Like the Communist label during the 1920s “Red Scare,” and during the Joe McCarthy era thirty years later, the word “legalist” has become a popular though undefined epithet in a great deal of theological dialogue within Western Adventism. Like similar labels, whether in the secular political world or the world of theology, the “legalist” moniker often has the effect of closing minds and shutting down conversation before substantive evidence is considered.Read More
As the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaches, the spotlight of interest in Bible-believing circles is focusing on the principal teachings of the Reformers, particularly regarding Biblical authority and the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith.Read More
Abraham is often called the “father of the faithful.” As he is introduced to the Bible story, Abraham’s faith is demonstrated by his obedience to God’s call to leave the thriving metropolis that was Ur of the Chaldees and travel toward an unknown destination. We read of this demonstrative faith on Abraham’s part in both the Old and the New Testaments:Read More
Much of First World Adventism, in modern and postmodern times, has been obsessed with the fear of legalism. Admonitions and tirades against “legalists” and “Pharisees” in the church have long been the daily meat and drink of the denomination’s fashionable circles of thought and devotion. Contemporary trends and their impact on the church might offer glaring evidence of a...Read More
As we drive down the freeway, street or road, we see signs which tell us the speed limit is 65, 55, 45, or 35 miles per hour, or whatever those who seem to know have determined is the maximum safe speed for that roadway. It's a law that should be obeyed. Most of us, however, take it for granted that the officer whose duty it is to help us obey that law will give us 4 or 5 over that limit before stopping us and writing a speeding ticket. We are assuming, and counting on, a certain amount of grace before the penalty is given.Read More
“At times, there seems to be confusion about justification and sanctification and how they relate to each other and our salvation. Some promote justification to the exclusion of sanctification and arrive at what has been termed “cheap grace.” Others focus almost exclusively on sanctification and arrive at what has been termed as “perfectionism” or legalistic salvation by works.”
As Seventh-day Adventists we know that God requires obedience to all of His commandments. We also know that justification and sanctification are both the work of Christ alone. In an effort to avoid the extremes of law without grace and grace without law, we sometimes find ourselves on a spiritual tight rope, carefully trying to equally balance grace and obedience without drifting toward either of these extremes. If we saw grace fully revealed in its true light, we would realize that there is no need for a balancing act.
One of the reasons for such a debate as to where the line is drawn between grace and works involves some people who do not understand that grace and obedience are interconnected. They are not two separate components of our spiritual lives that must be reconciled. Grace and obedience are one. In the same sermon, President Wilson also made this statement. “The two great provisions of salvation—justification and sanctification—cannot be separated for they constitute the fullness of Christ, Our Righteousness.” Jeremiah chapter 31, verses 33 and 34 paint a beautiful picture illustrating the unification of justification and sanctification.
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”*
As clearly seen in this passage of Scripture, God not only promises to forgive our sins, but also to put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts. When our thoughts are in harmony with God’s law, His law will be acted out in our lives through our words and actions. God’s grace does so much more than forgive our sins and grant us eternal life. God’s grace also heals our wounded hearts, sets us free from the captivity of sin, and causes us to keep all of His commandments. Conviction of sin, repentance, forgiveness of sin, surrender, faith, obedience—they are all gifts from God, bestowed upon us through the power of His grace. As long as we fail to see the oneness of grace and obedience, we will be spiritually off balance. We will either be in danger of becoming legalistic or casting aside God’s law, and our attempt to walk the spiritual tight rope will not prevent us from shifting toward either of these two extremes.
Many claim that being under grace means that keeping the law is no longer necessary, but according to the Bible, being under grace actually means the opposite.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:12-15).
If God’s grace only forgave our sins and nothing more, what a hopeless state we would be in! God’s Heavenly kingdom will be a perfect world, and if we are not transformed into the likeness of God’s character through the power of His grace, we will not be fit for His kingdom. Heaven would be marred by sin, just as it was in the beginning when Satan fell. Without laws, chaos would result, and “God is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33.) The idea that God would annul His law after Christ’s death and resurrection makes as much sense as the idea that Congress would legalize murder if the president chose to die in the place of a murderer on death row. The fact that someone had to pay the death penalty for sin demonstrates that God’s law is unchangeable. When we are under grace, obedience will actually be more important to us, not less.
The mark of the beast is a perfect example of how grace and obedience are interconnected. When Adventists think of the mark of the beast, they immediately associate it with Sunday worship. It is true that the choice to either observe the seventh day Sabbath or to observe Sunday will be the factor that determines who receives the mark of the beast, but the observance of Sunday rather than the seventh day is actually a symptom of a much deeper problem. There is a passage of Scripture in Revelation chapter 13 that tells us what the mark of the beast represents.
“He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:15-17).
Contrast these verses with Isaiah 41:10. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” God promises to hold us up by His righteous right hand, but those who receive the mark of the beast receive it on their own right hands and on their foreheads. God offers us His righteousness, but those who receive the mark of the beast choose to rely on their own righteousness. By choosing to keep Sunday holy they are paying homage to a church system that teaches salvation by works. Because those who receive the mark of the beast rely on their own righteousness, their hearts will not be made perfect in love through the power of God’s grace. Instead, they will be controlled by the wicked one and will have no qualms about killing God’s people. Notice Deuteronomy 6 verses 5 through 8.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
Those who choose to worship the beast have His mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, but the people of God have God’s love in their hearts. God’s law is bound to them as a sign on their hands, and His commandments are as frontlets between their eyes. Their thoughts, words, and actions are in harmony with God’s law of love, because they are depending on Christ’s righteousness alone.
There is no such thing as cheap grace. The so-called grace that claims to make void the law of God is not grace at all. There is only one kind of grace. It is the free grace that overflows from the loving heart of God, the grace that not only justifies us, but sanctifies us, completely restoring us into the likeness of God’s character. When this grace is in control of our lives, there will be no spiritual tight rope to walk, no balancing act. There will be no confusion or debate, because there is no dividing line between grace and obedience. Obedience to God’s commandments will come naturally to us, and there will be no fear of extremes, because our motives will be pure. We will not be taking care of our own interests, focusing only on how we may enter Heaven. Instead, our motives will be actuated by love for God and love for others. Glorifying God’s name and leading others to the foot of the cross will be our mission. We will gladly keep all of God’s commandments, not in order to be saved, but because we already are saved. This is what it means to be under grace, and as the simple yet profound gift of God’s grace is more clearly revealed to us, we will understand why we will be studying the subject of grace throughout all eternity.
*All Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version.