Rom 3, 7-8; Gal 3
The Cross and Justification. In traditional Protestant theology, “justification” is the process by which God declares us to be in right standing with him, regardless of our behavior of the moment. It is language borrowed from the legal profession. The thrust of the doctrine of justification is that God declares us right with Him on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ, not on the basis of our good deeds.
The counterpart of justification is “sanctification,” our topic for next week. Sanctification is the process by which God’s people grow in Christ and become holy. It assumes that Christians will be eager to grow in the Lord, especially when they know that their standing with God is not at risk because of their behavior.
Discussion questions and themes.
- Questions of assurance. Often, those who have been haunted by a sense of inadequacy in God’s presence can be powerfully drawn by Paul’s strong emphasis on “justification.” To rely on God’s grace insteadof our own efforts can be a great challenge, especially for certain people. But the “feeling” of assurance which comes with the territory for some, is very difficult for others.Question:To what extent is the “feeling” of assurance an adequate guide in terms of our relationship to God? What can we learn from the story of the miracle workers who are rejected by Christ because they have not actually done the will of the Father? (Mt 7:21-23).
- Legal model (Paul) or family model (John)? The term “justification” belongs very much in a courtroom setting, but hardly at all in a family setting. And in a legal setting, justification is consistently linked with substitutionary theology. By contrast, in a family model, grace can be very much in evidence without any reference at all to “substitution.” In the story of the prodigal son, for example (Luke 15), the father covers the son with his own robe (righteousness by faith). But there is no hint in the story that acceptance was based on any kind of offering.Question:Is it possible for a person to be blessed by both the legal and the family model, or does our experience tend to push us toward one model or the other?
- Galatians 3: The law is our “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ. One of the challenges of a theology which places a heavy emphasis on justification, is finding a way to treat “law” in a positive way. In Galatians 3:23-26, Paul declares that, in some sense, when we have found faith in Christ, we no longer need the law as “schoolmaster.” In Adventism, at the famous righteousness by faith General Conference of 1888, the meaning of law in Galatians 3 was hotly debated: Is law in Galatians 3 the moral or the ceremonial law? Adventists had taken the position that it was the ceremonial law to which Paul was referring. At the 1888 General Conference, A. T. Jones. and E. J. Waggoner teamed up to give a powerful emphasis on righteousness by faith. They argued that the law in Galatians 3 was indeed the moral law, but that recognizing its schoolmaster function did not negate the value of the law for the Christian. The delegates at the Conference were deeply divided over the question. The quotations which follow give Ellen White’s perspective on the matter. In her view, the spirit in which we do our work is more important than doctrinal correctness.Question: In the light of Ellen White’s convictions about the spirit in which we are to work being more important than being “right” in our interpretation of Scripture (exegesis), how important is it that the church seek for doctrinal purity?
EGW as Interpreter of Scripture: Law in Galatians
EGW to Uriah Smith (MS 55, 1887) cited by Tim Crosby, “Ellen White and the Law in Galatians,” (unpublished, 1979), p. 10:
I am troubled; for the life of me I cannot remember that which I have been shown in reference to the two laws. I cannot remember what the caution and warning referred to were that were given to Elder (J. H.) Waggoner. It may be it was a caution not to make his ideas prominent at that time, for there was a great danger of disunion.
Now, I do not wish the letter that I have sent to you should be used in a way that you will take it for granted that your ideas are all correct and Dr. Waggoner’s and Elder Jones’s are all wrong…. I have had some impressive dreams that have led me to feel that you are not altogether in the light.
EGW to ministers at Minneapolis, Oct. 24, 1888 (MS 9, 1888), cited in A. V. Olson, Thirteen Crisis Years, pp. 301-302 = EGW1888 1:152-53:
If we have the truth it will stand. These truths that we have been handling for years – must Elder Butler come and tell us what they are? Now, do let us have common sense. Don’t let us leave such an impression on this people. One brother asked me if I thought there was any new light that we should have or any new truths for us? Well, shall we stop searching the scriptures because we have the light on the law of God and the testimony of His Spirit? No, brethren.
