Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Chapter 16:  The Law of God
Fundamental Belief #19 The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ.  They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age.  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 Savior.  Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience to the Commandments.  This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being.  It is an evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow men.  The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives and, therefore, strengthens Christian witness.
[Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 40:7-8; Matthew 22:36-40; Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Matthew 5:17-20; Hebrews 8:8-10; John 15:7-10; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 John 5:3; Romans 8:3-4; Psalm 19:7-14]

The law of God has always held an important place in Adventist theology, partly to counteract the completely non-Scriptural dispensationalist theology which claims that the law was nailed to the cross and no longer applies.  A second reason is Adventism’s emphasis on the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.

In the mid-Nineteenth Century, about the time the Adventist Church was being established, men with names like John Darby, Maitland, and Schofield were introducing and popularizing the doctrine of dispensationalism.  Dispensationalists divided the history of the human race into different periods of time called “dispensations.”  According to this theory, God dealt with mankind differently in each of these epochs, or dispensations.

For example, they identified the period of time between Moses and Christ as the dispensation of the law, or “old Covenant” period.  But, according to this theology, because this covenant failed, Christ came to replace the Old Covenant with a new one.  By His life, death, and resurrection, therefore, Christ did away with the law and replaced it with the dispensation of salvation by grace alone, the “New Covenant.”  So, naturally, they say, the law is no longer binding on Christians, and they use such texts as these to support their case:

Romans 7:6
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Galatians 3:19-25
Why, then, was the law given at all?  It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.  A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.  Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?  Absolutely not!  For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.  Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.  So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
Colossians 2:13-14
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

In Adventists’ attempt to counteract this false theology and restore the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, the Adventist pioneers divided the law into two main categories — the moral and the ceremonial — and taught that the texts used by the Dispensationalists applied to only the ceremonial law.  It was this law, they claimed, that was nailed to the cross when Christ’s death fulfilled it.

While this argument has convinced many, we must honestly ask if this response to dispensationalism is truly biblical.  For one, it is impossible to prove exegetically that the texts used by the Dispensationalists refer only to the ceremonial law.  For example, in Romans 7:7, Paul clearly refers to the moral law regarding verse 6, and E. J. Waggoner, in a series of articles in the Signs of the Times, biblically demonstrated that the law of Galatians 3 was the moral, not the ceremonial law.  Later Ellen G. White confirmed this.

Romans 7:6-7
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.  What shall we say, then?  Is the law sinful?  Certainly not!  Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

According to Colossians 2:14, that which was nailed to the cross “was against us, which was contrary to us” [NKJV]:

Colossians 2:14 [Emphasis Added]
[God forgave us all our sins,] having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

This can hardly apply to Christ the Savior, to which the ceremonial law pointed.  In truth, what was nailed to the cross was the condemnation of the law, which was against us as well as contrary to us.  According to Romans 7:4, humanity was nailed to the cross in the body of Christ, and not the law:

Romans 7:4
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

Christ could not legally bear humanity’s sins on the cross without bearing the condemned ones, themselves, in His body:

1 Peter 2:24
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

It bears noting here that not all the ceremonial laws (Torah) were fulfilled at the cross — specifically, those found in Leviticus 16 and 23, dealing with the Day of Atonement.  Adventist theology, in fact, is emphatic that this part of the ceremonial law was not fulfilled until 1844.

But, according to Ellen G. White, the sad fact remains that, to counteract dispensational theology, the pioneers emphasized the law, to the point that they began to lose sight of the wonderful truths of “Christ our righteousness” and justification by faith.

Uriah Smith, a leading pioneer of the Adventist Church and chief editor of the Review and Herald, published a series of articles, from August 17 to December 19, 1874, titled, “Leading Doctrines of the Review.”  He had much to say in this series of articles about God’s law, but made no mention of justification or righteousness by faith.

Three years later (1877), Smith and James White jointly conducted a Bible Institute for pastors, to better prepare them for evangelism.  These studies given at the Institute were later published as a book under the title Bible Institute.  Again, no mention was made in these studies of justification by faith.

The following year, 1878, Uriah Smith published Synopsis of Present Truth, a 336-page book in which God’s law appeared prominently, but still nothing was said about righteousness by faith as a part of present truth.

