Seventh Day Adventists: Do Law & Grace Mix?
Deciding whether Seventh Day Adventists should be considered under the subject of cults is somewhat of a difficult decision to make. Two well-respected men of days gone by, Donald Gray Barnhouse and Walter Martin, declared that Seventh-Day Adventism is within the pale of orthodoxy with a few aberrations in doctrine. A look at some of the declarations of the Seventh Day Adventist doctrinal statement would seem to indicate that these two men were correct in the conclusion. Adventists hold to the inspiration of the Scriptures, are Trinitarian, believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, the depravity of man, historic creation, and other fundamental doctrines. It is, however, when we consider the doctrine of salvation that we run into doctrinal problems. On one hand, the Adventists say that they hold to salvation by grace through faith. In fact their own doctrinal statement seems to say so very specifically. They write,
"In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example. This faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God's grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God's sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God's law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. "1
So far, so good. I might want to word things just a little differently, but I have no problems with the basic thought up to this point. But then they add the following statement: "Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment."1 Now there's a problem. What is this judgment they refer to? They explain,
"There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent."1
Note two things from the above statement. In order to be saved, one must keep the commandments and have the faith of Jesus. Secondly, even though a person might express faith in Jesus Christ, they are still in a probationary period, where, apparently, their salvation is not assured. If keeping the commandments is necessary to being saved, then there is not a person on the earth who is bound for heaven; all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, even since they have trusted Christ. Fortunately my Bible tells me that all who receive Jesus as their Savior will not come into judgment (John 5:24, Romans 8:1). Believers are not in any probationary period, nor can they be. In Christ all our judgment has been met.
What must we say then to those, such as the Adventists, who mix law with grace? Can that gospel save? The apostle Paul gives us the answer in Galatians 3:1-4. The issue in the churches of Galatia was circumcision. They were told by some that in order to be saved it was necessary to believe of Jesus Christ and be circumcised. Obviously there is then a different gospel for the men from the women, which can not be. Nonetheless, the issue was to the Galatians the same as what Adventism teaches, salvation is by grace through faith plus obedience to some parts of the Mosaic law. To which Paul responds with two questions: "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" and, "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" These questions are crucial to understanding the believer's position in Christ.
The significance of Paul's first question revolves around the reception of the Holy Spirit when a person trusts Christ. Not only is it essential to understand that the Spirit of God was received on the basis of faith expressed in the person and work of Christ, but what the reception of the Holy Spirit indicated. In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul states two very important facts concerning the Holy Spirit and His relationship to the believer. First, believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit. Think of Good Housekeeping's seal of approval. Before awarding this seal, the people at Good Housekeeping inspect a product to determine whether it meets certain quality standards. If the product measures up, the seal is given. So too, with the believer. When genuine saving faith is professed, then God puts His seal of approval upon the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is God's stamp of approval that the believer's faith is genuine saving faith.
In verse 14, Paul continues that the Spirit is the, "earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession". The word "earnest" is equivalent to a down payment. When a property is purchased, the buyer initially makes a down payment to secure the property and later, at the time of settlement, pays in full. Likewise in our salvation, God has given us a down payment on our inheritance by giving to us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For New Testament believers, the time of settlement will be at the rapture of the church. Until then, believers are God's possession by the down payment of the Holy Spirit. There is no probation period! There is no investigative judgment! Believers belong to God! We are bought with a price.
In Galatians chapter 5, Paul states that those who try to make law observance part of saving faith have fallen from grace. This phrase, "fallen from grace" is understood by many people today to mean that someone was saved and lost their salvation or their standing. That understanding is wrong. Salvation can never be lost. We are kept by God. What this phrase means is that they have abandoned the belief that grace can save them. By adding any condition to salvation such as circumcision, baptism, church membership, good deeds, etc. which a person must do in addition to believing on Jesus Christ, the person abandons the doctrine of grace. Salvation is purely by grace through faith.
Seventh Day Adventists have singled out observance of the Sabbath day as the defining element of whether a person is truly saved or not. While it is not necessarily wrong to worship on the Sabbath (although I believe that Sunday worship is most appropriate), to make Sabbath worship a necessity of salvation destroys the doctrine of grace and renders the Adventist in an unsaved condition, not waiting for the hope of righteousness, though the Spirit, by faith (Galatians 5:5). The gospel of the Seventh Day Adventist is no gospel at all for it can not save. It only brings it adherents into the yoke of bondage of the law (Galatians 5:1).