In the Face of Law and Grace: Adventist Views on Salvation and How We Speak About Them

This week’s Adult Bible Study Guide quotes Ellen White: “The law of God, spoken in awful grandeur from Sinai, is the utterance of condemnation to the sinner. It is the province of the law to condemn, but there is in it no power to pardon or to redeem.” (SDA Bible Commentary, VI, 1094). God’s power “to pardon and to forget” is, as the influential Adventist theologian G. D. Keough liked to emphasize, perhaps the divine prerogative that is most important for human beings.[1] It is exercised only through the generosity of God—through His graciousness—hence our typical short-hand reference to it as “God’s grace.”

But what follows from the exercise of God’s grace? This is a topic that, inevitably, is repeatedly considered by this quarter’s Sabbath School lessons. This week’s lesson addresses the significance of the law given on Sinai, partly because Adventists have traditionally been very concerned about whether there was still an obligation on Christians to keep the Law—and, if so, in what manner we are expected to “keep” it. It is important to recognize that this ongoing debate among Seventh-day Adventists is not a recent development—it is longstanding, and is historically conditioned. For that reason, this essay steps back from the text of Galatians, and instead makes some observations on the nature of Adventist debates about the Law, grace, and Righteousness by Faith. Knowing something about the different Adventist positions and perspectives can potentially be helpful as each reader of this quarter’s lessons tries to reach her or his own conclusions about what God expects of us.

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No church speaks with a completely united voice. As probably all readers of this website will know, Adventist theology has a number of areas where agreement is especially absent, and about which we argue adamantly. One of these “hot button” areas is soteriology: the study of the doctrine of salvation.

Yet the exact contours of the fault lines dividing us are hard to delimit partly because of a difficulty in definition. We use the same key soteriological terms but mean different things by them; because the biases and presuppositions we bring to them are frequently unstated. “Righteousness by faith,” at least as it is debated among Seventh-day Adventists, has become almost meaningless; arguably, so too have “perfectionism” and “legalism.” This is because almost all Adventists now accept righteousness by faith—yet we have different (sometimes radically different) perspectives on what that means. For many it connotes “justification by faith,” or even a belief that there is no obligation to keep the law at all; whereas for others again, the “righteousness by faith” message is precisely one of “character perfection,” i.e. of “keeping the law” perfectly.[2] In other words, at least for some Seventh-day Adventists, it has directly opposite meanings.

A similar point can be made about “legalist” or “perfectionist” except, as it were, in reverse: almost all Adventists would reject these labels, if applied to them, but at the same time, the ways they are understood also differ significantly. Recently one of our leading biblical scholars, R. E. Gane, classified those who stress justification by faith as legalists! He carefully defines “legalism” as “misuse of the law”; this definition ignores the long history of opposition of law and grace in the Church and thus is surely too limited, since theology is historically shaped to a great extent. However, having defined his term thus, Gane then logically argues that it includes more than “futile attempts to earn salvation by one’s own performance . . . and to gain assurance by achieving a minimum standard,” or fastening upon “things that are really nonessential and forc[ing] them on others as essential.”

There is still another kind of widespread legalism that is not generally recognized as such. This approach claims to be gospel "righteousness by faith" because it emphasizes God’s free and gracious justification of sinners who believe in Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice as the only basis of their salvation. [3]

This sets up a later, subtle argument: “that an unbalanced, unbiblical approach to ‘righteousness by faith’ is based on a legalistic approach to God’s law.”[4] Yet as Gane even-handedly observes elsewhere, the very people he labels as legalists “tend to brand as legalistic 'perfectionism' the . . . teaching of overcoming sin," that he supports in his article.[5] So who are the legalists?!

We can add to this the point that “legalist” and “perfectionist” are pejorative terms; like “fundamentalist,” whatever their original technical meaning, they now connote nothing good. It is therefore hardly surprising that probably nobody admits to being a legalist or perfectionist, and that both sides of a debate seek to cast such terms in the teeth of their opponents. Righteousness by faith, on the other hand, is now almost universally accepted as right and good, and thus it is no surprise that it is widely, perhaps universally, claimed. Some of the most passionate writings on righteousness by faith and its importance are by authors, such as Herb Douglass, who believe that it eventually is possible for us to keep the law perfectly.

I suggest that perfectionist and perfectionism do have appropriate applications, but narrow ones, to positions that are at least nominally rejected by most Adventists today. However, historically there were—and there still remain today—some Adventists who argue that God requires us flawlessly to keep His law in our own strength; or that, even if we keep it only by Christ’s help, it is keeping the law that justifies us in God’s eyes (rather than sanctifies us after justification by faith).[6] Such views surely are rightly called “legalist.”

Others have argued that, even if it is by God’s power, not our own, sanctification can make us truly perfect—whether physically or, more frequently, morally. The former postulates achieving perfection of our bodies; the latter attaining absolute perfection of our natures. Physical perfection, overcoming the corporeal consequences of the Fall, was one of the beliefs of the “holy flesh” movement just over a century ago, though I am unaware of any advocates today.[7] Absolute moral perfection foresees “perfect holiness” (as the great, but flawed, Adventist leader of the 1880s and 1890s, A. T. Jones, put it) after the removal of our fallen natures (the argument of Australian Adventist Robert Brinsmead in the 1960s).[8]

The result would be not just that we do not sin, but that we cease to have even the “evil tendencies,” or “inherent propensities” to sin, that have been innate to all humans since Adam and Eve sinned. This form of perfectionism envisages God’s people reaching a stage where they are beyond the possibility of temptation. It may also envisage reaching a point beyond which no development, in any sense, is possible for us.

