Your article in the March 1988 issue of Ministry on The Subtle Deceptiveness of Salvation by Works' was, I fear, a clever piece of deceptiveness in itself. ... It is commonly known that Seventh-day Adventists frustrate the grace of God in their teaching concerning salvation. ... It is my belief that you write as you do in Ministry magazine to gain acceptability amongst evangelicals. . . . Why not be honest and the next time you write about salvation, tell your readers plainly what you believe?"
A man who pastors in a large Protestant denomination made these remarks in a letter addressed to me as the editor of Ministry. Naturally, with what they imply regarding my integrity, they hurt. And they reveal what Adventists have known for years--that many misunderstand our doctrines, confusing us with some of the cults that are prominent on the American religious scene.
There are reasons why Seventh-day Adventists are considered legalistic and cultish. Part of the responsibility for this misunderstanding is our own. Like many other denominations, the Seventh-day Adventist Church arose as a reform movement within Christianity, focusing attention on Christ's second advent and later the fourth commandment--which Christianity in general disregarded. Most of those who became Seventh-day Adventists were Christians who already believed in salvation through faith in Christ alone. So our early pioneers saw no particular need to preach this doctrine--they took it for granted.
The opposition experienced by early Adventists deepened this tendency. Permitting their opponents to set their agenda, Adventists often tend to emphasize their distinctive doctrines rather than an intimate fellowship with Jesus.
But part of the reason other Christians consider Seventh-day Adventists legalists is because they have failed to take a careful look at what Adventists teach. Too often people see with one eye and hear with one ear; through a superficial or biased approach their perception of Adventist beliefs is distorted.
The doctrines the Adventist Church has voted as comprising our fundamental beliefs make clear where we stand. Fundamental belief No. 9 reads: "In Christ's life of perfect obedience to God's will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life. . . . This perfect atonement. . . both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming."
Fundamental belief No. 10, "The Experience of Salvation," continues: "In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example. This, faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God's grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God's sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God's law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him, we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment."
We firmly believe that "the basis for this justification is, not our obedience, but Christ's, for 'through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. ... By one Man's obedience many will be made righteous' (Rom. 5:18, 19). He gives this obedience to those believers who are 'justified freely by His grace' (Rom. 3:24). 'Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us' (Titus 3:5)." 1
"Many wrongly believe that their standing before God depends on their good or bad deeds. Addressing the question of how persons are justified before God, Paul unequivocally stated that he 'suffered the loss of all things, . . . that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness... but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith'(Phil. 3:8, 9)." 2
Seventh-day Adventists believe that while the Ten Commandments point out sin, they do not save. "No deeds of the law, no effort however commendable, and no good works--whether they be many or few, sacrificial or not--can in any way justify the sinner (Titus 3:5; Rom. 3:20)." 3
Because the law is absolute and immutable, a death was required to pay the penalty imposed upon those who transgress it. This requirement Christ fully satisfied by His death on the cross, making eternal life available to all who accept His magnificent sacrifice. --J. Robert Spangler
1 Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . (Hagerstown,
Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1988),
p. 121. This book, published just this year, is an
exposition of Adventist doctrines intended for
both members of the Adventist Church and others
who are interested in understanding our teachings.
2 Ibid, pp. 121,122.
3 Questions on Doctrine (Washington, D.C.:
Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957), p. 142.