The Law and the New Covenant:

A Comparison of Ellen White and Scripture

by Joseph Rector


In the mid-1840s, the young prophetess Ellen Harmon reported seeing a vision of Christ’s Second Coming. In this vision, just before Christ is seen in the clouds of heaven, the world experiences a divine revelation. The Ten Commandments are shown as the standard which separates the people of God from those doomed to destruction. Specifically, the vision reveals that the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth commandment is the seal of God: 

“Then there appears against the sky a hand holding two tables of stone folded together. . . . That holy law, God's righteousness, that amid thunder and flame was proclaimed from Sinai as the guide of life, is now revealed to men as the rule of judgment. The hand opens the tables, and there are seen the precepts of the Decalogue, traced as with a pen of fire. The words are so plain that all can read them. Memory is aroused, the darkness of superstition and heresy is swept from every mind, and God's ten words, brief, comprehensive, and authoritative, are presented to the view of all the inhabitants of the earth. It is impossible to describe the horror and despair of those who have trampled upon God's holy requirements. The Lord gave them His law; they might have compared their characters with it and learned their defects while there was yet opportunity for repentance and reform; but in order to secure the favor of the world, they set aside its precepts and taught others to transgress. They have endeavored to compel God's people to profane His Sabbath. Now they are condemned by that law which they have despised. With awful distinctness they see that they are without excuse. They chose whom they would serve and worship. . . . The enemies of God's law, from the ministers down to the least among them, have a new conception of truth and duty. Too late they see that the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is the seal of the living God” (GC 639-40).

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded upon the ministry of Ellen G. White (Ellen Harmon’s married name). The Adventist Church currently presents itself as a gospel-oriented evangelical church, claiming to teach salvation by grace through faith alone. However, the Adventist Church remains highly law-centered due to the teachings of the prophetess Ellen White, leaving many Adventists confused regarding the gospel. According to Adventist theology, law-keeping is the required result of grace and faith; the believer who fails to keep the law fails due to lack of faith, thereby losing his or her salvation.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded upon the ministry of Ellen G. White (Ellen Harmon’s married name). The Adventist Church currently presents itself as a gospel-oriented evangelical church, claiming to teach salvation by grace through faith alone. However, the Adventist Church remains highly law-centered due to the teachings of the prophetess Ellen White, leaving many Adventists confused regarding the gospel. According to Adventist theology, law-keeping is the required result of grace and faith; the believer who fails to keep the law fails due to lack of faith, thereby losing his or her salvation.

Is salvation by grace through faith alone, completely apart from works, or is the salvation of believers judged by the Ten Commandments according to works? Is salvation obtained by faith but lost by a lack of works? 

Evangelicals are often confused by Adventist theology. At times, Adventists sound like solid evangelicals in their articulation of the gospel. But when pressed, Adventists are unwilling to repudiate statements of Ellen White regarding the salvational centrality of law and works in the lives of believers. For example, if an evangelical asks an Adventist if he or she is saved by grace through faith alone, apart from works, the Adventist will almost certainly answer affirmatively. But if the evangelical follows up by asking, “Do you have to keep the seventh-day Sabbath in order to be saved?” the Adventist will probably hedge away from the question. Suppose the evangelical presses a bit further: “Could you stop keeping the Sabbath and remain saved?” If the Adventist answers this question honestly, the answer will be “no.” The Adventist will then try to equate keeping the seventh-day Sabbath with faith, and failure to keep it with lack of faith, but Sabbath keeping is clearly a work of the fourth commandment of the law. Thus, law remains central to the Adventist gospel due to the teachings of Ellen White.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is comprised of many sincere, wonderful people. Most Adventists, including many highly educated Adventists, are quite unaware of what she actually taught. Therefore, I want to challenge all Adventists to show their love for God by carefully evaluating the teachings of Ellen White by our ultimate standard: the Bible. I plead with Adventists to explore what Ellen White really taught. Go beyond the quotations in sermons and the Sabbath School Quarterly. Thoroughly survey her writings, comparing each point to the Bible. 

Ellen White taught that the salvation of believers is judged by the law, and that salvation can be lost by failure to attain perfection in this life. Ellen White’s teaching is not salvation by grace through faith alone, completely apart from works. If works of the law (or lack of works) are the deciding factor in salvation, then salvation is really by works—not by faith alone. This article will show that Ellen White’s doctrine of salvation is a gospel of law and works. Ellen White was a legalist, and her writings must be repudiated before the Seventh-day Adventist Church can obtain biblical gospel clarity. 

