Imagine with me: a man was suffering with cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. Things seemed to progress as testing showed his tumor had decreased in size. Before the tumor had definitively disappeared, his oncologist ended his chemo treatments. Puzzled and bewildered, the man asked himself several questions, "Did I miss something?" "Why would my doctor do such a thing?" "Is this regular protocol?" "Did things get worse all of a sudden?" "If this is the case, how long do I have to live?"
Confused, the man asked to speak to his doctor for an explanation as to why he stopped the treatments. The man could not believe the doctor's response, "You do not require any more chemotherapy because I have declared your cancer (to be) in remission. As far as I am concerned you have no more tumors. I declare you, 'healed.'" As the doctor completed his explanation, the man, who was initially curious, turned disbelieving and then progressively angry. He yelled, "Are you insane? If the tumors aren't gone, how can you declare me anything?" I daresay, most of us would have a similar response. This scenario begs the question, would you rather be declared healed or would you prefer to actually be healed?
The popular interpretation of justification by faith is that we are declared righteous, not made righteous. How does God really work this -- is the thing really true because He declares it so, or does He declare it because it is true? Does God declare something without it being true? Unlike our Doctor from the story above, God is not insane. God does not declare things unless they already are. One example of this is in Genesis 1 (for another example cf father Abraham). At almost every stage of Creation God saw that what He did was good. At the end, in Genesis 1:31, He declared it again,
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
This concept of only declaring could be in part from the definition of righteous. According to a previous Sabbath School lesson,
What is this idea of "justifying," as found in the text? The Greek word dikaioo, translated justify, may mean "make righteous," "declare righteous" or "consider righteous." The word is built on the same root as dikaiosune, "righteousness," and the word dikaioma, "righteous requirement." Hence, there is a close connection between "justification" and "righteousness," a connection that doesn't always come through in various translations. We are justified when we are "declared righteous" by God.
Before this justification, a person is unrighteous, and thus unacceptable to God; after justification, he or she is regarded as righteous, and thus acceptable to Him.
You will notice that the author(s) of the lesson chose "declare righteous" instead of "make righteous." The question again is, would you rather be declared righteous or made righteous? (Which is more accurate?) Especially, since God is fully capable of making us righteous. Ellen White makes reference to this issue in the following quote,
"Righteousness is obedience to the law. The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son."—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367.
"...Everything was lost by sin; man forfeited his title to every blessing. It is only by divine grace, through the infinite sacrifice of Christ that we could be reinstated in the favor of God, and be permitted to enjoy His gifts. We are not our own. Christ has bought us with His precious blood, and we belong to Him."
RH Dec. 14, 1886 par. 8.
Being that God is able to make us righteous we can interpret the text from Romans chapter 3 as, "Therefore we conclude that a man is made righteous by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28). The question is will we let Him?
One of the lessons that Paul seeks to remind us of in the book of Romans is the fundamental commonality of humanity's moral condition. Paul's purpose, as God's ambassador, is not to remind us of our true fallen condition in order to cause discouragement, guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Paul's purpose is to give us an accurate diagnosis so that we can trust the Great Physician regarding our condition as well as the treatment.
Romans 3:23 reminds us that, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God". As we know from previous study, God's glory is His character (Ex. 33). And God's fundamental character trait is love (1 John 4). So in saying that all have sinned, Paul is confronting us that we've all fallen short of representing God's love to others in the world around us – spouses, children, parents, friends, coworkers, strangers, and enemies.
We've lived, to one degree or another, lives motivated by self-interest, self-preservation, and self-promotion. Even in our religiosity, or performance of benevolent deeds, we need to be sensitive to whether our motives are solely and purely for the benefit and blessing of others, or are they tainted by the desire for affirmation and appreciation of others for our good behavior and generosity.
