Paul and the Rebellion

This week’s Sabbath School study focuses on the apostle Paul’s distinctive contribution to the theme of the Great Controversy. In Paul’s writings this theme, like all other themes, are viewed in the light of the apostle’s main emphasis on Christ and His ultimate victory in providing salvation to the world. Atonement is the heart of Paul’s theology (Rom 3:25; 5:1-11; 1 Cor 5:7; Eph 1:7; 5:2; Col 1:14, 20). The salvation of the world completely depends on the perfected atonement at the Cross. “All that is lost in the first man will be restored in the second.”[1] The good news that Paul shares is that Christ triumphed over Satan, and for this sole reason believers can become overcomers in the battle with evil. Christ’s victory is also our victory. Ecclesiological and eschatological implications of the salvation event and salvation reality are permanently linked to believers’ struggles to remain faithful and be powerful witnesses to this disintegrated and dying world still under the control of the enemy. For Paul righteousness by faith is the pivotal doctrine and represents the Gospel message in its purity and power. My focus in this essay is primarily on this soteriological aspect of Paul’s theology, and how it stands at the heart of believers’ spiritual combats.

The metaphors of the ‘second Adam’ (Rom 5:12-21), the church as ‘building’ and ‘body’ (1 Cor 3:10-11; 16-17; 1 Cor 12:14-26), and death as the ‘last enemy’ (1 Cor 15:52-53) are all closely related to a single spiritual and theological phenomenon, namely, assurance of salvation based on faith. The faith of/in Christ is the underlying principle of the Gospel message. Yet faith, and so the certainty of salvation, is sometimes a matter around which believers’ spiritual battles revolve. One of the reasons for this is perhaps the apparent paradoxical nature of the salvific faith. On the one hand, we have secured salvation in the graciously offered righteousness of the second Adam received by faith only (we contributed nothing to the perfected atonement of Christ); on the other hand, unless we take all the armor of God (Eph 6:11-17) we cannot preserve our total dependence upon God and ultimately secure salvation in Christ. Salvation is entirely dependent on God’s gracious gift and offer (Phil 3:9; Eph 2:8). Yet our diligence to take the full armor of God and work out our salvation with fear and trembling will keep us protected from the archenemy and the loss of salvation (Rim 13:12; Eph 6:11, 13; Phil 2:12).

For Paul faith is not an idle feeling or intellectual assent to something that is true and eternal. Faith is formed, shaped and transformed in the midst of the struggles for the ultimate good, justice and salvation, and that is why we are in need of the full armor of God. Faith is not concerned with pleasing God externally and formally by keeping the standards and laws of morality. E.P. Sanders would call this “pattern of religion” “covenantal nomism.”[2] Faith is not an instrument of the perfect legal status, as in Galatian heresy (e.g., Gal 3:1-14). It does not make the righteousness of God into an instrument of our perfected sanctification. Faith is the cause of sanctification, but that is not the first goal and the essence of faith. Faith’s goal is to permanently stay in relationship to the One who is the source of atonement and salvation. Oswald Chambers rightly maintains that:

It is a snare to imagine that God wants to make us perfect specimens of what He can do; God’s purpose is to make us one with Himself. The emphasis of holiness movements is apt to be that God is producing specimens of holiness to put in His museum. If you go off this idea of personal holiness, the dead-set of your life will not be for God, but for what you call the manifestation of God in your life.[3]

Glorification of God in a believer’s life comes from selfless and devoted commitment to Jesus Christ alone. The Holy Spirit imparts Christ’s righteousness to the believer in order to make him or her one with the Lord. In this regard, faith is accompanied by other elements of God’s armor. In the midst of the combat, the ‘knight of faith’ is fully equipped and he cannot afford losing even one element of this armor. Truth, justice and peace are very significant elements but without faith the knight is open to merciless attacks of the “fiery darts of the wicked one” (Eph 6:16).

