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Righteousness by Faith

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible, and the Bible alone, the rule of faith and duty.

The Law of God, as taught in the Old and New Testaments, unchangeable.

The Personal Advent of Christ, and the Resurrection of the Just, before the Millennial Kingdom.

The Earth restored to its Eden perfection and glory, the final Inheritance of the Saints.

Immortality alone through Christ, to be given to the Saints at the Resurrection.

The baptism, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ into the heavenly sanctuary to intercede for the faithful and make an atonement for sin is not expressed here. Of course, they believed these things. But the fact that they were left out of the summary left a gap between the Law of God and the

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