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Questions On Doctrine


God's Standard of Conduct



Many Christians have gained the impression that Seventh-day Adventists are legalists—that they teach that it is necessary to keep the law in order to be saved. Just what is the Adventist attitude toward the law? And how does your belief compare with the historic Protestant position?


The Seventh-day Adventist position on the Ten Commandments is set forth briefly in our statement of "Fundamental Beliefs." Section 6 reads:

6. That the will of God as it relates to moral conduct is comprehended in His law of ten commandments; that these are great moral, unchangeable precepts, binding upon all men, in every age. Ex. 20:1-17.

The ten commandments spoken by God from Mount Sinai are set apart from all the other commands of God recorded in the Bible by their very nature and the manner of their delivery. They themselves are the best evidence of their enduring character. Man's moral nature responds to them with assent, and it is impossible for an enlightened Christian to imagine a condition or circumstance—God still being God, and man still being a moral creature—where they would not be operative.


Correctly viewed, the moral law is much more than a legal code; it is a transcript of the character of God. Says A. H. Strong, Baptist theologian:

The law of God, then, is simply an expression of the nature of God in the form of moral requirement, and a necessary expression of that nature in view of the existence of moral beings (Ps. 19:7; cf. 1). To the existence of this law all men bear witness. The consciences even of the heathen testify to it (Rom. 2: 14, 15). Those who have the written law recognize this elemental law as of greater compass and penetration (Rom. 7:14; 8:4). The perfect embodiment and fulfillment of this law is seen only in Christ (Rom. 10:4; Phil. 3:8, 9).—Systematic Theology, p. 538.

Ellen G. White has expressed these truths in somewhat different words:

The law of God is as sacred as Himself. It is a revelation of His will, a transcript of His character, the expression of divine love and wisdom. The harmony of creation depends upon the perfect conformity of all beings . . . to the law of the Creator.—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 52.

The divine beauty of the character of Christ, of whom the noblest and most gentle among men are but a faint reflection; of whom Solomon by the Spirit of inspiration wrote, He is "the chiefest among ten thousand, . . . yea, He is altogether lovely" (Song of Solomon 5:10-16); of whom David, seeing Him in prophetic vision, said, "Thou art fairer than the children of men" (Psalm 45:2); Jesus, the express image of the Father's person, the effulgence of His glory, the self-denying Redeemer, throughout His pilgrimage of love on earth was a living representation of the character of the law of God. In His life it is made manifest that heaven-born love, Christlike principles, underlie the laws of eternal rectitude.—Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (1956), p. 49.

For a true and full understanding of what God means by His moral law, the Christian must turn to Christ. He it is who enables the newborn soul to live the new life. This is really the indwelling of Christ in his heart, and hence the believer, because of his submission 


to his Lord, lives out the principles of God's character in his heart and life.

The Adventist position on the relation of the Ten Commandments to salvation is set forth in "Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists," section 8:

8. That the law of ten commandments points out sin, the penalty of which is death. The law cannot save the transgressor from his sin, nor impart power to keep him from sinning. In infinite love and mercy, God provides a way whereby this may be done. He furnishes a substitute, even Christ the Righteous One, to die in man's stead, making "him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." 2 Cor. 5:21. That one is justified, not by obedience to the law, but by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. By accepting Christ, man is reconciled to God, justified by His blood for the sins of he past, and saved from the power of sin by His indwelling life. Thus the gospel becomes "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." Rom. 1:16. This experience is wrought by the divine agency of the Holy Spirit, who convinces of sin and leads to the Sin-Bearer, inducting the believer into the new Covenant relationship, where the law of God is written on his heart, and through the enabling power of the indwelling Christ, his life is brought into conformity to the divine precepts. The honor and merit of this wonderful transformation belong wholly to Christ. 1 John 2:1, 2; 3:4; Rom. 3:20; 5:8-10; 7:7; Eph. 2: 8-10; 3:17; Gal. 2:20; Heb. 8:8-12.