Because the institutional Adventist Church and most of its members continue to hold that Ellen White is a prophetess of God, because they continue to sell the works of Ellen White (labeled “Spirit of Prophecy”) in Adventist Book Centers, and because they continue to cite Ellen White’s writings as spiritually authoritative, Adventists must be held accountable for the words of Ellen White. Her teachings continue to be the most authoritative representations of Adventism. Therefore, let’s take a look at the teachings of Ellen White regarding the role of law in the lives of believers. After surveying the teachings of Ellen White, we will compare what the Bible says about the law and the gospel.

Ellen White and the Law


How Does the Gospel Relate to the Law?

“The angel that proclaims the everlasting gospel proclaims the law of God; for the gospel of salvation brings men to obedience of the law, whereby their characters are formed after the divine similitude” (2SM 106).  

The gospel, according to Ellen White, is inextricably linked to proclaiming and obeying the law of God.


Is it Possible for Christians to Keep the Law of God?

“It was impossible for the sinner to keep the law of God, which was holy, just, and good; but this impossibility was removed by the impartation of the righteousness of Christ to the repenting, believing soul. The life and death of Christ in behalf of sinful man were for the purpose of restoring the sinner to God's favor, through imparting to him the righteousness that would meet the claims of the law and find acceptance with the Father” (FW 118). 

Not only is it possible to keep the law through the impartation of Christ’s strength, but it is also required, according to Ellen White (see below). 

Imparted righteousness means that Christ gives the sinner the power to be righteous. In a non-salvational sense, God does impart righteousness to the believer. God expects His people to grow in grace, and the only way to grow in grace is through the impartation of Christ’s righteousness. But, imparted righteousness must come after another form of righteousness—imputed righteousness, which is the righteousness of Christ credited to the believer.

Imparted righteousness focuses on becoming righteous like Christ, and for Ellen White, achieving imparted righteousness was a salvational requirement. However, salvation is based entirely upon imputed righteousness (see Rom. 4:1-8).  The word imputed means credited; therefore, the believer to whom Christ’s righteousness is imputed is credited with the righteousness of Christ. The believer is saved through imputed righteousness alone. 


What Is the Purpose of Grace?

“The covenant of grace was first made with man in Eden, when after the Fall, there was given a divine promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. To all men this covenant offered pardon, and the assisting grace of God for future obedience through faith in Christ. It also promised them eternal life on condition of fidelity to God's law. Thus the patriarchs received the hope of salvation” (FLB 77).  

“But it is ever the purpose of Satan to make void the law of God and to pervert the true meaning of the plan of salvation. Therefore he has originated the falsehood that the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary's cross was for the purpose of freeing men from the obligation of keeping the commandments of God. He has foisted upon the world the deception that God has abolished His constitution, thrown away His moral standard, and made void His holy and perfect law. . . .  Instead of proclaiming the abolition of the law, Calvary's cross proclaims in thunder tones its immutable and eternal character. Could the law have been abolished, and the government of heaven and earth and the unnumbered worlds of God maintained, Christ need not have died. The death of Christ was to forever settle the question of the validity of the law of Jehovah. Having suffered the full penalty for a guilty world, Jesus became the Mediator between God and man, to restore the repenting soul to favor with God by giving him grace to keep the law of the Most High” (FW 118-19).

According to Ellen White, grace is given for the purpose of enabling obedience to the law. At least in part, human beings are saved by grace through works.


What is the Purpose of Faith?

“God has set forth in His word the conditions upon which every soul will be elected to eternal life--obedience to His commandments, through faith in Christ. God has elected a character in harmony with His law, and anyone who shall reach the standard of His requirement will have an entrance into the kingdom of glory. . . . As regards man's final salvation, this is the only election brought to view in the word of God” (PP 207).  

“The law is the expression of His will, and it is through obedience to that law that God proposes to accept the children of men as His sons and daughters.... An infinite sacrifice has been made that the moral image of God may be restored to man, through willing obedience to all the commandments of God. Exceeding great is our salvation for ample provision has been made through the righteousness of Christ, that we may be pure, entire, wanting nothing.... If man will keep God's law through faith in Christ, the treasures of heaven will be at his disposal” (SD 45).  