Paul is saying that we've all sinned – we've fallen short of a pure, undiminished, and untainted revelation of God's love to those around us. Consequently, we've all been – to varying degrees – the victims and victimizers of others. We've damaged others and they've damaged us. We've damaged ourselves. True love and faithfulness, that are unchanging, are an extremely rare commodity in the social economy of today's world. In contemporary culture, love so-called, is transitory and conditional and based on self-interest. The world's "love" is really selfishness hidden under the garment of pleasant temporary emotionalism.
This condition of self-love at the expense of true love for others dates back to our human parents, Adam and Eve. Both were led into "sin" by an appeal to self-love. Eve under the guise of self-promotion, and Adam under the guise of immature and blind emotionalism. Adam's chief concern was what he would be losing. True love would have moved him to give himself for her, not to join her in the descent of self-interest.
Satan appealed to them by causing them to mistrust the goodness and love of God. The serpent's message was basically that God is self-preserving (God is holding back this amazing fruit from you because He doesn't want you to elevate to His exalted sphere), and therefore you need to take care of yourself. God can't be trusted as His basic instinct is self-interest, not love and self-sacrifice for you.
So it makes sense that if the basic origin of sin (anti-love) is distrust of God's goodness and love, the remedy would be an overwhelming message of God's actual goodness and love. And so, Rom. 2:4 tells us that the goodness of God does in fact lead us to repentance!
Notice how Dr. Waggoner develops this thought in Waggoner on Romans:
"The goodness of God leads men to repentance. Therefore the whole earth is full of incentives to repentance, for "the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord." Ps. 33:5. "The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy." Ps. 119:64. God may be known through His works, and "God is love." All creation reveals the love and mercy of God.
And we need not try to improve on the Scriptures, and say that the goodness of God tends to lead men to repentance. The Bible says that it does lead them to repentance, and we may be sure that it is so. Every man is being led toward repentance as surely as God is good. But not all repent. Why? Because they despise the riches of the goodness and forbearance and long-suffering of God, and break away from the merciful leading of the Lord. But whoever does not resist the Lord, will surely be brought to repentance and salvation."
As we all see – to some degree – how we have fallen short of the glory of God. May we see that God's remedy for the virus of sin is repeated overdoses of the goodness of God. We need to see, more and more and more, the goodness or righteousness of God as manifested in Jesus Christ. We need to take our medicine every day – at least "a thoughtful hour each day" – of the healing dose of Jesus' life and death. This medicine will enable us to be changed by beholding (2 Cor. 3:18), and to grow up into the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13). Healing is possible, but not by looking merely at where we are, but by looking continuously at Jesus – and change will come. God is faithful and will perform it! (1 Cor. 10:19)
The controversy in the early church was addressed especially in letters to churches in Galatia and the church in Rome. In both cases the issue was over the same principle – the conflict over righteousness by faith and righteousness by works; of justification by Christ alone or by legalism; by the power of God or by human backbone and unbending stiff-necked religion. The principle of contention, then, was as it is today: "How is a person justified?" Millennia ago Job ask the same question, "How can a man be righteous before God?" Job 9:2. The principle remains the same, but the application of the principle changes because of varying circumstances and conditions.
The controversy came to a head in Paul's day because he and Barnabas taught justification by faith in Christ alone to the Gentiles, who responded extraordinarily to the preaching of this gospel. The power of God was working mightily through Paul who received and presented the message of justification directly from heaven. The enemy of God and man was alarmed. He knew that by some means he had to bring the preaching of the gospel to an end or at least to bring it to a standstill. If he could not, then his movement would plummet and eventually collapse. So, he goaded some Pharisees to resist the gospel. These were professed believers, "Pharisees who believed" (Acts 15:5). These emissaries of Satan followed Paul from place to place tearing down what he had previously built up.
Their teaching was, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts 15:1. This sentiment was expressed in the first Council of the Christian Church at Jerusalem. Those Pharisees made circumcision a salvation issue. But this was "a different gospel" a perversion of "the gospel of Christ." Galatians 1:6-7. And it is evident that the doctrine of those Pharisees reached the church in Rome as well as the churches in Galatia. Those gospel perverters had some very strong Bible texts to support their false premise. We will consider two passages familiar to them. The first was Genesis 17:11-14. In its first instance circumcision was a token of Abraham's unbelief in God's promise. In the performance of this ceremony the testimony was given that the carnal nature – the flesh – must be "cut off," not as a method of salvation, but as an act of faith in God's promise that He will do for a person that which he can not do for themselves. Circumcision became a "seal of the righteousness of the faith which Abraham had while still uncircumcised." Romans 4:11.
