Fundamental Belief Number 19 (Law of God)

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 Saviour. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but and its fruitage fruit 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 human beings. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness. (Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 28:1-14; Ps. 19:7-14; 40:7, 8; Matt. 5:17-20; 22:36-40; John 14:15; 15:7-10; Rom. 8:3, 4; Eph. 2:8-10; Heb. 8:8-10; 1 John 2:3; 5:3; Rev. 12:17; 14:12.)  (Ex. 20:1-17; Ps. 40:7, 8; Matt. 22:36-40; Deut. 28:1-14; Matt. 5:17-20; Heb. 8:8-10; John 15:7-10; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 John 5:3; Rom. 8:3, 4; Ps. 19:7-14.

 Only a few minor changes were made to FB 19 at the General Conference in San Antonio during the summer of 2015. Right in the middle was the statement: “Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience. . .” It was voted to replace “but” with “and” to express that obedience is complementary to grace, not in opposition to it. The word “fruitage” was changed to simply “fruit.” And in the next to last sentence, “men” was changed to “human beings” in harmony with a general attempt to use inclusive language wherever possible in the 28 Fundamentals.

Usually, when Seventh-day Adventists talk about the law of God in the Bible, they do it to defend the Sabbath, so the absence of Sabbath talk here is surprising until you realize that an entire Fundamental (number 20– Sabbath) will be dedicated to that topic next. Fundamental 19 is a more general exploration of the topic of obedience, followed by a more specific focus on the Sabbath.

While this Fundamental talks about the Holy Spirit and “fruit” in passing, there is no sustained reference to the fruit of the Spirit. The reason for that is the fact that this theme also has its own Fundamental (number 17—Spiritual Gifts and Ministries). The problem many people have with the SDA Fundamentals is the seeming lack of balance in many specific fundamentals. They are read most safely when looked at as a whole, as we are trying to do in this series of blogs.

Another seeming omission in this Fundamental is the absence of any reference to the ceremonial laws of ancient Israel. My immediate guess was that this topic would be handled by Fundamental 24 (Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary). But the ceremonial laws are not mentioned there either. The SDA Church apparently does not have an official position on either the ceremonial laws or the Jewish feasts, whether or not Adventist can or should keep them. In practice then, no harm is thought to be done if a member of the SDA Church chooses to celebrate Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles. Such a practice only becomes challenging when it is aggressively marketed to other Seventh-day Adventists as a divine obligation.

It is interesting that a fundamental on the Law of God would make no mention of Galatians 3. Galatians 3:19 tells us that “the law” was added because of transgressions. In other words, in a sinless world there would be no need for a written law. Such a law was given as an emergency measure because we needed it (PP364). At Loma Linda, Galatians 3:19 has played a major role in how law is viewed. Law is a very important guide to the mind of God, but it can be overplayed. While Matthew 5 is mentioned in the fundamental, Matthew 5 underlines the deeper principles that lie behind the law. Mere surface or slavish obedience is not what God delights in, it is a heart commitment to the principles behind the law that makes up true obedience. A related matter of importance can be found in Romans 8. There it tells us that the law isn’t everything, there are things that it cannot do, and those are the things God accomplished at the cross of Christ. The Adventist pioneers were truly on to something when they emphasized God’s law, but if taught outside the context of the cross and the gospel, it can make people “dry as the hills of Gilboa, which have neither dew or rain.”

An interesting omission in this fundamental regards the cultural significance of the law. The Reformers (particularly Calvin) talked about the three uses of the law. The law was useful to 1) restrain evil and motivate what is good in society, 2) lead sinners to Christ, and 3) serve as a guide to Christian behavior after conversion. The second and third uses of the law are strongly expressed in FB 19, but the social and cultural role of the law is not. The law of God has certainly played a very important role in all societies that have been strongly influenced by Christianity.

Matthew 22:36-40 is mentioned among the Bible texts and the fundamental speaks about “love for the Lord” and “concern for our fellow men.” Perhaps the theme of love to God and love to others is a bit more central to the teachings of Jesus than one might conclude from reading this statement. The New Testament concept of law seems broader and more positive than this. You can “obey” the negatives of the law, but that is only the beginning, obedience is much more than simply avoiding evil. It is easy for Sabbath-keepers to become more concerned with the exact time of sundown than how one behaves during the Sabbath hours. On the other hand, many Adventist rules and regulations provide helpful reminders of God in a distracting world and should not be lightly discarded.

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