What Do Seventh-day Adventists Believe About the Law of God?
God’s law in its entirety is perfectly summarized in the Ten Commandments. They provide the framework for how to regard God and how to regard our fellow human beings. This post will go over what the Law entails, and why it’s so important to Seventh-day Adventists.
You will also find answers to questions such as:
- Was the law abolished when Jesus died on the cross?
- Aren’t Christians saved by grace through faith, and not by keeping the law?
- And if this is the case, why do Seventh-day Adventists believe in keeping the law?
Let’s start by looking at the official Adventist statement of belief about God’s law. It reads:
These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Saviour. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, and its fruit is obedience to the Commandments.
This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow human beings. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness.”
Why is God’s Law So Important to Adventists?
The Law is crucial to Adventists because it points out the reality of sin.
It’s like taking your car to a shop, and having the mechanic hook up the diagnostics tool. You’ll get a list of anything that isn’t performing as it should in order for you to safely operate your vehicle.
The list of diagnostic codes you’re given tells you where your car falls short. But the list can’t save the car. And the car can’t fix itself. Only the mechanic can fix it.
Paul tells us that “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20, NKJV).
In fact, without the Law, there wouldn’t be sin. In defining sin, he says that “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, NKJV).
But it must be clear that though it’s the Law that singles out an act as sinful, the Law itself is not sin.
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7; see also James 2:10. 11, NKJV).
And it is because of sin—which is the transgression of God’s law—that Christ died on the cross for us because we are all sinners.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, NKJV).
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5: 19, 20, NKJV).
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV).
The word “sin,” appears in various noun and verb forms in almost 700 verses, and in almost every book of the Bible.
In fact, there are three different words for sin in the Old Testament:
- Hatta, which means to “fall short.”
- Avon, which means to be “twisted, bent.”
- Pesha, which means “rebellion.”
These terms seem to cover the gist of human sin, which is everywhere and in all times.
Quoting the Old Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote of how all of humanity is under the spell of sin without any exception:
“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written:
‘There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.
Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit;
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.
“There is no fear of God before their eyes’” (Romans 3:9-18, NKJV).
Though written almost two thousand years ago, these words are certainly not outdated, are they?
Just consider the past century, in which mass murder and destruction have unfurled in ways never seen before. Despite all the hopes and promises of the Enlightenment. And the idea that humans could overcome their evil natures and become good, honest, and moral beings through social structures and rational education.
But history has shown just how flawed that thinking was.
Humanity’s sinful condition always found a way to showcase what it’s made of.
In short, the importance of God’s law cannot be overestimated. And especially with the way sin and the reality of sin remains so prevalent even today.
What is the Role of God’s Grace in Salvation?
The law of God, which points out sin, was never meant to solve the problem of sin.
Primarily because the law condemns, not saves.
Think of yourself at a traffic intersection. A red light tells you how to act when you drive up to it. It tells you you need to stop.
But beyond telling you what step to take next, the traffic light doesn’t help you act the way you should. In fact, if you don’t act accordingly, it can be used to provide good evidence against you, since you saw it.
It’s the same with God’s law.
In itself, it’s very useful. But if not heeded, it spells out your condemnation.
The problem escalates because we humans have a fallen, sinful nature that is bent on not heeding the directives of the Law.
And that’s where the sacrifice of Christ comes in. That is why we need the gift of God’s grace for the forgiveness of sin when we transgress the Law.
As the apostle Paul puts it:
“Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:21:22, NKJV).
First, he wrote:
“If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.”
One would think that if any law could have “given life,” it would have been God’s law—what else?
And yet Paul is saying that even God’s law cannot give life. It cannot make us righteous before God because we have all violated the law.
But thank God for the promise of eternal life. The promise that comes to us by faith in Jesus Christ, and not through the law.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV).
The reality of sin was the only reason that Jesus came, lived a perfect life, and died.
His perfect life and perfect record of law-keeping becomes credited to us And this is not because of our deeds of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16, NKJV).
Other key texts include:
“And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9, NKJV).
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1, NKJV).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9, NKJV).
Referring to Abraham as an example, the apostle Paul explains why salvation must be by faith and not by works:
“Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way.
For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’ When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners” (Romans 4:1-5, NLT).
The fact is that we cannot work hard enough, do good enough, or even become good enough, to earn eternal life. If we could, God would owe us eternal life, because it would be a debt that we have paid off.
But it’s because we can’t pay it off that Christ paid it off for us. That’s why salvation has to be by grace alone.
What’s the Purpose of Keeping the Law if we aren’t Saved by it?
The fact that we’re not saved by the works of the law doesn’t mean that we’re not obligated to still keep the law.
