Presenting a Biblical response by concerned former Seventh-day Adventists to the Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.

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Commentary on the introduction: "Redemption in Romans"



The Sabbath School Quarterly for the third quarter is a study of the book of Romans. The lesson author correctly identifies that this book was key to the Protestant reformation. Martin Luther’s personal discovery of the contents of this book, among other New Testament books, drove him to revolt against the oppressive rule and unscriptural practices of the institutionalized church of his day.

After the proclamation by Jesus himself, the book of Romans clearly sets forth the irresistible nature of the good news. Of all the doctrinal statements in the Bible, Romans is the most comprehensive and systematic presentation of the gospel. When we approach this book, we must begin with the original intent of the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome. The lesson author identifies the importance of doing this first before moving onto applying this scripture to our modern situation.

Overall, the introduction seems to be very clear outline of the main point of Romans as well as a correct method of interpreting Scripture. Due to this clarity, three problems arise immediately.

First, Martin Luther is heralded as a man of God who discovered Romans and used it to teach “the wonderful news of the gospel and its foundational doctrine – justification by faith.” Although the Seventh-day Adventist Church has consistently looked to Luther as the initiator of the Protestant Reformation, it has also consistently stated that the Reformation did not go far enough. In Luther’s study, he learned that he was free from the wrath of God and that he would not be condemned. This is found in the gospel of John. John 3:17-18 reads:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. *

In Roman Catholicism it was common for people nearing death to become very anxious about the next stage of their existence as most believed that a very long and painful purgatory awaited them before they could enter into the rest of the Lord. The same problem exists in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Adventist pastors have confided in me that many Adventists on their death-bed are very frightened about what awaits them. They have no security of their salvation and believe, as Ellen White taught, that any unconfessed sin could cause them to be lost during the Investigative Judgment. The following from The Great Controversy, by Ellen G. White has brought terror and anxiety into the lives many. On page 486 we find the following:

At the time appointed for the Judgment—the close of the 2300 days, in 1844—began the work of investigation and blotting out of sins. All who have ever taken upon themselves the name of Christ must pass its searching scrutiny. Both the living and the dead are to be judged “out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

Sins that have not been repented of and forsaken will not be pardoned, and blotted out of the books of record, but will stand to witness against the sinner in the day of God. He may have committed his evil deeds in the light of day or in the darkness of night; but they were open and manifest before Him with whom we have to do. Angels of God witnessed each sin, and registered it in the unerring records. Sin may be concealed, denied, covered up from father, mother, wife, children, and associates. No one but the guilty actors may cherish the least suspicion of the wrong; but it is laid bare before the intelligences of Heaven. The darkness of the darkest night, the secrecy of all deceptive arts, is not sufficient to veil one thought from the knowledge of the Eternal. God has an exact record of every unjust account and every unfair dealing. He is not deceived by appearances of piety. He makes no mistakes in his estimation of character. Men may be deceived by those who are corrupt in heart, but God pierces all disguises, and reads the inner life.

How solemn is the thought! Day after day, passing into eternity, bears its burden of records for the books of Heaven. Words once spoken, deeds once done, can never be recalled. Angels have registered both the good and the evil. The mightiest conqueror upon the earth cannot call back the record of even a single day. Our acts, our words, even our most secret motives, all have their weight in deciding our destiny for weal or woe. Though they may be forgotten by us, they will bear their testimony to justify or to condemn.

Not only do these words terrify, but they stand diametrically opposed to the testimony of the Spirit as revealed in the book of Romans. In claiming that the Protestant Reformation was only a partial reformation, Ellen White returns believers to the terrors they faced before the Reformation. In this, she participates with Rome in a Counter-reformation; attempting to reverse the accomplishments of Luther and other reformers.