Clearly, for years Adventism’s primary concern was to counteract dispensational theology.  This is reinforced in the published baptismal vows required of those who joined the church.  Baptismal Vow Number 6, for example, for many years read as follows (though it has recently been modified): “Do you accept the Ten Commandments as still binding upon Christians; and is it your purpose, by the power of the indwelling Christ, to keep this law, including the fourth commandment, which requires the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath of the Lord?”  (Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 1981 edition).

To many Adventists, the word “binding” means being under the law.  This contradicts texts that clearly state that believers are not under law but under grace:

Romans 6:14
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

Emphasizing law, to the exclusion of justification by faith, led to reliance on works of the law for salvation.

Galatians 2:16
...Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Two young preachers in the late 1880s, E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones, called for a return to belief in justification by faith, in 1888, and received the unconditional support of Ellen G. White.  Unfortunately, many church leaders at that time did not accept their message, believing that the men’s message might lend support to the dispensational theology.  Ellen White wrote some strong words on this matter, as follows:

Review and Herald, March 11, 1980
You will meet with those who will say, “You are too much excited over this matter (righteousness by faith).  You are too much in earnest.  You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that.  You should preach the law.”

As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain.  We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God.

Many Christians find it difficult to reconcile the law of God with the gospel of Jesus Christ and salvation by grace alone.  A discrepancy, or tension, exists between the two.

For, on the one hand, the law demands perfect obedience and condemns those who fail to obey it continually:

Romans 2:13; 10:5
For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.  ...Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”
Galatians 3:10
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written:  “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

But the gospel offers justification to sinners who believe in Christ as a free gift made effective by faith alone:

Romans 3:28; 4:5
For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.  ...However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
Acts 13:39; 15:11
Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.  ...We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.
Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

So many who accept God’s offer of free grace through the perfect righteousness of Christ reject the law.

But nowhere does the Bible present the gospel and the law as being mutually opposed.  Both come from God, and God does not contradict Himself.  The law was never intended as a pathway to salvation, but it does play a vital part in the Plan of Salvation.  The Jews made a great mistake, however, when they assumed that God gave the law through Moses as a requirement, or agreement, for salvation.  The apostle Paul, a Jew himself, clearly makes this point in his letter to the Christians in Rome:

Romans 9:30-32
What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.  They stumbled over the stumbling stone [Jesus Christ].

Since the Fall, God has had only one way of saving men and women — by the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ.  The only difference between the Old and New Testaments is that, before Christ came, salvation by grace alone was offered as a promise:

Romans 1:2
...The gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures....

After Christ came, it became a reality:

Ephesians 2:1-6
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus....
2 Timothy 1:8-10
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.  Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.  He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

The apostle Paul uses all of Romans 4 to present this truth (in his attempt to convince the Jews), presenting Abraham as the prototype of the saved, and pointing out that this great father of the Jewish nation was not saved by his works, nor through circumcision, nor even by keeping the law.  Abraham was saved by faith alone in God’s promise of salvation, through his one seed, Jesus Christ the Messiah:

Galatians 3:16-18
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.  Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.  What I mean is this:  The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.  For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Scripture nowhere teaches that God introduced the law as a means of salvation, nor does it teach that obedience to the law contributes toward one’s salvation.  Paul makes it very clear that “by works of the law no one will be justified”:

Galatians 2:16
...Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
Romans 3:20
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

The phrase “works of the law” is a Pauline expression to describe what we would call in English legalism — that is, keeping or using the law as a means of salvation.

But many Adventists have become victims to legalism because of the church’s emphasis on the law — though nowhere does the church actually teach that the law of God saves anyone.  The fundamental belief quoted earlier this chapter makes this clear — salvation is all of grace and not of works.

But there is a helpful role for the law in the Plan of Salvation, for sin is deceptive, and most humans fail to realize their total helplessness in trying to meet God’s perfect demands.  The idea that human beings are incapable of making any contribution toward their salvation is hard for human pride to swallow.  And all man-made religions, including pseudo-Christianity, teach some form of salvation by works.  This is the very reason God gave His law to sinful humanity; He wanted to open their eyes to their total sinfulness and destroy any confidence they might have that they could be saved by keeping the law:

Romans 3:19-20
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Romans 7:7-13
What shall we say, then?  Is the law sinful?  Certainly not!  Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.  For apart from the law, sin was dead.  Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.  So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.  Did that which is good, then, become death to me?  By no means!  Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
Philippians 3:3-9
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.  But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

By expressing the demands of the law openly in writing, He would help humanity confront its total sinfulness and how impossible it is to keep the law.  We refer to this as the “negative function” of the law.  The Jewish nation failed to accept this negative function and, in so doing, they rejected their only hope of salvation, the righteousness of Christ:

Romans 9:30-33
What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.  They stumbled over the stumbling stone.  As it is written:  “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

When God introduced His law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, they immediately vowed, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do”:

Exodus 19:8
The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.”  So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.