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31, NKJV).
Just because we have been given grace and that we can be forgiven our sins, doesn’t mean that we are to continue in sin.
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15, NKJV).
Let’s get back to the red light example for a second. Imagine saying, “Well if the red light cannot help to stop me from running it, why not keep running it?”
But the red light is there to keep you from suffering the results of what could happen if you do run it.
And this could be everything from killing pedestrians to getting into a terrible collision with another car.
It’s the same thing with God’s law.
Violation of it is “sin,” and sin often brings terrible consequences.
A parent tells a child to not play in traffic in order to protect the child from what could happen if they choose to do it anyway.
Again, it’s the same thing with God’s law.
It’s there for our protection in the same sense the red light is.
The law is there for our own good, and for the good of others.
What do the Ten Commandments teach about morality?
Bible scholars have long recognized two overarching principles in the Ten commandments recorded in Exodus 20.
The first principle is found in the initial four commandments:
- You shall have no other gods before Me.
- You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
All four of these commandments have to do with a person’s relationship to God, our Creator and Redeemer.
In a sense, they point us upward, to our vertical relationship with God in heaven. And they’re an expression of human love toward God.
In fact, when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He responded:
“And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30, NKJV).
Our keeping of these four commandments is the heaven-ordained expression of that love.
Then the second principle is found in the last six which reads:
- Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
Notice how all these are geared toward our relationship with other human beings.
Imagine for a moment, if all people were to follow the principles here: not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to lie, not to kill, not to covet what belongs to someone else, and to honor their parents.
The world wouldn’t be recognizable from what it is today, would it?
Two people were debating.
One argued that morals and cultural values were relative, and that just because something was wrong in one place didn’t mean it was wrong in another.
Finally, his opponent retorted: “Sir, some cultures teach you to love your neighbors. Others teach them to eat their neighbors. Which do you prefer?”
Which would you prefer: living in a culture where people obeyed the last six commandments, or where they didn’t?
The answer is obvious.
When asked about the most important commandment, Jesus said that it was to love God. But then, without even waiting to be asked, He gave the second most important commandment:
“And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:31, NKJV).
Just as we wouldn’t want someone to violate those commandments while dealing with us, we should do the same for others.
This is the essence of God’s moral law.
Yes, we are not saved by keeping the Ten Commandments. But our lives, and the lives of others, would be so much better if people did keep them. And that’s why God commands us to do just that.
How do we get to obey the Law of God?
Obedience to God is a cooperation between the Christian and God through the working of the Holy Spirit.
So God has His part, and we have our part.
Paul tells us that “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philipians 2:13, NKJV).
And James tells us that we must “submit to God.”
That we need to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
Then he says:
“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7-8, NKJV).
And there are two other vital things that are a great help in living a life of obedience to God and being free from sin:
First, reading and treasuring God’s word.
The Psalmist said:
“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11, NKJV).
And second is prayer.
Praying that we may have strength to resist temptation to sin.
Jesus Himself told His disciples:
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41, NKJV)
And what if we mess up and sin?
We’re all human. And as we have seen, there is none that can say they have never sinned.
In fact, the apostle John says:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10, NKJV).
But he goes on to say:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).
So, if we sin, we need to run back to God. Admit we failed, and confess in repentance.
We are assured of His forgiveness because He understands us and our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).
And so, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1, NKJV).
What About the Claims that the Law Was Abolished?
It’s true, some have said that Jesus abolished the law.
Or that the law was nailed to the cross, so we don’t need to keep it now. For this, many people cite Colossians 2:14.
But if you look at this verse in its context, the ordinances referred to are the sacrificial systems and rituals practiced in the Old Testament Sanctuary. The ones that were fulfilled through the death of Jesus on the cross.
That is why Jesus is often referred to the Lamb of God. Because all the sacrificial animals in the Old Testament pointed to Him and the perfect sacrifice that He gave for our sins through His death (Exodus 27:1-8; Hebrews 10:12).
But this doesn’t refer to the Law of the Ten Commandments.
About this law, Jesus made it clear that He Himself did not come to abolish it but to fulfill it.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17, NKJV).
And He affirmed that nothing is going to change about it until it’s all fulfilled.
“For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one [a]jot or one [b]tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18, NKJV).
He even went ahead to issue a warning to any one who may want to carelessly break the law. Or teach others that it’s okay to break the law or ignore it as irrelevant.
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:19, NKJV).
So as we’ve seen, Seventh-day Adventists don’t keep the law to be saved. They keep the law because they have already accepted the free gift of salvation. —Then in response to the love they have for the God who has saved them, they obey His law.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, NKJV).
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