If a person refused to be circumcised, he was to be "cut off from his people" (Genesis 17:14). This was a capital offence. This was strong evidence for the Pharisees who were peddling a works righteousness program of justification. The second passage they based their theology on is found in Exodus 4:24-26. Moses on the way back to Egypt was struck down with which appeared to be a terminal illness. Zipporah, Moses wife, knew exactly what to do. She circumcised the second boy with a stone and thus saved Moses life (vs 25). Evidently, she was very tenderhearted and was painful for her to see the firstborn child circumcised. Consequentially, she influenced Moses convincing him to not circumcise their second son. But when she saw Moses nearly dead, she immediately performed the ceremony herself.
These two instances were proof texts that circumcision of the flesh was absolutely necessary for salvation. How could Paul doubt such proof texts as these? However, what the Pharisees did not understand was the fact that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial circumcision by His death.Christ was "cut off" from life! Daniel 9:26. The term "cut off" here, in Daniel, is the same term used in the case of Zipporah and in that of Abraham regarding circumcision as found in Exodus 4:25 and Genesis 17:14.
The "Pharisees that believed" ignored the real meaning of circumcision which was, a sign of salvation – a sign of justification by faith and of the new birth. Outward circumcision was to be a pictogram of the heart for both men and women. The heart was to be circumcised as illustrated by its physical counterpart in the circumcision of the flesh. As presented in Deuteronomy 30:6 and 10:16, Paul cut through the fog of false doctrine and revealed the true significance of circumcision when writing to the Roman church by stating: "…Circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter…" Romans 2:29.
And further, as Paul affirmed that to be circumcised, in its true meaning, is to be crucified with Christas brought forth in his letter to the church in Colosse: "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ." Colossians 2:11.
In that Jerusalem Council mentioned earlier and recorded in Acts 15, Peter came to the aid of Paul in the controversy over salvation. He did this by relating his experience of a dream sent by God to instruct him about uncircumcised Gentile believers (Acts 15:7-21). Gentiles as taught by Jews were unclean and so could not be associated with. But God disagreed with this and convinced Peter of this false doctrine.
However, Peter later while under pressure abandoned his belief at Antioch because of the strong influence of those Pharisees who professed belief in Christ, but were in reality "false brethren" who turned the gospel of Christ into a false gospel. Paul was at that meeting and rigorously and publicly rebuked Peter (see Galatians 2:14-16). Paul set forth the true gospel, the only gospel, of salvation when he spoke to Peter about justification by faith.
Paul stated in certain terms, you know "that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Galatians 2:16 (KJV). The following is a chiastic structure of this vital truth of the gospel as given by Paul:
A. a man is not justified by the works of the law,
B. but by the faith of Jesus Christ,
B/ even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith
A/ and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
The controversy continues today. It is the same in principle, but the application has changed. The issue is still justification by the faith of Jesus, believed and made a part of the experience of the believer as the work of God for him, and by him as he believes in Christ alone for justification, This is opposed by legalists who resist this wonderful good news and in its place insist on their own merits in some fashion, using Bible proof texts, as did the "Pharisees who believed" in their works of circumcision as a means of salvation.
After spending a quarter studying Paul's letter to the Galatians, Seventh-day Adventists have the privilege of continuing the study of the gospel, this time in the book of Romans, during the fourth quarter of this year. It was the light from this book -- "The just shall live by faith" -- that pierced the mind of Martin Luther like a lightning bolt from heaven and freed him from the bondage of trying to earn his salvation. That was 500 years ago. The light of the reformation continues to shine with greater brilliance in each successive generation, and the study of the book that started it all will ignite a fire in the heart of every earnest seeker of truth.
