What Seventh-day Adventists Believe About Christian Behavior
The patterns of actions and words that make up behavior are central to any type of belief system because they flow from those beliefs. Seventh-day Adventists look to the Bible, with Jesus as the perfect example, for guidance on shaping our daily behavior.
We also believe that good behavior isn’t what saves anyone—instead, it is the evidence of a life that has been saved. Behavior is positively affected as a person becomes rooted in the love of God and as the Holy Spirit works on the heart within.
We’ll look more closely at:
- The relationship between a Christian lifestyle and salvation
- Why a Christian lifestyle is important to Adventists
- The principles of Christian behavior we value
But first, notice the official statement of the Adventist Church on Christian behavior:
“We are called to be godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with biblical principles in all aspects of personal and social life.
For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things that will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives.
This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty.
While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit.
It also means that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently. Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well.
Instead, we are to engage in whatever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness.”
With this overview, let’s start by understanding the intersection of lifestyle and salvation.
What is the relationship between Christian lifestyle and salvation?
Adventists understand that our only hope of salvation from sin comes through the death of Jesus Christ for us. We claim this gift by faith, meaning salvation doesn’t come from obeying the law or perfectly executing a Christian lifestyle. Instead, our lifestyle is a natural outflow of that salvation.
We aren’t capable of being righteous—or doing the right things—on our own. As the apostle Paul writes,
“By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:20–22, NKJV).
Our behavior doesn’t bring us the “righteousness of God.” We receive that righteousness through Jesus—He takes our sinful lives and gives us His righteousness when we accept the gift of eternal life by faith.
But tied to what Christ has done for us is the question of behavior in the Christian life.
And “behavior” here isn’t about a one-time act.
It’s about habits, priorities, and tendencies. This is because God rarely gave attention to people’s grand gestures but often noted those who quietly and consistently went about doing good.
James 2 helps us understand how faith and works go hand in hand. Faith has its paramount place in salvation, but “by itself, if it does not have works, [it] is dead’ (James 2:17, ESV).
Just like “the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26, ESV).
But good works are not the reason for salvation. They’re a loving response to the salvation we already have in Jesus Christ. They’re evidence of the Holy Spirit working within us.
In other words, a godly lifestyle will follow a true, living faith.
Notice this passage in the New Testament book of Romans:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1–2, NKJV).
Romans is considered a Bible book that gives one of the clearest and deepest expositions of salvation by faith alone. How come it also has this powerful call to honor God by how we live?
The reason is this:
The gospel and the whole plan of salvation are about restoration—and ending evil, suffering, and death. Humanity fell into sin, but Jesus is working to restore us and our world to its original state.
Though this process ultimately ends with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, God begins that work of restoration in us now.
Accepting Christ transforms our lives:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV).
“Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10, NKJV).
Why is a Christian lifestyle important to Adventists?
Adventists believe that a Christian lifestyle allows us to experience the most fulfilling and satisfying life that God wants for us. It also allows us to live out the principles of the gospel and be witnesses to unbelievers. Witnesses of the goodness and love of God who has given us so much in Jesus.
This principle goes all the way back to the early days of ancient Israel.
According to the Bible, this nation was meant to be a model to the world. An example of what it looks like to know and serve the true God and creator of all things.
They were to live pure lives and remain faithful to God amidst the surrounding nations that were full of idolatry and false religions. They were called to be “a light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 49:6, NKJV)—with the word Gentiles referring to the non-Jewish nations.
That’s why just before they entered the promised land, Moses instructed them:
“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4:5–6, NKJV).
There are two crucial things here.
First, God gave the Israelites “statutes and judgments.”
To put it simply, these were directions about their behavior and lifestyle: how and what to eat, how to dress, how to treat others—all that!
Second, they were to carefully follow these principles of lifestyle and behavior.
Doing so would reveal their “wisdom and [their] understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”
It wasn’t just about having principles. Rather, it was living them that would be a witness to the world around them of the goodness and greatness of their God.
Centuries later, Jesus expressed the idea in a simpler manner when He said:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NKJV).
And Paul expresses the same idea:
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14–15, NKJV).
But you may be wondering…because Adventists follow principles for Christian behavior, does that mean we think we’re better than others?
We understand what the Bible says about sinful human nature—that we’re all sinners in need of God’s grace (Romans 3:9).
And God loves all people the same and wants the best for all of us. Jesus came so that every person could have “life, and…have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV).
