are jostling you on every side, and you ask who touched me ?" Jesus said He was not referring to the careless jostling by the crowd but to a touch of faith, because He felt "power had gone forth from him" (verse 30). The woman knew she was found out; on her knees she confessed to Him, "I touched You." Tenderly Jesus looked at her and said, "Daughter, your faith has healed you" (Mark 5:34, NIV).
What kind of faith do you and I possess? Is it like the faith of the
crowds that jostled Jesus? Or is it like the woman who was healed by her life-giving
faith? God-imparted faith will heat us from sins ravages and make us whole unto life
eternal. We will be fitted for heavenly society as we choose to accept Jesus as our
Saviour and are justified by faith.
1 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 347. [back]
2 ________, Education, p. 253. [back]
3 For the interesting story of Japanese Army straggler Hiroo Onoda on the island of Lubang in the Philippines, see his book, No Surrender: My Thirty Year War, Charles S. Terry, trans. (Japan: Lin Kou Book, Sound, and Gift Co., Imperial Books and Records Co., 1974). [back]
4 White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 395. [back]
5 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 6, p. 1071. [back]
6 White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,1948), vol. 4, p. 625. [back]
7 ________, Desire of Ages, p. 25. [back]
8 ________, in Review and Herald, July 12, 1892. [back]
9 Gustaf Aulen, The Faith of the Christian Church, p. 258. [back]
10 Hans Kung, Justification (New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1964), p. 84. [back]
11 White, in Signs of the Times, July 4, 1892. [back]
12 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 6, p. 1071. [back]
13 White, in Review and Herald, August 19, 1890. [back]
14 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 6, p. 1071. [back]
15 White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 215. [back]
16 ________, in Signs of the Times, July 4, 1892. [back]
17 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 197. [back]
18 Markus Barth and Verne Fletcher, Acquittal by
Resurrection (New York: Halt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963), p. 85. [back]
At Issue Index Salvation Index