|Chapter 18: THE LAW OF GOD
Seventh-day Adventists Believe...
The great principles of God's law are embodied in the Ten
Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They
express God's love, will, and purposes concerning human
conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in
every age. These precepts are the basis of God's covenant
with His people and the standard in God's judgment. Through
the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken
a sense of need for a Saviour. Salvation is all of grace and
not of works, but its fruitage is obedience to the
Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character
and results in a sense of well-being. It is an evidence of
our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow men.
The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to
transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian
witness.--Fundamental Beliefs, 18.
THE LAW OF GOD
All eyes focused on the mountain. Its summit was covered
with a thick cloud that, continuing to darken, swept
downward until the entire mountain was engulfed in mystery.
Lightning flashed from the darkness, while thunder echoed
and reechoed. "Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke,
because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke
ascended like the smoke of a furnace and the whole mountain
quaked....The blast of the trumpet sounded long and became
louder and louder" (Ex. 19:18,19). So powerful was this
majestic revelation of God's presence that all Israel
Suddenly the thunder and trumpet ceased, leaving an
awesome silence. Then God spoke out of the thick darkness
that enshrouded Him as He stood on the mountain. Moved by
deep love for His people, He proclaimed the Ten
Commandments. Said Moses: "The Lord came from Sinai,...and
He came with ten thousands of saints; from His right hand
came a fiery law for them. Yes, He loves the people; all His
saints are in Your hand; they sit down at Your feet;
everyone receives Your words" (Deut. 33:2,3).
When He gave the law at Sinai God not only revealed
Himself as the majestic supreme authority of the universe.
He also portrayed Himself as the redeemer of His people (Ex.
20:2). It is because He is Saviour that He called not only
Israel but all humanity (Eccl. 12:13) to obey ten brief,
comprehensive, and authoritative precepts that cover the
duty of human beings to God and to their fellow beings.
And God Said:
"You shall have no other gods before Me.
"You shall not make for yourself any carved image or any
likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in
the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the
Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of
the fathers on the children to the third and fourth
generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to
thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
"You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in
vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His
name in vain.
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you
shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the
Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work;
you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant,
nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who
is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the
heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and
rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the
Sabbath day and hallowed it.
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be
long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
"You shall not murder.
"You shall not commit adultery.
"You shall not steal.
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not
covet your neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his
maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that
is your neighbor's" (Ex. 20:3-17).
The Nature of the Law
As a reflection of God's character the Ten Commandment
law is moral, spiritual, and comprehensive, containing
A Reflection of the Character of the Lawgiver
Scripture sees the attributes of God in His law. Like
God, "the law of the Lord is perfect" and "the testimony of
the Lord is pure" (Ps. 19:7,8). "The law is holy, and the
commandment holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12). "Your
commandments are truth. Concerning Your testimonies, I have
known of old that You have founded them forever"
(Ps. 119:151,152). Indeed, "all Your commandments are
righteousness" (Ps. 119:172).
A Moral Law
The Ten Commandments convey God's pattern of conduct for
humanity. They define our relationship with our Creator and
Redeemer and our duty to our fellow beings. Scripture calls
the transgression of God's law sin (1 John 3:4, KJV).
A Spiritual Law
"The law is spiritual" (Rom. 7:14). Therefore, only those
who are spiritual and have the fruit of the Spirit can obey
it (John 15:4; Gal. 5:22,23). It is God's Spirit that
empowers us to do His will (Acts 1:8; Ps. 51:10-12). By
abiding in Christ, we receive the power we need to bear
fruit to His glory (John 15:5).
Human laws address only overt acts. But the Ten
Commandments are "exceedingly broad" (Ps. 119:96), touching
our most secret thoughts, desires, and emotions such as
jealousy, envy, lust, and ambition. In the Sermon on the
Mount, Jesus emphasized this spiritual dimension of the law,
revealing that transgression begins in the heart
(Matt. 5:21,22,27,28; Mark 7:21-23).
A Positive Law
The Decalogue is more than just a short series of
prohibitions; it contains far-reaching principles. It
extends not only to the things we should not do, but to the
things we should do. We must not only refrain from evil acts
and thoughts; we must learn to use our God-given talents and
gifts for good. Thus every negative injunction has a
For example, the sixth commandment, "You shall not kill,"
has as its positive side "You shall promote life." "It is
God's will that His followers seek to promote the well-being
and happiness of everyone who comes within their sphere of
influence. In a profound sense the gospel commission--the
good news of salvation and eternal life in Jesus
Christ--rests upon the positive principle embodied in the
The ten-commandment law should not be seen "as much from
the prohibitory side, as from the mercy side. Its
prohibitions are the sure guarantee of happiness in
obedience. As received in Christ, it works in us the purity
of character that will bring joy to us through eternal ages.
