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Fourth Quarter 2017 (September 30–December 29)
COMMENTARY—SALVATION BY FAITH ALONE: THE BOOK OF ROMANS
Week 1: September 30–October 6
COMMENTARY ON "The Apostle Paul in Rome"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
A objective study of the quarterly lessons for this week reveals and makes it clear that this is not an introduction to Paul's message as recorded in the Epistle of Romans. For instance, the lesson author talks about "context" yet ignores the beginning passage by jumping to verse eight then introduces themes supported from other portions of Scripture.
It is readily apparent that these lessons are intended to support Adventist theology by directing our attention, step by step, away from what Paul is actually teaching and therefore begins by jumping past the introductory first seven verses:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. (Rom. 1:8)
For this week's commentary our focus will be to identify the biblically focused definition of certain words pertinent to the quarterly lesson theme. The purpose is to direct attention to what Paul is actually teaching in the Epistle of Romans concerning having the 'faith of Abraham'.
As was just pointed out the lesson author speaks of "context" yet immediately jumps to other portions of Scripture. What is being done in doing so is really called providing 'BACKGROUND" material that or may not be relevant to understanding the Epistle of Romans. In-other-words our minds have been directed in a certain direction without first knowing what Paul's message is in his Epistle to the Christians in Rome.
If you really wish to stay within context you should begin, where Paul begins, at verse one of chapter one and then work your way forward. Context means to keep in mind both what came before and what follows any certain quoted passage as you follow the inspired author's developing message.
In the Teachers Comments we find this statement, with reference to Romans 1:8:
"Key Concept for Spiritual Growth: Paul’s praise for, and appreciation of, the faith of the Roman Christians should inspire and motivate all professed Christians to strive to make spiritual things the top priorities in their lives and in their witness."
According to this quarterly lesson claims that the key concept for spiritual growth is for "all professed Christians to strive....".
When we do contextually come to Romans chapter seven Paul tells us what happens when we strive according to the failed will of the "flesh":
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Rom. 7:21-25)
Only Jesus can and will diver you from the power of the flesh. Victory over our flesh is never about our own striving. Elsewhere Paul compares living with New Covenant faith to the failed keeping of Old Covenant law:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal. 5:16-18)
Within Adventist theology the claim is made that Abraham was declared justified by God because of his willingness to sacrifice Isaac in response to God's command to do so as recorded in Genesis 22:1-18. This needs a closer look because, if true, this would be a 'work' on the part of Abraham which would seem to violate other portions of Scripture. Actually, this is what the angel of the Lord said to Abraham:
And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Gen. 22:15-18)
When we step back to chapter 15 and read the sequence of events that led up to Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac we learn Abraham had already been justified by God solely because of his faith in God. In Romans chapter four Paul defines Christian faith as the same as "Abraham's faith" by quoting Genesis 15:6. The angel of the Lord delivered this message to Abram right after he had rescued Lot and had just been blessed by Melchizedek, which was long before the miraculous promised birth of Isaac:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:1-6)
Abram believed God. Without any works of his own God reckoned him righteous at this time. That is, God declared Abram as justified. Later events, such as his willingness to obey God and sacrifice Isaac, simply demonstrate Abraham's faith in God.
In Adventist theology the teaching of the Apostle James is played against the Apostle Paul by focusing on this passage:
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:18-24)
We see that James is also quoting Genesis 15:6 which comes before Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22:1-18. James point is that godly works are the natural result of having been justified by God. Whereas Paul's point is that justification is not something to boast about because our faith in God is founded upon the promises and work of God:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom. 4:1-8)
Paul compliments James' point by teaching that New Covenant brothers in Christ are to "walk by the Spirit" instead of by the "desires of the flesh":
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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 28-10)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal. 5:16-17)
In the introductory first seven verses of the Epistle to the Romans Paul uses the word "called" twice in his address of the Roman Christians.