These “legalist” and “perfectionist” positions, in the strict sense, are firmly rejected by many, perhaps most, of the writers, preachers and scholars frequently called “perfectionist” in Adventism today. Why they are labeled as “perfectionists” by many at the “progressive” end of the Adventist spectrum is because they argue for a more limited “moral perfection,” which generally is alternatively conceptualized (or described) as “total victory over sin” and “overcoming sin.”[9]

Yet these exponents of a perfectible humanity conscientiously reject claims that we can perfect ourselves, or that there is “merit toward salvation in law keeping.” While they disagree on some fine points, I think it is fair to generalize that while they believe in “righteousness by faith,” they see it as a two-stage process, in which the justification that is attained only by faith in Christ’s sacrifice for us is fruitless if not matched by sanctification, which empowers us to keep the law and have “victory over sin.” But this, too, is a consequence of faith in God and in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for us, and of the outpouring of God’s grace: it is the work in us of the Holy Spirit and the epitomized (observed and applied) rather than imputed righteousness of Christ.

Thus, most of today’s Adventist proponents of law-keeping and sin-overcoming by faith repudiate the possibilities of keeping the law in our own strength, as well as of physical, or absolute moral, perfection, as outlined above. Accordingly, to label such Seventh-day Adventists “perfectionists,” as many other Adventists freely do, is both terminologically inaccurate, and personally wounding to sincere Christians, who lift up Jesus in their preaching and writing and have a Christocentric personal piety. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that their views are not mine; but I can respect those who hold them, even while disagreeing with them (and even while maintaining that the area of disagreement is far from being an unimportant one!).

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As we continue to think, as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, to think about the law in the Old Testament and the New, and not least in the epistles, especially Galatians; and as we continue to discuss and debate soteriology; I propose that one of the most helpful things we can do, in building up that unity of the Church for which Our Lord and Savior prayed to the Father, as He faced the ordeal of crucifixion (see John chap. 17), is to conceptualize the different Adventist positions in different ways—and definitely to use different terminology in describing them.

I propose that, henceforth, we use the terms “perfectionist” or “legalist” only narrowly, for the positions defined above rather, than as a sweeping term. However, a term is necessary for those who believe in perfectibility of moral character, even if it is as the result of new birth, and thanks to faith in God’s gracious provision of sanctificatory power. Because one of their own favorite terms is “overcoming sin,” I use the term “overcomist” for those who believe that righteousness by faith includes both justification and sanctification by faith. And I invite other Seventh-day Adventists to join me in that terminology. It won’t end the discussions and debates. But it hopefully will mean that we conduct them in a more Christ-like manner. The Law given on Sinai doesn’t tell us to behave civilly to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ—but Christ’s own reinterpretation of the Law surely does (Matt. 5:43-48). This is a Law I aspire to keep, even while I acknowledge my inability to do so.

Notes & References: 1. G. D. Keough, “God’s power to pardon and forget”, Ministry 39:6 (1965), pp. 36-37, 48. 2. Colin D. Standish, “Seventh-day Adventists Answer Question on Doctrine: The U-turn in Doctrine and Practice”, paper read at the “Questions on Doctrine 50th Anniversary Conference,” Andrews University, 24-27 Oct. 2007 (available to download at pdf ), p. 2, and cf. p. 7 3. Roy E. Gane, “Legalism and ‘Righteousness by Faith’,” pt 1, Ministry 80/1 (Jan. 2008), 5-9. 4. Idem, “Legalism and ‘Righteousness by Faith’,” pt 2, Ministry 80:3 (2008), online at, accessed 8 Mar. 2010. 5. Ibid., pt 1. 6. E.g., comment posted on the Spectrum website on 10 Mar. 2010: “To claim a true believer is not justified by the law is false and certainly not biblical.” 7. [1] See e.g. Bert Haloviak, “From Righteousness to Holy Flesh: Disunity and the Perversion of the 1888 Message”, research paper, GC Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (Apr. 1983) (available to download at, pp. 11-13, 17, 27-28; George Knight, A search for identity: The development of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs (Hagerstown, Md.: RHPA, 2000), p. 126. 8. See, e.g., Paul E. McGraw, “Born in Zion? The Margins of Fundamentalism and the Definition of Seventh-day Adventism” [hereafter cited as McGraw, “Margins”], unpubl. PhD diss., The George Washington University (2004), p. 86; Arthur Leroy Moore, Theology in Crisis: Or Ellen G. White’s Concept of Righteousness by Faith as it Relates to Contemporary Seventh-day Adventist Issues (Corpus Christi, Tx.: Life Seminars, 1980), p. 10. 9. Herbert Edgar Douglass, A Fork in the Road. Questions on Doctrine: The Historic Adventist Divide of 1957 (Coldwater, Mich.: Remnant Publications, 2008), pp. 143-44 et passim; Gane, “Legalism and ‘Righteousness by Faith’,” pts 1 and 2; Dennis Priebe, “Bible Study: Righteousness by Faith”, Lessons 6-7, at Dennis Priebe Seminars (, and /new/node/35).