We are saved by faith only, because faith is a dynamic reality that keeps us in a proper relationship to God, and so is indispensable in the combat against the forces of evil. Faith grows, stumbles, is tempted, weakened, and strengthened again. The shield is sometimes laid low because the arms become tired, but faith preserves the salvation intact and secured, because it always looks to the source of power and victory, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2). It glorifies the Source (God through Christ), not us as seekers of self-centered perfected sanctification or eternal bliss.

Though, we still do not know what faith is in its essence (it transcends intellect, emotions and will), we do know that it both successfully responds to God’s free offer of completed salvation through the atonement and righteousness of Christ, and keenly preserves this salvation in the midst of the fierce battle with the world, Satan, and the sinful nature. Therefore, both the beggars’ reception of God’s unconditional gift in Christ and the act of putting upon ourselves the full armor of God are the actions of faith. Is my salvation certain then? Yes, it depends on the reality of the accomplished atonement of Christ, and again, yes, because daily walk and struggle for righteousness depend on faith in the One who provided the atonement blood and the One who gives us strength and reason to believe and carry on in life. Any attempt to rationally resolve the apparent paradoxical nature of faith distorts the apostolic teaching of salvation by faith alone by creating false dualism of faith and works, righteousness and perfection, and grace and achievement. Preoccupation with the effects of salvation rather than the Source of salvation leads some believers to start depending on their own works, and this takes away from them the certainty of salvation. There is no merit in faith, since it is a gift of God. It paradoxically saves us without any merit, and fills us with passion and zeal for doing what is good and just. Faith is a gift that saves, preserves, overcomes, has already accomplished everything that is expected of us, and brings all things to consummation. Martin Luther exalts this kind of faith:

Faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing.[4]

Aleksandar S. Santrac, DPhil, PhD, is the Professor of Ethics and Philosophy, Chair of Religion Department, Washington Adventist University, and Extraordinary Research Professor of Dogmatics at North-West University, South Africa. He has recently completed his visiting research fellow program in Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School, working on peace and reconciliation studies.

[1]Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, November 4, 1908.

[2]E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Fortress Press, 1977), 420, 544.

[4]Luther adds: “Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.  Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!”  (Martin Luther, “Definition of Faith,” An excerpt from An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, Luther's German Bible of 1522, Translated by Rev. Robert E. Smith from Dr. Martin Luther’s Vermischte Deutsche Schriften, Johann K. Irmischer, ed. Vol. 63 (Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp.124-125. [EA 63:124-125], August 1994).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
1 Like

Thank you for a comprehensive summary of this vital subject. We laymen particularly,are indebted to you and indeed Spectrum, for such thought provoking articles.Many thanks. Jim.

1 Like

You are welcome, Jim. Peace.

What time in the short history of Adventists did the “Great Controversy Theme” rise to such importance? It can be woven into every possible doctrine of the church, regardless of the context. Is it the editor, Goldstein, who consistently emphasizes this theme and so many SS lessons have been built around it? Viewing through G.C. glasses is there any subject in the Bible that cannot be viewed through this theme?

Christians read the Bible and see God’s overwhelming grace and the willingness to save all (John 3:16-17). But the G.C. them views God as having a small remnant who have scrupulously counted jots and titles just as the Jews which Christ condemned. Have Adventists not adopted their attempt at doctrinal purity according to their interpretation of John’s Revelation?


I like this:
Any attempt to rationally resolve the apparent paradoxical nature of faith distorts the apostolic teaching of salvation by faith alone by creating false dualism of faith and works, righteousness and perfection, and grace and achievement.
Profound. Christians, perhaps SDAs in particular, have spilled oceans of ink trying to square this circle! Appreciate the profound point that its fundamentally misconceived. Wonderful insight!


There is value in this comment. Thank you!

