The Sabbath as "Seal" & Grace Alone: My Struggle with the "Contradiction"




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I don't know about you, but the-Sabbath-as-seal doctrine is one that bothered me for quite some time. In case you don't know what that is allow me to explain. Seventh-day Adventists believe that the Sabbath is the seal of God and that in order to be sealed by God we must keep the Sabbath. Such a doctrine immediately throws up red flags. Being sealed by God means we belong to him. If we cannot be sealed unless we keep the Sabbath then logically it follows that we must keep the Sabbath in order to earn Gods seal and thus, ultimately, salvation. In the end then, it seems as is Adventisms claims to salvation by grace alone are pseudo claims since we do, in fact, believe that the Sabbath is the seal given only to those who honor the Sabbath. As I said above, this concept bothered me because it seemed incompatible with the gospel. However, after taking a closer look the Holy Spirit settled my questions by showing me two simple points I had totally missed. Ultimately my main problem was that I had an oversimplified understanding of the seal doctrine. It was this oversimplification of that led me to my misconceptions. By looking deeper I discovered that there was more to the seal than I had previously known and this new understanding opened up a whole new view to the seal. 

First, While Adventist believe that the Sabbath is the seal of God we do not believe that the Sabbath alone is the seal of God. To view Gods seal as simply the Sabbath is an oversimplification of Adventisms seal theology. The seal of God is primarily and foremost a love seal not a law seal. Ellen White expressed it well when she said, "Love is expressed in obedience, and perfect love casteth out all fear. Those who love God, have the seal of God in their foreheads, and work the works of God" (LDE 221.4). This quote demonstrates that Ellen White understood the seal of God to be more than just going to church on Saturday. It has to do with having a heart that loves God supremely – a love which according to scripture is always expressed by obedience (John 14:15). So, far from receiving the seal of God due to our ability to read the calendar correctly or to keep the law well, the seal of God is given to those who love God. 

Second, those who love God she describes as those who "work the works of God". Notice that the seal is not simply given to those who "work the works of God" but to those who "love God" and as a result "work [his] works". Thus, the seal of God must not be understood as simply a "law" issue, but as a "love" issue. What this demonstrates is that, according to Ellen White, Adventisms seal doctrine is presupposed by the same gospel that Luther, Calvin, and Arminius preached. That is that we are saved by Gods grace alone and that our salvation - while not dependent on - is nevertheless evidenced by our works. This point is important because it places the concept of obedience to God in the proper sphere. Working the works of God have nothing to do with earning salvation or earning the right to keep salvation. Instead, they have to do with the evidence for salvation. And it is the third point that God showed me which really brings this to life.

The third point is this: The seal of God as the Sabbath must be understood in its apocalyptic setting in contrast to the mark of the beast. Let that sink in. In fact, read it over again two or three times before moving on. The seal of God as the Sabbath must be understood in its apocalyptic setting in contrast to the mark of the beast.  If we separate the seal of God from that context we end up with an oversimplification that both misrepresents Adventisms theology and also undermines the gospel. 

First, without the apocalyptic context in mind the Sabbath as seal doctrine translates as a “you must start keeping the Sabbath to be saved” theology that does nothing but undermine the truth about Jesus only. If such a theology were true then Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley - along with the billions of Jesus-followers of every age - will all be lost because none of them kept the Sabbath and thus none of them received the seal of God. However, this is not  what Adventisms seal theology teaches. So what does it teach? Once again, this teaching must be understood in its apocalyptic context.

Scripture is clear that in the final days there will be a crisis over loyalty. All of mankind will be compelled by force and threat to worship the beast but those who are faithful to God will refuse on pain of death. The faithful are described in Revelation as "those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). Today there is much debate over the validity of the Sabbath. Faithful Christians find themselves on both sides of the debate. But in the final crisis there will no longer be a debate. Every person will know for sure whether or not they are following God or following the beast. Thus, it is within this apocalyptic context that Ellen White could say:
... when Sunday observance shall be enforced by law, and the world shall be enlightened concerning the obligation of the true Sabbath, then whoever shall transgress the command of God, to obey a precept which has no higher authority than that of Rome, will thereby honor popery above God {GC, 449}.
Those who would have the seal of God in their foreheads must keep the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. This is what distinguishes them from the disloyal, who have accepted a man-made institution in the place of the true Sabbath. The observance of God’s rest day is the mark of distinction between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not (Manuscript 27, 1899) {7BC 970.2}.
Understood within the apocalyptic context the seal of God poses no contradiction to Jesus Only. Those who decide to follow the beast will evidence their loyalty by obedience and those who choose to be faithful to God will evidence their faithfulness by obedience. Both groups will be obeying someone as a sign of loyalty. So the seal of God in Revelation is set against the backdrop of the mark of the beast. In the final crisis everyone will have either the mark or the seal. There will be no in between. And unless one is willing to go as far as to develop a theology that teaches that it’s OK to be disobedient and receive the mark of the beast and still be saved then you have to come to terms with the apocalyptic seal.

