Sabbath School Lesson for October 21-27, 2017
If we truly understand what Paul tried to explain at the beginning of his epistle to the Romans, we would see that sin is not just a series of sinful acts and attitudes that plague both Jews and Gentiles. Our human condition represents a worldwide spiritual sickness for which we must find a cure.
Furthermore, we will not benefit fully from this cure if we only see the sinfulness of others, whether it be those outside the church or in the church. God can only reach us when we personalize the call to repentance and see the abundance of sin in our own heart. The work of redemption must occur on an individual level. And this is why the law is to be valued and uplifted. The purpose of the law is to reveal this sin.
Romans 3:19-28, which we study this week, has been declared by one New Testament commentator (Leon Morris) as the most important paragraph ever written. In it we find the cure for sin to be found in Christ alone. Our works do not positively or negatively impact our ability to be saved. They merely indicate that we are reflecting or rejecting the love of God that He has already provided.
Memory Verse: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:28 KJV
Some have found themselves a bit nervous with the implications of this verse. On the surface, it may sound like the deeds of the law are not important as part of our salvation. What it is really saying, however, is that works do not affect our justification. We must therefore learn as much as we can about this term “justification” and the faith that accompanies it.
Justification by faith is the major theme of Romans. This truth, more than any other, also brought about the Protestant Reformation. Romans in Paul’s day and in Martin Luther’s time needed to be reminded of this truth. Deeds of the law are not the instruments that save us. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more than He already does.
Sunday: The Deeds of the Law
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Romans 3:19, 20 NIV
Paul was using the term “law” here in its broadest sense. And since we are all accountable or guilty before God, we are all under the jurisdiction of God’s law.
These verses tell us two things:
- the law does not save us
- the law brings us a knowledge of our sin (it is a definer of sin and a generator of guilt)
We have a tendency in our world to separate the law–to try to decipher what parts of it we are still obligated to keep. But if we spend too much time doing this, we will miss the whole point Paul is trying to make: that keeping any or all of the law is not going to save us.
Paul states very emphatically and repeatedly that we are not declared righteous, or justified, by observing the law, even the Ten Commandment law. It is only by the grace of God, that we are saved.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 3:19 and James 2:10. Why is it not possible to be saved by keeping the law? Is God unjust in making it our standard then? Why or why not?
Read Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16. How do these verses complement each other? What do they tell us about justification by faith?
Read James 1:21-25. How important is it to not only have our sins revealed by the law, but to turn away from doing those sins? When is this transformation of character to take place, before or after we have implanted Christ’s meekness in our hearts (see v. 21)?
Monday: The Righteousness of God
We’ve conceded that our good deeds are worthless as far as saving us is concerned, so we must be given something else to take its place. That something else is the righteousness of God.
We Christians don’t often think of God’s righteousness. Our minds go instantly to the righteousness demonstrated by Jesus while He was on earth with us. But we can find evidences of God’s righteousness long before Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Moses and David (Exodus 34:6, 7 and Psalm 103:8-10) found God to have these righteous traits…
- merciful, gracious
- longsuffering (slow to anger)
- abounding in goodness and truth
Perhaps the easiest way for us to see His righteousness is to view God as a father. David said, “As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.” Psalm 103:13 NKJV Jesus, besides calling Him Father, gives us an image of a loving father of a prodigal son in one of His most beloved parables.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 3:21, John 1:1-3, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, and John 5:46. How was Christ’s righteousness revealed in the Old Testament? And how do these verses say God and Jesus represent the same righteousness?
Read Romans 3:22, 23 and Galatians 3:22. Will mankind always fall short of God’s glory? When will we come the closest to being like Him?
What makes it hard for us to accept the righteousness of God, even after we’ve become aware of our own sinful nature?
Tuesday: By His Grace
“being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:24 NKJV
Our justification is therefore available through God’s generous spirit, or grace. Think a moment about what this justification would include. We are considered righteous in God’s eyes. Our redemption price, paid for us by Jesus’ death, allows us to declare His righteousness as our own. It is “just” as if we had never sinned; Christ covers our mistakes and empowers us to conquer our sinful tendencies.
And all this happens by the grace of God. That part is fairly easy to understand when we remember how much God loves us. Is this justification a one-time event, however? There certainly is a beginning for it, called the new birth experience. But evidently, we are such faulty creatures that we must plead for this justification, or covering, every time we fall away from God’s love.
God has made provision for us to fail. That’s what His redemption is all about. His forgiveness is abundant and free. We mustn’t hesitate to accept it, and use this assurance to do better the next time. If Jesus expected His disciples to forgive each other “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18:22), how much more is He willing to forgive us through His loving grace?