Ellen White taught that faith results in obedience to all of the Ten Commandments. Obedience to the law is required for salvation.


Will Believers be Judged by the Law?

“In order to be prepared for the judgment, it is necessary that men should keep the law of God. That law will be the standard of character in the judgment” (GC 436).

Believers will be judged by the law, according to Mrs. Whitel; therefore, they must learn to keep the law perfectly (as will become clear below).


Are Believers Saved by Obedience to the Law (Essentially Faith Plus Works)?

“Each law of God is an enactment of mercy, love, and saving power. These laws, obeyed, are our life, our salvation, our happiness, our peace” (3SDABC 1153).

“By faith in Christ and obedience to the law of God we may be sanctified, and thus obtain fitness for the society of holy angels and the white-robed redeemed ones in the kingdom of glory” (SL 83).

“Obedience to the laws of God develops in man a beautiful character that is in harmony with all that is pure and holy and undefiled. In the life of such a man the message of the gospel of Christ is made clear. Accepting the mercy of Christ and His healing from the power of sin, he is brought into right relation with God. His life, cleansed from vanity and selfishness, is filled with the love of God. His daily obedience to the law of God obtains for him a character that assures him eternal life in the kingdom of God” (SD 42).  

“Obedience to the law is essential, not only to our salvation, but to our own happiness and the happiness of all with whom we are connected” (1SM 218).

“Those who go forth in the name of the Lord are His messengers to give to the multitudes who are in darkness and error the glad tidings of salvation through Christ in obeying the law of God” (6T 315).

“The conditions of salvation are ever the same. Life, eternal life, is for all who will obey God's law. . . .” (AG 136).

“Is this a matter hard to comprehend, that obedience on our part to all God’s law is absolutely essential to eternal life?” (CTr 77).

“The Bible declares that obedience to all God's commandments is essential to our salvation” (RH 11/9/1886).

“The ten commandments, Thou shalt, and Thou shalt not, are ten promises, assured to us if we render obedience to the law governing the universe. . . . Here is the sum and substance of the law of God. The terms of salvation for every son and daughter of Adam are here outlined. . . .” (OFC 205).

“Obedience to the law of ten commandments is the condition of salvation. This is God's positive requirement. The Bible declares that no one can truly love God and yet refuse to obey his law, after receiving light in regard to its immutability” (RH 5/3/1898).

“When the judgment shall sit, and the books shall be opened, and every man shall be judged according to the things written in the books, then the tables of stone, hidden by God until that day, will be presented before the world as the standard of righteousness. Then men and women will see that the prerequisite of their salvation is obedience to the perfect law of God. None will find excuse for sin. By the righteous principles of that law, men will receive their sentence of life or of death” (1SM 225).

Ellen White clearly taught that works are required for salvation and that believers will be judged by their obedience to the Ten Commandments.


What level of Obedience does the Law Require?

“Why cannot those who claim to understand the Scriptures, see that God's requirement under grace is just the same He made in Eden--perfect obedience to His law [sic]. In the judgment, God will ask those who profess to be Christians, Why did you claim to believe in My Son, and continue to transgress My law? Who required this at your hands--to trample upon My rules of righteousness? ‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.’ The gospel of the New Testament is not the Old Testament standard lowered to meet the sinner and save him in his sins. God requires of all His subjects obedience, entire obedience to all His commandments. He demands now as ever perfect righteousness as the only title to heaven. Christ is our hope and our refuge. His righteousness is imputed only to the obedient. Let us accept it through faith, that the Father shall find in us no sin. But those who have trampled on the holy law will have no right to claim that righteousness. O that we might view the immensity of the plan of salvation as obedient children to all God's requirements, believing that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, our atoning sacrifice!” (6SDABC 1072-73).

Clearly, Ellen G. White taught that only perfect righteousness is acceptable to God, and that perfect righteousness is defined as perfect obedience to the law. She goes so far as to say that Christ’s righteousness is only credited to the obedient. But if human beings could become obedient, would they need Christ’s righteousness? Many other EGW quotes could be shared upholding the notion that believers must keep the law perfectly, as character perfection is one of Ellen White’s most frequent themes.


Can a believer lose his or her salvation?

“When we lay hold of Christ by faith, our work has just begun.  Every man has corrupt and sinful habits that must be overcome by vigorous warfare.  Every soul is required to fight the fight of faith” (6SDABC 1111).

“God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul” (1SM 366).