David Trim is Director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This commentary was originally published to Spectrum on October 31, 2011.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

One of the subsidiary disciplines of the multi-disciplinary study of hermeneutics is law. Seventh-day Adventists have historically misunderstood what God’s law is. God’s law is not the transcript of His character. His law is not universal, transcendent, or absolute. His law is not perfect. His law is not everlasting. Instead, God’s law is a reflection in part of particular human beings to whom He has given His law. God’s law is historically conditioned. We do not worship an impersonal Platonic deity but a personal god who has situated Himself in history. Consequently, God is not the sole cause of His law; another proximate cause of His law is the historical context. The historical context, which is sinful as we all know, informs, shapes, and conditions God’s law. The best biblical illustration of what God’s law is can be discerned in Jesus’ change of the law of divorce. We see significant and rapid change in God’s law throughout Scripture. As historical context changes, God’s law changes.

If our historical context is different from the historical context of the ancients, then how can we claim that any law set forth in Scripture is applicable to us? The answer lies in the hermeneutical circle. Yes, the historical contexts are different but there are similarities between the ancients and us. As we make our way around the hermeneutical circle, we can spiral toward an understanding of what God, communicating to us through Scripture, expects of us today. Hermeneutics, thinking hermeneutically, and making one’s way around the hermeneutical circle is foreign to Seventh-day Adventists, including our best biblical scholars.

Seventh-day Adventist biblical scholars have instead resorted to form criticism. Formalism as an approach to law has been refuted ever since Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote The Path of the Law back in 1897. But biblical scholars have remained uninformed. We see Albrecht Alt in his famous 1934 collection of essays–The Origins of Israelite Law–posit a distinction between apodictic law and casuistic law based on form. Apodictic law is regarded as having its origins in God, whereas casuistic law is seen as having its origins in local norms and customs. Apodictic law is seen to be universal, transcendent, absolute, perfect, and everlasting, whereas casuistic law is not. Seventh-day Adventist biblical scholars, in the style and manner of Alt, have trichotomized God’s law into moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law, again based on form. This trichotomizing of God’s law is done for the purpose of identifying “moral law” that one can claim is universal, transcendent, absolute, perfect, and everlasting. The trichotomizing of God’s law is hermeneutical error on so many levels. First, God’s law cannot be dichotomized or trichotomized into moral law and something else, because all law is moral law per se. Second, all law given to the nation of Israel is civil law per se. Third, there can be subsidiary classifications of law, such as ceremonial law, torts, sexual offenses, etc., but ceremonial law is moral law and civil law. Finally, placing particular laws into the pigeon hole of moral law does not render those laws universal, transcendent, absolute, perfect, and everlasting, as illustrated by Jesus’ change of the law of divorce. In sum, law is best understood when approached from a realistic rather than formalistic perspective.

Perhaps some progress could be made in resolving the ongoing Seventh-day Adventist controversies regarding God’s law if we were to come to an understanding of what God’s law actually is.


Well, there’s no doubt that a great deal of confusion exists among our members and with good reason. As an example, I cannot resist mentioning that because I am teaching an adult Sabbath School class next week (Aug. 5-11), I have already begun to study it. I could not help but notice that while the title of the week’s study is “The Road to Faith”, every day’s lesson contains the word ‘Law’ in the title…‘The Law and the Promise’, ‘Kept Under Law’, ‘The Law as Our Guard’, ‘The Law as Our Schoolmaster’, ‘The Law and the Believer’.

The lesson author initially speaks to the confusion Christians confront (in Sabbath Afternoon) and states, “The good news, however, is that God has not left us to ourselves. He has mapped out the road to faith, as revealed in the gospel, and that path includes the law”. There is no further mention of said ‘map’…and no significant mention of faith. The closing White quote on Friday’s lesson is as follows, “The law of ten commandments is not to be looked upon as much from the prohibitory side, as from the mercy side. Its prohibitions are the sure guarantee of happiness in obedience.” So there’s the O word again…is it any wonder our members fail to understand how salvation works?


I like Philip’s idea that God’s law needs context; but whatever form law takes, it is based on Jesus’ own description of the basic, the core of all of God’s laws - “Love God with all your heart; and love your neighbour as yourself.” That is really all we need to guide us in behaviour and intent. The rest comes about as society changes, adding circumstances and situations unique to the time at hand. Even then, sometimes loving your neighbour looks like not keeping some previous law - actual or presumed (relating to the LGBT individuals for example).

One problem in dealing with the subject is the labeling we like to do - RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH - JUSTIFICATION - SANCTIFICATION - PERFECTIONIST - LEGALIST. Once we start throwing these terms around, we restrict our thinking. It’s much easier to use one of these terms than it is to explain what you’re really talk9ing about. This, in turn, leads to superficial thinking about the subject as well.

