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

Chapter 19:  Christian Behavior
Fundamental Belief #22 We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with the principles of heaven.  For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord, we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives.  This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty.  While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle quiet spirit.  It also means that, because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently.  Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures.  Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well.  Instead, we are to engage in whatever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness.
[Romans 12:1-2; 1 John 2:6; Ephesians 5:1-21; Philippians 4:8; 2 Corinthians 10:5, 6:14-7:1; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 10:31; Leviticus 11:1-47; 3 John 2]

Adam’s original sin affected mankind three ways — spiritually, morally, and physically.  Spiritually — because through his rebellion, he had expelled the Holy Spirit from his life, and the lives of his offspring:

Ephesians 2:1
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins....
Colossians 2:13
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....

Morally — because, from then on, all human beings were born with a bent to sin, no longer capable of obeying God’s moral law:

Romans 5:19; 8:7
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 mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

Physically — because, from that day forward, all human beings were born with a universal tendency to sickness, aging, and death:

Romans 5:12, 18a
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....
1 Corinthians 15:21-22
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Christ provided redemption from all of these effects of sin and, when a person receives Christ by faith as personal Savior, he or she can confidently surrender fully to His transforming grace in each area of life.  The apostle Paul writes that sanctification, or Christian living, involves the total person:

1 Thessalonians 5:23
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians do not experience total salvation from the effects of sin this side of eternity.  But, at Christ’s Second Advent, corrupted sinful humanity will put on incorruption and mortal life will be replaced with immortality:

1 Corinthians 15:51-53
Listen, I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

Still, God intends that a Christian’s lifestyle now should reflect the saving grace and power of the gospel, and this is reflected in the 22nd Fundamental Belief of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Old Testament Laws

When God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and brought them to the promised land of Canaan, He intended that, as a nation, they would fully reflect the principles of heaven in every area of life.  In turn, they would become a witness to the rest of the world of His saving power.  He said through Moses:

Deuteronomy 7:14
You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young.

So He placed the nation of Israel under His direct rulership, in what we call today a “theocracy.”

God would be their ruler in all things, and they would be His people.  As their divine King, God gave the Israelites laws that affected every phase of existence, and Moses recorded these laws in the first five books of the Old Testament — called the Pentateuch or the Torah.  These instructions, besides the moral law (The Ten Commandments), dealt with banking, agriculture, civil issues, diet, health, and dress, as well as ceremonial religious regulations pointing forward to the redeeming work of the Messiah to come.

Though Christ did not establish His kingdom as a theocracy, the original principles laid down by God in the first five books of the Bible are still valid, as guidelines to Christian behavior.  Paul reminds us:

1 Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Christians belong to Christ.  He is their Savior, as well as Lord and Master.  Paul wrote to the church at Rome:

Romans 14:7-8
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

God wants His followers to make intelligent choices; He wants them to make wise use of the laws laid down by Moses, as standards of Christian living.  Most countries today have laws that govern banking, civil issues, criminal behavior, and so forth.  Christians should abide by these laws, for the common good, as long as the laws of the state do not stand in the way of loyalty to God:

Romans 13:1-7
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?  Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.  They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them:  If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

In other matters, however, Christians may freely choose how they want to live, guided by the principles of the Old Testament laws.  Christians can choose what they wish to eat, drink, and read; they can choose how to dress and how they will use their time for reflection and leisure.  In these choices, they are constantly challenged to measure up to their Christian commitment and confession of faith.  People evaluate Christianity, not so much by what Christians say, but by how they live.  Wrote Paul to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 4:20
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

As ambassadors of Christ, His followers will seek to glorify Him in all things, especially in outward behavior.  With this in mind, let us consider the Christian lifestyle in two major areas — health and dress.

The Health Message

Through the writings of Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventists have received extensive guidelines in two major areas — dress and health.  Though these guidelines were given in the context of Nineteenth-Century life, the principles laid down are still valid today.  Unfortunately, some take these guidelines and apply them in an inappropriately legalistic way.

Because of this, many today have turned against the God-given principles regarding health and dress.  Christian behavior must always be evaluated in the light of the gospel and the principles laid down in the Bible.