Yes, believers can lose salvation if they fail to keep the law perfectly, according to Ellen White. Believers must offer the Lord “continual obedience” if they wish to retain justification.


Do Protestants Understand Law and Salvation?

“Freedom in Christ is by thousands mistaken for lawlessness; and because Christ came to release us from the condemnation of the law, many declare that the law itself is done away, and that those who keep it are fallen from grace. And thus, as truth and error appear so near akin, minds that are not guided by the Holy Spirit will be led to accept the error and, in so doing, place themselves under the power of Satan’s deceptions. In thus leading people to receive error for truth, Satan is working to secure the homage of the Protestant world” (CTr 324).

“God's law is the only correct standard of holiness. It is by this law that character is to be judged. If an inquirer after salvation were to ask, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ the modern teachers of sanctification would answer, ‘Only believe that Jesus saves you.’ But when Christ was asked this question He said, ‘What is written in the law? how readest thou?’” (FLB 217).

“The faith in Christ that saves the soul is not what it is represented to be by many. ‘Believe, believe,’ is their cry; ‘only believe in Christ, and you will be saved. It is all you have to do.’ While true faith trusts wholly in Christ for salvation, it will lead to perfect conformity to the law of God. Faith is manifested by works” (FW 52).

Ellen White condemned the historic Protestant understanding salvation by grace through faith alone. According to Ellen White, genuine faith requires perfect performance of all the requirements of God’s law.


What Is the Purpose of a Believer’s Life?

“We must drink deeper draughts from the well of salvation. How can we possibly enter into the spirit of Christ's teachings unless we are partakers of the divine nature? We are seeking to vindicate the law of God. We need the energy of the Holy Spirit to accompany our efforts” (GW 467).

“Christ assumed human nature, to demonstrate to the fallen world, to Satan and his synagogue, to the universe of heaven, and to the worlds unfallen, that human nature, united to his divine nature, could become entirely obedient to the law of God, that his followers by their love and unity would give evidence that the power of redemption is sufficient to enable man to overcome” (ST 11/5/1896).

According to Ellen White, believers must vindicate the law of God, apparently by proving that it can be kept.


Is Seventh-day Sabbath Observance Integral to the Keeping of the Law? 

“The conversion of the human soul is of no little consequence. It is the greatest miracle performed by divine power. Actual results are to be reached through a belief in Christ as a personal Saviour. Purified by obedience to the law of God, sanctified by a perfect observance of His holy Sabbath, trusting, believing, patiently waiting, and earnestly working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, we shall learn that it is God that worketh in us to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Ev 289-90).  

“God has so clearly specified His claims upon the seventh day, that no soul need be in darkness. Jehovah regarded of such importance the knowledge of His law, of which the Sabbath commandment is a part, that He came down from heaven and on Mt. Sinai He proclaimed the ten commandments. God regards His law as a sacred thing, which it is the life of His people to obey” (LLM 356).  

The sign, or seal, of God is revealed in the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, the Lord's memorial of creation. . . . The mark of the beast is the opposite of this--the observance of the first day of the week” (8T 117).

Ellen White taught that seventh-day Sabbath observance is the seal of God. The seventh-day Sabbath must be kept perfectly, of course, or else the effort of Sabbath-keeping would do the believer no good. 

For those readers who are Seventh-day Adventists, a pertinent set of questions should be asked: Have you ever kept an entire Sabbath day perfectly, without any sins (including the good you may have neglected to do on the Sabbath)? If you do not keep the Sabbath perfectly, then what does that make you? It makes you an unsanctified Sabbath-breaker, as Ellen White required that people be “sanctified by a perfect observance of His holy Sabbath.” And if you are an unsanctified Sabbath-breaker, where does that leave you--with the seal of God, or with something else?


What did Paul Say About the Law?

“To the Gentiles, he [Paul] preached Christ as their only hope of salvation, but did not at first have anything definite to say upon the law. But after their hearts were warmed with the presentation of Christ as the gift of God to our world, and what was comprehended in the work of the Redeemer in the costly sacrifice to manifest the love of God to man, in the most eloquent simplicity he showed that love for all mankind--Jew and Gentile--that they might be saved by surrendering their hearts to Him. Thus when, melted and subdued, they gave themselves to the Lord, he presented the law of God as the test of their obedience. This was the manner of his working--adapting his methods to win souls” (Ev 230). 