This is in full harmony with what is taught in the historic confessions of faith:

The Waldensian Catechism
(c. 1500) and The Confession of the Waldenses (1655) both cite the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer as "fundamentals of our faith and our devotion. Again, "Living faith is to believe in God, that is, to love him and to keep his commandments." (Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. l, pp. 572, 573, 575; vol. 3, pp. 757, 768.)


Luther's Small Catechism. (1529), following the quoting of the Ten Commandments, says: "We should therefore, love and trust in him, and gladly obey his Commandments." (Schaff, Vol. 3, p. 77.)

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), most popular of all the Reformed symbols, and the first to be planted on American soil, among the Dutch and German Reformed churches (Ibid., vol. 1, p. 549), after an extended series of questions on the Decalogue, states that the Ten Commandments are strictly enjoined that we may the "more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ"; and "become more and more changed into the image of God." (Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 340-349.)

The (Lutheran) Formula of Concord (1576) says that Christians are set free from the "curse and constraint" of the law, but not from the law itself. On these Ten Commandments they are to meditate day and night, and "continually exercise themselves in the keeping thereof." It condemns as "false and pernicious" the concept that the Decalogue is not the standard of righteousness for the Christian. (Ibid., pp. 130-135.)

The Scotch Confession of Faith (1560), article XV, stresses the perfection of the law and the imperfection of man (Ibid., pp. 456, 457).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism
(1647), adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1648, by the Presbyterian Synod of New York and Philadelphia in 1788, and by nearly all Calvinist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches. It is more extensively used than any other, except the Small Catechism of Luther and the Heidelberg Catechism (Ibid., p. 676).


 It declared that the Ten Commandments, or moral law, reveals the duty that God requires of man. And it adds, "We are bound to keep all his commandments." (Ibid., pp. 678, 684, 685.)

New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833), accepted in the Northern and Western States. Article XII, "Of the Harmony of the Law and the Gospel," declares that the law of God is "the eternal and unchangeable rule of his moral government," and that we are, through our Mediator, to give "unfeigned obedience to the holy Law," as one great end of the gospel. (Ibid., p. 746.)

Not only so, but Adventists share with hundreds of eminent men of various faiths—Calvin, Wesley, Clarke, Barnes, Spurgeon, Moody, G. Campbell Morgan, Henry Clay Trumbull, Billy Graham—belief in the perpetuity of God's moral law of ten commandments, and in its being in force in all dispensations, as attested by these typical excerpts:

Calvin—Eternal Rule of Life.—We must not imagine that the coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law; for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and must, therefore, be as unchangeable, as the justice of God, which it embraced, is constant and uniform.—Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (1845), Vol. 1, p. 277.

Wesley—Remains in Force.—But the moral law contained in the ten commandments, and enforced by the prophets, he did not take away. It was not the design of his coming to revoke any part of this. This is a law which never can be broken, which "stands fast as the faithful witness in heaven." The moral stands on an entirely different foundation from the ceremonial or ritual law. . . . Every part of this law must remain in force upon all mankind, and in all ages; as not depending either on time or place, or any other circumstances liable to change, but on the nature of God, and the nature of man, and their unchangeable relation to each other.—Sermons on Several Occasions, vol. 1, pp. 221, 222.


Morgan—Obedience by Faith.—It is only when grace enables men to keep the law, that they are free from it; just as a moral man who lives according to the laws of the country is free from arrest. God has not set aside law, but he has found a way by which man can fulfill law, and so be free from it—The Ten Commandments (1901), p. 23.

Spurgeon—The Law of God Perpetual.—Very great mistakes have been made about the law. Not long ago there were those about us who affirmed that the law is utterly abrogated and abolished, and they openly taught that believers were not bound to make the moral law the rule of their lives. What would have been sin in other men they counted to be no sin in themselves. From such Antinomianism as that may God deliver us. . . .

The Law of God Must Be Perpetual. There is no abrogation of it, nor amendment of it. It is not to be toned down or adjusted to our fallen condition; but every one of the Lord's righteous judgments, abideth for ever. . . .

Does any man say to me, "You see, then, instead of the ten commandments we have received the two commandments, and these are much easier." I answer that this reading of the law is not in the least easier. Such a remark implies a want of thought and experience. Those two precepts comprehend the ten at their fullest extent, and cannot be regarded as the erasure of a jot or tittle of them. . . .

