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Exposing Adventism - Adventism's Righteousness by Faith

Seventh-day Adventists speak the same words as other Protestant Christians, but don’t always mean the same things by these words. Righteousness by faith is a good example. Protestants have consistently used this phrase to indicate that we are counted as righteous because of our acceptance through faith of Christ’s righteousness (Romans 4). Seventh-day Adventists expand the meaning by teaching that, through continued faith, God makes us into righteous people. In order to actual be righteous, rather than just being counted as righteous, we must become perfectly righteous just as Christ was. Seventh-day Adventists acknowledge and even tout this teaching. In defending this doctrine, Seventh-day Adventists routinely point to texts about sanctification and the fruits of the Spirit. Those who challenges Seventh-day Adventist teaching are routinely accused of “loving sin”.

Scripture is clear that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers leads to fruits that are evident (Gal 5:22-23, Col 3:12-15, James 2:9-17), particularly in the way we treat each other. At the same time Scripture is equally clear that converted believers are not perfect (Eccl 7:20, Rom 7:14-25, I John 1:6-10, James 3:2) in their own behavior, but are considered perfect because of Christ. We will not become righteous until the day in which we are all changed (1 Cor 15:42-53). Acknowledging our sinful flesh does not causes us to cherish or love sin because the indwelling Holy Spirit is at working changing our hearts. This is why Paul can say that his inner self delights in the law of God (Rom 7 again). Instead by acknowledging our inability to be sufficiently righteous we are continually and repeatedly drawn to the foot of the cross and the grace that is freely offered in Christ. Continually experiencing this grace fills us with joy (John 16:20-22) and encourages us to share this kind of love with others (Luke 7: 47, Matt 18:21-35)

Seventh-day Adventists will frequently accuse those who disagree with them of denying the existence of sanctification. The disagreement is not whether God changes those who believe in Him. The disagreement is whether these changes that He does in us are what QUALIFY us for heaven, or if that qualification has already occurred.

Seventh-day Adventists teach that sanctification is the process of God making us into righteous people who, therefore, are worthy of eternal life. However, it is only Christ's perfect life that is deserving of eternal reward. Sanctification occurs in those who have already been justified. God changes our hearts to be more like His heart, to hate sin rather than love sin. At the same time, we still live in sinful flesh and do not always act the way that we wish we would. For example, I haven’t murdered anyone this week, but I probably called someone an idiot, at least to myself, for cutting me off in traffic. And even if I didn’t call anyone an idiot this week, when I compare my love for others with Christ’s love, I know that I have not loved as He loved. The powerful story of grace is that God continues to love me in spite of this. None of us deserve salvation, no matter how much sanctification occurs in our lives we must still rely on the totally undeserved gift of justification.

Sanctification is not a next phase, or another step, in salvation, because we rely only on justification as our basis for eternal life. All of the changes that happen in our own lives (sanctification) and all of the fruits that are produced are still less than perfect so we always need the gift of justification. Justification doesn't negate sanctification, justification doesn't make us love sin. Knowing our need for God's continued grace is critical in being great ambassadors of that grace with others. We can be good tour guides because we know it well.

Our personal knowledge of grace and our enthusiasm to share this grace fits well with Eph 2:6-10. God has great things in mind for us in sharing His love with the world. These “things” never earn us the gift, nor re-pay the gift. If we needed to repay the gift, it would no longer be a gift, but a loan or a payroll advance for the work that we would do. But those who have experienced Christ's love are motivated to share it. The motivation to share Christ and to physically help others, not that these are two different things, can never come from reading texts that these are important things to do if you are a Christian. They come about as an outgrowth of experiencing God's love for us. Doing these because we read about them is just another form of legalism. If I never felt this need to share His love, I need to look to my experience of His love in the first place.

Christ pointed to two great commandments: loving God with all your heart and loving others/neighbors/enemies. When Christ speaks of keeping “My commandments”, Seventh-day Adventist want to focus on the stone tablets rather than Christ’s teachings during His incarnation. Perhaps this is because it is much easier to verify that we and others are obeying the commandments written in than it is to obey the command to love AS CHRIST LOVED US. Seventh-day Adventists frequently take the command to love others and soften its meaning by saying that is just a summary of the last 6 commandments. Clearly someone who continually practices love for others, including their enemies, would not be breaking these commandments. But who could argue that there are not far more things that a loving person would be doing than are just listed here? In the parable of the good Samaritan, the two who passed by didn’t break any of the ten commandments, but they didn’t display love and compassion for others. Seventh-day Adventists teach that the 2 greatest commandments are simply summaries of the eternal law contained on the stone tablets. Instead the stone tablets should be seen as specific examples of the eternal 2 great commands.

