What does it mean to be a Seventh-day Adventist? At times we are tempted to define who we are by what we do. We revel about those areas in which we excel and are successful. By focusing on the things we do or don’t do, we easily lose sight of the most foundational factor of Adventist identity—our rootedness in God. It seems that our deepest identity is derived not so much from what we do, but from who we are. Who we are leads to how we will live.
Seen from this perspective, our identity is rooted first and foremost in God because He has called us—individually and as a church. With that in mind I share my reflections on what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist. This article cannot cover everything that could be said, but I hope it proves a good starter for deeper reflection.
The bedrock of our spiritual identity is Jesus’ great and steadfast love for us. Jesus loved us while we were still His enemies (Rom. 5:8, 10). Without His love no one would be interested in God’s salvation. Without His love we would have no consciousness of our need for His forgiveness, or any desire to become more like Him. It’s only Jesus’ great and persistent love that leads to our conversion—one of the most amazing miracles in the universe. Only through His love and grace are we called children of God and heirs of His salvation.
This spiritual identity is grounded not in what we have done for Him, but in what He has done for us!
This fact is extremely important for our spiritual identity as Seventh-day Adventists. Why? Because Jesus’ love creates a spiritual identity in us that nothing else can achieve. Knowing He loved us first provides that deep and joyful gratitude that is characteristic of every genuine Seventh-day Adventist Christian. The experience of God’s forgiveness is something we cannot earn. We can accept it only with childlike faith. This fills our hearts with hope. As His children we can know that we are saved and have eternal life, offered to us in Jesus Christ alone (1 John 5:10-13).
This spiritual identity is grounded not in what we have done for Him, but in what He has done for us! Ellen White put it this way: “Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world. The proclamation of the third angel’s message calls for the presentation of the Sabbath truth. This truth, with others included in the message, is to be proclaimed; but the great center of attraction, Christ Jesus, must not be left out. It is at the cross of Christ that mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other. The sinner must be led to look to Calvary; with the simple faith of a little child he must trust in the merits of the Saviour, accepting His righteousness, believing in His mercy.”*
Thus our Adventist identity is rooted in Jesus Christ and His great love for us. What He has done for us enables us to respond in faith to His initiative. From this spiritual fact arise a number of other typical Adventist characteristics.
Only those who have experienced Jesus’ transforming love and forgiveness have the desire to follow His Word obediently. Jesus’ love always leads believers to a thankful attentiveness toward God’s commandments and His will. Such mindfulness about what God has told us will not be selective. It includes the fourth commandment that reminds us of our Creator (Ex. 20:8-11). We Adventists remember our origin every Sabbath. We are not the product of blind chance; we have our beginning in God’s deliberate will. We are created in the image of God.
Just as God rested on the seventh day of Creation week, we, too, follow His example and keep the Sabbath holy. The Sabbath reminds us that our human dignity and worth is not dependent on our performance or on what we are capable of doing, but is grounded in God’s gracious will that we should be.
Our obedience is not limited to the fourth commandment. Seventh-day Adventists take seriously all of Scripture and are people who desire to live according to all that Scripture says. Such attentive mindfulness toward God’s Word is another important feature of Adventist identity. However, obedience is never the path to salvation. Rather, joyful obedience is the path of all who have been saved by God’s undeserved grace alone. God’s commandments are the shoes in which our love for God walks and finds its faithful expression. Hence, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
For Adventists, the Sabbath is also implicated in the biblical understanding of time. It is the first time factor in our anchored identity. Seventh-day Adventists are men and women who are blessed through the Sabbath. The Sabbath shapes in distinctive ways our weekly rhythm of work and rest. The Sabbath reveals to us that fellowship with God is more important than any work we do.
Even before Adam and Eve were able to do anything, they spent time with God on the first Sabbath of Creation week. Out of this holy time with God everything we do gains its significance. The Sabbath leads us to set our daily priorities right, and it reminds us that no matter how diligent and industrious we are, something of our work always remains uncompleted. Thus the Sabbath reminds us that we ultimately live by God’s grace alone.
The Sabbath experience shapes Adventist identity in manifold ways. It points us to a lifestyle of shalom. Shalom living means living in harmony with the Creator God and His creation. It tells us that at the beginning there was harmony between God, nature, and humanity.
God’s commandments are the shoes in which our love for God walks and finds its faithful expression.
The Sabbath also points forward to the future: it reminds us that we belong to God and that in our attentiveness of keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest our love and faithfulness toward God become visible. Thus, the Sabbath becomes a sign that we belong to the only true God.
It is precisely for this reason that the Sabbath will play an important role in the final events of earth’s history when God’s character is contested and our loyalty to God is challenged. This end-time significance of the Sabbath is closely connected to the second aspect of our Adventist understanding of time that is significant for our identity.
The second formative time factor for Adventists is prophetic time in Scripture. The time prophecies in the books of Daniel and Revelation provide us with a unique perspective of world history. Here God grants us a glimpse into the great controversy between good and evil. Here we are told how history will unfold, especially as it relates to the salvation of God’s people.
This prophetic view of time gives Seventh-day Adventists an understanding of the signs of the times and the special significance of the times in which we live. It shows our place in history and thus gives meaning to our lives. This prophetic understanding of time has Jesus Christ at its center. It does not focus on sensationalism, nor is it driven by extraordinary curiosity. Rather, it drives us to proclaim more urgently to those around us that Jesus’ coming is close at hand.
This prophetic understanding of time helps Seventh-day Adventists to deal responsibly with the talents and gifts God has given us. As God’s good stewards, those who want to be ready when Jesus comes, we are diligent and careful with what God has entrusted to us. This means that Adventists practice a lifestyle of modesty and moderation in which we gladly avoid any wasteful or extravagant way of life.
Adventists promote and practice a healthy lifestyle, because we recognize that our body is a temple of
the Holy Spirit. We are cognizant that our physical health easily affects our spiritual wellbeing. This attentiveness leads us to refrain conscientiously from all health-damaging things and practices.
Being aware of the times in which we live, and motivated by our gratitude to Jesus makes us also generous. We joyfully return our tithe and offerings to Him who is the giver of all good gifts (Mal. 3:8-11). Seventh-day Adventists love to help people in need, irrespective of their religious background, their gender, or the color of their skin. Because we have experienced in our own lives the amazing peace that grows out of God’s forgiveness, we are people who are eager to foster peace and are willing to grant forgiveness and to work for reconciliation.
In all we do we try to follow the example of Jesus who during His earthly life and ministry spent significant time to heal the sick and restore to health those who were suffering. We seek the wellbeing of those around us, because “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14).
Carried and sustained by Jesus’ love, Adventists are eager to overcome the power of sin through the “blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11). In preaching “the everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6, KJV), we demonstrate that we are a people of hope. We are propelled by the hope of Jesus’ soon coming.
Because Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead, we have the hope of a resurrection of all believers. Those who have died in faith in Jesus Christ now rest in their graves until He comes again. The trumpet of God will sound and the dead in Christ will rise first. “After that we who are alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:17).
As people who have experienced the reconciliation and peace of God, Seventh-day Adventists are men and women of hope. We follow the example of Jesus and seek to solve conflicts nonviolently. Christ’s love becomes visible in our lives. Even though we don’t know the exact day Jesus will come again, we live in such a way that we are ready at any time to meet Him when He comes.
Christ’s love remains the starting point, the center, and the telos of Adventist identity. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Ps. 115:1).
* Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1915), pp. 156, 157.
Frank M. Hasel, Ph.D., originally from Germany, is an associate director of the General Conference Biblical Research Institute.