Paul’s experience is a good example. He had some sort of revelation that changed his perspective on who Jesus was/is; and how he, Paul, relates to Him. We give this experience unnecessary labels. From that point forward, Paul experienced an inner battle between his former perspectives and the new one. He, apparently felt incomplete as a Christian because of his battles (Rom. 7); and describes the situation as a conflict between flesh and his new “self” - which he feels is who he really is at this point. This battle continues but without condemnation once the inner self has given himself to God (Rom 8). You want to go and label each faze of that experience and debate over those labels, as to which comes before and which comes later. …and so we come back around to the words of Jesus, as he tells us none of us keeps the law in our intents even if we keep the letter of it. The best we can do is love those who we share our lives.

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Your promotion of the word ‘overcomist’ brought a thought to mind about potential confusion because other commentators who have picked up on the Biblical verb ‘to overcome’ have used the term ‘overcomer’.
The word overcomer, as I have encountered it, is used to describe one who is a member of a subset of believers who have undergone the ‘fiery trials’ God has placed in their paths to learn obedience, forgiveness and love. I have not seen it used to connote perfect moral character (which you want to apply to the term overcomist). These overcomers will be more than just citizens of Christ’s kingdom (all believers qualify as citizens based on being righteous by faith in Christ). I believe one purpose of the IJ is to choose those who will fill positions of authority in the coming kingdom. Scripture speaks of their future roles as judges (Matt 19:28; 1Cor 6:2-3; Rev 20:4), administrators (Luke 19:12, 17, 19) or priests (Rev 20:6). All will be honoured to serve under Christ of course, for the highest reward is service to others. (I believe Paul wrote of his hope to ‘press on’ to attain one such position in Phil 3:11-14.) You may not agree with some of the theology, but here is a good description of how to become an overcomer, which I think touches on some of the points you make in the article:

First, I want to thank Spectrum for at least getting some article for the SS lesson.
These lessons are the same ones from 4th quarter 2011 and so is the article.

SDA’s are surrounded with legalism. The fixation/obsession of apologetics on the law ( SS lessons #6 & #7) AND the preoccupation with forensic/legal standing in justification… (lesson #4). What is presented many times as far as justification is shallow, soft sell sugar coated mental assent.

Many if not most SDA pastors, elders, members don’t know the gospel, the true concept of soteriology, and what grace is and how it is involved in salvation.
I hear members just parrot some short SOP clichés, or typical obscure theological tidbits. An SS teacher or preacher can ask an audience what justification is and the area will be mostly silent because almost all don’t care about obscure theological 5 syllable terms. They are busy with worldly issues.

There is so much digression and illustrations from teachers & the lesson that the goal and theme of what Paul is trying to get across, in Galatians, is not really addressed/covered. Adventists are repeating the legalism of the Galatians in just another form.

What is going on reminds me of how the Jewish clergy warped and/or ignored the scriptures so bad and added their own messiah spin and religious teachings that Jesus was rejected because He didn’t fit.

This week, the concept of the promise was not clearly presented. …which means it was not 6 years ago either.( Ignored & messed up GAL 3:14)
There was just a digression on Abraham with a general obscure teaching.

The SS lesson study guide is titled , “The GOSPEL in Galatians”. Has anyone in your class or church given a shot at sharing what their concept of the gospel is yet?

Ask anyone in your class…"What is the promise about?"
Galatians was not exegeted properly in 2011 and for the most part it won’t be in 2017 either.

Tomorrow, I will again do more soteriological damage control.

To any who even care about reading 149 verses in Galatians, check out the first few verses in chapter 3 to get a clue on what really matters.

So you can see the relevance…read Rom 5:9 &10 and Tit 3:5.

Jesus talked about mass deception in MATT 24:24 and that included what is now going on in the SDA church.

This happens because the pastors & teachers are inept.

But obedience is a big issue. See Heb 11. the fruit of faith = obedience
True grace influenced, Spirit inspired obedience indicates genuine Christianity.
Rom 8:4

Those who gripe about law & obedience are still in a dangerous Rom 8:7 state that keeps them on a path to the 2nd resurrection


Your post presents the typical Adventist mixed bag of simplistic theology, some truth and obscure religious lingo.

The simple truth indicated in Galatians is that for whatever reason, those who have heard some form of Christianity get out of the true process of salvation from lack of understanding of the basics of the gospel, are deceived by false teachers/clergy, or are caving into the flesh. The reason is that hearers usually have to contend with their ROM 8:7 nature of rebellion & animosity to God.
This is why the Holy Spirit is grieved and/or quenched.

Lesson 12 will bring this out in more detail , however …this verse makes the point.
"But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. " Gal 5:18

That is just another way of saying…"It’s all about Jesus"
These obscure, blanket, fantasy, idealistic theological clichés neglect/warp the role of the will, volition and/or faith.
Do you think that JESUS just channels through our bodies?

The truth you posted about Christ, through the Holy Spirit living us is valid…yet
the cognitive details are lacking, and because of this approach so many church attenders fail in their sanctification/transformation in character.

Here are some supporting verses to what I post.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, …” Eph 5:18
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and …Col 3:16

“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Jn 6:63

"Born again through His power??

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 1 Pet 1:23

Pastors need to have NEH 8:8 tattooed on both hands.