Now, we did not intimate one word that we did not want that subject taken up. We did want an investigation, but I cannot take my position on either side until I have studied the question. There is the danger God has shown me that there would be a deceitful handling of the Word of God. I have been shown that when debaters handle these truths, unless they have the Spirit of God, they handle them with their own efforts.
Now, the words that were spoken here were that Elder Waggoner was running the meeting. Has he not presented to you the words of the Bible? Why was it that I lost the manuscript and for two years and could not findit? God has a purpose in this. He wants us to go to the Bible and get the Scripture evidence. I shall find it again and present it to you. But this investigation must go forward. All the object I had was that the light should be gathered up, and let the Savior come in.
EGW MS 24, 1888 = EGW1888 1:220; 221; 223:
The remark was made, “If our views of Galatians are not correct, then we have not the third angel’s message and our position goes by the board; there is nothing to our faith.” I said, “Brethren, here is the very thing I have been telling you. This statement is not true. It is an extravagant, exaggerated statement. If it is made in the discussion of this question I shall feel it my duty to set this matter before all that are assembled, and whether they hear or forbear, tell them the statement is incorrect. The question at issue is not a vital question and should not be treated as such. The wonderful importance and magnitude of this subject has been exaggerated.” (p. 220)
For the first time I began to think it might be we did not hold correct views after all upon the law in Galatians, for the truth required no such spirit to sustain it. (p. 221)
I returned to my room questioning what was the best course for me to pursue. Many hours that night were spent in prayer in regard to the law in Galatians. This was a mere mote. Whichever way was in accordance with a “Thus saith the Lord,” my soul would say, Amen, and Amen. But the spirit that was controlling our brethren was so unlike the spirit of Jesus, so contrary to the spirit that should be exercised toward each other, it filled my soul with anguish. (p. 223)
EGW MS 55, 1890 = EGW1888, 2:841-42:
I am forced by the attitude my brethren have taken and the spirit evidenced, to say, God deliver me from your ideas of the law in Galatians, if the receiving of these ideas would make me so unchristian in my spirit, words, and works as many who ought to know better have been, I see not the divine credentials accompanying you.
EGW Letter 83, 1890 = EGW1888, 2:631-32:
I am afraid of you and I am afraid of your interpretation of any Scripture which has revealed itself in such an unchristlike spirit as you have manifested and has cost me so much unnecessary labor. If you such very cautious men and so very critical lest you shall receive something not in accordance with the Scriptures, I want your minds to look on these things in the true light. Let your caution be exercised in the line of fear lest you are committing the sin against the Holy Ghost. Have your critical minds taken this view of the subject? I say if your views on the law in Galatians, and the fruits, are of the character I have seen in Minneapolis and ever since up to this time, my prayer is that I may be as far from your understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures as it is possible for me to be. I am afraid of any application of Scripture that needs such a spirit and bears such fruit as you have manifested. One thing is certain, I shall never come into harmony with such a spirit as long as God gives me my reason.
EGW, Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 192-93 (1883): Law in Galatians = ceremonial law
Paul continues to vindicate his position as apostle of Christ, not by the will of men, but by the power of God. He describes the visit which he made to Jerusalem to secure a settlement of the very questions which are now agitating the churches of Galatia, as to whether the Gentiles should submit to circumcision and keep the ceremonial law…. Paul, along with Peter, James and John won from all a concurrence in the decision to leave the Gentiles free from the obligation of the ceremonial law.
EGW, Letter 96, 1896 = Selected Messages, 1:234: Law in Galatians = both moral and ceremonial law
“The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). In this Scripture the Holy Spirit through the apostle is speaking especially of the moral law. The law reveals sin to us, and causes us to feel our need of Christ and to flee unto Him for pardon and peace by exercising repentance toward God and our faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.