To the obedient it is a wall of protection. We behold in it
the goodness of God, who by revealing to men the immutable
principles of righteousness, seeks to shield them from the
evils that result from transgression."(*2)
A Simple Law
The Ten Commandments are profound in their simple
comprehensiveness. They are so brief that even a child can
quickly memorize them, yet so far-reaching that they cover
every possible sin.
"There is no mystery in the law of God. All can
comprehend the great truths which it embodies. The feeblest
intellect can grasp these rules; the most ignorant can
regulate the life, and form the character after the divine
A Law of Principles
The Ten Commandments are a summary of all right
principles--they apply to all humanity at all times.
Scripture says, "Fear God and keep His commandments, for
this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl. 12:13).
The Decalogue--the Ten Words, or Ten Commandments (Ex.
34:28)--consists of two parts, indicated by the two tablets
of stone upon which God wrote it (Deut. 4:13). The first
four commandments regulate our duty to our Creator and
Redeemer, and the last six regulate our duty toward
This twofold division derives from the two great
fundamental principles of love upon which God's kingdom
operates: "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with
all your mind,' and `your neighbor as yourself'" (Luke
10:27; cf. Deut. 6:4,5; Lev. 19:18). Those who live these
principles will be in full harmony with the Ten
Commandments, for the commandments express these principles
in more detail.
The first commandment directs the exclusive worship of
the one true God. The second forbids idolatry.(*5) The third
prohibits irreverence and the perjury that involves the
invoking of the divine name. The fourth calls for the
observance of the Sabbath and identifies the true God as the
Creator of heaven and earth.
The fifth commandment requires children to submit to
their parents as God's appointed agents for the transmission
of His revealed will to succeeding generations (see Deut.
4:6-9; 6:1-7). The sixth protects life as sacred. The
seventh enjoins purity and safeguards the marital
relationship. The eighth protects property. The ninth guards
truth and proscribes perjury. And the tenth goes to the root
of all human relationships by prohibiting the coveting of
that which belongs to others.(*6)
A Unique Law
The Ten Commandments have the unique distinction of being
the only words God spoke audibly to an entire nation (Deut.
5:22). Not trusting this law to the forgetful minds of
humans, God then engraved the commandments with His finger
on two tablets of stone that were to be preserved inside the
ark of the tabernacle (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 10:2).
To help Israel apply the commandments, God gave them
additional laws detailing their relationship to Him and to
each other. Some of these additional laws focused on the
civil affairs of Israel (civil laws), others regulated the
ceremonies of the sanctuary services (ceremonial laws). God
communicated these additional laws to the people through an
intermediary, Moses, who wrote them down in the "book of the
law," and placed them "beside the ark of the covenant"
(Deut. 31:25,26)--not in the ark as he had done with God's
supreme revelation, the Decalogue. These additional laws
were known as "the Book of the Law of Moses" (Joshua 8:31;
Neh. 8:1; 2 Chron. 25:4), or simply the "Law of Moses" (2
Kings 23:25; 2 Chron. 23:18).(*7)
A Delightful Law
God's law is an inspiration to the soul. Said the
psalmist: "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all
the day." "I love Your commandments more than gold, yes than
fine gold!" Even when "trouble and anguish have overtaken
me," he said, "Your commandments are my delights" (Ps.
119:97, 127, 143). To those who love God, "His commandments
are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Transgressors are the ones
who consider the law a grievous yoke, for the sinful mind
"does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so"
(Rom. 8:7, NIV).
The Purpose of the Law
God gave His law to provide people with abundant
blessings and to lead them into a saving relationship with
Himself. Note the following specific purposes:
It Reveals God's Will for Humanity
As the expression of God's character and love, the Ten
Commandments reveal His will and purpose for humanity. They
demand perfect obedience, "for whoever shall keep the whole
law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all"
(James 2:10). Obedience to the law, as the rule of life, is
vital to our salvation. Christ Himself said: "If you want to
enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17). This
obedience is possible only through the power the indwelling
Holy Spirit provides.
It Is the Basis of God's Covenant
Moses wrote the Ten Commandments, with other explanatory
laws, in a book called the book of the covenant (Exodus
20:1, 24:8).(*8) Later he called the Ten Commandments "the
tablets of the covenant," indicating their importance as the
basis of the everlasting covenant (Deut. 9:9; cf. 4:13. For
more on the covenants, see chapter 7 of this book).