However, never make the mistake of thinking that we earn Gods apocalyptic seal and thus earn salvation. The issue here has nothing to do with faith vs works. It simply has to do with sincerity. Are we going to be faithful to God and worship him or are we going to ally ourselves with the religio-political beast system of Revelation and worship it? When you dig deep it becomes obvious that the real issue is not about 7th day VS. 1st day but about who your Lord is, man or God? It’s really that simple.

Therefore, it seems to me that the only way to turn the seal of God into a legalistic doctrine is to remove it from its apocalyptic context. Once you do that, yes it very much sounds like we are sealed based on our performance instead of Gods grace. But within the apocalyptic context it becomes clear that it is primarily and issue of sincerity/loyalty not faith/works.

A perfect example of this is the book of Hebrews. The book was written with one purpose in mind - to convince persecuted Christians, who were considering returning to Judaism in order to escape the persecution, to remain faithful to God. Hebrews is clear that turning your back on Jesus means forfeiting the salvation he so freely offers. Paul is encouraging the believers to be faithful to Christ because he is the only way to heaven. Judaism and its many ceremonies could not save, only Christ and his righteousness alone.

Likewise, in the apocalyptic context the Christian church will suffer intense persecution. The beast will offer his mark and say that anyone who receives it will escape the persecution. Since Adventists believe the beast is Papal Rome and his mark of authority is Sunday observance then we conclude that a Sunday law will be enforced. Those who honor it will give allegiance to Papal Rome. But those who refuse and instead honor Gods Sabbath (a sign of his creation, salvation, and redemption) will evidence their allegiance to Him and thus receive the apocalyptic seal. Is it possible for a sincere Christian during this time to say, "Well I'm not saved by works so I'm just gonna get the mark of the beast and go to heaven anyways"? No way! Such a thought is nonsensical. 

The way I see it, the final test has nothing to do with revealing to God who his faithful ones are. He already knows. But the final test will help us see if we really love God and would be happy to spend eternity with him. God never tests us to discover something about us he doesn't know. He tests us to reveal something to us that we don't know. I think at this time many who thought they wanted to go to heaven and be with God forever will discover that they find no joy in honoring him in the midst of a temporary conflict and will thus make their decision to walk away from him forever. Again, sincerity is the issue.

However, the NT does say "do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you "were" sealed." Not "by whom you are going to be sealed." This concept, when combined with Revelation, paints a picture of a two dimensional sealing. One in the here and now. It gives us assurance of our salvation. The other is in the apocalyptic context, protects us from the plagues, and reveals to us how much we truly love God.

In conclusion, the Sabbath as seal poses no contradiction to salvation by grace through faith. An oversimplification of this doctrine that places it outside of its apocalyptic context certainly creates that problem. However, placed within its apocalyptic context where it belongs demonstrates that the seal of God is a love issue, not a law issue. Because this is a contextual topic it is clear that no one today has the mark of the beast. It is only at the end of time when the polarization becomes clear that the mark is given. However, all who love God today have the seal of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of salvation and in the end of time, those who are alive will receive the apocalyptic seal in contrast to the mark of the beast. However, Gods people won't be sealed because they keep the Sabbath but because they love God. That love will compel them to honor him in the final conflict which involves the Sabbath by honoring the one day that celebrates him as creator, redeemer, and restorer while rejecting the day that celebrates the papacy - a system which presents an alternative method of salvation that counters the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

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Note: This post is an edited excerpt from: REclaiming Adventism: A Response to the Testimony of Former Adventist Eliana Matthews.

Comments

  1. Marcos, like the connection you make for Sabbath being a LOVE issue. It certainly is. When we gave our heart to Jesus, He gave His Spirit. When this happened, we receive the Holy Spirit as the seal of God. Paul explained that "it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his SEAL on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a FIRST installment" (2 Cor. 1:21, 22). We receive this first seal of the Holy Spirit when we first believe. If there is a first, is there a final and last? Yes, there is a last day SEAL according to Revelation 7:1-3, and the angels who are holding back the winds of strife in our world will let them go only when all true believers have been ‘sealed’. Sabbath is that final and last SEAL. It is actually mark/sign/seal of FAITH in Jesus. Remember, we are saved by placing our faith in Christ alone.

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    1. Great comment EverlastingGospel! You summarized my entire article in one paragraph, lol.

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  2. Plus there is no biblical support for any other seal (including a Sabbath seal) other than the Holy Spirit.

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    1. Hey Anonymous. That depends on how you interpret the apocalyptic narrative. Revelation clearly teaches a final seal that takes place at the end of time in contrast to the mark of the beast. The question is, what is this seal? The answer to that question proves to be multifaceted. However, what you believe the final seal is depends on how you interpret the apocalyptic narrative (Historicism, Preterism, Futurism, Idealism etc.) Too much for me to get into here as I don't have the time but maybe in the future Ill write an article elaborating more.

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