You did not post Col 3:11, You posted the END of Col 3;11 which is close to what is in Gal 3:28 and Eph 4:6. The problem is that…like Peter writes in 2 Pet 3:16 .Paul writes some thing that are hard to be understood. If they are not interpreted or explained to be practical & relevant then they are just obscure useless religious tidbits/clichés of which the unchurched would think Paul is supporting channeling.

By the way , did you read Neh 8:8?

Here is what is taking place. I attend a sabbath school class where there are usually 60 -100 members every week. The teacher, last Sabbath, asked who took time to go through the lesson. less than 10% responded. he later asked who would like to share what the gospel is. less than 5% responded and they were no where near what the gospel is.

The SS lesson guide title =The Gospel in Galatians" Do a survey at your church. Ask your pastors what the gospel is? See who even looks at the lesson. I see most don’t even bring it to class and I have visited around 50 SDA churches.

HUH? How do you know…or not know? Are you stalking me?
Last Sabbath, in the audience, I was the only one to present the gospel. I said one for the unchurched and one version for the Adventists.

Who’s judging now? My experience is that almost all SDA never claim to be keepers of the law. In fact, I usually hear that it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep the law.

It seems that you didn’t understand why I posted Neh 8:8.
That verse is a heads up for teachers & pastors to use appropriate teaching/homiletic approaches so that listeners can understand what bible verses mean…instead of presenting the usual, abstract, ambiguous, obscure, cliché theological phrases and tidbits.

Jesus & Paul were sensitive to this…

The parable of the spoils (stony ground)

“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” 1 Cor 14:2-3


You don’t have to reply to this…

So which is the gospel? All of them?

Jn 3:16
Rom 1:16
1 Cor 15:1-4
Gal 1:4
Acts 20:24

or one from SOP…like this one that never gets exposure in SDA churches…that I quote in SDA churches

“The gospel is the good news of grace, or favour, by which man may be released from the condemnation of sin, and enabled to render acceptable obedience to the law.” Bible echo

Anyone see Jesus, cross, and something apart from law on that one?

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This article gets me thinking that we would be better off sticking with the Galatians text, and what Paul was saying within its real life context, rather than the confusing morass of theological musings that have arisen from within the landscape of Adventism on righteousness by faith, the law, sin, perfection, etc. Most of these seem like blind alleys, having nothing to do with what Paul was talking about.

Paul’s emphasis on righteousness in this letter was not primarily about the interior state of the individual, nor his or her legal standing with God, nor the combining or demarcation of personal justification and sanctification…all modern Adventist preoccupations that reflect a western hyper-individualistic outlook. His letter was written to a community. A largely Gentile community of Christ followers that was caving into pressure to revert to life under Jewish Torah, as exemplified by the initiation rite of circumcision. False teachers had come into their midst, telling them that the only way to be part of YHWH’s covenant community, to complete what Christ had begun among them, and to be fully set right with God, was to undergo circumcision as the sign that they would become Torah/law observant proselytes.

To this, Paul answered a resounding no! And, it is in this context that he articulated what it means to be justified/ set into right covenant relationship with God, fully welcomed into his community. It was not by deeds of Law/Torah observance, with its outward ritual markers, but by the faithful, liberating work of the Messiah Jesus, his faithfulness that elicited their faith in him, that they were counted as God’s people…set right/justified. It is this alone that Paul says was sufficient to make them into God’s newly united creation, and was also sufficient to sustain them as his new creation… where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one, in Christ Jesus. It was this alone that brought the Spirit into their midst, working miracles, most notably the miracle of former enemies sitting in fellowship at the same table in Christ… a faith in him that issued forth in this type of inclusive love.

To try to add Law/Torah observance to this as the requirement for full membership was to rebuild walls of religious and social bigotry and division that the gospel, Paul, and even the Galatians themselves, had already torn down. It was, in short, to revert to the old life and order of the flesh. The Law, in this sense, with its multiple commands, rituals, and regulations to be observed, and its divisive power to mark who was in and who was out, was on the side of the flesh. It could never be added though the back door as an addendum to the faithful act of God in Christ, to his liberating power from the flesh, and to faith in him alone. The Law, in this sense, could only enslave its adherents, and pronounce a curse, on the non observant and observant alike.

However, the Law, in the hands of Christ is transformed into a different order of things. It is to simply bear one another’s burdens, a solidarity of the broken yet redeemed, in genuine neighbor love, as Christ himself displayed and brought it to its completion through his own faithful, self giving love.

Thus, Paul’s gospel truly rendered the Law/Torah as unnecessary, not only for Gentiles, but for Jews as well who had come to faith in Christ, and to his New Covenant community. No wonder why he was vilified, misunderstood, hunted, and persecuted. This was a seismic shift under a millennium of religious world view and practice! The Messiah had come, the banquet was on, get out of the kitchen and quibbling in there over the cookbook!

In our own contemporary way, it seems that we’re still good at pointing people to quibbling back in the kitchen, as well. This article reveals such. We argue over theological terms, especially the role of Law in the life of believers, not even realizing that we come closer in spirit to Paul’s opponents, while claiming to uphold his gospel. We cherry pick food laws and holy time from the Torah Covenant, as well as doctrinal esoterica as the signs of belonging, setting ourselves apart from all other Christians, and bitterly dividing amongst ourselves on these bases. We seem to not get that because of this, Adventism ends up sounding like the very ones Paul was fighting in Antioch and Galatia.

