Righteousness by Faith

by David Clayton

One of the most thought-provoking definitions of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1. Paul begins this great chapter by saying,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

Not many people would have described or defined faith in this way. Probably the popular definition would run something like this: “faith is believing something with all your heart even when you cannot see it.” There is merit to that definition of course and that is why Paul's definition is so intriguing. Why did he choose this definition which is so evidently carefully thought out and precisely worded? The very fact that it is so unorthodox compels us to take notice.

Recently I asked myself a question which helped me to come to grips with Paul's definition of faith and to grasp the true impact of this verse. The question was, “how do you know that you are in Christ and that you have received the holy spirit?” I mean, there were no tongues of fire as at Pentecost, there was no speaking in other languages, there has not been any healing of the sick or raising of the dead. How do I know? What evidence is there that I am in Christ and have received of His life? This question was not mine originally. As I have spoken on the subject of what it means to be in Christ and rejoiced in the truth of complete salvation in Christ more than one person has asked me, “where is the evidence?” So I had to face the question, what is your proof? Where is the evidence indeed?

Faith is the evidence

Paul's unusual definition seems tailor-made for just such a question. “Faith,” he says, “is the evidence …” But what does he mean by this and does it make sense? When we speak of evidence we mean demonstrable and tangible realities, we mean measurable facts which may be put on display for all to examine. In stark contrast Paul speaks of “things not seen.” Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Here we have a contradiction. In today's material world of statistics, data, facts and figures we find ourselves bemused by Paul's statement and credit it to first century mysticism. But Paul is not speaking figuratively or symbolically. What he is saying is that the true evidence of spiritual realities (including the new birth) is not what we see, feel or are able to measure. It is not what other people can assess or examine. The true proof, the substance, the evidence, is faith itself.

In this definition of faith, is Paul speaking of a person's own personal faith? Does this definition encompass the question which I asked myself, “how can a man really know that he is in Christ?” Does it answer the question of what evidence a man should look for as testimony to his position in Christ? I believe that Paul's definition of faith covers this question. A person needs to look for no evidence as to the fulfillment of God's word other than the fact that he believes it. All the evidence to the contrary in the entire world cannot overthrow the faithfulness of God's word. Our eyes, our feelings may tell us otherwise, but the word of God is the truth, regardless. It is the statement of how things really are. When we believe, then that is the evidence. Faith is its own proof. When a man believes then he knows it is so and no evidence in the world can be stronger than that or can overthrow such proof. So a person will rejoice with all his heart in what he believes even though all the evidence in the world seems to contradict what faith proves to him to be true.

We read in 1 John 3:9,

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)

What should a Christian do when he reads this verse? Well, he may say, “since this is so, then I must endeavour not to commit sin,” and he sets out to try not to sin with all his might. Does this man believe the word of God? Another man may read the same verse and say, “since this is so, then sin is no longer my problem.” He is filled with joy at the realization that in Christ he has been set free from sin and he goes about rejoicing that he has been delivered. Which of these two responses is the response of faith? Which man really believes the word of God?

Faith is the evidence, faith itself is the proof. The fact that I do truly believe God's word is all that I need. To require further evidence is to demonstrate that I do not really believe and is the surest guarantee that I will not have the promised blessing.

A gift received by faith

So in the light of this, what is the true significance of the term, “Righteousness by Faith?” Here is how Paul describes this blessing:

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: (Rom 3:22)

God's word tells us that this righteousness comes upon all them that simply believe, and that it is by the faith of Jesus Christ. The verse is very clear and in fact the entire passage from which it is taken is equally plain. When a person believes in Jesus Christ, when he believes in the gift of God then at that very moment he receives that gift. Righteousness is purely and entirely the gift of God bestowed upon all who simply believe. Paul says it as plainly as words can say it (Rom. 4:4,5).

The real question is, how long does it take to receive this gift of righteousness? This is the thorny question which often causes much debate and difference of opinion.

a. Is this gift of righteousness instantly imparted to a person the moment he believes so that he is instantly transformed from a sinner into a saint? Is he immediately made into a new creation? Have old things indeed passed away and all things become new?

b. Or is it that when he believes, God begins the work of making him righteous so that in the meantime he is only partially righteous, partly a sinner and partly a saint?

c. Is it that he is instantly regarded by God as righteous while in actual fact he is not really righteous? (this would suggest that God accepts what is not really true).