Let’s begin with the matter of health.  God told the Israelites of the Exodus that, if they practiced health rules He gave them through Moses, they would not experience the diseases that had plagued the Egyptians:

Exodus 15:26
He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

Much the same is true today.  Those who practice the health counsels given through Ellen G. White experience superior health.  In a sinful environment, Christians may not be able to escape all the diseases that plague the modern world but, in general, those who practice the health guidelines found in Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy are the healthiest specimens of humanity alive and provide a powerful witness to the world!

Some Christians may be tempted to practice health principles to satisfy their egocentric desire to live a few years longer, or to imagine that they stand a better chance of salvation.  Some Adventists become vegetarians and practice other aspects of healthful living because they think that doing so will enable them to live through the Time of Trouble.

For such misguided Christians, healthful living is allowed to take the place of the gospel, just as it did for some of the Jews in Jesus’ day.  For example, the scribes and Pharisees once caught Jesus’ disciples eating with unwashed hands.  So they complained to Jesus:

Matthew 15:2
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Note Jesus’ reply:

Matthew 15:7-11
“You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

As with other laws of Moses, the Jews had taken this rule and made it a requirement for salvation.  But the fact remains that, while eating without washing one’s hands may indeed transmit disease, it does nothing to make a person more or less sinful.  The human heart is already exceedingly sinful:

Jeremiah 17:9
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?
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.

When Jesus’ disciples later asked Him to comment on the matter, He said:

Matthew 15:17-20
“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?  But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Christians must not repeat the mistakes of the Jews of Christ’s day.  God did not give the health instructions as requirements for salvation, or as a means of preserving one’s title to heaven.  As God’s witnesses and co-laborers, Christians’ only valid reason for keeping their bodies in good health is to glorify God, recognizing that their bodies are God’s temple, to be used for His glory:

1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

Paul speaks to this:

Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

My car gets me around safely and dependably, in direct proportion to how well I maintain it.  The more I neglect it, the worse it performs.  This same principle applies to my body.  God wants to use my body for His service.  But if I fail to maintain my body as I should — through appropriate exercise, rest, and nutrition — I will be spending more time in bed or in the hospital than serving God.  Our purpose in healthful living should be to better represent God, or as Paul puts it:

Philippians 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
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.

Manufacturers know the grades of oil and fuel that work best in their cars; likewise, God knows what is best for our bodies.  The original human diet featured fruits, nuts, and grains, and we can assume that these provided the best nutrition for the human body:

Genesis 1:29
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.  They will be yours for food.”

After sin entered and human bodies were damaged by the Fall, God added vegetables and green herbs to the recommended diet:

Genesis 3:17-18
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”

Finally, after the Flood of Noah’s day, God added flesh foods to the human diet, but He limited consumption to “clean” meats — that is, flesh of animals with specific characteristics:

Genesis 9:3
“Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you.  Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”
Genesis 7:2-3
Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.

But God made it clear to Noah that, when he did eat meat, no blood or animal fat was to be ingested:

Genesis 9:4
“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.”
Leviticus 3:17
“This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live:  You must not eat any fat or any blood.”

Medical science today has proven the validity of this guideline.

Later on, through Moses, God gave even more specific instruction about which animals were acceptable to eat.  These guidelines of “clean” and “unclean” animals are spelled out in Leviticus 11.  Again, in giving the list of animals that could be eaten, God made it absolutely clear that the blood was not to be ingested, and He repeated this many times in the Old Testament and once in the New, in the instructions given at the Jerusalem Council by James:

Leviticus 7:26
“And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal.”
Deuteronomy 12:16
But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.
1 Samuel 14:34
Then he said, “Go out among the men and tell them, ‘Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them.  Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with blood still in it.’”  So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there.
Acts 15:20
Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

Animal fat was added to the strong prohibition, along with blood (Leviticus 3:17; 7:23). 

Leviticus 7:23
“Say to the Israelites:  ‘Do not eat any of the fat of cattle, sheep or goats.’”