For Adventism and its self identity, Paul’s gospel and what it implies, especially in Galatians, would also represent a seismic shift if it were embraced. Judging by this quarterly and the themes of this article, it seems we’d rather hold it at arms length.




Indeed we are, Harry! Indeed we are!


I enjoyed your description of the Law and the contrast of life in the Spirit. I would add that Paul is equating law and righteousness with covenant and belonging. The Torah, as signified by circumcision, as you said, marked out who belonged to the people of God, and who didn’t for a millennium. Paul was saying that this no longer was what determined such covenantal status. Being made right with God, and belonging to him was no longer, and in Paul’s thinking never truly was, a matter of adherence and fidelity to the Torah, but was all about faith in God as first seen in Abraham before his circumcision, and belonging to Christ Jesus regardless of it, and by extension, the Torah . This is what not only created transformed individuals, it is what created the new covenant community, God’s new creation of Jew and Gentile equally welcomed by God… there was no distinction.

Law/Torah as covenant, with its multitude of commands and identifying markers such as circumcision, kashrut, and holy times, could never be added as requirements through the back door to faith in Christ, precisely because of what Paul argues in Galatians. It creates divisions that have been torn down, and it makes belonging and salvation dependent upon it, rather than on faith in Christ alone. In its own way this is what Adventism does. It adds conditions of law to faith that are foreign to Paul’s gospel, and creates division and exclusivity based on those markers.

How Paul spoke of the Spirit guiding the community was never based on law in the way Adventism conceives it. In his letters, it was more fluidly based on the principle of self giving love as modeled by Christ giving himself for us. This is the fruit that the Spirit would bear through those belonging to Christ… against such there is no law.


GvDavid Trims interesting article as do most of the observations on it are conserned with definitions which are helpful and are appreciated.
However I personally find all these irritating, how is it that such a fundamental teaching and its meaning creates such concern within the church and this after over a hundred years discussing it?
There are two points which can be helpful in resolving this obviously problem matter for many members.
Justification or righteousness is an experience not some theological construct. It comes from an act of faith and associated with repentance as such it destroys all other means or ways to be righteous.
In Luke17:7-10 Jesus pointed out not good works have merit when we perform them we are only doing what is required is us,
It appears to me and I may be in error but Seventh-day Adventist are afraid to preach the teaching on justification for fear of appearing to downgrade the Law of God. This began in the 1888s and has plagu d us ever since.


There is one simple truth that Galatians teaches. Under the new covenant of grace we are not under the law. We are led by the Spirit.

It’s the Holy Spirit who pours the love of God into our new hearts that we received when we were born again through His power. And so Christ, through the Holy Spirit, lives in us as our constant guide, source of power and righteousness. It’s His resurrection life that is ours by grace through faith in His finished work. It’s loving one another as Christ loved us, especially revealed when He gave everything to redeem us and rose again to share His divine love with us.

Christ is our all and in all. This is the simple gospel truth of grace apart from law.


Thank you for that. I’ve written it in my bible, am taping it to my bathroom mirror and will be quoting it in my SS class. Hopefully it will help In overcoming my legalistic upbringing!

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Could I ask you a question. What do you understand the apostle Paul to mean
When he uses the expression Not under the Law?

Frank, I love your post. I drafted the following post before I read yours. We’re on the same page:

When the Bible speaks of “the law” it is referring to Part 1 of the Hebrew Bible, the “Torah”. “WHO has bewitched you Gentile Christians to put yourselves under the law by obeying its commandment to be circumcised?!” Paul knows who, and we know who if we have studied Acts 15.

The three parts of the Hebrew Bible are “The Torah” (“law” in English), “The Prophets” and “The Writings”. Anyone who submits to obedience to the Torah/law is trading in justification by faith for obsolete Judaism. No wonder Paul was so upset.

Paul tells the Galatians that Judaism was given to Israel, nobody else, to discipline them until Jesus, the Promised Seed arrived. And that the law’s imprisonment/slavery had been superseded by the Spirit/faith even for them:

“Now before faith came, we [Hebrews] were held captive UNDER THE LAW, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was OUR [not your] guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we [Hebrews] are no longer under a guardian.” (Gal 3:21-23)

He evidently preached the same expiration to Jewish Christians. (See Acts 21}

Early Catholics decided to change the law (sound familiar?) by fracturing it into so-called “moral” and “ceremonial” laws (sound familiar?) that have confused Christians ever since.
When we read “the law” in the Bible, it always means the Torah with its 613 commandments (mizvot). The ten commandments are never called, law period. Few Adventists realize that the term ten commandments is never mentioned again after the Israelites leave Sinai. The commandments that Jesus gave should be obeyed, of course, but not the Law/Torah.