Perfect obedience would also require that we consistently and continually act with exactly the same amount of love that Jesus has shown. There is nothing to suggest that anything less than total and perfect obedience in all ways is acceptable in God's judgment. Most protestants and evangelicals emphasizes that our salvation is based on the perfect obedience of the One (Rom 5:19-21) and our acknowledgement that we fall short (Rom 3:23; I Tim 1:15) and continue to need that grace. Seventh-day Adventists counter this teaching by noting the people in the Bible that were referred to as “blameless” suggesting that they had perfect obedience and so can we (Gen 6:9, Gen 17:1, Job 1:1, and Luke 1:6).

Noah is pronounced blameless, or righteous depending on the translation, before the flood. After the flood, his actions are not blameless (Gen 9:21). In Gen 17:1 Abraham is counted among the blameless and his name change occurs. Yet in Chapter 20 he again misleads a king about the relationship between he and Sarah. While it can be argued that he wasn't technically lying; nonetheless, his actions in this regard directly led another person into sin. That is hardly the action of a perfect person. OT Scripture demonstrates that "blameless" people still committed sinful acts. The most reasonable conclusion is that the status of being blameless is an imputed pronouncement ("reckoned") rather than a behavioral statement (Heb 11:6-19; Rom 4:1-11).

Paul considered himself to be the foremost among sinners (I Tim 1:15). He used the present tense indicating that he thought that was still his deserved status. One could hardly content that Paul’s actions were more sin-filled than those around him. The most reasonable conclusion seems to be that Paul says this because of his keen recognition of the gap between his own life and the perfectness of Christ. Paul didn’t make this statement because of his humility. Instead, he points to the need we have in recognizing our own imperfection so that we can appreciate the unwarranted grace that continues to be given to us.

Paul is clear that perfection is something that occurs in our future. He says that we are sown in dishonor and weakness (I Cor 15:43). This is clearly referring to the fact that until the total change that occurs with glorification, we are not perfect beings and that we all must be changed at that time in order to spend eternity with God.

Seventh-day Adventists contend, instead, that perfection happens through sanctification. That the power to live a perfect life is within each person’s grasp, by aligning their own will with God's will and by continually turning to God for the power. Therefore there is ultimately no reason why every Christian shouldn't be without sin. If any Christian does sin, it is because they have failed to align their will and rely on God. Seventh-day Adventists place a considerable emphasis on the life of Jesus as our example of how to live a perfect life, and our proof that it can be done. This emphasis stands, by its very nature, in direct opposition to the substitutionary role of Christ life. While some Seventh-day Adventists try to reconcile the two teachings, any mixing of these two only serves to dilute both positions.

For a Seventh-day Adventist the only assurance of salvation is to be perfectly obeying God and to have developed a spotless character worthy of acceptance for eternal life. The Seventh-day Adventist teaching is that our initial salvation (justification) from God is an unwarranted gift, but if we do not allow Jesus to make us perfect and sinless we are disqualified from that gift.

Scripture clearly teaches us that the righteousness of our behaviors continually falls short of the perfect righteousness of Christ and is therefore not sufficient to save us. We must continue to rely solely on God’s grace in order to justify us for salvation.

Ric_b - Posted on Monday, January 7, 2008

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DrPatti - Posted on Monday, January 7, 2008

In order to actual be righteous, rather than just being counted as righteous, we must become perfectly righteous just as Christ was. Seventh-day Adventists acknowledge and even tout this teaching.

The problem with legalism is clearly defined by those two statements.
THe SDA claim that we must become just like Jesus commits two fatal errors:

1. Uplifting humanity
Legalism elevates sinful humanity, ignoring and/or belittling the depths and pervasiveness of our sinful conditions.

2. Degrading the Righteousness of God
It debases Jesus and the perfect holiness of God, replacing it, instead, with a sort of moth-eaten "righteousness," equating our sporadic, half-hearted stabs at "law-keeping" with the infinite purity of the Spotless Lamb.

No matter what label it calls itself by, legalism always does these 2 things. Thus, Christian legalism is not really Christianity at all. It is merely a religious form of humanism and should be rightfully lumped with all of the other works-oriented world religions (including secular humanism).

In defending this doctrine, Seventh-day Adventists routinely point to texts about sanctification and the fruits of the Spirit. Those who challenges Seventh-day Adventist teaching are routinely accused of “loving sin”.

This is the one I see all too often. SDA's go on a rampage about "If you don't think the 10 commandments are in effect then it must be ok to steal and murder", as if that is how the Holy Spirit would lead those outside their belief system.

Kinda makes you wonder.
They always talk rather wistfully about being "free" to "go out" and steal, murder, commit adultery, etc... It is almost as is they are jealous of those who "get to" do those things.

Unless otherwise noted, all original material on this ExposingAdventism.com website is 2007-2008 by Gilbert Jorgensen. Careful effort has been made to give credit as clearly as possible to any specific material quoted or ideas extensively adapted from any one resource. Corrections and clarifications regarding citations for any source material are welcome, and will be promptly added to any sections which are found to be inadequately documented as to source.