The Seventh-day Adventist Church stresses the doctrine of Creation as almost no other denomination does.1 No doubt it is deeply intertwined with our belief in the seventh-day Sabbath, which was instituted at the creation of our world. If one gives up the literal nature of the Creation week, then the reason for observing the Sabbath in Exodus 20 (“for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth”)2 loses its power in the practical everyday affairs of life. Creation becomes a mythic story that one may see as somehow true and deep but not tied to history. That disconnect from history places God at a distance. Emphasizing His transcendence, we lose sight of His immanence and slip easily into a deistic worldview in which we become the captains of our own souls.
But it is not just the Sabbath that loses its powerful historical connection if we set aside the literal story of Creation. The gospel itself is denied its power to transform if we disregard Creation. The passage that brings this to view is Romans 1:16 to 32. We cannot look at the entire passage in this short article, but we can gather important lessons from its message. We begin with six consecutive verses not often quoted together, Romans 1:15 to 20.
“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 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.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Here the apostle Paul presents the thesis statement of the Book of Romans, laying out the gospel message that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Two things are especially striking about the verses as a group. First, verses 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20—all begin with for. It seems that Paul wants us to see the logical connection between the ideas he presents. Second, verses 17, 18, and 19 each contain some type of revelation from God—the gospel, His wrath, or His power in Creation.
That Paul wants us to recognize in particular the connection between the gospel and the wrath of God is apparent in the way he sets up the wording of verses 17 and 18. It is not as visible in English as in Greek, so let me place the English words in the same order as the Greek so you can see the linkage:
Verse 17 Righteousness for of God in it is revealed . . .
Verse 18 Is revealed for wrath of God . . .
Notice that it is an A B B´ A´ chiastic pattern. Evidently the apostle wanted these concepts to be thought of together.3
A somewhat similar arrangement occurs in verse 19:
Verse 19a knowledge of God manifest is to them
Verse 19b God for to them manifested
Again it is a chiastic structure dealing with the verb manifest and the words “to them.”
What do these details mean? Just this, that God has given three central revelations to our world, and they are all interlinked. Those three revelations are the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, the wrath of God revealed against ungodliness, and the knowledge of God (His eternal power and divine nature, Paul says in verse 20) revealed in Creation.
What is interesting is that Paul reverses the historical order in talking about these revelations. Creation was the first revelation presented to humanity at the beginning of our world, and it is still witnessing to us today. The wrath of God against ungodliness was the next revelation, entering our world after sin came in. And the final revelation was the gospel, predicted in Bible prophecy and revealed in the glory of the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why does Paul reverse the order? Because the central message of Romans that Paul wants to stress is the gospel. Thus he mentions it first.
But if the gospel is Paul’s main focus, why present the other revelations at all? Why not just skip to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ? The reason is that the other two revelations are integral to understanding the gospel. One must know first that God is there and is the almighty Creator who deserves worship (Heb. 11:1-6).4 And one must realize that we have a relationship with this almighty God and that He detests sin because it is so destructive. Without these two other revelations, a person senses no need of the gospel. Hence Paul takes the first three chapters of Romans to lay out his argument about humanity’s failure and great need. Only then can the gospel make sense.
It all begins with Creation. Paul says that God’s eternal power and divine nature or deity are revealed in nature. It is not described as a total revelation of all there is to know about God, but it is sufficient to recognize who He is and that He deserves praise and worship as the Creator. Most people recognize that the amazing created order around us, the wonder and incredible complexity of life, points to an all-powerful Creator.
The more I learn about what is commonly called the “simple cell,” the more I am struck by its beauty, intricacy, and complex structures and functions. I am amazed that anyone could believe that such a system as this could arise on its own through chance interactions and even so powerful a driving change medium as natural selection.5
Paul indicates in Romans 1 that God speaks through nature to every human, and the revelation is plain. The apostle minces no words, saying that humanity is without excuse before this revelation. It is as though one must shut his or her eyes to miss what nature points to. The rejection of this revelation is the problem. Instead of acknowledging the Creator and bowing in worship before Him, humanity chose to worship something else in a downward spiral, exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images of people, birds, animals, and creeping things (Rom. 1:23).
Paul calls this choice an exchange—leaving God to worship something else. It is in response to this, says Paul, that God’s wrath comes into play. This teaching of Scripture is not too popular today. Many misunderstand what Paul means by it. God does not hate us. If He did, He would not have sent His Son to save us. His wrath is His holy hatred of sin. Sin is such a destructive force, so counter to who He is, that He will not stand back and let it have control in our world.
The Almighty’s response to sin might seem paradoxical to us. Paul describes God’s wrath as a turning over or handing over. People act in a certain way toward God’s revelation, each time rejecting it. They exchange the truth of God for a lie. So God hands them over to the passions they desire (Rom. 1:24). Three times Paul describes the process (vss. 24, 26, 28). In each case human rebellion in sin comes first. God’s wrath is His reaction to this sinful rebellion. He hands these people over to the very things their evil plans were leading to.
Why would God do this? Paul will continue his argumentation in Romans, illustrating that all people (even the chosen people) are sinners who deserve judgment. When people come to realize that their best plans, their greatest accomplishments, their best training and resources, cannot resolve the human dilemma, then they are ready to realize that they need help from another source. When people finally realize this, they are ready to hear the good news of the gospel that by grace alone God provides salvation for us.
Three revelations that will change your life—creation, wrath, and the gospel. Remove any one of these truths, and the others lose their context and strength to convince the stubborn human heart. I am thankful that the Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches that God created our world in six literal days and rested on the seventh day, that He stands against the sin of our world and that He has the only solution for our troubled lives.
I have been the President of the Adventist Theological Society for the past two years. My term of service is coming to a close, and I want to express my thanks to the leadership team of the society for working together with me to be a blessing to the members of society, the church, and others with whom we have had contact. May God lead and guide us forward in faith, looking for the soon return of our Lord.
NOTES AND REFERENCES