“Thus the emissaries of Judaism succeeded in alienating many of the Christian converts from their teacher in the gospel [Paul]. Having gained this point, they induced them to return to the observance of the ceremonial law as essential to salvation. Faith in Christ, and obedience to the law of ten commandments, were regarded as of minor importance. Division, heresy, and sensualism were rapidly gaining ground among the believers in Galatia” (6BC 1108). 

Incredibly, as will be shown in the remainder of this article, Ellen White claimed that Paul considered the law a “test of . . . obedience.” She relegates Paul’s condemnation of legalism—so eloquently stated in Galatians—to a mere condemnation of keeping the so-called “ceremonial law.”

Many more Ellen White quotes could be included regarding Christians and the law. According the official belief statement of the Adventist Church, the teachings of Ellen White are “a continuing and authoritative source of truth” (SDA Fundamental Beliefs #18). Therefore, official Adventist teaching on the law must agree with the revelations of the Adventist prophet; any attempt by so-called “evangelical Adventists” to claim otherwise must be viewed with the utmost skepticism.


The Law and the New Covenant in the Bible

When I discuss the law of God, I mean all the commands given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The term law, therefore, includes the Ten Commandments plus all the other ethical, worship, and social regulations given by God in conjunction with the Ten Commandments. These commands are all recorded in the writings of Moses.

Many people would like to call the Ten Commandments the “moral law,” while calling the other regulations the “ceremonial law,” but scripture never employs this distinction. In fact, the term ceremonial law never appears in the Bible. The term law, as it frequently appears in scripture, is a reference to all the writings of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (called the Torah or the Pentateuch). Thus, the law of God as generally used in scripture broadly includes all God’s commands recorded by Moses in the Pentateuch.

When the New Testament reveals what happened to the law of God, the answer encompasses all law because human beings are transgressors of all law. The Bible says two things about the law after the death of Christ: 1) believers are no longer under it, and 2) non-believers are condemned by it.

Let’s take a look at the biblical evidence for the post-Calvary removal of Sinaitic law from the lives of believers.


What are the Ten Commandments called?

“And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments” (Ex. 34:28).

The Ten Commandments are the actual words of the covenant God made with Israel on Mount Sinai.


What is the Old Covenant called in the New Testament?

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).

The Old Covenant (the Ten Commandments) is called “the law of sin and death.” In 2 Corinthians, Paul calls the Old Covenant “the ministry that brought death”: 

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?” (2 Cor. 3:6-8). 

Paul is clearly talking about the Ten Commandments in particular because he specifies that this ministry “was engraved in letters on stone.” Therefore, it cannot be said that the ministry of death is the so-called “ceremonial law” and not the so-called “moral law.” No. The covenant of death is specifically the law as written by the finger of God Himself on the tables of stone.


When was the New Covenant instituted?

“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20, NIV).

The New Covenant was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper, in view of His pending death on the cross.


What happened to the Old Covenant?

By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:13).

The writer of Hebrews states that the Old Covenant is “obsolete,” and what is the Old Covenant? It is specifically the Ten Commandments engraved on stone. Thus, the Ten Commandments are obsolete for the Christian (we’ll discuss non-Christians later). 

Galatians 3 actually specifies a beginning date for the Old Covenant law, as well as an ending:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” (Gal. 3:16-19).

The introductory date of the law was 430 years after God’s covenant with Abraham, but please note the end point of the law. The law was given “until the Seed [Christ] . . . had come.” Therefore, the effective span of the law was 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant until the first coming of Christ. As Paul goes on to explain,

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (Gal. 3:23-25).

Colossians 2 dramatically describes what Christ did to the law at the cross:

“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:13-17, KJV).

At the cross, our Savior forgave the all the sins of all believers by “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances” and “nailing it to his cross.” What are ordinances? The Greek word translated as “ordinances” is dogma, and it can also be translated “decree.” What is a decree? It is a law.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree [dogma] from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed” (Lk. 2:1, KJV).

The emperor’s decree, or dogma, was clearly a law. 

The Bible also uses the word dogma for the decrees of God—or the individual commands that constitute the law of God:

“Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances [dogma]….” (Eph. 2:15, KJV).

Another Bible version describes Christ as “setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (Eph. 2:15, NIV).