Christ has not, therefore, abrogated or at all moderated the law to meet our helplessness; he has left it in all its sublime perfection, as it always must be left, and he has pointed out how deep are its foundations, how elevated are its heights, how measureless are its length and breadth. . . .

To show that he never meant to abrogate the law, our Lord Jesus has embodied all its commands in his own life. In his own person there was a nature which was perfectly conformed to the law of God; and as was his nature such was his life. He could say, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" and again "I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.". . .

By his death he has vindicated the honour of God's moral government, and made it just for him to be merciful. When the lawgiver himself submits to the law, when the sovereign himself bears the extreme penalty of that law, then is the justice of God


set upon such a glorious high throne that all admiring worlds must wonder at it. If therefore it is clearly proven that Jesus was obedient to the law, even to the extent of death, he certainly did not come to abolish or abrogate it; and if he did not remove it, who can do so? If he declares that he came to establish it, who shall overthrow it?. . .

The law is absolutely complete, and you can neither add to it nor take from it. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." If, then, no part of it can be taken down, it must stand, and stand for ever.—The Perpetuity of the Law of God, published in Spurgeon's Expository Encyclopedia, by Baker.

Billy Graham—Permanent and Unchanging.—The word "Law" is used by the New Testament writers in two senses. Sometimes it refers to the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, which is concerned about ritual matters and regulations regarding food and drink and things of that kind. From this law Christians are indeed free. But the New Testament also speaks of the moral law, which is of a permanent, unchanging character and s summarized in the Ten Commandments.—Associated Press Dispatch, Chicago Tribune Syndicate.

Moody—Law Eternal: Obeyed With Love in the Heart.—The question for each one of us is—are we keeping them [the commandments]? If God should weigh us by them, would we be found wanting or not wanting? Do we keep the law, the whole law? Are we obeying God with all our heart? Do we render Him a full and willing obedience?

These ten commandments are not ten different laws; they are one law. If I am being held up in the air by a chain with ten links, and I break one of them, down I come, just as surely as if I break the whole ten. If I am forbidden to go out of an enclosure, it makes no difference at what point I break through the fence. "Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." "The golden chain of obedience is broken if one link is missing." . . .

For fifteen hundred years man was under the law, and no one was equal to it. Christ came and showed that the commandments went beyond the mere letter; and can any one since say that he has been able to keep them in his own strength? . . .


I can imagine that you are saying to yourself, "If we are to be judged by these laws, how are we going to be saved? Nearly every one of them has been broken by us—in spirit, if not in letter." I almost hear you say: "I wonder if Mr. Moody is ready to be weighed? Would he like to put those tests to himself?"

With all humility I reply that if God commanded me to step into the scales now, I am ready.

"What!" you say, "haven't you broken the law?"

Yes, I have. I was a sinner before God the same as you; but forty years ago I plead guilty at His bar. I cried for mercy, and He forgave me. If I step into the scales, the Son of God has promised to be with me. I would not dare to step in without Him. If I did, how quickly the scales would fly up!

Christ kept the law. If He had ever broken it, He would have had to die for Himself; but because He was a Lamb without spot or blemish, His atoning death is efficacious for you and me. . . . Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. We are righteous in God's sight because the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Jesus Christ, is unto all and upon all them that believe. . . .

If the love of God is shed abroad in your heart, you will be able to fulfill the law.—Weighed and Wanting, pp. 119-124.

"Moody Monthly"—Christ Amplified Their Scope.— A few years ago a series of articles was printed in the Moody Bible Institute Monthly under the head "Are Christians Freed From the Law?" The writer of the series says in his first article, "Let us now see how the moral law is emphasized, enlarged, and enforced in all its details in the New Testament." He shows how Christ and the apostles dealt with it: 

So far from annulling any of the Ten Commandments, He [Christ] amplified their scope, teaching that an angry thought or bitter word violated the sixth, and a lustful look the seventh (Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28).

The teaching of the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is even more emphatic and explicit concerning the scope and obligations of the moral law.—Moody Bible Institute Monthly, October, 1933.

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