It Functions as the Standard of Judgement
Like God, His "commandments are righteousness"
(Ps. 119-172). The law, therefore, sets the standard of
righteousness. Each of us will be judged by these righteous
principles, not by our consciences. "Fear God and keep His
commandments," Scripture says, "...for God will bring every
work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it
is good or whether it is evil" (Eccl. 12:13,14; cf.
Human consciences vary. Some consciences are "weak,"
while others are "defiled," "evil," or "seared with a hot
iron" (1 Cor. 8:7, 12; Titus 1:15; Heb. 10:22; 1 Tim. 4:2).
Like a watch, however well they may work, they must be "set"
by some accurate standard to be of value. Our consciences
tell us that we must do right, but they do not tell us what
is right. Only consciences set by God's great standard--His
law--can keep us from straying into sin.(*9)
It Points Out Sin
Without the Ten Commandments people cannot see clearly
God's holiness, their own guilt, or their need to repent.
When they do not know that they are in violation of God's
law, they do not sense their lostness or their need of the
atoning blood of Christ.
To help people see their true condition, the law
functions like a mirror (see James 1:23-25). Those who
"look" into it see their own character defects in contrast
to God's righteous character. Thus the moral law
demonstrates that all the world is guilty before God (Rom.
3:19), making everyone fully accountable to Him.
"Through the law we become conscious of sin" (Rom. 3:20,
NIV) because "sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John
3:4, KJV). Indeed, Paul said, "I would not have known sin
except through the law" (Rom. 7:7). Convicting sinners of
their sin, it helps them realize that they are condemned
under the judgment of God's wrath and that they are facing
the penalty of eternal death. It brings them to a sense of
their utter helplessness.
It Is an Agent in Conversion
God's law is the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to bring
us to conversion: "The law of the Lord is perfect,
converting the soul" (Ps. 19:7). When, after seeing our true
character we realize that we are sinners, that we are on
death row and without hope, we sense our need of a Saviour.
Then the good news of the gospel becomes truly meaningful.
Thus the law points us to Christ, the only one who can help
us escape our desperate situation.(*10) It was in this light
that Paul referred to both the moral law and the ceremonial
law as "our schoolmaster ["tutor," NKJV] to bring us unto
Christ, that we might be justified by faith"
While the law reveals our sin, it can never save us. Just
as water is the means to cleanse a dirty face, so we, after
having discovered our need in the mirror of God's moral law,
reach for the fountain that is open "for sin and for
uncleanness" (Zech. 13:1) and are cleansed by "the blood of
the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14). We must look to Christ, "and as
Christ is revealed to...[us] upon the cross of Calvary,
dying beneath the weight of the sins of the whole world, the
Holy Spirit shows...[us] the attitude of God to all who
repent of their transgressions."(*12) Then hope fills our
souls, and in faith we reach out to our Saviour, who extends
to us the gift of everlasting life (John 3:16).
It Provides True Freedom
Christ said that "whoever commits sin is a slave of sin"
(John 8:34). When we transgress God's law, we have no
liberty; but obedience to the Ten Commandments assures us
true freedom. Living within the confines of God's law means
liberty from sin. And it means freedom from that which
accompanies sin--the continual worry, wounding of the
conscience, and increasing guilt and remorse that wear out
life's vital forces. Said the psalmist, "I will walk about
in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts" (Ps.
119:45, NIV). James referred to the Decalogue as "the royal
law," "the perfect law of liberty" (James 2:8; 1:25).
That we might receive this freedom, Jesus invites us to
come to Him with our burdens of sin. He offers us in their
stead His yoke, which is easy (Matt. 11:29,30). A yoke is an
instrument of service. By dividing the load, the yoke makes
it easier to perform tasks. Christ offers to be yoked
together with us. The yoke itself is the law; "the great law
of love revealed in Eden, proclaimed upon Sinai, and in the
new covenant written in the heart, is that which binds the
human worker to the will of God."(*13) When we are yoked
with Christ, He bears the heavy burden and makes obedience a
joy. He enables us to succeed at what was impossible before.
So that the law, written on our hearts, becomes a delight
and a joy. We are free because we want to do as He commands.
If the law is presented without Christ's saving power,
there is no freedom from sin. But God's saving grace, which
does not nullify the law, brings the power that liberates
from sin, for "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17).
It Restrains Evil and Brings Blessings
The increase in crime, violence, immorality, and
wickedness that floods the world has resulted from disregard
for the Decalogue. Where this law is accepted, it restrains
sin, promotes right actions, and becomes a means of
establishing righteousness. Nations that have incorporated
its principles into their laws have experienced great
blessing. On the other hand, abandonment of its principles
brings about a steady decline.