What was blotted out and nailed to the cross? The law of God with all its individual ordinances (dogma). Does this include the Ten Commandments? Yes, it includes the Ten Commandments. How can we be sure that the Ten Commandments are part of the ordinances blotted out by Christ? After discussing the “blotting out” of the dogma, the passage continues: “Let no man therefore judge you . . . in respect of . . . the sabbath days.”  The word therefore indicates that what follows is the summation of the argument. Because the dogma has been blotted out, no one is to judge the believer with respect to Sabbath days. And the Sabbath commandment is part of the Ten Commandments, meaning that the Ten Commandments are part of the dogma or ordinances referred to in Colossians 2.

It is argued by many Adventists that the “sabbath days” of this passage are ceremonial or high Sabbaths, but the context doesn’t support this assertion. No type of Sabbath days are exempted from the “blotting.” In fact, the progression of thought in the passage moves from holyday (a yearly festival) to new moon (monthly) to Sabbath (weekly). Yearly-monthly-weekly. This is a logical progression. If the Sabbath days are not weekly, then the sentence is redundant, with a progression from yearly to monthly and then back to yearly (high Sabbaths). The context of the passage argues for a plain reading of the Sabbath days, meaning that these Sabbath days are the weekly Sabbaths of the Ten Commandments. Because the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth commandment is part of the blotting, the Ten Commandments must be part of the ordinances or dogma that were blotted out by Christ at the cross.


How are true believers justified?

The great news of the gospel is that believers are justified by grace through faith alone, apart from the law or from any works thereof. After building a case that the law condemns all humanity, Paul declares,

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26).

The law never promises salvation for those who keep it. And that isn’t surprising, as no one but Christ has ever been able to keep it. Thus, the law is truly a “law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). It is imperative that believers be justified by faith alone because the law justifies no one (Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; Gal. 3:11). It condemns everyone. That is the function of the law. Condemnation. Those who want to be under the law place themselves under a set of regulations they cannot hope to keep.


When did the apostles recognize that the law was blotted out at the cross?

Acts 15 records a meeting of the early church leaders which is called the Jerusalem Council. The meeting begins with a group of legalistic Jewish Christians arguing that the new Gentile converts must be taught to keep the law of Moses:

“Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and elders met to consider this question” (Acts 15:5-6).

A discussion ensues, and then Peter makes a decisive speech:

“After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are’” (Acts 15:7-11).

To understand Peter’s point, we must look back at the statement to which he is responding: “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” Peter responds by saying that this is “a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear.” What is the “yoke” that the apostles and all the great Jewish people of faith were unable to keep? Was the unattainable yoke circumcision, or was it the law of Moses? All the men present at the conference were circumcised. They had been circumcised as infants on the eighth day of their young lives—completely apart from any act of their own will. Circumcision was, therefore, a bearable requirement of the Old Covenant. So, what had these faithful individuals been unable to bear? The answer is clear: The yoke must be the law of Moses, which the Judaizers insisted that the Gentiles must keep (vs. 5). Therefore, the Jerusalem Council, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determined that the Gentile converts would not be taught to keep the law.


How are Christians supposed to relate to the Old Covenant law?

“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:4-6).

True believers “died to the law” in Christ. We are “released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit.” Thus, Christians do not relate to the law. We are dead to the law, and that death is final and complete.

Another picture given by Paul as a model of how Christians are to relate to the law comes from the sending away of Hagar, Abraham’s second wife:

“Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: ‘Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.’ Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:21-31).

In this passage, Hagar symbolically represents the Old Covenant; Sarah represents the New Covenant. The Old Covenant is equated with slavery; the New Covenant, with freedom in Christ. Remember, the words of the Ten Commandments are the actual words of the Old Covenant. So, what are Christians told to do with the Old Covenant (Ten Commandments)? “Get rid of the slave woman”—the Old Covenant! We are to have no interaction with the Old Covenant. It is gone. Obsolete. Powerless to enslave true believers.

Is there anything wrong with mixing a little bit of law with faith?

Yes! It is impossible mix law and faith and retain the true gospel. Believers are saved by faith alone. Please prayerfully consider the following texts:

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal. 2:21).

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’  The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . . .” (Gal. 3:10-13).

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:1-4).

Some will argue that it’s important to keep the law, so long as one doesn’t rely on the law for salvation. They want to have both law and faith, as if there is some spiritual bonus for trying to keep the law which Christ ended. But what does Paul state? “If you let yourselves be circumcised [entrance requirement to the Old Covenant], Christ will be of no value to you at all.” Shockingly, those who set out to keep the law actually remove themselves from the benefit of Christ’s atonement. 