Like Nicodemus, we must be willing to enter into life in the same way as the chief of sinners. Than Christ, “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12. Through faith we receive the grace of God; but faith is not our Saviour. It earns nothing. It is the hand by which we lay hold upon Christ, and appropriate His merits, the remedy for sin. And we cannot even repent without the aid of the Spirit of God. The Scripture says of Christ, “Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Acts 5:31. Repentance comes from Christ as truly as does pardon. – {DA 175.4}

How, then, are we to be saved? “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” so the Son of man has been lifted up, and everyone who has been deceived and bitten by the serpent may look and live. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. The light shining from the cross reveals the love of God. His love is drawing us to Himself. If we do not resist this drawing, we shall be led to the foot of the cross in repentance for the sins that have crucified the Saviour. Then the Spirit of God through faith produces a new life in the soul. The thoughts and desires are brought into obedience to the will of Christ. The heart, the mind, are created anew in the image of Him who works in us to subdue all things to Himself. Then the law of God is written in the mind and heart, and we can say with Christ, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God.” Psalm 40:8. – {DA 175.5}

Notice that the obidience is part of the salvation process and it’s only possibly through the Spirit’s power. If one is trully saved, he is saved from sin, from disobedience into obedience.

Paul had ever exalted the divine law. He had shown that in the law there is no power to save men from the penalty of disobedience. Wrongdoers must repent of their sins and humble themselves before God, whose just wrath they have incurred by breaking His law, and they must also exercise faith in the blood of Christ as their only means of pardon. The Son of God had died as their sacrifice and had ascended to heaven to stand before the Father as their advocate. By repentance and faith they might be freed from the condemnation of sin and through the grace of Christ be enabled henceforth to render obedience to the law of God. – {AA 393.1}

Notice the three: repentance and faith both gifts of God to men (Acts 5:31; Romans 12:3) as well as grace (Ephesians 2:8). All are necesery for salvation. The grace is the cause of salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son …” Faith is the condition of salvation (“faith is not our Saviour” DA 175.4). Faith leads to obedience (Ronans 1:5). Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). It is not faith + works but faith that works. If the obidience is not the fruit of the faith, which is God’s gift to us, that thete was no faith to begin with. It is dead - non exsistent.


Good article and fine comments and reactions. It is significant for me that Paul preached to a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles. What was his theme? What was always his aim? What was the goal of his sermons? It was to bring people to repentance and turn them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 13:38 says, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man [Jesus] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.”

Acts 16:30-31; 17:3, 30; 18:24-28; 26:17-18, 20; and 28:23-31. Preaching the Kingdom of God requires preaching the way into that Kingdom through Jesus Christ granting repentance and remission of sins.
It behooves us all to look to the Scriptures, the Work of God, to find the truth of a matter. The truth is, repentance and remission of sins was Paul’s main theme.

1 Like

So very, very well said. Thank you for this incredibly biblically balanced presentation of righteous by faith!


Protestantism and evangelical Christianity seem to have an obsession with the question of salvation, and precise theological definitions of what constitutes «salvific faith», especially when it comes to the meaning of the Cross. Our salvation has exclusively been related to the theological implication of the Cross, interpreted through the theological straightjacket of Luther’s legal atonement theory.

John McIntyre, however, in his book «The Shape of Soteriology», claims that the early Church, in its first five centuries, did not develop sophisticated theories, or dogmas, about the saving effects of the cross, that came even close to their doctrines of the Trinity (Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed, 381) and the person of Christ (Chalcedonian Creed, 451). Whereas soteriology was not an issues for the early Church, he argues, incarnational theology was. Even in the Apostolic Creed (c. 200), the reference to the death of Christ is «a straightforward historical statement» devoid of soteriological overtones. Anselms penal-substitution theory of salvation, taken over by Luther and what became the dominant theological doctrine of evangelicalism, is absent in the early creeds of the Church. None of the early creeds associated the death of Christ with forgiveness of sin and our salvation. What they did, however, was to emphasize the relation between salvation and the Incarnation.

McIntyre’s book is a reminder that Prostestantism may have put to much theology into the Cross, at the expence of a theology of Incarnation. The challenge for a meaningful theology for our time is, as I see it, to develop a more comprehensive theology of salvation through the lens of the concept of Incarnation.