In Old Testament times God often blessed nations and
individuals in proportion to their obedience to His law.
"Righteousness exalts a nation," Scripture says, and a
"throne is established by righteousness" (Prov. 14:34;
16:12). Those who refused to obey God's commandments
encountered calamities (Ps. 89:31,32). "The curse of the
Lord is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the
habitation of the just" (Prov. 3:33; cf. Lev. 26; Deut. 28).
The same general principle is true today.(*14)
The Perpetuity of the Law
Since the ten-commandment moral law is a reflection of
God's character, its principles are not temporal or
situational, but absolute, unchangeable, and of permanent
validity for humanity. Christians through the centuries have
firmly supported the perpetuity of God's law, strongly
affirming its continuous validity.(*15)
The Law Before Sinai
The law existed long before God gave the Decalogue to
Israel. If it did not, there could have been no sin before
Sinai, "for sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John
3:4, KJV). That Lucifer and his angels sinned gives evidence
of the presence of the law even before Creation
(2 Peter 2:4).
When God created Adam and Eve in His image, He implanted
the moral principles of the law in their minds, making it
natural for them to do His will. Their transgression
introduced sin into the human family (Rom. 5:12).
Later God said of Abraham that he "obeyed My voice and
kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My Laws"
(Gen. 26:4,5). And Moses taught God's statutes and His laws
before Sinai (Exodus 16; 18:16). A study of the book of
Genesis shows that the Ten Commandments were known well
before Sinai. That book makes clear that people realized
that, before God gave the Decalogue, the acts it forbade
were wrong.(*16) This general understanding of the moral law
shows that God must have provided humanity with the
knowledge of the Ten Commandments.
The Law at Sinai
During the long period of bondage in Egypt, a nation that
did not recognize the true God (Ex. 5:2), the Israelites
lived amid idolatry and corruption. As a consequence, they
lost much of their understanding of God's holiness, purity,
and moral principles. Their status as slaves made it
difficult for them to worship.
Responding to their desperate cry for help, God
remembered His covenant with Abraham and determined to
deliver His people out of this "iron furnace" (Deut. 4:20)
by bringing them to a country where "they might observe His
statutes and keep His laws" (Ps. 105:43-45).
After their liberation He led them to Mount Sinai to give
them the moral law that is the standard of His government
and the ceremonial laws that were to teach them that the way
of salvation is through the atoning sacrifice of the
Saviour. At Sinai, then, God gave the law directly, in
clear, simple terms, "because of transgressions" (Gal.
3:19), "so that sin through the commandment might become
exceedingly sinful" (Rom. 7:13). Only by having God's moral
law brought into sharp focus could the Israelites become
conscious of their transgressions, discover their sense of
helplessness, and see their need of salvation.
The Law Before Christ's Return
The Bible reveals that God's law is the object of Satan's
attack and that his war against it will reach its climax
just prior to the Second Advent. Prophecy indicates that
Satan will lead the vast majority of people to disobey God
(Rev. 12:9). Working through the "beast" power, he will
direct the attention of the world toward the beast instead
of God (Rev. 13:3; for more on these prophecies see chapter
12 of this book).
1. The law under attack.
Daniel 7 portrays this same power as a little horn. This
chapter speaks of four great beasts, which, ever since the
time of Christ, Bible commentators have identified as the
world powers of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The
ten horns of the fourth beast represent the divisions of the
Roman Empire at the time of its fall (A.D. 476).(17)
Daniel's vision centers on the little horn, a terrible
and blasphemous power that arose among the ten horns,
signifying the rise of an awesome power after the
disintegration of the Roman Empire. This power would attempt
to change God's law (Dan. 7:25) and would continue until
Christ's return (see chapter 19 of this book). This attack
is, in itself, evidence of the law's continuing significance
in the plan of salvation. The vision ends by reassuring
God's people that this power will not succeed in eliminating
the law, because the judgment will destroy the little horn
(Dan. 7:11, 26-28).
2. The saints defend the law.
Obedience characterizes the saints who await the Second
Advent. In the final conflict they rally to uphold God's
law. Scripture describes them in these terms: They "keep the
commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus"
(Rev. 12:17; 14:12) and are patiently looking forward to
In preparation for the Second Advent, these people
proclaim the gospel, calling others to worship the Lord as
Creator (Rev. 14:6,7). Those who worship God in love will
obey Him; as John said: "This is the love of God, that we
keep His commandments. And His commandments are not
burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
3. God's judgments and the law.
God's judgment of the seven last plagues on the
disobedient originates from the temple of "the tabernacle of
Testimony" in heaven (Rev. 15:5). Israel was well acquainted
with the phrase the tabernacle of the testimony; it
designated the tabernacle that Moses built (Num. 1:50,53;
17:8; 18:2, NIV). It was called this because the tabernacle
housed the "ark of the Testimony" (Ex. 26:34), which
contained the "two tablets of the Testimony" (Ex. 31:18). So
the Ten Commandments are the "testimony"--the witness to
humanity of the divine will (Ex. 34:28,29).
