The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide is published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's edition is shown above.
Official Adventist Resources:
Support this project
If you would like to support this website, please click on the following link to donate online or you may mail your check to: Life Assurance Ministries, PO Box 905, Redlands, CA 92373. Mark your check "Bible Studies."
Fourth Quarter 2017 (September 30–December 29)
COMMENTARY—SALVATION BY FAITH ALONE: THE BOOK OF ROMANS
Week 5: October 28–November 3
COMMENTARY ON "The Faith of Abraham"
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).
The lesson first makes mention of the Reformation and then directs our attention to 'the faith of Abraham':
"By using Abraham—the paragon of holiness and virtue—as an example of a person who needed to be saved by grace without the deeds of the law, Paul was clear. If Abraham’s works and law-keeping didn’t justify him before God, what hope do we have? If it had to be by grace with Abraham, it has to be the same with everyone else—Jews and Gentiles."
The real lesson theme begins with this memory text:
Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:31)
We need to determine just what does Paul mean by; "we uphold the law" keeping in mind that the context of the memory text includes this verse:
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom. 3:28)
Since the lesson author has adopted a vocabulary that mimics the beliefs of orthodox Christianity we need to be very clear in our understanding of what the Apostle Paul is actually teaching here in his Epistle to the Roman Saints of God.
As the very name of 'Seventh-day Adventist' illustrates, Adventist theology teaches that salvation is somehow associated with a work of obedience to the Old Covenant 'Ten Commandments', especially the work of "Sabbath Keeping" instead of simply observing the biblical command given to the Jews to do nothing other than rest on that day.
'HOLINESS AND VIRTUE' VERSUS RECKONED RIGHTEOUS
When we do come to Romans 4:3 it simply says; “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” as quoted from Gen.15:6. Believe then what you may but this nor any other Scripture says anything about him being “the paragon of holiness and virtue”. The one important thing that set him apart in the sight of God was that when God revealed his promise of having his own son by the womb of Sarah he simply believed God. His faith included nothing else. His faith in this alone was counted as righteousness by God long before the miraculous conception and birth of Isaac. In their old age, both Abraham and Sara knew they could not have a son by any natural means yet believed God that they would. It was then that God gave him the sign of circumcision, before the birth of Isaac. When we come to the 'sacrifice of Isaac' Abraham simply revealed his ongoing faith and was blessed because of how he displayed his faith in obedience to God's command. The point is that once you are reckoned righteous by God that doesn't change over time. The account of Abraham's life and his faith in God's promises also reveals that being reckoned righteous by God doesn't mean neither he, nor anyone else, is suddenly or finally living 'in the flesh' with sin-free perfection. In his flesh he laughed at God's repeated promise yet he still believed God.
LOVED BY GOD
Paul begins this epistle (Rom. 1:7) by calling the Roman Christians as "loved by God". This means they have already received God's grace and understand the gospel message of their salvation. Paul goes on to say he is writing this to strengthen them in a way that both they and he would be mutually blessed. Paul's theme in his epistle to the Roman Christians is expressed in this key passage:
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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16-17)
In chapter three verses 9-18 Paul expresses the obvious in that all Jewish sinners fail (and always will fail) to keep the Old Covenant law because "none are righteous". Instead, both Jew and Gentile are under sin:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. (Rom. 3:9-11)
As we progress through our study of this epistle the overall theme is that sinners are declared righteous solely through the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary apart from the keeping of the works of the Old Covenant.
LAW OF WORKS & LAW OF FAITH
Progressing forward we see that the Old Covenant law only speaks to those who were originally under the law of the Old Covenant, verses 19 & 20. Since all fail in their obedience none can become justified through the attempted keeping of this law. Failure to do so gives knowledge of the utter helplessness of those dead in their sin.
The unbiblical belief that there are certain parts of the Old Covenant law which Adventist define as "ceremonial law" and consequently the only law made obsolete at Calvary is false. Sin came into the world because Adam ate of a certain tree God commanded that he should not eat and was obviously not a violation of a "ceremonial law" of a covenant that did not yet exist. In Genesis 3:14-15 God's promise was fulfilled at Calvary and most certainly was intended to cover Adam's sin because Jesus death was for the sins of all the world.
When we progress to Romans chapter 7 we learn that Jesus' death at Calvary terminated the Old Covenant meaning all that was required within this covenant is gone because the Jews, nor anyone else, can be in two different covenants. To do so would make you would be guilty of adultery whereas Christians are the bride of Christ apart from the Old Covenant, Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 19:7-9 & 2 Cor. 11:2.