Following biblical principles in our behavior and lifestyle allows us to experience that life promised by Jesus.
Then, as non-Christians see the benefits we receive from the way we live, they’ll be curious. They’ll be drawn to learn more about what we believe and why. And this gives us the opportunity to share about Jesus and all He’s done for us.
But we don’t try to impose our spiritual or cultural expectations on those who are not familiar with them or are still learning about them. It’s the role of the Holy Spirit to lead people to truth and convict them of changes.
So, now that we understand why a Christian lifestyle matters to Adventists, let’s look at some specific principles.
What principles of Christian behavior do Adventists value?
Adventists value principles of Christian behavior relating to relationships, service, recreation, appearance, and health. But they recognize that all behavior begins on the inside—in the thoughts and beliefs.
Actions begin in the heart (Matthew 15:19), which is why Proverbs 4:23 encourages us to guard our hearts with diligence. We must be careful of the input that we allow into them.
Ultimately, all principles of Christian behavior stem from the internal work of the Holy Spirit.
When the Holy Spirit changes our hearts, we experience the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23, NKJV).
These principles guide all our choices, as we’ll see in the next sections.
When it comes to relationships, we often think of the “Golden Rule”—doing to others what we would want them to do to us. But the Bible takes it further than this:
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4, NKJV, emphasis added).
We are called to put others before ourselves, to treat them with the self-giving love of Christ (1 Corinthians 13:4–8; 16:14).
In Ephesians 4:2, Paul encourages us to respond to others in humility and gentleness.
And our speech matters too. When the Holy Spirit is working in us, we’ll speak words of sensitivity and grace, uplifting those around us (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:5–6).
The Christian lifestyle is one of generosity rather than greed. God is the owner of everything, and He has given us stewardship of many things—our time, our money, our possessions, our energies.
God wants our generosity of these things to flow from the heart. 2 Corinthians 9:7 encourages:
“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (NKJV).
An evidence of God’s working in our lives is the way that we treat “the least of these”—those in need (Matthew 25:44–45). We will use our time, energy, and money to open our homes to people, visit those who are hurting, sit with those who are lonely, and encourage those who are sick.
As in other areas of our lives, Adventists seek to reflect the glory of God by the recreation we engage in (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Paul’s counsel guides our choice of activities, entertainment, and more:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8, NKJV).
This passage encourages us to be careful of what we allow into our minds through our senses.
Rather than fostering attitudes of competition, comparison, and putting others down to bring ourselves up, our desire is to participate in mutually uplifting and rejuvenating activities (Philippians 2:3–4).
Adventists recognize that true beauty and worth don’t come from adornment—whether it be name-brand clothing and jewelry or expensive cars. Rather, they come from a heart that is settled in God (1 Peter 3:3–4).
For this reason, our aim is to live lives that reveal the modesty and meekness of Christ rather than standing out unnecessarily (1 Timothy 2:9).
“Simplicity of lifestyle and appearance sets Christians apart. It puts us in stark contrast to the greed, materialism, and gaudiness of…society. A society where values focus on material things rather than on people.”1
This doesn’t mean we throw out appearances all together—not at all! Instead, we want our appearance to reflect the neatness, attractiveness, and genuineness of the Christian life.
The Word of God reminds us that “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NKJV). That means our bodies are gifts from God both by creation and by redemption.
As good stewards of what God has given us, we take as good care of our health as possible.
And at the same time, Adventists understand that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NKJV).
Love underlies all principles of Christian lifestyle and behavior
If we could boil all the biblical lifestyle principles down to one, it would be love.
1 Corinthians 13 talks about all the different spiritual gifts and accomplishments. In conclusion, it says:
“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV).
Thus, the principles of Christian lifestyle are important, but they don’t matter if they don’t first and foremost stem from an inner love for God, which is then reflected in the way we treat others.
In the context of helping people in need, John wrote:
“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17, NKJV).
That’s why Adventists emphasize a lifestyle that goes beyond our individual lives and makes a difference for those around us. We desire to make the world a better place, which is why we find ways to help the needy, the hurting, and the suffering.
It might be something big like building hospitals and medical clinics and running orphanages. Or it could be something small—but just as important—as being a smiling face and a helping hand at a soup kitchen or reaching out to a lonely neighbor.
It all comes back to our love for God.
Without question, love is the most important evidence of a Christian lifestyle—loving others for the sake of loving them because they’re people for whom Christ died.
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