But Revelation 15:5 refers to "the temple of the
tabernacle of the testimony in heaven." Moses' was merely a
copy of the heavenly temple (Ex. 25:8,40; cf. Heb. 8:1-5);
the great original of the ten-commandment law is kept there.
That the final judgments are intimately related to the
transgression of God's law adds to the evidence for the
perpetuity of the Ten Commandments.
The book of Revelation also depicts the opening of the
heavenly temple, which brings into view the "ark of His
covenant" (Rev. 11:19). The phrase ark of the covenant
designated the ark of the earthly sanctuary, which held the
tablets containing "the words of the covenant, the Ten
Commandments" (Ex. 34:27; cf. Num. 10:33; Deut. 9:9). The
ark of the covenant in the heavenly sanctuary is the
original ark containing the words of the everlasting
covenant--the original Decalogue. Thus it is clear that the
timing of God's final judgments on the world (Rev. 11:18),
relates to the opening of this heavenly temple with its
focus on the ark with the Ten Commandments--indeed, a
fitting picture of the magnification of God's law as the
standard of the judgment.
The Law and the Gospel
Salvation is a gift that comes by grace through faith,
not by works of the law (Eph. 2:8). "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)."(*18)
Throughout Scripture there is a perfect harmony between
the law and the gospel, each upholding the other.
The Law and Gospel Before Sinai
When Adam and Eve sinned, they learned what guilt, fear,
and need are (Gen. 3:10). God responded to their need not by
nullifying the law that condemned them; but instead, by
offering them the gospel that would restore them into
fellowship and obedience to Him.
This gospel consisted of a promise of redemption through
a Saviour, the seed of the woman, who would come someday and
triumph over evil (Gen. 3:15). The system of sacrifices that
God enjoined upon them taught them an important truth about
the atonement: that forgiveness could be obtained only
through the shedding of blood--through the death of the
Saviour. Believing that the animal sacrifice symbolized the
Saviour's atoning death in their behalf, they obtained
forgiveness of sin.(*19) They were saved by grace.
This gospel promise was the center of God's everlasting
covenant of grace offered to humanity (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:4,5;
17:1-9). It was closely related to obedience to God's law
(Gen. 18:18,19; 26:4,5). The surety of God's covenant was
the Son of God, who, as the focal point of the gospel, was
"the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev.
13:8). God's grace, then, began to operate as soon as Adam
and Eve sinned. David said, "The mercy of the Lord is from
everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,...to such
as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His
commandments to do them" (Ps. 103:17,18).
The Law and Gospel at Sinai
There is a close relationship between the Decalogue and
the gospel. The preamble to the law, for instance, refers to
God as the Redeemer (Ex. 20:1). And following the
proclamation of the Ten Commandments, God instructed the
Israelites to erect an altar and begin offering the
sacrifices that were to reveal His saving grace.
It was on Mount Sinai that God gave Moses a large portion
of the ceremonial law dealing with the building of the
sanctuary, where God would dwell with His people and meet
with them to share His blessings and forgive their sins
(Ex. 24:9-31:18). This expansion of the simple system of
sacrifices that had existed prior to Sinai foreshadowed
Christ's mediatorial work for the redemption of sinners and
the vindication of the authority and holiness of God's law.
God's dwelling place was in the Most Holy Place of the
earthly sanctuary, over the mercy seat of the ark in which
were kept the Ten Commandments. Every aspect of the
sanctuary services symbolized the Saviour. The bleeding
sacrifices pointed to His atoning death, which would redeem
the human race from the condemnation of the law (see
chapters 4 and 9).
While the Decalogue was placed inside the ark, the
ceremonial laws, together with the civil regulations God
gave were written down in the "Book of the Law" and placed
beside the ark of the covenant as "a witness against" the
people (Deut. 31:26). Whenever they sinned, this "witness"
condemned their actions and provided elaborate requirements
for reconciliation with God. From Sinai until Christ's
death, transgressors of the Decalogue found hope,
forgiveness, and cleansing by faith in the gospel portrayed
by the sanctuary services of the ceremonial law.
