Understanding Law and grace - Why Adventists keep the Law and the Sabbath
The doctrine of law and grace is misunderstood by many Christians today. There are two groups; one - those that say that ‘Salvation is by grace and grace alone and Christians are no longer required to keep the law’; and two - those that say, ‘Salvation is by grace, but Christians are still required to obey God’s Law’.
Many people however misunderstand the second group and think that it says ‘Salvation is by grace, but grace comes only if you obey God’s Law’
By the word ‘law’, those who say that Christians are no longer required to keep the law’, actually refer to the law of the ‘Sabbath’ and ‘some laws on food and drink’.
This confusion comes from the understanding of Paul’s writings to the Galatians. Many believe that Paul’s teaching on grace means that obeying God’s law is no longer required.
To understand this issue better, you need to understand what sin is; what the law is; the role of grace and faith; and the process of salvation.
1. What is sin?
Sin is the transgression of the law, i.e. breaking the law. 1 John 3:4: “Sin is the transgression of the law”.
If sin is breaking the law, it means that without law there is no sin. So, if you say that there is no law any longer after the cross, it means that there are no sinners! Which is untrue.
Sin is also defined as unbelief (in God), disobedience or rebellion against God for which we are all born under since our first parents Adam & Eve condemnation.
2. What is grace?
Grace is God’s benevolent kindness that is given based upon His goodness without regard to the worthiness of the recipient.
Grace is God choosing to save and bless us rather than destroy us as our sin deserves.
Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves.”
The only way any of us can enter into a relationship with God is because of His grace toward us. Grace began in the Garden of Eden when God killed an animal to cover the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). He could have killed the first humans right there and then for their disobedience. But rather than destroy them, He chose to make a way for them to be right with Him. That pattern of grace continued throughout the Old Testament when God instituted blood sacrifices as a means to atone for sinful men (Leviticus 16).
It was not the physical blood of those sacrifices, that cleansed sinners; it was the grace of God that forgave those who trusted in Him and demonstrated their Faith by sacrificing those animals. Sinful men showed their faith by offering the sacrifices that God required.
God shows both mercy and grace, but they are not the same. Mercy withholds a punishment we deserve; grace gives pardon and blessing we don't deserve.
In mercy, God chose to cancel our sin debt by sacrificing His Perfect Son in our place (Titus 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But He goes even further than mercy and extends grace to His enemies (Romans 5:10). He offers us forgiveness (Hebrews 8:12; Ephesians 1:7), reconciliation (Colossians 1:19-20), abundant life (John 10:10), eternal treasure (Luke 12:33), His Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), and a place in heaven with Him some day (John 3:16-18), when we accept His offer and place our faith in His sacrifice.
3. What is the purpose of the law?
God’s law (including the Sabbath) did not start at Sinai in Exodus 20, it started at creation, when God created the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2) and when God instructed Adam & Eve not to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:3)
God’s law serves three purposes, firstly to maintain order and harmony in His kingdom. Secondly, for the citizens of God’s Kingdom to prove their obedience and loyalty to Him ant thirdly, to show direction or standard.
a. To Maintain order and harmony in his kingdom
The universe, including the earth is God’s household. We are His family. His laws are the household rules for His children’s behaviour. Keeping His laws does not make us His children. We become His children by believing in Him as explained in process of salvation. Keeping the law of God is simple being a law-abiding child of God. It doesn’t earn you favours with God but it makes you an obedient child who appreciated the mercy and grace of being pardoned from previous misbehaviours and does not want to continue misbehaving.
Any peaceful society expects its citizens to be law-abiding. A person who rejects and refuses to submit to law is considered a criminal!
Obedience to God’s law creates harmony.
It is the second part of God’s ten commandments (5-10) that caters for this peace among the citizens of the Kingdom. Jesus summaries the law into two
Mark 12:30-31 (NIV) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Note that Jesus was quoting from the Old testament.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (NKJV) “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
NOTE that Jesus has added ‘love your neighbour’. Again, this emphasises that Jesus taught observance of the law and was even stricter. But He added the spirit and meaning of the law rather than robotic obedience like the Pharisees.
b. To point to God’s standard.
The Law was not evil. It served as a mirror to reveal the condition of a person’s heart against God’s standard.
Romans 7:7 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.”
God has a standard and he expects perfection from His people. Matthew 5:48 (NIV) “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
Of course, we often fail, and when we do, by Faith we ask for forgiveness He, by His Grace forgives us and He declares us perfect (clean slate) to start afresh and hopefully not to stain again by braking the law.
Do you see where Grace comes in. We need Grace because we have broken the law. So, the law is still very much binding.
c. To prove obedience and loyalty to God
The law is also used prove obedience and loyalty to God. Think of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. From human point of view, it was not harmful but just a test of Faith and obedience.
