Lesson 5: Justification and the Law
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
– Romans 3:31
In Romans 4, we get a fantastic look at what it means to be justified by faith. Paul takes it all the way back to Abraham and, step by step, shows how it was Abraham’s faith, not his national identity or his merits, that justified him and made him righteous. This is key, because as we recall, Paul was talking to a mixed audience, one comprised of Jews and Gentiles – two groups who were at odds with each other. Nothing has changed. In the church today, we have split ourselves into factions that aren’t necessarily cultural. When one group compares itself to another and tries to outdo it, the easiest way to show dominance is to rely on merit. After all, adding up points on a scoreboard is a whole lot easier than getting to know the heart of another person.
“The sinner must come in faith to Christ, take hold of His merits, lay his sins upon the Sin Bearer, and receive His pardon. It was for this cause that Christ came into the world. Thus the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the repenting, believing sinner. He becomes a member of the royal family.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 215.
In Romans 4:9, Paul explains “that salvation by faith was not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles, as well (Rom. 4:9–12). In fact, if you want to get technical about it, Abraham wasn’t Jewish; he came from a pagan ancestry (Josh. 24:2). The Gentile-Jewish distinction didn’t exist in his time. When Abraham was justified (Gen. 15:6), he was not even circumcised. Thus, Abraham became the father of both the uncircumcised and the circumcised, as well as a great example for Paul to use in order to make his point about the universality of salvation. Christ’s death was for everyone, regardless of race or nationality (Heb. 2:9).” *
A few hundred years ago, Irish writer Jonathan Swift wrote: “But will any man say that if the words drinking, cheating, lying, stealing were by Act of Parliament ejected out of the English tongue and dictionaries, we should all awake next morning temperate, honest and just, and lovers of truth? Is this a fair consequence?”—Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal and Other Satires, (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 205. *
In the same way, if God’s law has been abolished, then why are lying, murder, and stealing still sinful or wrong? If God’s law has been changed, then the definition of sin must be changed, too. Or if God’s law was done away with, then sin must be, as well, and who believes that? (See also 1 John 1:7–10; James 1:14, 15.) *
“In that age of caste, when the rights of men were often unrecognized, Paul set forth the great truth of human brotherhood, declaring that God ‘hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.’ In the sight of God all are on an equality.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 238. *
“If Satan can succeed in leading man to place value upon his own works as works of merit and righteousness, he knows that he can overcome him by his temptations, and make him his victim and prey. . . . Strike the door-posts with the blood of Calvary’s Lamb, and you are safe.”—Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1889. *
Here are a few questions * to consider in light of justification by faith:
1. Considering the universality of the Cross, considering what the Cross tells us about the worth of every human being, why is racial or ethnic or national prejudice such a horrible thing? Why is it that so often Christians, who have the Cross before them, seem to forget this important truth and can be guilty of racial or ethnic or even national prejudice? How can we learn to recognize the existence of prejudice in ourselves and through God’s grace purge it from our minds?
2. Why is it so important to understand salvation by faith alone without the deeds of law? What kind of errors can that knowledge protect us from? What dangers await those who lose sight of this crucial biblical teaching?
3. What other reasons can you give for the continued validity of God’s law, even when we understand that the law and obedience to it are not what saves us?
* Passages, quotes, texts, and questions are excerpts from the Adult Sabbath School Quarterly for this week.