Long before medical science discovered the dangers of eating blood and animal fat, the Creator knew that these were damaging when taken into the body.  He gave these prohibitions, not as requirements for salvation, but to help ensure physical prosperity.

John expresses:

3 John 1-2 [Emphasis Added]
The elder, To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.  Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

Clearly, God is concerned about the health of His followers.

Adventists often are very particular in instructing people that they should not eat “unclean” meats such as pork and certain sea foods.  But why do they seldom say anything about not eating the blood and fat of “clean” animals?  For it is the blood and fat of these “clean” animals, far more than the meat of “unclean” animals, that causes most of the killer diseases passed along through meat, in or modern world.  Some blood and fat are purposely allowed to remain in most meat to provide better taste and texture.  To fail to teach about the dangers of the blood and fat makes a mockery of the health message.

Dress Reform

On the issue of dress and other forms of Christian behavior, we often see similar inconsistencies.  I remember that, when I first arrived in the United States in the early 1960s, for an Adventist to wear a wedding ring was considered a “no-no.”  Yet I noticed that Adventist women — even some who held prominent positions in the church — would often wear rather large, gold brooches.  It was apparently sinful to wear a gold ring on one’s finger to indicate one’s marital status, but perfectly all right to pin the same “ring” on one’s blouse.  As a visitor, looking on from the outside, I saw this as hypocritical and inconsistent.

Such inconsistency has led to bitterness, when those who most criticize others seem all too ready to drive luxury automobiles and stay in luxury hotels while on the “Lord’s business.”  They condemn Adventist young people for working Sabbaths in fast-food restaurants, while paying other young people to do the same work in academy and college cafeterias on the Lord’s day.

At some church gatherings, Adventists will go to elaborate lengths to avoid “buying” food on Sabbath, by selling “meal tickets” on Friday, which are then exchanged for food on Sabbath.  Somehow, it seems acceptable to exchange one kind of paper for food on Sabbath, but not the other.  And yet we shake our heads sadly at the Jews of Bible times who regarded carrying a handkerchief as an unacceptable Sabbath burden, unless it was attached to the clothing and, thus, became an extension of the person’s garments.  Sad to say, many in the church today see such inconsistencies as a mockery of the fundamental belief in Christian behavior and are not surprised when it leads to rebellion against the doctrine itself.

The main texts used to condemn wearing jewelry are 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4:

1 Timothy 2:9-10
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
1 Peter 3:3-4
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

Yet, when we examine these texts carefully, neither of them actually prohibits wearing jewelry.  They simply emphasize modesty and the need for Christians to manifest the beauty that comes from the inward adornment of a true Christian character.  According to Ezekiel, Lucifer, as created by God, was adorned with all kinds of jewelry.  Note this description of Lucifer before he became Satan:

Ezekiel 28:13
You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you:  carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.  Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.

At the Exodus, God Himself instructed the Israelites, through Moses, to take the jewelry of the Egyptians and give it to their sons and daughters to wear:

Exodus 3:22
“Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters.  And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”

Later, when asked to donate this jewelry for the tabernacle, many of these same Israelites gave it willingly:

Exodus 35:22 [Emphasis Added]
All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds:  brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments.  They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the Lord.

It is only when we make such outward adornment an idol or use it to draw attention to ourselves that God condemns its use.

The Antitypical Day of Atonement

Based on the biblical concept of an end-time judgment, Adventists believe that the world is now experiencing the antitypical Day of Atonement.  The biblical Day of Atonement was the most solemn Jewish feast day of the year:

Leviticus 16:30
...Because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you.  Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.

On that day, the people were required to deny self, for:

Leviticus 23:29
Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people.

This included denial of food, denial of certain kinds of dress, and denial of jewelry — instructions the Jews interpreted through a legalistic lens.

Adventists today must not make the same mistake of viewing Christian behavior legalistically.  Still, the counsels regarding health and dress, given in writings of Ellen G. White, need to be understood in the context of the solemn times in which we are historically living.  Two areas of life in which self-exaltation seems to rise most readily is in diet and clothing.  Those who truly believe they are living in the solemn days of the anti-typical Day of Atonement, when sin (the principle of self) is to be eradicated and everlasting righteousness is to be ushered in, will certainly deny self in these and other areas of Christian behavior.