If you modify what Paul is teaching in chapter three to make the Epistle of Romans conform to the teaching of Ellen G. White you will end up with an unresolvable conundrum in chapter four and are guilty of 'spiritual adultery'. Therefore it is important to understand that to "uphold the law" is not restricted to just one meaning. Paul is not teaching that sinners must do what he has just devoted a major portion of this chapter showing can never happen? Based upon the context of chapter three 'upholding the law' simply means the Jewish rebellion against God is exposed by their failed "law of works". Whereas "the law of faith" is founded upon the promises and work of God. So, let's progress into chapter four and see what having the 'Faith of Abraham' really means.
The immediate context for chapter four is this passage which includes the lesson memory text:
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:27-31)
The Old Covenant law is call "a law of works" which is to say this is single law not to be separated in parts. In Galatians Paul again speaks of the law as a single whole:
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. (Gal. 3:19)
In looking forward to Rom. 7:1-3 Paul teaches Jewish Christians who know and understand the law that they are released from the Old Covenant law, as is true with all covenants, and became both fulfilled and obsolete when God in the person of Jesus Christ died at Calvary.
Obviously the Gentiles are not obligated to obey the law of a covenant they never included in.
As for 'the faith of Abraham' it is also a single law since Paul calls it "the law of faith".
WORKS OF THE FLESH
Right after saying "we uphold the law" Paul says; "What then shall we say was gained by Abraham....?
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)
Of course the rhetorical answer is that Abraham gain nothing in the flesh. This is what Paul means by "we uphold the law". It exposes what the results of what 'working in the flesh' leads to. Or as he said earlier, what sin is.
The quarterly lesson author avoids or simply does not understand why Paul said; "we uphold the law".
Paul then quotes Gen. 15:6 where it says; "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness". This is to show that "the law of faith" where God reckoned Abraham righteous is not a part of "the law of works". One leads to eternal life. The other is conditional, leading to either blessings or curses for the purpose of directing a repentant sinner back towards the unconditional "law of faith" that preceded the existence and giving of the conditional "law of works". Even when the Jews, God's covenant people, were bound by the "law of works" salvation (God's promise of eternal life) has always been through 'the law of faith'. Those who were bound by the Old Covenant but had "the faith of Abraham" such as Joshua, Rahab the harlot or King David were blessed yet reckoned righteous apart from the 'law of works'.
The point is; do you wish to continue working for your wages by holding onto the Old Covenant "law of works" or do you want to be in the New Covenant "law of faith" where eternal life is a gift of God and where you have been created to do good works through the power of Jesus' gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit?
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. 2:8-10)
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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal. 5:16-18)
A central premise of contextual study for the understanding of Scripture, especially here in the Epistle of Romans, is to begin at the beginning and progress forward verse by verse without skipping past sections of the text. The quarterly lessons for this week however skip past verses 9 through 13 where Paul discusses the question concerning circumcision. In Adventism it is readily recognized that physical circumcision is not required of New Covenant believers yet do not arrive at the significance of this. A Jew (a husband and father who represented his whole family) was not allowed into the protection of the Old Covenant unless he had been circumcised. It is deceptive to jump to verse 14 without understanding or addressing the significance of this.
The lesson indulges in a bit of nonsense in this quote:
"If Paul is referring here to the moral law exclusively, which existed in principle even before Sinai, the point remains the same—perhaps even more so! Seeking to receive God’s promises through the law, he says, makes faith void—even useless."
Of course Paul isn't referring to "moral law" because there is no such thing identified within the Old Covenant nor anywhere else in Scripture. As an Adventist you must know that even if you somehow do achieve perfect obedience to God's "eternal moral laws" that will not gain you entry into the kingdom of God.
The lesson also errors in saying "We all, Jew and Gentile alike, have violated the law" because Gentiles could not violate the laws of a covenant they were never allowed into without first being circumcised according to the law of the covenant.
In verses 13 through to the end of this chapter, much of which is ignored in this week's lesson and not covered in the lessons for next week, stresses that the promise given to Abraham, which is a promise given to him before he was circumcised, shows that God's promise included both Jew and Gentile.
Furthermore this promise of God's is realized through faith ('the faith of Abraham") that applies to both the circumcised and those who are not circumcised. Since you were required to be circumcised to be included in the Old Covenant, the promise of God given to Abraham is realized apart from the keeping of the laws of the Old Covenant which is all one law.
So dear Adventist friends and family, why are you attempting to practice any part of the Old Covenant "law of works", not understanding the "law of works" was all one law fulfilled at Calvary, believing that this will lead to your salvation when instead "the faith of Abraham" is founded solely upon the "law of faith", the promise and work of God?
The reality is that when your sins have been covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ you become a new creation whose spirit has been reborn of Jesus' gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, where you have been instantly transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and eternally into the kingdom of God.
As a 'new creation' growing in spiritual maturity you will now do godly good works instead of following after the old desires of the flesh through the power and work of God in your life, Eph. 2:8-10 & Gal. 5:16-18.