The Law and the Gospel After the Cross
As many Christians have observed, the Bible indicates
that while Christ's death abolished the ceremonial law, it
affirmed the continued validity of the moral law.(*20) Note
1. The ceremonial law.
When Christ died, He fulfilled the prophetic symbolism of
the sacrificial system. Type met antitype, and the
ceremonial law came to an end. Centuries earlier Daniel had
predicted that the death of the Messiah would "bring an end
to sacrifice and offering" (Dan. 9:27; see chapter 4 of this
book). When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was
supernaturally torn in two from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51),
indicating the end of the spiritual significance of the
Although the ceremonial law filled a vital role before
the death of Christ, it was deficient in many ways, being
only "a shadow of the good things to come" (Heb. 10:1). It
served a temporary purpose and was imposed on God's people
until the coming of "the time of reformation" (Heb 9:10; cf.
Gal 3:19)--until the time when Christ died as the true Lamb
At the death of Christ the jurisdiction of ceremonial law
came to an end. His atoning sacrifice provided forgiveness
for all sins. This act "wiped out the handwriting of
requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.
And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the
cross" (Col. 2:14; cf. Deut. 31:26). Then it was no longer
necessary to perform the elaborate ceremonies that were not,
in any case, able to take away sins or purify the conscience
(Heb. 10:4; 9:9,14). No more worries about the ceremonial
laws, with their complex requirements regarding food and
drink offerings, celebrations of various festivals
(Passover, Pentecost, etc.), new moons, or ceremonial
sabbaths (Col. 2:16; cf. Heb. 9:10), which were only a
"shadow of things to come" (Col. 2:17).(*21)
With Jesus' death, believers no longer had any need to
deal with shadows--reflections of the reality in Christ.
Now they could approach the Saviour Himself directly, for
the "substance is of Christ" (Col. 2:17).
As interpreted by the Jews, the ceremonial law had become
a barrier between them and other nations. It had become a
great obstacle to their mission to enlighten the world with
the glory of God. Christ's death abolished this "law of
commandments contained in ordinances," breaking down "the
middle wall of division" between Gentiles and Jews so as to
create one new family of believers reconciled into "one body
through the cross" (Eph. 2:14-16).
2. The Decalogue and the cross.
While Christ's death ended the authority of the
ceremonial law, it established that of the Ten Commandments.
Christ took away the curse of the law, thereby liberating
believers from its condemnation. His doing so, however, did
not mean that the law was abolished, giving us liberty to
violate its principles. The abundant testimony of Scripture
regarding the perpetuity of the law, refutes such a view.
Calvin aptly stated that "we must not imagine that the
coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law;
for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and
must, therefore, be as unchangeable as the justice of
Paul described the relationship between obedience and the
gospel of saving grace. Calling believers to holy living, he
challenged them to present themselves "as instruments of
righteousness to God. For sin shall have no dominion over
you, for you are not under law but under grace"
(Rom. 6:13,14). So Christians do not keep the law to obtain
salvation--those who try to do so will only find a deeper
enslavement to sin. "As long as a man is under law he
remains also under the dominion of sin, for law cannot save
one from either the condemnation or the power of sin. But
those who are under grace receive not only release from
condemnation (Rom. 8:1), but also power to overcome (Rom.
6:4). Thus sin no longer will have dominion over them."(*23)
"Christ," Paul added, "is the end of the law for
righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4).
Everyone, then, who believes in Christ realizes that He is
the end of the law as a way of obtaining righteousness. In
ourselves we are sinners, but in Jesus Christ we are
righteous through His imputed righteousness.(*24)
Yet being under grace does not give believers the license
to "continue in sin that grace may abound" (Rom. 6:1).
Rather, grace supplies the power that makes obedience and
victory over sin possible. "There is therefore now no
condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not
walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit"
Christ's death magnified the law, upholding its universal
authority. If the Decalogue could have been changed, He
would not have had to die. But because this law is absolute
and immutable, a death was required to pay the penalty it
imposed. This requirement Christ fully satisfied by His
death on the cross, making eternal life available to all who
accept His magnificent sacrifice.
Obedience to the Law
People cannot earn salvation by their good works.
Obedience is the fruitage of salvation in Christ. Through
His amazing grace, especially displayed at the cross, God
has liberated His people from the penalty and curse of sin.
Though they were sinners, Christ gave His life to provide
them with the gift of eternal life. God's abundant love
awakens in the repentant sinner a response that manifests
itself in loving obedience through the power of the grace so
abundantly bestowed. Believers who understand that Christ
values the law and who understand the blessings of obedience
will be strongly motivated to live Christlike lives.