I think that our acceptance of the Catholic “moral law” and “ceremonial law” have made Paul’s message to the Galatians inaccessible. What a tragedy


Wow! Your writing and response to this article was superb! Thank you for highlighting one of my favorite verses of scripture, Nehemiah 8:8.
gideonjrn said in his response to the article:
“Pastors need to have NEH 8:8 tattooed on both hands…
“By the way , did you read Neh 8:8?”
“It seems that you didn’t understand why I posted Neh 8:8.” (Etc.)
From the NIV the verse is surprisingly simple and yet so eloquent.

*Nehemiah 8:8 “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” (New International Version)

I love the emphasis and importance gideonjrn gave this verse because it makes the problem and solution of what is a major crisis in our church. We do not have worship or study time outside of church services on Sabbath as we need to. Church members do not study the daily lesson and often the teachers who teach are waxing eloquent on pet themes that are biased and end up confusing the few students who listen. What passes as an “Adult Sabbath School Lesson Study” is a misnomer, a sad myth.
There are still some people who come to church with reverence for God and His Word, saying, “God, teach me! I want to know You more!” They are ready to respond to the Word. They profit from the teaching. These people have real needs that they feel deeply. Others come to the same service with sin in their hearts that they don’t want to deal with. They are turned off by the very same message that helps others to grow. If you want spiritual renewal, check your heart. It comes when responsive hearts read and reverently hear God’s Word faithfully proclaimed. Much of the Bible is plain to anyone who can read. We need to emphasize Bible Study. When was the last time you heard a sermon on HOW to study the Bible or a series of meetings on how to learn from scripture. So many are just reading when they should be studying the word of God. Study is an all out effort to learn. True learning takes place when there is a change in behavior. As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, it wasn’t the sections of the Bible that he couldn’t understand that bothered him. It was the parts that he could understand that troubled him! But there are some sections of Scripture that are difficult to grasp and so God has given all His people the promise of understanding and applying His Word to their lives. Also, we are blessed with many excellent study tools to help us learn the Word in times of personal study: study Bibles, Bible handbooks, word study books, commentaries, Bible encyclopedias, and theological books.Teaching the Bible through the ministry of the Sabbath School is a great honor and a solemn responsibility. Lessons are designed to be talked and discussed, not read to class, and they are designed for Bible study before, during and after the Sabbath School class.


Patrick,from my understanding it means that we do not live our lives by trying to obey a set of ten commandments which is the law as defined by Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. As I understand Paul in Galatians, the law includes the book of the law which many Jews itemise as 613 laws. Circumcision in Galatians infers this total OT law.

Law requires a knowledge of right and wrong and demands punishment when the wrong choice is made ie when the law is broken. I think we can accept that Christ is the only human who has ever kept the law, the only one without sin. We know that nobody can be justified by law keeping. Neither can we be sanctified by law keeping, nor glorified.

What I missed for most of my life is that there is an alternative to trying to obey the law. It’s living by the Spirit.

Paul’s answer starts with the new birth that is described so well in Ephesians 4:22-24. The new birth by the Holy Spirit is the means by which we lay aside our old self and we are renewed in the spirit of our mind which is to put on the new self. All this of course is a new creation by the Holy Spirit. The new self is created in the likeness of God. It has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. I’m still trying to comprehend the magnitude of this statement by Paul. I missed for more than 70 years of my life, much to my sorrow.

On the basis of this new creation the Holy Spirit lives in us, in the new heart that He has created in us.

How then do we live? Christ lives in us by His Holy Spirit. In this way it is God Himself in us, guiding us, teaching us, warning us every step of the way if only we are willing to listen to His promptings as we should.

However, we still have sin lurking in the flesh, in our minds, emotions, old habits and human survival mechanisms. We sin but it is against our new nature. We are no longer slaves to sin even though we blow it way too often. We are forgiven and we are new creations.

My question is this. Where does our righteousness come from? Does it come from our efforts to keep the law or from the power of Christ who dwells in us? I opt for Christ in me. I believe this results in a life of obedience to God that far transcends any attempt at law keeping. Paul was not one to mix the two.

This does not abolish the law. Paul didn’t abolish the law as it has its work but he put it in its lawful place. It’s not for the righteous because all it can do for us is condemn us and in Christ there is no condemnation. (1 Tim 1:8 and Rom 8:1) Beyond that it’s powerless so why go back to a life of ten commandment law keeping after we are justified when there’s a far superior alternative for righteous living?

We live by the Spirit. Then and only then can Christ put His perfect righteousness into our human spirit, into our heart. We learn to live in His power and grow in His grace.


Thanks for your answer. I appreciate your understanding of righteousness by faith. However allI was interested in was a short answer as to how you understand his use of the term in Galatians.
Many thanks

Today, Adventists are fractured, when it comes to their ideas on Salvation. Walter Martin was instrumental in causing the Adventist to question his own beliefs. I find that quite surprising. His rationale was not that impressive, but his mannerism seems to have done the bulk of the confusion which proliferated among us.

The greatest change from before Walter Martin to our time was the promotion of the idea of Grace. The Adventist did not have that word “Grace” as a central member of his soteriology. Nevertheless, Grace took over our former views and we forgot where we came from. It suddenly became more important for us to affirm Grace as something we too believe in, at the cost of slighting God’s grand and simple plan of Salvation balanced in Justification and Sanctification. What no one saw was that Grace was positioned to collide with God’s Mercy. Coming to God to ask for forgiveness was no longer an imperative because Grace appeared to be more efficient. Grace, in the Evangelical world is promoted as a gift “Once obtained always remained.”

