Adventist Teaching: Yes
Biblical Teaching: No
By way of Ellen G. White—who the Adventist Church upholds as a divinely inspired, prophetic authority that corrects inaccurate interpretations of scripture—the Adventist Church teaches that the only way for a person to earn God’s favor is to obey the 10 Commandments. This contradicts scripture.
Paul explains in Galatians 3:10-14 that the “righteous shall live by faith.” Unless one is to do everything in the Law perfectly, they are under a curse, no matter how much they seek to keep the 10 Commandments. Our faith is what earns favor because faith is the vehicle by which Christ’s perfect righteousness is credited to us (Philippians 3:9). The Law is not based on faith (Galatians 3:12). Christ became a curse for us to free us from being under the Law covenantally (Galatians 3:13-14). One receives favor from God by placing their faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ for sinners and it’s his perfect righteousness that earns favor.
This is not to say Christian’s do not seek to obey God, but simply, that our good works and efforts do not earn favor. They are the fruit of already having God’s favor by being “in Christ” and that happens by faith (Romans 3:22-23, 8:1-2; Ephesians 1:7-14). It is the perfect work of Jesus on behalf of believers alone that God looks upon with favor.
Adventist apologists have sought to defend this by claiming that Ellen White’s statement was not in regards to salvation, but rather obedience after having already been saved. But this is inconsistent with both SDA teaching as well as Ellen Whites own teaching—who taught that no one is beyond temptation and by giving into temptation, one is not in a saved condition. This means any Christian who struggles with sin has no security.
In Adventism, faith + obedience (sanctification) = justification. Compared to Christianity which teaches faith = justification (Romans 5:1), which will produce obedience/fruit (sanctification), but the obedience is not conjoined with the faith resulting in being justified or maintaining one’s justification (righteous standing before God). The fruit is produced because one is justified already.
The issue with the SDA teaching is it creates a two tiered system of justification tying justification to sanctification making your works of obedience the ultimate determiner of your salvation, not Jesus’s finished, perfect work for His people. It adds to what Jesus did. This is precisely one of the reasons why the Protestant Reformation happened and what is known as the Law Gospel distinction.
In the same chapter that Ellen White states that obeying the 10 Commandments are the only way to earn God’s favor, she says this…
“So, at this time, there is a people whom God has made the depositaries of His law [the Seventh-Day Adventist’s]. To those who obey them [the 10 Commandments], the commandments of God are as a pillar of fire, lighting and leading the way to eternal salvation. But unto those who disregard them, they are as the clouds of night. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Better than all other knowledge is an understanding of the word of God. In keeping His commandments there is great reward, and no earthly inducement should cause the Christian to waver for a moment in his allegiance. Riches, honor, and worldly pomp are but as dross that shall perish before the fire of God’s wrath.”
She regularly used parallelism to make her points. Throughout this whole chapter, she is using Moses as a parallel to the leadership of the SDA Church (Moses) and Israel as a parallel to the congregant SDAs (Israelites). Salvation in Adventism does not see obedience merely as a fruit of already being reconciled to God, but something alongside your faith that leads you onto the path toward being reconciled eventually. It is your faith + obedience that gets you to “eternal salvation.” And one is able to see how to arrive at “eternal salvation” by obeying the 10 Commandments (it’s the “pillar of fire” lighting the way). Which would mean that how well you obey the 10 Commandments will determine if you are saved or not.
And the above is consistent with what she claimed and taught repeatedly. One such example is in her book Faith and Works where she states this about justification…
“While God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, no man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ’s righteousness while practicing known sins or neglecting known duties. 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.”
Justification—ones righteous standing before God—is not strictly on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness alone in their system (solus Christus), but on Christ’s merits + your faith in those merits to empower you to be able to keep the law perfectly. It a joint effort by you and Jesus. And it is this joint effort alongside Jesus that “purifies the soul”—not Jesus and His perfect work alone.
Again, in The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. I, when speaking about what was supposedly happening in heaven after the fall of man and Jesus proposing a plan of salvation, Ellen White says this regarding the 10 Commandments earning favor…
“The anxiety of the angels seemed to be intense while Jesus was communing with his Father. Three times he was shut in by the glorious light about the Father, and the third time he came from the Father his person could be seen. His countenance was calm, free from all perplexity and trouble, and shone with benevolence and loveliness, such as words cannot express. He then made known to the angelic host that a way of escape had been made for lost man. He told them that he had been pleading with his Father, and had offered to give his life a ransom, and take the sentence of death upon himself, that through him man might find pardon; that through the merits of his blood, and obedience to the law of God, they could have the favor of God, and be brought into the beautiful garden, and eat of the fruit of the tree of life.”
Part of the “plan” of salvation that Jesus presented to the Father and had to convince Him of, consists of faith + obeying the 10 Commandments (law) to be saved, redeemed, and find favor with God. It’s embedded in their system of salvation itself.
The initial statement is absolutely about salvation because it was said in the context of the law being given to SDAs as the beacon of light that leads one to “eternal salvation,” using Moses and the Israelites as a parallel for Seventh-Day Adventist’s today who are on their way to “eternal salvation.” They teach they don’t have it yet contrary to 1 John 5:13 and John 5:24. And it is obedience to the 10 Commandments that they think will get them there alongside their faith in Jesus’s merits and his ability to help get them to where they can keep the 10 Commandments perfectly. Reconciliation will only happen at that point, contrary to Romans 5:1-9. This is the consistent teaching of Ellen G. White.
It is semantic sophistry when Adventist apologists try and argue this, but they do because it’s very clearly a works-based system of salvation that mirrors the Medieval Church’s two-tier system of justification view (conjoining justification and sanctification) that the Reformers were seeking to correct with scripture. The SDA Church’s view is antithetical to sola fide which they claim to uphold.