Yet, when they repeatedly failed to keep His law, instead of admitting failure, they began redefining it to make it easier to keep.  Then they deceived themselves into believing that by obeying their own man-made rules, they were keeping God’s law.  No wonder Christ accused them of “nullifying the commandments of God” by their “tradition”:

Matthew 15:6
...They are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it.  Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

The New Testament points out three main ways the Jews misused God’s law, and how their history has been recorded as a warning to believers living in the last days:

1 Corinthians 10:11
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

First, the Jews misused God’s law to make themselves feel superior to the Gentiles.  Because God had given His law to them, they believed they were God’s special children and, therefore, better than all the rest of humanity:

Romans 2:17-24
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?  You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?  You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?  As it is written:  “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

In response to this kind of thinking, Paul wrote:

Romans 2:13-15
For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.  (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Likewise, Seventh-day Adventists need to realize that upholding all of the Ten Commandments does not, in and of itself, make them better than Christians who believe that only nine of the Ten Commandments apply to New Testament believers.

Second, the Jews believed that if they kept the law to the best of their ability or obeyed the majority of the law’s demands, God would accept this and, by doing so, they would earn salvation.  To this, James responded:

James 2:10
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

Adventists make the same mistake; too often they believe that God accepts one’s best efforts to keep His law, and that Christ will make up for the failures.  The apostle Paul, however, made the fallacy of such thinking very clear to the Galatian Christians, warning them that, the moment they accepted law-keeping as a requirement for salvation, they became debtors to the whole law and had fallen from grace:

Galatians 5:3-4
Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Finally, the Jews misused the law by focusing on its wording, rather than on its spirit.  Adventists should take special note of this, as well.  The Jews had the do’s and don’ts down pat, but they failed to realize that only love can truly fulfill the law:

Romans 13:8-10
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 5:13-14
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul makes this point clearly in the great chapter on love.  He writes:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Jesus tried to correct this same mistake when he declared:

Matthew 23:23
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

When an expert on the law asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, the Lord did not point to some specific requirement of the law, but quoted two texts from the book of the law — Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which emphasize love for God as the first great commandment and love for our fellow men as the second greatest:

Deuteronomy 6:5
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Leviticus 19:18
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.

Jesus then added:

Matthew 22:40
“All the Law and the Prophets [that is, the whole Bible] hang on these two commandments.”

Sinful human beings alone cannot render perfect obedience to the law.  The apostle Paul declares that the whole human race — Jew and Gentile, alike — stands guilty under the law, unjustified:

Romans 3:19-20
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Christ came to the earth to change this condemnation:

Galatians 4:4
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law....

In chapter 6 of his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul reminds them that, because of the cross of Christ, they no longer remain under the law but under grace:

Romans 6:14
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Galatians 4:4-5
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

In Romans 7, he comments further on this glorious truth, declaring that the believer has been delivered from under the law and placed under grace.  He first points out that the law of God, under which all humans are born, has dominion only as long as a person is living:

Romans 7:1
Do you not know, brothers and sisters — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?

But Christians who are baptized into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are delivered from the legal requirements of the law through their union with Christ:

Romans 6:3-8
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

They are now under grace, and the natural fruit of such a relationship is holy living:

Romans 7:4, 6
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.  ...But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Being ‘Under Law’ and ‘Under Grace’

Every born-again Christian must realize that he or she is no longer under law, but under grace:

Romans 6:14
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

But what does this mean?  Does “under grace” mean that the law has been abolished?  Dispensationalism argues that it is.  But nowhere in the Bible do we find that the law died on the cross of Christ; rather, humanity died in the body of Christ:

Romans 7:4
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
2 Corinthians 5:14
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

To understand “under grace” and how this condition affects the Christian lifestyle, we must bear in mind that the word under means “to be ruled or dominated by.”  In New Testament times it usually applied to slaves — slaves dominated by masters who ruled over them.