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 3:24 and Ephesians 2:8. Why does God insist that His gift of grace is free? What is the best response we can have when someone gives us a gift? How important is it for us to learn the courteous way to accept a gift, as well as give it?
Read Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:14, and Isaiah 32:17. What is it about justification that brings us peace, and why is peace so important to have?
Read Psalm 103:2-5. What are some of the evidences of God’s grace? If the grace of God is so perfect and entirely free, why do we find ourselves so reluctant to accept it?
Wednesday: The Righteousness of Christ
Since sin has separated us from a full view of God’s righteousness, God sent His Son to live among us and reveal what His righteousness looks like. See John 1:18. By faith then, we bring to God the righteousness of His Son.
Our faith must be based on more than a mere intellectual assent to the facts of His birth, death, and resurrection, however. True faith in Christ is humbly accepting Him as our Substitute and Lord. He must become the guiding force in our life, enabling us to become more like Him through bonds of mutual love.
Paul continues on in chapter 3:25-27, pointing out how God’s righteousness is actually that of Christ. Christ is the propitiation, or atoning sacrifice, that we claim in order to be redeemed. This Greek word for “propitiation” only occurs twice in the New Testament (in Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5).
In Hebrews 9:5, the word for “propitiation” is translated “mercy seat”. This would be the area of the sanctuary, in the Most Holy Place, where God’s atoning sacrifice would be presented and celebrated once a year. It was the closest you could get to God’s righteousness.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 3:25, 26. Why is it important for past AND present sins to be covered with His righteousness?
Read Romans 3:27 and 1 Corinthians 1:29. Why is it important for us to glory, or boast, only in God? How does the law of faith help us do this? How would you compare “the law of love” to “the law of faith”? Do they cover both God’s mercy and His justice?
Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Why was Christ’s death the first thing Paul preached? Could Paul have stopped there, and not continued with the story of His burial and resurrection, and still won converts? Why does Jesus’ death stand out, as the turning point for our redemption?
Thursday: Without the Deeds of the Law
We find ourselves looking at the memory text again. The previous verse (Romans 3:27), however, helps us see that since God does the work of justification for us, there is really nothing for us to boast about. Does this mean that we aren’t capable of fulfilling God’s commandments without His help? Yes, it actually does.
We may think we are obeying His commands and living a righteous life on our own, but it is only after being justified, declared righteous, that we are able to keep the law, as God intended it to be kept. That means our sanctification, when we actually become transformed into a holy person, depends on our being declared holy from the very beginning, when we were justified.
This should be good news. It means we don’t have to depend on what we can accomplish, whether it be little or much. The only dependence we need is our trust and dependence on the Lord. And God will perform a good work in us. Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” NKJV
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 3:27 and 1 Corinthians 1:28-31. What is the only thing we can glory in, or boast about?
Read Romans 3:28 and Galatians 2:16. How does the verse in Galatians clarify what kind of faith we must have?
Read Matthew 19:17, Romans 2:13, James 2:10, 11, and Revelation 14:12. How do these verses declare that keeping the commandments, through faith in Jesus, is the only way to be justified?
The briefest, yet most comprehensive, description of justification by faith may be found in Romans 3:19-28, the passage we studied this week. In our study, we explored these areas…
- Sunday–deeds of the law–What is the purpose of the law, if not to save us? (to reveal our sins)
- Monday–righteousness of God–How can we best understand God’s righteousness? (as a father)
- Tuesday–God’s grace–When are we given God’s grace? (it’s always available for our acceptance)
- Wednesday–righteousness of Christ–How does Jesus’ righteousness differ from God’s? (they are the same, but Jesus’ obedience, while on earth with us, is easier for us to understand)
- Thursday–being without the deeds of the law–How are with justified without our own righteous acts? (our faith moves us closer to God, the source of our salvation)
God’s church that grew out of Rome had become very corrupt and paganistic in its doctrines and practices by the time of Martin Luther in the Middle Ages. Five hundred years ago, God used Luther, and other reformers who followed him, to bring believers back to a better understanding of what God was like.
The first Bible truth God chose to impress upon Luther was the concept of justification by faith. This fact alone must alert us to the importance of faith in our lives. And we still struggle with it, even as Seventh-day Adventists. We blindly go about our lives, thinking we are performing enough good actions to get us to heaven, and falling apart at the first sign of trouble in our lives. Wondering why we don’t have enough faith to give us peace. Struggling to figure out why God isn’t answering our prayers.
Next week we’ll be looking at Abraham’s faith. We certainly must not overlook the impact of faith, as we seek the answers to our questions about God and how to be saved. Perhaps we should be emphasizing, not just how to be justified, but how to have faith. Think about faith and whether it is growing or withering in YOUR experience.
Next Week: The Faith of Abraham
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/