The greatest proof Noah gave to his world that he believed in the coming Flood was his act of building an ark.  Likewise, the greatest proof Adventists can give of their belief in the soon-coming Christ is by living lives of self-denial.

Modern means of communication and rapid travel have effectively shrunk the world in which we live.  But the implementation of Christian principles of behavior has become much more complicated than in the past.  That complexity has led Adventists to develop separate guidelines for appropriate behavior in various parts of the world.  As long as Adventists remain in their own countries, all goes quite well.  But now that Adventists travel much more widely, misunderstandings can and do occur.  In a church I pastored in Washington, D.C., the membership represented 42 nationalities!  How does one harmonize Christian behavior when members of the same church have such wide cultural differences and have been reared to observe so many so many different sets of rules?

The Two Fundamental Principles

The answer lies in two biblical principles presented in the writings of the apostle Paul.  The first appears in Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth.  The Corinthian church was cosmopolitan in character and plagued with many factions.  Paul shared a very important principle with the Corinthians, one that transcends time as a guideline for all Christian behavior and relationships.  Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 32-33
“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial.  “I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.  ...Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — even as I try to please everyone in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Paul is saying that Christians must do their utmost not to offend fellow Christians or cause them to stumble.  Even if believers feel that certain behavior is otherwise justifiable and permissible, their first consideration must be to avoid giving offense to others.

Second, Paul writes that Christians should do nothing that would affect their own faith relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ Himself.  Here he writes a young co-worker in ministry:

1 Timothy 1:18-19
Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience [toward God], which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.

Christians must constantly remind themselves that they are citizens of heaven, but living in enemy territory.  Every time a person accepts Jesus as his or her personal Savior and is baptized, Satan loses a subject and does not take it sitting down.  He will do his utmost to destroy the new believers’ faith.  One method is to dangle the trinkets of the world in front of them, hoping to lure them back to the world.

Jesus warned His disciples:

Luke 21:34
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”

He was speaking in context of last-day events, so the warning has special significance for Christians today.

In all its manifestations, the Christian lifestyle is a response to salvation in Christ.  The believers’ one goal should be to live in such a way as to bring honor and glory to God and their Savior, Jesus Christ.  Some have misrepresented the doctrine of Christian behavior as a list of do’s and don’ts, but a Christian who is rejoicing in the good news of the gospel will look at Christian standards as a series of positive principles in the framework of salvation.  Jesus wants His followers to live life more abundantly:

John 10:10
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer includes:

Galatians 5:22-23
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.

These virtues of true Christianity manifest the power of the gospel and lie at the core of the doctrine of Christian behavior.

The gospel of Jesus Christ affects the whole person; there is no aspect of a Christian’s existence it does not touch.  Paul says:

Philippians 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

But when it comes to our Christian lifestyle, God is more concerned with motive than with behavior itself; He is more concerned with why a person acts as he or she does, rather than what is actually done.  To God, choices of the heart are more important than outward acts, which can be fraught with self-interest and hypocrisy.  Even the best actions of the unconverted heart are always motivated by self, be it business, education, sports, or the outward practice of religion.  All advertising in the media is designed to appeal to self — to one of the three basic drives of the world:

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.

But in the Christian who has been transformed by the saving power of the gospel, the flesh and all its self-centered desires have been crucified:

Galatians 5:24
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

The apostle Paul makes it very clear that the cross of Christ compels him to live for Jesus, who gave us eternal life by His death on the cross:

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.

In the world, the principle of self dominates; but in the church, the self-emptying love of God must dominate believers, so that no one seeks his or her own good, but the well-being of others:

1 Corinthians 10:24
No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

This is true law-keeping and the fruit of the gospel.  And although this behavior does not save or carry any merit toward our salvation, it does give evidence that the gospel has touched the Christian’s life.

The world judges Christianity by the believers’ lifestyle, not by their claims — and rightly so.  Christians are to move forward:

Philippians 3:13b-14
...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

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