Second, the book of Romans is replete with teachings about the work of the Law. The lesson author is careful to present a Biblical position in a few instances throughout the lessons this quarter. Mixed in with these statements are found the true teachings of the Adventist Church. The Gospel is mixed with the Law. As Joe Crews taught, the Gospel and the Law are like two oars of a rowboat. Both are needed for progress to be made in the Christian life. In a number of places this quarter the seventh-day Sabbath is presented as an important part of the Christian life. The idea of the Law being one of the oars a Christian uses to progress toward a more sanctified life misses the point that the Law was introduced to increase sin. Romans 5:19-20 reads:

Clearly, through one person's disobedience humanity became sinful, and through one person’s obedience humanity will receive God's approval. 20 Laws were added to increase the failure. But where sin increased, God's kindness increased even more. [God’s Word translation]

The statement that the law was added to “increase failure” does not mean that the Law was responsible for our sin. When the Law was added, our sinfulness was revealed to be all the more sinful. That is the purpose of the Law. The purpose of the fourth commandment was to increase sin. This is a literal reading of this passage of Romans. It is this purpose of the Law that prepared the hearts of the people for the Savior. Ellen White again provides insight to the frightening perfection required of every believer. Although Jesus taught that his righteousness was a complete gift, and Paul in Romans shows that Christ’s righteousness and our justification is a complete gift, Ellen White indicates that even our thoughts must be in “perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah.” The following is found in Christ’s Object Lessons, page 311:

By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God's commandments. When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness. Then as the Lord looks upon us He sees, not the fig-leaf garment, not the nakedness and deformity of sin, but His own robe of righteousness, which is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah.

Confusion between the different purposes of the Law and the Gospel are at the core of these types of statements. It is when sin is fully revealed that we can see the grace of God at work. Romans 5:20 provides the solution to the increase in sin – an increase in grace.

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.

Third, given this abundance of unconditional grace, we can look to an area of this quarters lessons that must be addressed. Two statements are given about the purpose of the letter to the Romans. The lesson author states on page 3 of the Teacher’s Quarterly that the foundational doctrine of Romans is justification by faith. As the lessons reach chapter 7, 8 and 14, we begin to see that it is living the Christian life that seems to take center stage. This is clearly brought out in the Sabbath School Companion Book, Redemption in Romans by John C. Brunt. In the Adventist Book Center catalog we read in the advertisement that this book “conveys background information to help us understand Paul’s main point: how Christians should live.” By the 13th chapter of the book, Brunt speculates that the “days” being discussed could not possible involve the seventh-day Sabbath.

We have a dilemma. Either the book of Romans is primarily about Justification, or it is about living the Christian life. Although there are elements of both of these issues in the book, Romans is primarily a theological treatise of the doctrine of the gift of Justification. It is this free gift of unconditional grace that has provided the impetus for reformation in the lives of individual Christians as well as in the Christian Church as a whole.

Let us not allow the study this quarter to lead us to a frightening and anxiety-filled existence. It should free us from anxiety and lead us into the blessings of the rest we can have in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. This rest can be experienced all day, every day, even during the most difficult of life circumstances. With this assurance, we can proclaim the gospel to the most desperately lost sinner with the assurance that it is God who saves, not us. Romans 1:16 proclaims:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Let’s rejoice with Paul this quarter as we are led from our sinfulness as demonstrated by the Law to the righteousness that is ours by grace through faith. As it says in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.



  1. Romans is the most comprehensive and systematic presentations of the Gospel.
  2. Martin Luther brought many out of the fear and bondage of a system of works that only leads to experiencing the wrath of God.
  3. Many Seventh-day Adventists approaching death do so with fear as to their fate based on the Investigative Judgment.
  4. Ellen White’s presentation of the Investigative Judgment was one requiring perfection and complete confession of sin so as to obtain forgiveness. The forgiveness was based on our perfection, not on the completed work of Jesus on the cross.
  5. The purposes of the Law and the Gospel are confused in Adventism. Ellen White often wrote about both in ways that often made them synonymous. Modern Adventist teachers, such as Joe Crews also teach the same way.
  6. The book of Romans is either about the free gift of justification or it is about how to live the Christian life. The consensus of many theologians over the last two thousand years is that Romans is a treatise on the free gift of justification.
  7. We can rejoice with Paul that we are “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.


*Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”



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