Dear Aleksandar, faith is not leading to obedience in a sense that obedience is the final goal and essence of faith. Then faith is just instrumental. Faith leads back to the Source of faith, namely God who should be glorified. Some of the folks within Adventist community believe that faith is an instrument of salvation leading to perfection. The effect of faith is not obedience but again faith that works through love. Faith is already a good work and faith is already an obedience. What was credited to Abraham as righteousness was faith not his subsequent obedience. Even obedience was just an expression of faith, remember sacrificing Isaac.


The article is obscure & convoluted.
If one could have locked Sanders, Chambers, and Luther in a hotel room to see if they could come to an agreement on the gospel or soteriology, it would have been a vain effort.

The key terms in Christianity: gospel grace and salvation have been warped for 2,000 years by those who wrongly divide the word of truth.

So many continue to write some spin on soteriology and then just post some scripture references assuming that they support their spin.

Basically what takes place are subtle scripture interpretations that reveal , with quick analysis, writers still have lingering attributes that are exposed by Rom 8:7

“The gospel is the good news of grace, or favour, by which man may be released from the condemnation of sin, and enabled to render acceptable obedience to the law.” Bible Echo 1894 (EGW-SOP)

Preoccupation with the source of salvation leads to assent which is the greatest deception of the human mind. (DA309)

Some get unbalanced with excessive vicarious theology.

Balance comes when one embraces both Phil 2:12 AND 2:13

God has to influence volition/the will.
Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his THOUGHTS and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

2 Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

Salvation is mind makeover, brain washing, thought detox, decriminalization,character healing,

Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Ephesians 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

Too much 3rd person focus. Teaching need to be balanced by integrating 1st person responsibility.

Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

-Romans 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Israelites shed blood, got baptized, ate manna…and still died.

Jude 1:5 I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.

Assurance of salvation is becoming a pet doctrine.
Rom 5:4 gives a clue about assurance…
"and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]."

John 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

Acts 5:32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

How many church members even know what the will of God is?
EDIT: Unfortunate no SS lesson on Peter and GC.
Has verses and issues that counter SDA institutionalism god


Doctor Santrac,
You state that: " Paul’s distinctive contribution to the Great Controversy is that the good news he shares is that Christ triumphed over Satan".

That is where the whole Great Controversy doctrine implodes!
Because that “triumph” happened two millenia ago, and counting!
Surely a triumph, like any other victory, should signal the end of the battle and be immediately celebrated?

EGWs whole thesis in her Great Controversy, is that this titanic struggle between good and evil, is so that “the universe can ultimately VINDICATE God.”

Surely God giving His Son to die a despicable death on the Cross should have been sufficient vindication for a watching “universe”?

Surely the horrors of the Crucifixion should have been the ultimate indictment of Satan, the evil doer?

Yet two thousand years later after multiple atrocities, genocides, epidemics, famines, rapes, murders, wars, pestilences and plagues, the “universe” apparently waits in limbo, unconvinced, unpersuaded, paralysed in a pathetic, pitiful wavering non-commital vacillation!

Is the “universe” inhabited by intelligent beings, or by primitive primates as depicted in the movie PLANET OF THE APES? It would seem it is the latter, otherwise how could they tolerate multiple millenia of “live streaming” of atrocities, invading the bliss of their “unfallen worlds”?

What comes across is that the whole of humanity, mired in a morass of MISERY, is held hostage by a God more interested in his ultimate “vindication” than bringing to an end a controversy that you state was won at the Cross, two millenia ago!


The cosmic conflict story, understood within the frame of a strong and absolute metaphysical theology, depicts a god who has strong narcissistic tendencies – ‘He’ is the one to be vindicated, at whatever price. The model for this view of God is the sovereign feudal lord of the (dark) European middle-age societies. This is Luther’s god.

‘He’ is a god who is more concerned with his own cosmic reputation than his own creation – all the people and living organisms who suffer in this vindictive process. This is a theology that posits the Machiavellian assumption that it “takes a few eggs to make an omelette”.

This is why the cosmic conflict story has to be understood narratively, at the intersubjective level, and not as a theological dogma.