If righteousness is by faith and only and purely by faith, and if it is wholly and entirely the GIFT of God, then the question is, why would God fail to give this gift immediately to a person the moment that he believes? It could only be either that God is unable to give it immediately or that He is unwilling to give it immediately. Neither of these suggestions make any sense. If righteousness is one hundred percent the gift of God, then it seems reasonable, logical and biblical to accept that God does give this gift in its entirety to a person the moment that he believes.

Instant righteousness?

But let us examine another objection. Is it possible for righteousness to be just instantly placed upon a person so that he instantly changes from bad to good? Can a person's character be transformed in a moment so that the habits of a lifetime are erased and new attitudes immediately implanted? We must not answer this question on the basis of our own experience but on the basis of the word of God. This word is very clear and leaves no room for misunderstanding.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor 5:17)

In many places where the Bible speaks of the righteous life of the born-again Christian, of the life of victory over sin, it does not present this victorious life as the result of hard struggles with sin or as the result of a process of developing righteousness. No, righteous living is presented as the fruit of a single decisive and revolutionary event in the life of the believer, the result of a single action at a specific point in time. Let us look at a few examples of this.

(Rom 6:3-7) Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (4) Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (5) For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: (6) 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. (7) For he that is dead is freed from sin.

Notice that our freedom from sin is accomplished by one thing, that is, the fact that we died with Christ. Our old man was crucified with Him, the body of sin is destroyed!! How is it then possible for sin to still be living in me? The logical conclusion is, he that is dead is freed from sin. The question is, do we believe it? In this passage we are not delivered by hard work or by a process of character development, but simply by an act of death experienced by faith.

(Col 2:11) In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

Here again we see that the sins of the flesh are “put off” by a single action. It is by the circumcision which we receive in Christ. This circumcision consists of putting off, getting rid of, the body of sin (the carnal mind). When we entered into Christ the experience not only gave us the fullness of the godhead, but it delivered us from the fullness of carnal humanity.

The symbolism of circumcision is graphic. In circumcision, that which was the cause of potential impurity and disease was cut away and cast off forever. The same thing happens in this spiritual circumcision accomplished in Christ. The carnal mind, the old man, the body of sin, is taken away in Christ. Cut off and cast aside, so that the thing which causes spiritual impurity and disease is removed.

(1 John 3:9) Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Again we notice the extremism of the word of God. There is little room here for misunderstanding. Not only is it difficult for a person in Christ to sin, but it is impossible. While His seed (God's seed, God's life) remains in him he cannot sin. What is it which gives him this life which sin cannot touch? Is it hard work? Is it diligent effort? Is it much struggling? Is it the long drawn-out process of character development which finally gets him to the place where he cannot sin? Absolutely not. It is the simple fact that he is born of God and that the seed of God is in him. This and this only is what destroys the power of sin in him and produces the righteous life and character of God. Again we see that this is not something which requires long drawn-out and agonizing struggles, but simply the faith which believes and accepts the word of God and by which we receive the gift of the new birth, the new existence in Christ.


How then do we reconcile this with the undeniable fact that there is effort, strife and struggle associated with the life of the Christian? What is the place of these endeavours if it is faith alone which may lay hold on these gifts of God? Why do we need to fight if righteousness is wholly the gift and the work of God? Let us answer this question by examining an event in the life of Christ.

When He came down from the mount of transfiguration with Peter, James and John, Jesus was faced with a situation which would have embarrassed His cause had He not arrived on the scene at that moment. A man had brought his demented son to the disciples with the request that they deliver him from demon-possession, but all their attempts at casting out the devil had failed. We can only imagine how hard they must have tried. Possibly they rebuked the devil with stern commands, lifted their hands to the skies, called upon God and maybe even retired to the side to pray, but all their efforts were vain. The devil mocked all their attempts to cast him out and only displayed his power with greater ferocity as they commanded him to depart.