To be “under” the law, therefore, means to be dominated or ruled by it — that is, obey and live, or disobey and die.  This was Adam and Eve’s choice in Eden.  Having created them with a perfect, sinless nature, God placed them “under” the law:

Genesis 2:16-17
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

When Adam and Eve disobeyed and forfeited their conditionally immortal zoe-life, their lives became bios dominated, driven by the principle of self-advancement:

1 John 2:16
For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world.

Their lives came under the condemnation of death, or curse of the law.  In the New Testament, zoe-life always refers to God’s life and bios-life to human existence after the Fall.

This curse of the law all human beings inherit at birth, but Christ came to break the hereditary curse:

Galatians 3:10, 13
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written:  “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  ...Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written:  “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

The human race is an extension, or multiplication, of Adam’s life...

Acts 17:26
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

...and on its own cannot shake free of the inborn consequence of sin:

Romans 5:12, 18
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned....  Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
1 Corinthians 15:22
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

As we have already pointed out, God gave the law to mankind primarily to make him conscious of his sin problem.  The apostle Paul makes it clear that the law entered the picture (the promise of salvation) to make mankind aware that Adam’s one sin has produced a race of sinners who commit sin continually:

Romans 5:19-20
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.  The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.  But where sin increased, grace increased all the more....

But he concludes with these hopeful words:  “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

Many understand “under the law” to mean “under condemnation of the law,” but this is only partially true, for unfallen angels and inhabitants of sinless worlds live “under the law.”  If “under law” always means “under condemnation,” why would the Galatian Christians want to be “under the law”?

Galatians 4:21
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?

Such a statement makes no sense if “under the law” means “under condemnation of the law.”  No one wants to be condemned!

True, human beings today are born both “under the law” and “under condemnation of the law.”  As we saw in Romans 3:19, this is our human plight:

Romans 3:19
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

We are all “by nature deserving of wrath”:

Ephesians 2:3
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

None can be saved or justified as long as we are “under the law.”  No matter how hard we try or how good an opinion we may have of ourselves, all of us were born to a lost race, on death row.  Apart from Christ, there is no hope of salvation; grace is the only hope.

Galatians 2:16
...Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Earlier we noted that being “under law” means being “under the dominion of the law.”  Likewise, being “under grace” means being “under the dominion of grace.”  And what is grace?  Its primary meaning is “God’s unconditional love toward fallen humanity that led Him to give His only begotten Son to be the Savior of the world”:

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 8:31-32
What, then, shall we say in response to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Ephesians 1:7; 2:8-9
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace....  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

Writing to the Galatians, Paul declared:

Galatians 4:4-5
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

At the incarnation, Christ stepped into the shoes of humanity and, by His perfect life and sacrificial death, met the full demands of the law on man’s behalf.  This is the incredibly good news of grace.

While under law, human beings are victims of the fear of death.  But under grace, that fear is gone and they can approach God with full confidence and call Him “Dear Father”:

Hebrews 2:14-15; 10:19-22
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  ...Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
1 John 4:16-18
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment:  In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

In Christ:

Ephesians 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.

Under grace, Christ becomes “the fulfillment of the law”:

Romans 10:4
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

This is the incredibly good news of the gospel and salvation by grace.

Under grace, no longer are human beings justified before God on the basis of their own actions or works of the law; they are justified entirely on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, what He has already accomplished for all mankind by His birth, life, death, and resurrection.  The Bible makes it clear that Christians stand complete (perfect) in Christ:

Colossians 2:10
...And in Christ you have been brought to fullness.  He is the head over every power and authority.

But being “under grace” means something more than “being justified.”  It means that Christians have also died to the life of sin in which they were born and are now living lives hidden in the personality of Christ Jesus:

Colossians 3:3
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Paul reminds the believers in Rome that the law had dominion over them only as long as they were alive:

Romans 7:1
Do you not know, brothers and sisters — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?

But when they acknowledged that they had died in the body of Christ through baptism, they were delivered from being under the law’s dominion and were married to Christ, the source of grace.  Now they can bear fruit pleasing to God — fruit in harmony with the spirit of the law:

Romans 7:4, 6
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.  ...But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Galatians 5:22-24
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Bear in mind that Christ was made flesh at the incarnation, united to the flesh of the entire human race:

John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He is, therefore, called the second, or last, Adam, and His death was, in effect, the punishment for the entire human race, just as the sin of the first Adam condemned the entire human race to that punishment:

1 Corinthians 15:45
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.
2 Corinthians 5:14
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
Romans 5:12
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned....