BINGO! - and incredibly well clarified.

It seems that the “great controversy” scenario places our focus on ourselves - how can “I” live so that God will be finally vindicated - a life of constant “navel gazing”; as opposed to one, focused on deep gratitude - … Because God did that, THEN I can’t help but respond by THIS… . “Whatsoever you do unto these, my children, you do unto me.” - maybe a fine line, but motive matters. “How a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”


one of the things i understood with great certainty when i returned to the church 22 yrs ago was that after having sat through hundreds and possibly thousands of sabbath schools, bible classes, sermons, weeks of prayer, and spiritual retreats focused on faith and salvation during my growing yrs, i actually didn’t understand these concepts at all…worse yet, i was even more certain that no-one else i knew understood them, either…i would say that this subject was my first major trek into spiritual theory which i discovered could be understood when i applied myself…

beginning with the premise that egw is as inspired and authoritative as the bible - and no, there’s no such thing as headship and submissive levels of inspiration - i’ve discovered what i have yet to see successfully challenged using these sources, which is that justification doesn’t occur in a vacuum…justification occurs in the context of our sanctification because the original sin in our fallen human nature means that our spirit-mediated steps towards holiness, our sanctification, will always fall short this side of translation…supplementing our defiled sanctification with his own perfect merits, and thereby achieving justification in our individual case, is actually the major role jesus plays in the heavenly sanctuary now:

“The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God’s right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ’s propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable.” 1SM:344.

because justification is only granted to the individual who is being sanctified, sanctification and its entry point, conversion, are incredibly important, which is why all the prophets and apostles spend so much time stressing obedience…but because apparent obedience can occur outside of genuine sanctification, paul and egw, among others, spend significant time downplaying the ability of works, in themselves, to save us…what this means in practical terms is that justification, which brings salvation, is assured for those who are doing their best to harmonize with god:

“Christ looks at the spirit, and when He sees us carrying our burden with faith, His perfect holiness atones for our shortcomings. When we do our best, He becomes our righteousness.” Letter 22, 1889.

“When it is in the heart to obey God, when efforts are put forth to this end, Jesus accepts this disposition and effort as man’s best service, and he makes up for the deficiency with his own divine merit.” ST, June 16, 1890.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth [who supplements] me.” Philippians 4:13.

“…and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.” Isaiah 54:17.

The Path To Godliness according to Saint Peter.
Begin with Faith
Add Goodness [Virtue]
Add Knowledge
Add Self-control [Temperance]
Add Endurance [Patience]
Add Brotherly Kindness [Mutual affection]
Add Love
Participant of the Divine Nature
2 Peter 1:4-7.

Jesus is reported to have said, I have come that humans might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
When we read the letters of Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude these provide us with the More Abundant Life Style. Arent they telling us how to be a participant of the Divine Nature? To see who we are, and to see Who we want to become?

Actually, much of the New Testament from Romans to Jude is just commentary on the Old Testament. Practical ways to put the Old Testament into practice and stated in more concise ways.

EDIT [cant have 2 comments separated]
In the story of the Priest and Levite, when they saw the man on the side of the road who appeared to be dead, they were being OBEDIENT by NOT Touching the dead body.
As it would have made them Ritually Unclean. Had the person been a relative, it would have been OK, but NOT a Stranger, and Unknown.
There are apparently times when we CANNOT be Obedient to what our Religious Teachers — the Bible, Ellen White, Pastor — tell us if we are to show Faith and Love.

The Jews were commended for scrupulously obeying. But where was their faith and love?

1 Like

In the Story of the Priest and Levite, when they saw the man on the side of the road who appeared to be dead, they were being OBEDIENT by NOT Touching the dead body.
As it would have made them Ritually Unclean. Had the person been a relative, it would have been OK, but NOT a stranger, and Unknown.
There are apparently times when we CANNOT be Obedient to what our Religious Teachers — the Bible, Ellen, Pastor — tell us if we are to show Faith and Love.