Personally, I am thrilled with the opportunity before our world church to study Romans because of what the book means to me. Nearly three decades ago, friends invited my husband and I to attend a seminar on the book of Romans. The teacher, Pastor E. H. "Jack" Sequeira, was an "African bush pastor" of Indian descent who had devoted his post-conversion years in Africa to studying the gospel, especially the book of Romans. We listened with rapt attention that Sunday as Pastor Jack unfolded the gospel, chapter by chapter, beginning with Romans chapter one. By the time we got to chapter five, I felt like I had been struck by lightning! The gospel was unfolded in a way that was new and thrilling. On that day the "light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:6) shone brightly in my heart and I experienced something akin to the disciples' description of their talk with Jesus along the road to Emmaus: "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?" Luke 24:32.
The book of Acts tells the amazing story of how God sent Philip to give a Bible study to an Ethiopian eunuch along the side of the road in the desert. When Philip met the man, he asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
The eunuch replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" "And He asked Philip to come up and sit with him."
The Bible says that Philip did just that, and "opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him." That roadside Bible study led to the eunuch's baptism, and no doubt he became a teacher of the Word upon his return to Ethiopia. (See Acts 8:26-40).
It is God's purpose that one should teach another. We shouldn't feel humiliated that we don't understand the Bible. We are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to be our teacher, and the Spirit often uses other people to explain the Word.
Romans is a book that many have found hard to understand. If you find yourself hungering for a deeper knowledge of the gospel, don't suffer alone! Utilize the resources with which God has blessed us to unlock the truths of the gospel.
Like the woman who lit a lamp to find the lost coin, Advent believers have been blessed with a divinely-inspired flashlight in which to search out the hidden gems of Scripture through the ministry and writings of Ellen White. And Sister White, in turn, urged that God had raised up two young men, Brothers
A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner to further explain the vast treasure of gospel truth centered in Christ.
Sabbath School Insights readers may wish to avail themselves of further study resources, such as Waggoner on Romans, a verse-by-verse exposition by E. J. Waggoner. His introduction to the book of Romans is included here in connection with our Sabbath School theme for this week:
"Inspiration assures us that in all of the epistles of Paul there are 'some things hard to be understood.' 2 Pet. 3:16. Perhaps this is the case with the Epistle to the Romans in a greater degree than with any other. But they are not impossible to be understood, and it is only the 'unlearned and unstable' who wrest them unto their own destruction.
"Note that it is only those who wrest 'the other scriptures' to their own destruction who thus miss the point of Paul's writings. They who have a desire to understand and who read the simple promises of the Bible with profit, will not be among that number.
"In beginning this study it will be an encouragement to the reader if he will remember that it is simply a letter written to the church in Rome. We can not suppose that the congregation in Rome differed from the great body of Christians in general. Of them we read that 'not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.' 1 Cor. 1:26. The truest followers of Jesus have always been among 'the common people.' So in the church in Rome there were doubtless shopkeepers, artisans, day laborers, carpenters, gardeners, etc., and many servants in the families of wealthy citizens, together with a few who might hold some position of rank. When we consider that it was confidently expected that people of this sort would understand the letter, we may be encouraged to believe that the same class of people can understand it now.
"Paul's exhortation and assurance to Timothy form the best guide to the study of all his epistles, and the whole Bible as well: 'Consider what I say; for the Lord shall give thee understanding in all things.' 'God is his own interpreter.' The words of the Bible explain the Bible. This is why you should closely question the text so as to get at exactly what is said, in connection with what precedes and follows.
"The notes that accompany the text in this study are designed to fix the student's attention more closely upon the word, and for the benefit of the casual reader. That the study of this epistle may be greatly blessed to those who pursue it, and that the word may become more highly esteemed by all because of the increased light that the Holy Spirit may cause to flash from it, is the earnest prayer of the writer" (from the introductory "Note to the Reader From the Author," Waggoner on Romans, E. J. Waggoner).