Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Proverbs: Words of the Wise
Lesson 5: "The Blessings of the Righteous"
How does righteousness deliver from death? The theme of the 1888 message is: "The Lord our righteousness." We read of this blessing in Proverbs: "Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death" (Prov. 10:2).
What follows is the 1888 idea. Righteousness is consistent with the cleansing of the sanctuary. The books of heaven are merely faithful reflections of our hearts. Their "cleansing" in the heavenly sanctuary cannot be done until first our hearts down here are cleansed. This is clearly set forth in Jones and Waggoner's books, The Consecrated Way and Christ and His Righteousness, respectively. Sanctification is not the cleansing work; according to the 1888 message, the cleansing is accomplished through true justification by faith. 
Righteousness by faith is something experiential, not just something that satisfies the law. Ellen White does not say only that good works follow righteousness by faith; she says "God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place."  Although a legal justification has been given for "the guilt of the whole world," those who believe experience a riddance of sin "through faith," not following faith. "Having made us righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ, God pronounces us just." 
Through faith "the sinner realizes what the pardoning love of Christ means," and this is what "reconciliation" means. In righteousness by faith, "the heart of the sinner" is reached. It is impossible to believe while continuing to sin; therefore to believe truly is actually the cessation of sin. Faith is a heart-appreciation of Christ's righteousness, and in this sense faith is "counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:3-5).
How is the mouth of a righteous man a well of life? "The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked" (Prov. 10:11). This is what Jesus quoted when "in the last day, that great day of the feast [of tabernacles], Jesus stood and cried, saying, ... 'He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly [heart] will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37, 38). Can you find anywhere a more thrilling definition of what it means to "believe" in Jesus? The "he that believeth" is you! Is that "river of living water" flowing out of your heart and mouth to everyone you meet? Do you have a word of good news truth for everyone? Does it "live" in you?
How does God's atonement deal with our sins? "Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins" (Prov. 10:12). Our anger is constantly picking a quarrel with God, but His love overcomes our sin. The 1888 message points the way as to how God's agape accomplishes reconciliation with our alienated hearts.
It is on His cross that He identifies fully with you. There, He suffered the ultimate in depression. The darkness that enveloped the cross was God's merciful veiling of His facial agony from the mockery and ridicule of human devils. But the darkness also enveloped His soul. He was terrified of the second death that He faced. "Why have You forsaken Me?" was His despairing cry. And He waited in the darkness for the answer.
Jesus doesn't tell us to do what He did; He only tells us to believe what He did, that is, to appreciate it. And what did He do? He built a bridge in that total darkness of despair, a bridge over the chasm of human lostness, a bridge which we call "the atonement." The Father did not reconcile the Son to Himself; the Son reconciled Himself to the Father. In all this horror Jesus chooses to believe good news. Thus "charity [agape] never faileth" (1 Cor. 13:8).
Your "job" is not to do this or that, to perform works when you are "without strength," but your job is to "look" at Him on His cross. There is where He was "made to be sin for us, who knew no sin," all for us; and there is where God's much more abounding grace is revealed (2 Cor. 5:13-21).
Many ask: "What is this thing called righteousness? It's a big word; it's over my head; help me!" "The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them: but transgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness" (Prov. 11:6).
Sin has made the world to be "crooked," "bad," "wrong," "unjust." Righteousness is making them all right again. What has done all this evil is sin. Righteousness is therefore the opposite of sin. It reverses the evil that sin has caused, it un-does what sin has done, it untangles the knot that sin has tied in the universe of God, especially on this planet.
Justification is what One has done whom the Bible calls "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42). He untied the knot, reversed the evil, brought good in place of bad, reconciled enemies into being friends with God, made everything crooked straight, and made everything wrong to become right.
What is righteousness by faith? That's when our sinful, alienated heart appreciates the justification He accomplished for us; and that is a totally changed heart and life. You're now a new you.
Is there a reward for living the righteous life? Proverbs answers, Yes. "The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward" (Prov. 11:18). Yes, but in this day of atonement all self-centered desire for reward is eliminated. We stop thinking of our poor little selves and become wholly focused on a reward for Jesus.
His closing work of ministering the atonement is the practical fruit of believing the gospel. It means getting ready to meet the Lord when He returns, ready for translation. And the motivation is not self-centered: it's not so we can get a reward, but so He can be "satisfied" in receiving His reward. If He returns and finds we're not ready, think of His disappointment!
The good news we present is centered in Him, because the way we live, the way we dress, what we do with our lives and our talents, and how we spend our money—all is for His glory who died for us and rose again. He deserves from us lives of total consecration. His sacrifice delivers us from the virtual slavery of worldly obsession with self. This dark world deserves to see a people who are not afraid to be different—for His honor and glory.
But it's time for a paradigm shift in thinking: the issue is not egocentric fear for our own salvation (which largely pervades this quarter's lesson), but a new concern that Christ receive His reward—not that "we shall wear a crown in our Father's house," but that at last He receive His Bride.
—Paul E. Penno
 The original opposition to the 1888 message maintained that justification by faith is merely pardon for "past sins," as is the current understanding of many Seventh-day Adventists. When justification by faith is understood as mere pardon for past sins so that the real change of heart takes place only in sanctification, there is an inevitable relapse into legalism. When Waggoner saw that "there is but one thing in this world that a man needs, and that is justification" (General Conference Daily Bulletin, p. 74, March 11, 1891), he was not echoing the "new theology" doctrine that justification by faith is merely a legal declaration and that obedience is not necessary. He saw the glorious power of justification by faith, a truth which has taken us over a century to understand.
 Selected Messages, book 1, p. 366.
 Ibid., p. 394.
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org