Jesus' frustration with His disciples was expressed in His disappointed words,

. . . O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. (Mat 17:17) 

Immediately He rebuked the devil who speedily departed. The bewildered disciples sheepishly asked Him, “why could not we cast him out?” Notice the answer of Jesus:

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (21) Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Mat 17:20-21) 

Now look at what Jesus said. Examine the reasons which He gave for their failure. Firstly He says, “because of your unbelief,” and this is easy for us to understand because it agrees with His first words to them, “O faithless and perverse generation.” Obviously their problem was lack of faith. Faith is what pleases God, faith will move mountains, nothing is impossible to those who truly believe.

But then Jesus continues by saying something which at first sight seems to contradict everything which He said before. “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by fasting and prayer.” What is His point here? What really was the problem which the disciples had, was it lack of faith or was it lack of fasting and prayer? Jesus rebuked them for a lack of faith and then stated that such a devil could only be cast out by fasting and prayer. Did He contradict Himself? Of course not.

Faith requires work

The fact is, there is nothing, absolutely nothing which God requires from a surrendered soul except faith. Faith alone pleases God, faith is the hand which lays hold on God's power and casts out demons. Fasting and prayer does not cast out demons. So what then is the purpose of fasting and prayer? When we examine these statements of Jesus carefully we come to the realization that while fasting and prayer cannot move the hand of God, it is a means of STRENGTHENING FAITH! It is a means of producing that which alone may please God and receive His blessings. As Ellen White said,

“Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.” {SC 93}

So while faith alone pleases God, efforts need to be made to maintain faith. Our focus is not always perfect. Living in fallen, weakened flesh with impaired faculties in sinful circumstances, the fight to maintain the focus of faith is a fierce struggle. Faith alone pleases God, but the maintaining of that faith requires diligent effort. Peter's aborted walk on water illustrates that lesson graphically. Therefore Paul admonishes us, “fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12).” Fasting and prayer is one of the things which helps us in turning our focus away from the trivia of earth and towards the things which are real and eternal. There are other things which are equally helpful. There is Christian fellowship, Bible study etc. None of these things have saving merit in themselves, none of them obtain God's favour. Faith is what pleases God and is the only thing which may obtain His blessings, but these other things are helpful because they assist us in obtaining the one truly necessary thing, that is, faith.

So this is where our input comes in. The fight against sin is not ours. It is a conflict which has been already fought and won. The life of victory is a gift, freely bestowed on all who will BELIEVE. Our challenge is to believe. This is our fight, this is where fasting and prayer come in. They are aids in our quest to believe.

Perhaps we have always fasted and prayed. We have always read our Bibles, attended worship services and laboured diligently in witnessing to others. So did the Jews who crucified Jesus. It is possible to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. In these religious exercises they endeavoured to purchase the gift of God by their religious services and diligent endeavours. It profited them nothing. Because their concepts were wrong, that which should have been the means of establishing their faith became the means of obstructing it. They became so absorbed in and so dependent on their religious rituals that they could not see beyond the forms to the reality and so it became impossible for them to obtain true righteousness which is wholly a gift of God, received ONLY by faith.

Today we need to be careful that we do not repeat the mistake of the Jews. There never was and never will be a time when we can contribute any thing to our salvation. Justification is God's gift, sanctification is God's gift, glorification is God's gift (Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 6:11). It cannot be a gift if we must work to obtain it, or if we must make a contribution towards it (Rom. 4:4,5). All God requires is that we accept the gift by faith.

Let us recognize brethren, that our problem all along has not been a lack of labour, discipline, striving or effort. How we have laboured and struggled! It has not brought us one step closer to perfection or heaven. God said it in 1888 and He continues to remind us today. It is “RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH.” Let us labour therefore to enter into God's rest by faith (Heb. 4:11) and let us cease from our own works as God did from His (Heb. 4:10)

Restoration Ministries

Restoration Ministries is dedicated to the promotion of the truths contained in the word of God. In particular to the restoration of those truths which have been cast down to the ground and trampled underfoot by the papacy, and adopted by her daughters.

Our purpose is to motivate men and women to commit themselves wholly to the task of personal preparation for the coming of the Lord, and to the taking of the final warning message to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.



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