Mixing the covenants is forbidden because it is too easy to focus on behavior when one believes that the law must still be kept. Focusing on behavior leads to a subtle reliance upon law. We start evaluating our Christian experience in terms of our law-keeping rather than in terms of Christ’s perfect life lived on our behalf. 

Under the New Covenant, the Old Covenant law is so dangerous, so seductive, that God commands us to send it away as Abraham banished Hagar (Gal. 4:21-31, see above). We are dead to the Old Covenant (Rom. 7:4-6, see above). The Old Covenant must not be any part of believers’ New Covenant lives. Otherwise, we will inevitably fall into the trap of legalism, focused on works rather than faith. 


Didn’t Jesus and Paul both uphold the law?

Both Jesus and Paul endorsed the law, but misinterpreting these texts has caused confusion for many people. 

After declaring that believers are justified apart from law (Rom. 3:28), Paul states, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31).

Even though believers are justified apart from law, the law is not nullified, according to Paul.

Jesus declared, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18).

What did our Lord mean? He states that the law will not change “until heaven and earth disappear.” I believe that is true. The law is permanent and unchangeable. But did the cross do anything with respect to the law? Clearly, based on the many texts quoted in this article, the cross ended the law for all true believers. So, if the law no longer applies to Christians, to whom does it apply? The law still applies to non-believers, including those who insist on keeping the law as a requirement for salvation.


To whom does the law still apply?

The law does not apply to believers. For all who believe, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, Christ is the end of the law.

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4, KJV).

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).

If Christ is the end of the law for Spirit-filled believers, to whom could it still apply?

“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels….” (I Tim. 1:8-9, NIV).

God’s people are declared righteous by virtue of their faith in Christ (Rom 4:1-8). The law is not made for those to whom righteousness is imputed, or credited. Instead, it is for the wicked, for those who do not follow God. The law remains in effect to condemn the iniquity of unbelievers, who will ultimately be condemned by their works (Rev. 20:13). Jesus and Paul upheld the law because it is an essential part of God’s judgment against sinners. And hopefully, while there is still time, some of those sinners will recognize that they are under the condemnation of the law. They will acknowledge that they can never keep that law and that they need a Savior who kept the law perfectly on their behalf. The law still has power to lead sinners to the cross!


Is there any law that Christians are under?

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” Rom. 8:2, KJV).

The “law of sin and death” is clearly the Old Covenant law. Believers are free from the Old Covenant, free from sin and death. However, there is a law for believers. It is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” and this law that declares life! The old law declared death for all. One transgression was one too many. But in Christ, believers are under a new law which unconditionally declares eternal life for the believer.


Isn’t it risky to throw out the law?

No! Not for Spirit-filled Christians! True believers seek to follow Christ as Lord—not because of the law, and not in order to be saved or remain saved—but because of love for Him. Anyone who would use freedom in Christ as a license for sin is not a true Christian. Such a person has never known Jesus Christ despite what the person may claim. Real Christians will fall to sin from time to time until Christ transforms them fully into His image (I John 3:2), but the real Christian repents of sin (I John 1:9) and grows in grace (2 Peter 3:18). It is no more dangerous to leave the law behind than it is to move on from a much-loved teacher, having learned the lessons taught by that mentor. In the same manner, Christians no longer need the “schoolmaster” when they have the reality of Christ:

“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24-25, KJV).



True believers are pictured as presently seated with Christ in heavenly places—even as they continue living their earthly lives:

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:4-9, NIV).

Paul states that believers are “seated” in heaven with Christ. It has already happened. At the moment of true belief, the new convert is seated with Christ, meaning that the believer is no longer working for salvation. He or she is seated, profoundly resting spiritually with Christ while continuing to live for Christ on this earth until death or the return of our Lord.

The teaching of Ellen White regarding the centrality of law and works as a requirement for salvation is completely unbiblical, and Adventists will remain confused about the gospel until they set aside Ellen White and rely on the Bible alone. The teaching of Ellen White that salvation can be lost is also unbiblical because true believers are already seated in heaven, rejoicing with the Lord! According to the Bible, believers die to the law, they send the law away, they recognize that the law is a curse, and they celebrate Jesus Christ as the Author and Finisher of their faith (Heb. 12:2). The law and human works have no part in salvation because Jesus is the “everything” of eternal life!


~ Joseph Rector, July 5, 2015