Christ and the Law
Christ had the highest regard for the ten-commandment
law. As the great "I AM," He Himself proclaimed the Father's
moral law from Sinai (John 8:58; Ex. 3:14; see chapter 4 of
this book). Part of His mission on earth was to "magnify the
law and make it honorable" (Isa. 42:21). A passage from the
Psalms that the New Testament applies to Christ makes clear
His attitude toward the law: "I delight to do Your will, O
my God, and Your law is within my heart"
(Ps. 40:8; cf. Heb. 10:5,7).
His gospel produced a faith that firmly upheld the
validity of the Decalogue. Said Paul, Do we "make void the
law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we
establish the law" (Rom. 3:31).
So Christ came not only to redeem man but to vindicate
the authority and holiness of the law of God, presenting its
magnificence and glory before the people and giving them an
example of how to relate to it. As His followers, Christians
are called to magnify God's law in their lives. Having lived
a life of loving obedience Himself, Christ stressed that His
followers ought to be commandment keepers. When asked about
the requirements for eternal life, He replied, "If you want
to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17). He
also warned against the violation of this principle, "Not
everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the
kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in
heaven." Lawbreakers will be refused entrance
Christ Himself fulfilled the law, not by destroying it
but through a life of obedience. "Remember," He said, "that
as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor
the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with"
(Matt. 5:18, TEV). Christ strongly emphasized that the grand
object of God's law must always be kept in mind: to love the
Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your
neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37,38). However, He wanted
His followers not to love one another as the world
interprets love--selfishly or sentimentally. To explain the
love He spoke of, Christ gave a "new commandment" (John
13:34). This new commandment was not to take the place of
the Decalogue, but to provide believers with "an example of
what true unselfish love really is, such love as had never
before been witnessed on the earth. In this sense His
commandment might be described as new. It charged them, not
simply `that ye love one another,' but `that ye love one
another, as I have loved you' (John 15:12). Strictly
speaking, we have here simply one more evidence of how
Christ magnified His Father's laws."(*25)
Obedience reveals such love. Jesus said, "If you love Me,
keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "If you keep My
commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept
My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John
15:10). Similarly, if we love God's people we love God and
"keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3).
Only through abiding in Christ can we render heartfelt
obedience. "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself,
unless it abides in the vine," He said, "neither can you,
unless you abide in Me....He who abides in Me, and I in Him,
bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John
15:4,5). To abide in Christ we must be crucified with Him
and experience what Paul wrote of: "It is no longer I who
live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). For those in this
condition Christ can fulfill His new covenant promise: "I
will put My laws in their mind and write them on their
hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My
people" (Heb. 8:10).
Blessings of Obedience
Obedience develops Christian character and produces a
sense of well-being, causing the believers to grow up as
"newborn babes" and to be transformed into Christ's image
(see 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). This transformation from
sinner to God's child witnesses effectively to Christ's
Scripture pronounces "blessed" all "who walk in the law
of the Lord" (Ps. 119:1), whose "delight is in the law of
the Lord" and who meditate "in His law...day and night" (Ps.
1:2). The blessings of obedience are many: (1) insight and
wisdom (Ps. 119:98,99); (2) peace (Ps. 119:165; Isa. 48:18);
(3) righteousness (Deut. 6:25; Isa. 48:18); (4) a pure and
moral life (Prov. 7:1-5); (5) knowledge of the truth (John
7:17); (6) protection against disease (Ex. 15:26); (7)
longevity (Prov. 3:1,2; 4:10,22); and (8) the assurance that
one's prayers will be answered (1 John 3:22; cf. Ps. 66:18).
Inviting us to obedience, God promises abundant blessings
(Lev. 26:3-10; Deut. 28:1-12). When we respond positively,
we become His "special treasure"--a "kingdom of priests and
a holy nation" (Ex. 19:5,6; cf. 1 Peter 2:5,9), elevated
"above all nations of the earth," "the head and not the
tail" (Deut. 28:1,13).
1. Holbrook, "What God's Law Means to Me," Adentist Review,
Jan. 15, 1987, p. 16.
2. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 235.
3. Ibid., p. 218.
4. Cf. The Westminster Confession of Faith, A.D. 1647,
Chapter XIX, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom,
vol. 3, pp. 640-644.
5. See Taylor G. Bunch, The Ten Commandments (Washington,
DC: Review and Herald, 1944), pp. 35,36.
6. "Ten Commandments," SDA Bible Dictionary, rev. ed.,
7. The law of Moses can also refer to a division of the Old
Testament called the Pentateuch--the first five books of the
Bible (Luke 24:44; Acts 28:23).