When by faith, we accept this gospel truth, we identify ourselves through baptism with Christ, and Him crucified.  We become dead to sin and the dominion of the law and arise to life in God:

Romans 6:11
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

This is what baptism signifies — the union with the Christ who took us into Himself and was crucified, buried, and resurrected.  Now, under grace and with confidence, the believer can “live a new life”:

Romans 6:2-8 [Emphasis on Verse 4]
By no means!  We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

All this affects the Christian lifestyle.  First, to be “under grace” does not mean that the law is no longer God’s standard for Christian living.  Christ Himself made it very clear, in His Sermon on the Mount, that He did not come to abolish the law:

Matthew 5:19
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

But the believer no longer counts on his obedience to the law for salvation:

Romans 3:20
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Grace totally delivers the believer from trying to accomplish that impossibility.  Paul says that justification by faith establishes (or upholds) the law, by which he means that the earthly mission of Christ fully satisfied the law on man’s behalf:

Romans 3:31
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all!  Rather, we uphold the law.

But grace has not done away with the law — rather, it affirms the law’s goodness.  Anyone who teaches otherwise perverts the truth of the gospel.

Scripture clearly speaks of the law in two ways.  A person trying for salvation through law-keeping is said to be “under law.”  But when the law is used as a standard of Christian living, the believer is said to be “under grace”:

Romans 13:8-10
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 5:13-14
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Those who fail to make this distinction will become confused.

God’s law is as eternal as God Himself, for the spirit of the law is love, and “God is love”:

Matthew 22:36-40
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
1 John 4:8, 16
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  ...And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

God’s laws, therefore, are a true expression of His very nature and character, and The Ten Commandments can be described as codified love.  The problem sinners face does not lie with the quality of the law, but in themselves.  God’s law is clearly holy, just, good, and spiritual.  Human beings, by contrast, are by nature carnal, sold as slaves under sin:

Romans 7:12, 14
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.  ...We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

The great mistake Judaism, and at times Adventism, has made, is to emphasize the letter of the law.  One can indeed obey the rules of the law, and yet transgress its spirit:

Matthew 23:23
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Paul reminded his fellow Jews that this was their great mistake.  “You claim to be experts on the law,” he told them, “but in reality you are nowhere near keeping the law”:

Romans 2:17-20
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth....

In fact, he goes on to say that, because of their legalism “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”:

Romans 2:24
As it is written:  “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Law-keeping devoid of genuine agape-love contradicts the spirit of the law:

1 Corinthians 13:5
It [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Jesus said:

John 13:35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Any Adventist who in self-righteousness criticizes other Christians or “the brethren” is blind to the true spirit of the law.  Christians may not see eye to eye in all things, but true law-keeping will produce unity among God’s people, in spite of their diversity on non-essential matters.

The second principle of grace for the Christian lifestyle is that being “under grace” does not mean freedom to live as one pleases.  Just as being “under law” means “obey and live, or disobey and die,” being “under grace” has its own condition — spelled out by Christ Himself, the Source of grace:

John 15:4-5
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Paul echoes the words of Jesus:

Galatians 2:19-20
For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

When Christ Jesus — who is the same yesterday, today, and forever — lives in the believers, they will delight in going about doing good, as He did:

Hebrews 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
John 14:12
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

A person under law is motivated either by fear of punishment or desire for reward — which are condemned, both in the Bible and in the writings of Ellen G. White:

Steps to Christ, Page 44
There are those who profess to serve God, while they rely upon their own efforts to obey His law, to form a right character, and secure salvation.  Their hearts are not moved by any deep sense of the love of Christ, but they seek to perform the duties of the Christian life as that which God requires of them in order to gain heaven.  Such religion is worth nothing.  When Christ dwells in the heart, the soul will be so filled with His love, with the joy of communion with Him, that it will cleave to Him; and in the contemplation of Him, self will be forgotten.  Love to Christ will be the spring of action.  Those who feel the constraining love of God, do not ask how little may be given to meet the requirements of God; they do not ask for the lowest standard, but aim at perfect conformity to the will of their Redeemer.  With earnest desire they yield all and manifest an interest proportionate to the value of the object which they seek.  A profession of Christ without this deep love is mere talk, dry formality, and heavy drudgery.