Here Peter is addressing the "elect exiles of the dispersion" (1 Peter 1:1) and "a chosen race" in this passage which we understand to mean Jewish followers of Jesus Christ outside of the land of Israel:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Since Peter says the "elect exiles" have been called out of darkness in this passage we can use this as our biblical definition of 'called ones', not forgetting that in the Body of Christ there is no distinction between the Jew and the Gentile who have been graphed into the New Covenant, Rom. 10:12 & 11:13-17.
All sinners are born trapped and slaves within the domain of darkness. In his introduction "to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae", Col. 1:2, Paul wrote:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:11-14)
Unless a sinner responds to the call of God there is no escape. In the following passage Jesus responds to the Jews who were grumbling because he had just said "I am the bread of life, John 6:35" & “I am the bread that came down from heaven”, John 6:41:
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:43-44)
In Paul's introduction of his Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 1:1-14) he reveals that those God calls and draws to himself were known by God before the foundation of the world:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:3-6)
One of the things this passage informs us is that God already knows whose name is recorded in the Book of Life. Furthermore Paul informs those whose faith is centered on Jesus' work of atonement at Calvary are assured that they are secure in the kingdom of God because they will never be separated from the love of God, Rom. 8:31-39:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:37-39)
One of the foundational heresies of Adventism centers on the denial that Adam was created with a human spirit that reflected the image of who God is, Gen. 1:26-27.
Consider what happened on the day Adam did eat of the forbidden fruit. Or more to the point, what part of Adam died on the day he sinned?
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:15-17)
Jesus provides us the answer to this question when he told Nicodemus that: A person must be "born again" (of their spirit) before they can enter into the kingdom of God. Jesus is explaining to him that all of the human race are born with a dead human spirit that must be "born again" before they can be brought into the kingdom of God. This is a direct reference to Adam's sin and spiritual death on the day he ate of the fruit of that forbidden tree, John 3:1-21.
Another of Adventism's great stumbling blocks of not understanding the biblical gospel message is that even if a sinner could somehow perfectly keep the Mosaic Old Covenant law such a theoretically "perfect" keeper of the law would still be dead in 'trespasses and sin' because of the impossibility of anyone other than our Creator creating life where there is no life.
The Apostle Paul warns us that there can only be one gospel message and that if anything is added to or taken away from this one and only gospel it is a false gospel that did not come from God. Furthermore there is a curse placed upon anyone who would dare teach such a heresy, Gal. 1:6-9. In Galatians 2:15-16 Paul goes on to declare that no person will ever be justified by "works of the law".
The irony is that Ellen G. White wrote a seemingly endless volume of words supporting Advent theology yet the true gospel of Scripture is summarized by Paul in a few short words and then stresses the importance of Jesus' resurrection, First Corinthians chapter fifteen:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor. 15:1-5)
The life of any creature is in the blood, Lev. 17:11, therefore the death that Adam's sin imparted upon humanity required the shedding of innocent sinless blood if there was to be an atonement. The Old Covenant yearly Day of Atonement shedding of blood teaches us this truth, that only innocent blood can cover the sin of sinners. Thus only Jesus, the promised Messiah, could shed innocent blood that was without sin as atonement and payment for the sins of the world.
The two goats of Lev. 16:7 were a single sacrifice where both were presented before God "without blemish" and reckoned as having sinless blood. A reckoned sinless sacrificial goat could not possibly portray the evil works of Satan. Instead together these two goats portrayed the whole message of the Messiah's sacrifice at Calvary. As our Scapegoat, Jesus descended into the grave for three days and carried away the sins of the world into a place unknown forever effectually applying atonement upon all sinners who accept in faith his shed blood as payment for their sins.
First Corinthians chapter fifteen then stresses the importance of Jesus' resurrection because this is the proof of our hope and coming resurrection into eternal newness of life that is already ours. In the sight of God, Jesus' resurrection is a declaration that both Satan and death as being forever totally defeated. While Satan certainly is our enemy there is no personal ongoing age long battle between Satan and Jesus Christ. That ended with the resurrection. Therefore the theme undergirding the Great Controversy doctrine is a lie and totally absent from Scripture. Satan and Jesus were never equals. Jesus always was the eternal Son of God. Scripture does not say why there was war in heaven.