So is the law of the Sabbath. It is not harmful, nor does it affect others. But God said, ‘keep it holy’. It is a reminder of creation, a sign that you are His and a demonstration of Faith.
Exodus 31:17 (NIV) It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”
Exodus 31:17 “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.
4. So, what does Paul mean that we are no longer under the law.
In the Bible, “the law,” refers to two sets of laws that God gave to Moses; one the Ten Commandments and two, the ordinances: - the civil, ceremonial, and moral laws that governed the Israel nation and set them apart from other nations.
To make Israel appreciate God and remain faithful to Him, God designed reminders of how He saved them from slavery in Egypt and led them to the promised land. These included many ‘sabbaths’ and rituals (sacrifices and feasts). These laws and rituals were reminders of the promise of the Messiah, but some were health laws (laws on food, handling diseases and corpses, etc) some were meant to distinguish them from other nations (circumcision).
It is important to NOTE that these laws did not save the Israelites. They were object lessons about the plan of salvation as well as a demonstration of faith and obedience to God and a sign that they were His people. There was NO salvation in them.
When Paul talks about the law that that has been done away with by the death of Jesus, he refers to these the ordinances: - the civil, ceremonial, and moral laws and rituals that pointed to the cross.
5. What Jesus taught about the law
Paul is not talking about the ten commandments because Jesus enlarged God’s ten commandments.
Jesus went beyond the act of sinning to the mere thought about the sin (the mind: - when sin germinates from) and He suggested drastic measures to avoid sin.
Matthew 5:27-30 (ESV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
If Jesus said you should cut off your hand if it causes you to sin, how then would He also say that you don’t have to keep the law since sinning is transgressing the law. What would you be breaking if you are not bound by it the law? Or, how could Paul change that? Can man change what God has instructed?
On another occasion Jesus told a young man, who was seeking the way to eternal life, “……... If you will enter life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)
Jesus also clearly reveals the importance of the law when an adulterous woman was dragged before Him to see if He would condemn her to death as the was demanded by the law death by stoning (John 8:1-11). After writing on the ground, Jesus asked those men that “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.
They all left without stoning her, then Jesus, the only One who truly was sinless, did not condemn her either, instead he told her. “Go and sin no more,” (John 8:11). In other words, “go and keep the law, or stop breaking the law”
He did not say to the woman that she was free to carry on as before, as if she hadn’t been pardoned. He wanted her to change her way of living.
6. The process of salvation
In brief and simply, after being convicted of sins (unbelief, rebelliousness and breaking of the law), the sinner must by Faith confess their sins and repent. God by his Grace and Mercy forgives the sinner, declares him/her righteous (justification) and spares him/her from eternal punishment and offers them eternal life (redemption promise). God then sets the sinner apart as His (sanctification), and finally when Jesus comes, He will take the saved to Heaven (glorification)
Once a sinner is saved and becomes God’s child, a citizen of God’s Kingdom, a saint, a holy person (set apart), they are expected to live by God’s standard. A new life. They are dead in sin and now they are a new person. Christ lives in them not sin.
This is where the keeping of the law comes in. God expects believers to live by His Commandments, not to earn salvation by to respect Him, to honour and glorify him in their bodies which are now His temple by the indwelling of The Holy spirit. And to live harmoniously with the rest of the body of Christ, his church and to be an example to those who do not believe who live in lawlessness. As the light of the world and the salt of the earth, your perfect life in Christ, will influence them to come to the light.
Like said before, some of the commandments are for our good, like health laws and laws to live in peace with each other and the consequences of breaking them are obvious, but some of the commandments do not make sense to the human mind, but God has commanded us to observe them to demonstrate our faith, not in fear of immediate earthly consequences.
Everyone (or most people) including sinners, agree on many of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:12-17) that pertain to human relations, safety and health. Many keep them. So, if Christians only keep the same laws, there will be no difference whether they keep these laws in fear of God or in fear on earthly consequences. It is only those laws like the first four (Exodus 20:2-11), including the Sabbath, that pertain to God, that will be a sign that one is saved, and he/she is a child of God.
- The book of Galatians counters the mistaken thinking that salvation could be earned through some legalistic formula. It was this that Paul was addressing, not an argument whether a believer was required to keep God’s law or not. It was how are we saved.
- In the book of Galatians Paul also denounces some sacrificial, ceremonial and civil and ritual laws that were definitely abolished Christ’s death.
- The clear truth of Scripture is that it is law and grace, NOT law or grace.
- We are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). The keeping of the Law cannot save anyone (Romans 3:20; Titus 3:5).
- The purpose of the Law is, basically, to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Once we are saved, God desires to glorify Himself through our good works (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, good works follow salvation; they do not precede it.
- There is a world of difference between thinking that salvation can be earned by keeping a set of rules (legalism), and the fact that those who receive salvation must live by God’s rules (law-abiding).