Imperceptibly, though the Adventists do not much like the “Once saved always saved” maxim, God’s mercy sank to a position of lesser value when Grace came in with the Evangelical apologetics. Why pray for forgiveness every day when all we need is God’s Grace to absolve all our past, present and future sins? Grace, therefore, is positioned to replace not only Mercy or Justification, but in turn it collides with Sanctification. Justification was meant to take care of sins from the past and present, while Sanctification deals with preventing future sins.

The shattered fracture of the Adventist hip bone, herewith, left the lay person confused. Should I pray every day for God to forgive my present sins or not? Daniel prayed 3 times a day! Yet, Grace seems to cover everything, past present and future sins. In the Evangelical world, Grace is couched in God’s tolerance of sins, be they sins of the past, present or future. Grace is seldom called “tolerance”, but it implies God’s tolerance of sin, when all the tickets are counted in its apologetics. It subtly annuls what is accomplished in God’s plan of removing sin from man via Justification and Sanctification within God’s Sanctuary, and the proof in the pudding.

The Grace theology is carefully laid in the nexus of man’s belief in his own inability to improve on his own in the slightest bit. The fact that random actions of goodness take place every day and everywhere does not really matter. They do not confuse the self-deprecations of the faithful believer in his own depravity. We are wholly unworthy and unable to please God. That belief is final and more important than God’s Law in this novel Soteriology.

In the mean while God says in His Word that He is can be pleased by those who make an effort.

  • Isa_56:4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;

Contrary to popular opinion, it would appear that God can be pleased with those who love and obey Him. And that puts the nexus of the Evangelical Grace in a very questionable position. It makes us ask ourselves, and the first time for many, “What is Grace, really?” Is it the cure for sin or is it just another placebo? Could Grace be something bad? What is the real nature of Grace?

Evangelicals render Grace as a time element which begins once the Savior came down and they use John’s words to justify it as a phase in time in contrast to the Old Testament time.

  • Joh_1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

Yet, Grace existed in the OT era and it was expressed in a most enlightening way by none other than God.

  • Exo 34:6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
  • Exo 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

So, Grace existed way back then and likely from the beginning of time, integral in the heart of God. So misconstruing John’s comment is not going to play as a factor in figuring this out. What is troublesome is that God mentions Grace along with Mercy in Exodus 34:6-7. That tells us that Grace is not the same idea as Mercy, else there would be no need to use both terms.

So, let’s briefly study this concept of Grace which is so poorly understood. A gracious host will entertain a questionable stranger, giving him of his own time to make an acquaintance. That would be a gracious favor. And even if the new acquaintance makes a disturbance, a gracious host will be gracious and tolerate the disturbance and possible damage which may take place during the meeting. But a gracious host does not have to forgive. Forgiveness does not come along on wings of obligation. It comes along for consideration along with the repentance of the transgressor.

With that in mind, we need to tune into the nature of Grace and not confuse it with Mercy or Justification. Grace is important. Without it people would kill each other on sight. We therefore conclude that there is nothing really wrong with Grace. It has a function, but it is not Mercy and we must try to Emulate God’s own imparted distinction between these two attributes of God. Our arguments must not employ antagonistic ideas to what God has established.

So much for the conflict between Grace and Mercy… The second collision of Grace is with Sanctification. Sanctification is associated with the Holy Spirit and it implies the function of the Holy Spirit as one of a counselor or mentor. So, let’s ask, “Why do people need a mentor or counselor when Grace covers all sins, past present and future?” The Evangelical battle cry is “There is no need for man’s effort because man cannot attain to perfection no matter how hard he tries.” And that notion is one on which the Savior elaborated upon with great success. He told a parable about a man issuing talents to three servants. Two servants were rewarded for their exceeding success. And at the end of the story we read about one servant having done nothing to improve on the talent entrusted to him.

The interesting part is that while the others doubled the master’s money, the third one simply made no improvement on the one talent given him. But he was good enough to give the talent back. Nevertheless, the Master was very displeased. And he revealed that he would have been happy if that unprofitable servant would have gained only a small percentage, never mind doubling his share.

In the realm of Sanctification, if we do not make any self-motivated improvement of character, we will be like the unprofitable servant.

Does God DEMAND perfection from us? The Talent parable gives you the answer. And in this parable we discover that we cannot be saved by Justification alone. However, the improvement, being greater than nothing, must come from the spirit of man. Effort is man’s obligation even if man does not reach perfection. There will be time in the Millennium and the New Earth to attain to perfection…

The Spirit of God is not commissioned to do our part of the work, either in willing or doing. It is the work of the human agent to co-operate with divine agencies. As soon as we incline our will to harmonise with God’s will, the grace of Christ is supplied to co-operate with our resolve. But it is not to be a substitute to do our work, to work in spite of our resolutions and actions. Therefore our success in the Christian life will not be because of an abundance of light and evidence, but will depend upon our acceptation of the light given, upon the rousing of the energies, and operating with the heavenly ministers appointed of God to work for the salvation of the soul. ST FEB.12,1894 EGW