by Preston Foster

As a denomination, Seventh-day Adventists may have, mistakenly, made a bad trade.  We have held on to the law while leaving grace on the table.  We give lip-service to grace, but the truth is we don’t trust it.  That leaves us holding onto the law and the Old Covenant.  We need something else.  We need the (original) New Deal.

Let’s go right to the point.

Within the body of Christ, we (Adventists) have adopted the role of protectors of God’s Holy Sabbath.  In anticipation of the prophesied final conflict between the image of the beast — those who enforce worship by tradition and those who worship the Creator God, we have grounded our position regarding the 7th day Sabbath in the presumption that Sabbath worship is ultimately ratified by God’s law, written in stone.  We, apparently, believe that we need the law to protect the 7th day Sabbath.

There is good reason to believe that the 7th day Sabbath needs protection.  Since the time of Constantine (at least), there has been, among Christians, confusion about what day the Sabbath is, along with the debate about whether the specific day matters at all.  The vast majority of Christians (including those who know that the 7th day is the Sabbath) observe Sunday out of tradition.  Although this is not to be a point of judgment from those who observe that Sabbath on those who do not, Adventists believe that, at the time immediately preceding the advent of Christ, it will matter — very much.

This law-based focus has led to a heavy emphasis on Sabbath-keeping as a sign of biblical enlightenment, commandment keeping, and as a point of differentiation.  To this day, in many Adventist churches, when prompted to repeat our “affirmation of faith,” the congregation responds, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy . . .”

Funny, I always thought our faith was grounded in John 3:16.  Really, it isn’t funny at all.  It is sad that we so easily discount the most important, act of love, ever.  For too many, the law has become the locus of their faith (Galatians 3:12).

What is more important, the tactic of establishing the true Sabbath by use of the Old Covenant law has led us to hold on to both covenants: the Old and the New.  From a theological and practical standpoint, that simply cannot work.

Christ’s life and death ushered in the New Covenant and ended the Old (Hebrews 10: 1, 8-10).  The New Covenant is defined by both the law of love and salvation by grace through faith.  The Old Covenant law remains, defining sin.  That law — “the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones” (2 Corinthians 3: 7) — applies to those who chose the way of the world and reject Christ.  We who are in Christ are, in the New Covenant, no longer under the law as we have, through His blood, taken on the righteousness of Christ, which was shed for the remission of our sins.  As such, the law does not apply to us (Galatians 4: 24-25, 28, 30-31).

When we hold on to both the Old and the New Covenants, we dilute the gospel.  Reliance on the law of the Old Covenant is dangerous and burdensome (Galatians 5:4).  It, effectively, nullifies Christ’s work on the cross and leads us to a dependence on our own works.   By holding on to the Old Covenant, we repeat history — the bad part of it.  Like the Pharisees, we seek righteousness through the law and (inadvertently) uphold Moses, not Christ (John 9: 27-28).

For the sake of the Sabbath, we hold on to the law. However, there are plenty of “law-free” reasons to keep the Sabbath.  The most obvious reason is that keeping the Sabbath is good for you (Mark 2:27, Hebrews 4:1).  Second, as the Sabbath precedes the 10 Commandments (Genesis 2:2-3), its observance is not tied to the either the viability or obsolescence of the law.  Another nontrivial point: Jesus kept the Sabbath — although he was continually at odds with the Pharisees about just what that meant (John 9:16 Mark 2: 24-28, Mark 3: 5-6, John 7: 19-24).  The New Testament specifies Christ’s intent for the continued observance of the 7th day Sabbath, even after His ascension (Hebrews 4: 4-10).  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the 7th day Sabbath is a constant reminder that the God, who created this earth in 6 days and rested on the seventh, is the only one worthy of worship (Revelation 14:7).  The Sabbath persists, without the need of laws engraved in stone.  So, Sabbath-keeping and the New Covenant are not a mixture of legalism and grace.

The New Covenant is the turning point in the spiritual history of mankind.

Christ’s purpose in His first advent was to live a spotless life — fulfilling the law (as no man had done, perfectly) and, then, to present himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Matthew 5: 17-18, Luke 24: 44, 46-47).  If we take Christ at His word, He came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it.  The fulfillment of the law completed the Old Covenant and paved the way for the new, perfect, blood-bought, eternal New Covenant.

The point of the New Covenant is to replace the Old (2 Corinthians 3: 6-7, 11, 13).  The New Covenant releases us from the death penalty of the written law, because it was impossible for sinful men, in their own power, to keep (Hebrews 12:20).  The New Covenant writes God’s law in our hearts and empowers the Holy Spirit to fulfill the law of love in us (Galatians 2:19-20, Galatians 3:14).  Under the New Covenant, even our commandment keeping is motivated by love (John 14:15).  In short, our good works are to be motivated by love and our shortcomings are covered by grace.

Ironically, the complete embrace of the New Covenant is the most conservative theological position, as it depends on the Bible to define what the Bible means.  Those who cite the writings of Ellen White as the basis of their interpretation of the Bible may, then, wish to consider her words, literally:

“But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms.”  TGC, page 595

"Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men satisfied with the light already received from God's word, rest there and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion…When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what." (5T pp. 706-707).

The tendency to mix both Old and New Covenants keeps us in the uncomfortable and unnecessary position of rationalizing positions that the Bible (in my opinion) clearly contradicts.  For example, the teaching that we, who accept Christ, are still subject to the law, is explicitly refuted in several Bible passages (Romans 2:19-25, Romans 3:19-24, Romans 6:14, Romans 10: 3-4, Galatians 5: 3-4, Galatians 6:14).  Some avoid and discount these passages, hoping against hope that they will not be read in context. If these texts are read, they are, too often interpreted with a bias toward the law and against grace.  Somehow, grace is positioned as a dangerous notion, to be taken in small doses only.  The “spin” used to protect the law drains both power from the gospel of grace and credibility from Adventism itself.  If we consider the possibility that these texts mean what they say, our world will be radically changed — for the better.

The New Covenant is good news.  It is irresistible (Hebrews 6: 4-5).  It is the light burden and the easy yoke (Matthew 11:29-30).  It depends on Him, not on us (Romans 5:17, Hebrews 9: 14-15). It is enacted through the Holy Spirit rather than by the works of the law.  It is eternal, paid by the blood of the Lamb of God (Hebrews 9: 12, 14-19, Hebrews 10: 9-10, 14).  It is simply better (Hebrews 8: 6-7).

The New Deal is liberating — and salvific (Romans 8: 2-4).  Who doesn’t want that deal?