8. Included in the book of the covenant were certain civil
and ceremonial regulations. The civil precepts were not an
addition to those of the Decalogue but merely specific
applications of its broad principles. The ceremonial
precepts symbolize the gospel by providing the means of
grace to sinners. Thus it is the Decalogue that dominates
the covenant. Cf. Jer. 7:21-23; Francis D. Nichol, Answers
to Objections (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1952),
9. Arnold V. Wallenkampf, "Is Conscience a Safe Guide?"
Review and Herald, April 11, 1983, p. 6.
10.Some have interpreted Paul's statement that "Christ is
the end of the law for righteousness to every one who
believes" to mean that the end or purpose of the law is to
bring us to the point where we can see our sinfulness and
come to Christ for pardon and receive through faith His
righteousness. (This use of the word "end" [Greek, telos],
is also found in 1 Thess. 1:5, James 5:11, and 1 Peter 1:9).
See also note 23.
11.Cf. SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 6, p. 961;
White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 233. The ceremonial law
was also a schoolmaster bringing the individual to Christ
but through different means. The sanctuary services with
their sacrificial offerings pointed sinners to the
forgiveness of sin that the blood of the coming Lamb of God,
Jesus Christ, would provide, thus bringing them
understanding of the grace of the gospel. It was designed to
create love for the law of God while the sacrificial
offerings were to be a dramatic illustration of God's love
12.Ibid., p. 213.
13.White, The Desire of Ages, p. 329.
14.Cf. White, Education, pp. 173-184.
15.The historic confessions of faith upholding its validity
are "The Waldensean Catechism, c. A.D. 1500; Luther's Small
Catechism, A.D. 1529; the Anglican Catechism, A.D. 1549 and
1662; the Scottish Confession of Faith, A.D. 1560
(Reformed); the Heidelberg Catechism, A.D. 1563 (Reformed);
the Second Helvetic Confession, A.D. 1566 (Reformed); the
Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, A.D. 1571 (Church of
England); the Formula of Concord, A.D. 1576 (Lutheran); the
Irish Articles of Faith, A.D. 1615 (Irish Episcopal Church);
the Westminster Confession of Faith, A.D. 1647; the
Westminster Shorter Catechism, A.D. 1647; the Confessions of
the Waldenses, A.D. 1655; the Savory Declaration, A.D. 1658
(Congregational); the Confession of the Society of Friends,
A.D. 1675 (Quakers); the Philadelphia Confession, A.D. 1688
(Baptist); the Twenty-five Articles of Religion, A.D. 1784
(Methodist); the New Hampshire Conference, A.D. 1833
(Baptist); the Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic,
Eastern Church, A.D. 1839 (Greek-Russian Church), as quoted
in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. Philip Schaff, rev. by
David S. Schaff (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983),
16.For references to the first and second commandments see
Gen. 35:1-4; the fourth, Gen. 2:1-3; the fifth, Gen. 18:29;
the sixth, Gen. 4:8-11; the seventh, Gen. 39:7-9; 19:1-10;
the eighth, Gen. 44:8; the ninth, Gen. 12:11-20; 20:1-10;
and the tenth, Genesis 27.
17.Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 456,
894; vol. 2, pp. 528, 784; vol. 3, pp. 252, 744; vol. 4, pp.
18.Questions on Doctrine, p. 142.
19.Cain and Abel were fully acquainted with the sacrificial
system (Gen. 4:3-5; Heb. 11:4). It is most likely that Adam
and Eve obtained their first clothes (Gen. 3:21) from the
skins of the animals sacrificed to make a atonement for
20.See, e.g., the following historic confessions of faith:
The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Irish Articles of
Religion; the Savoy Declaration, the Philadelphia
Confession, and the Methodist Articles of Religion.
21.Cf. The SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 6, p. 204;
White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 365.
22.Calvin, Commenting on a Harmony of the Evangelists,
trans. by William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans,
1949), vol. 1, p. 277.
23.The SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 6, pp. 541,542.
24.Others have interpreted Christ as the end of the law to
mean that Christ is the goal or aim of the law (cf. Gal.
3:24) or the fulfillment of the law (cf. Matt. 5:17).
However, the view that Christ is the termination of the law
as a means of salvation (cf. Rom. 6:14) seems best to fit
the context of Romans 10:4. "Paul is contrasting God's way
of righteousness by faith with man's attempt at
righteousness by law. The message of the gospel is that
Christ is the end of the law as a way of righteousness to
everyone who has faith" (The SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed.,
vol. 6, p. 595). Cf. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p.
25.Nichol, Answers to Objections, pp. 100,101.