But being under grace changes all that.  One’s relationship to God is no longer one of fear, but of love and heart-felt appreciation.  God’s law is no longer a set of rules one must keep in the selfish hope of making it to heaven.  Under grace, the law becomes a delight, for the love of God is now the driving force in the life:

2 Corinthians 5:14-15
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

The spirit of the law — selfless agape-love — becomes the compelling force of the new nature.

This is the essential New Covenant, in which God promises:

Hebrews 8:10
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.

God does not mean that He will literally tattoo His Ten Commandments on hearts and minds, but that He will instill in the heart principles of His unconditional, self-emptying, agape-love.  This is the “most excellent way” that Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 13, his great chapter on agape-love:

1 Corinthians 12:31
Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.  And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

How does all this work in practical life?  The New Testament says that the law has both a positive and a negative function.  So far in this chapter, I have emphasized the negative function of the law — its role as a schoolmaster to lead sinners to Christ, that they may be justified by faith:

Galatians 3:24-25
So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

But before bringing this chapter to a close, we must explore the positive function.  In this role, God’s law serves as a standard for Christian living.  We can better appreciate this as we review the four main steps in the experience of justification by faith.

In Step 1, God takes the initiative and shares the incredibly good news of the gospel — the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, which reconciled the whole world to Himself:

2 Corinthians 5:18-20
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf:  Be reconciled to God.

He may do this in various ways — perhaps through the witness of a believer, in a book, through a radio or TV program, or at an evangelistic meeting.  He has thousands of ways to reach us.

Step 2 is the human response to this incredibly good news.  That God has reconciled the entire human race to Himself in Christ does not mean that this reconciliation comes automatically.  God created everyone with a free will, and the gospel demands a human response:

John 3:16-18
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Redemption in Christ can be accepted by faith, or rejected by unbelief.

But the moment one believes and surrenders by faith obedience to that which God has obtained in Christ, he or she passes subjectively from death to life, and from condemnation to justification:

John 5:24
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

Incidentally, this faith response to the gospel is equivalent to obeying the first four commandments of the law, our relationship to God and His gift of salvation in Christ:

1 John 3:23
And this is his command:  to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

The moment the good news of the gospel is accepted by faith, God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in the believer, as Christ’s representative.  This is Step 3 in the salvation experience, known as regeneration, or the new-birth experience.  Christ and Paul both make it clear that this God-given experience is an essential part of the salvation experience:

John 3:3-6
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
Romans 8:9-10
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

The very first message the Holy Spirit impresses on born-again Christians is that they are now children of God and joint heirs with Christ:

Romans 8:16-17
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The Holy Spirit then imparts the power and ability to live a life pleasing to God.

Finally, in Step 4, the Holy Spirit pours God’s agape-love into the believers’ hearts:

Romans 5:5
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

This is the promise of the new covenant, where love dominates the life and new desires and goals emerge, toward God and fellow men.  Unconditional love in Christ now becomes the motivating drive in relationships with others, and translates into true law-keeping:

Romans 13:8-10
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 5:13-14
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This love toward others becomes the most effective witness for the power of the gospel, fulfilling Jesus’ promise to His disciples:

John 13:35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Without this witness of God’s agape-love, all other witnessing, no matter how theologically correct, becomes meaningless:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Those who have this witness are spoken of in Revelation as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus”:

Revelation 14:12
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

For those living under grace, Christ becomes the guarantee of salvation and source of righteousness and Christian living, all in one.  Fear of the law now becomes delight in the law.  “Not I, but Christ,” is the key both to one’s standing before God and one’s Christian style of living.

The law first brings a person to Christ, out of fear of death and hope for salvation.  But once a person believes, the law becomes the standard of Christian living, as its precepts are manifested through the Holy Spirit.  Barring arrested spiritual development, agape-love will motivate the Christian walk.

The Power of Grace

This brings us, finally, to a second meaning of the word “grace.”  While the primary meaning of grace is God’s unconditional agape-love that led Him to send His Son into the world to save mankind...

John 3:17
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Ephesians 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace....

...the word grace also refers to the power of God made available to believers to live the Christian life.

The apostle Paul writes that Christians stand in grace:

Romans 5:2
[Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,] through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

By this he means that the power, or strength, of God is available to them so that they can live the Christian life.  Note how Paul applies this meaning of grace to his own life:

1 Corinthians 15:9-10
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.  No, I worked harder than all of them [the other apostles] — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Clearly, God’s grace also encompasses His power.  He makes this strength available to believers so that they may experience both the joy of salvation and its power in Christian living.  May this be our experience.


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