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The Sabbath & You

How should Christians look at this issue that seems divisive these days?


If we’re honest, breaking the Fourth Commandment (“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” Exo. 20:10) is one we might be not feel as bad about as breaking the other nine. Certainly, if you kill, commit adultery, or make a carved image, you should and usually do feel guilty. But, at least by *today’s standards,* breaking the Fourth Commandment — keeping the Sabbath — doesn’t usually require a trip to your local psychologist.


Yet, breaking this commandment does produce stress in your life, because the whole commandment relates to our work. Work is stressful; we absolutely lean on work to provide for our needs. For some of us, we find our identity and pride in work alone. Thus, work remains one of the highest stressors in the average person’s life.


The Fourth Commandment provides a “why” and a “what” to those who fear God. The “why” is practical because we all need physical rest. The why is also practical because we need to refocus on the God of the Bible — the one true God. We need to reset and refocus because we, indeed, have short-term memories to the things of God. In the midst of family, work, and life, we forget what God has called us to do (glorify Him and enjoy him forever), what our mission is (become more like Christ, love all, share the Gospel with others, etc.), and what the point of it all is (to bring praise to God’s name).


The First Commandment (“have no other gods before Me”) sets up the rest of the commandments. The Fourth Commandment is given to us to help us make sure that our work (which we do for dozens of hours a week) doesn’t overtake Almighty God as our primary means of sustenance, security and identity.


In other words, God wants us to make sure that it is His nature and character, not our work, that remains our rifle-like focus, source of trust for the future, and source of our identity now.


Friend, your work isn’t your identity. Being changed by the power of the Gospel means the “here’s your identity” comes before the “here’s what you do.” Obedience is rooted in a biblical understanding of your identity in Christ. As a believer, you will struggle and suffer many failures, yet your identity and the direction of your life will reveal Christ’s mastery over you (read 1 John)!


And, remember, too, that the more you work, the easier it is to trust your ability to provide over God’s ability to supply all things. If God is our patron, He will provide. If He does not, we should not exist. He has never failed. You can trust this omnipotent God to provide everything you need (Psalm 68:19; Phil. 4:19), and you can trust Him enough to rest.


Biblically, we hold the view that the Old Testament rules governing the observance of the Sabbath fall within the category of ceremonial, rather than moral, components of the law. Consequently, these regulations are no longer applicable, having ceased to be in effect alongside the sacrificial framework, the Levitical priesthood, and any other facets of Moses' law that foreshadowed the coming of Christ.

Here are some quick notes to ponder:

1.    There's no evidence in the Bible of anyone observing the Sabbath before Moses, and there are no commands about keeping the Sabbath before the law was given at Mount Sinai.

2.    In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul talks about the Sabbath as a symbol of Christ. He says that since Christ has come, the importance of following the Sabbath as a strict rule has lessened. These verses clearly talk about the weekly Sabbath. The phrase "a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day" refers to special holy days in the Jewish calendar that happen yearly, monthly, and weekly. Paul uses the word "Sabbath" here to show that he's talking about these special days, not just any ceremonial dates.

3.    The Sabbath used to be a significant sign for the Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:16-17; Ezekiel 20:12; Nehemiah 9:14). But now, with the New Covenant (Hebrews 8), we don't have to observe the Sabbath as a sign anymore. The New Testament doesn't tell Christians to keep the Sabbath.

4.    Surprisingly, the Old Testament doesn't tell non-Jewish nations to observe the Sabbath or criticize them for not doing so. This is strange if the Sabbath was meant to be a moral rule for all time.

5.    During the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, the Apostles didn't make it necessary for Gentile believers to follow the Sabbath.

6.    In Acts 20:7, we see an early church worship service where they met on the first day of the week.

7.    The Apostle Paul talked about many sins in his letters to the Gentiles, but not once did he mention breaking the Sabbath.

8.    Paul scolds the Galatians (4:10-11) for thinking they had to follow special days, including the Sabbath, for salvation.

9.    Paul, in Romans 14:5, tells those who observe the Sabbath not to judge those who don't. This likely referred to Jewish and Gentile believers.

10. Early church leaders, like Augustine and Ignatius, believed that the Old Testament Sabbath was no longer binding and that Christians should worship on Sunday.

11. Sunday isn't a replacement for the Sabbath. It's the Lord's Day, a time to remember Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week. Every day is a day of rest for believers, as we find rest in the Lord's salvation (Hebrews 4:9-11).

So, while we still set aside a day for worship like the pattern of the Sabbath, we don't call it the "Sabbath."


Simply put, Jesus doesn't really get rid of the Sabbath rules or break them. He told people that "the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Some parts of Judaism had lost this idea, so they forgot how important it was to care about people on the Sabbath. They were so into following rules that they didn't show kindness anymore (Matt. 12:7). Jesus felt sad because the Pharisees cared more about rules than showing love to those who were suffering (Mark 3:5).

Again, Jesus' adherence to the Sabbath does not necessarily imply its continuation in the New Covenant. He followed the Sabbath in line with the Old Testament law, as he lived under it. This makes sense because he was born into the law, as Paul mentions (Galatians 4:4). However, when we look closely at the Gospel accounts, it seems the Sabbath's importance will diminish.

Jesus, as the Son of Man, asserts that he has authority even over the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). The Sabbath doesn't control him; rather, he controls it. He's seen as the new David and the Messiah, to whom the Sabbath and Old Testament Scriptures point (Matthew 12:3–4). In John 5:17, he claims he, like his Father, works on the Sabbath, which is forbidden by the Old Testament. But Jesus states he must do so since he's equal to God (John 5:18).

An intriguing instance is in Luke 13:10–17. We are told the synagogue ruler suggests that Jesus should heal on other days, not the Sabbath. This viewpoint seems logical, especially given the strict Sabbath views in Judaism. Remarkably, Jesus deliberately heals on the Sabbath. He believes healing is something he "ought" to do on the Sabbath (Luke 13:16). This could be to demonstrate his superiority over the Sabbath and hint that it won't remain forever.

There might be a connection between Jesus and the Old Testament's Jubilee in Luke 4:16–21 (Leviticus 25). Jesus could be seen as fulfilling the rest and joy anticipated in the Jubilee, making the Sabbath's rest and feasting find their highest point in him.


Paul's letters make it clear that believers aren't required to follow the Sabbath.

In the book of Colossians, for instance, Paul talks about the Sabbath as something like a shadow, along with rules about food, celebrations, and the new moon (Colossians 2:16–17). This means that the Sabbath is like a pointer to Christ and its purpose is fulfilled in him.

Paul uses the word "shadow" to describe the Sabbath, and the same word is used by the author of the book of Hebrews to talk about the old ways of offering things in the Old Testament. The law is like a "shadow" of good things that were going to come, not the real thing (Hebrews 10:1). This idea is pretty similar to what we see in Colossians: both talk about parts of the law being like a shadow, while the real deal is found in Christ.

Paul isn't putting down the Sabbath. He acknowledges its role in the story of how people are saved. Just like the Old Testament offerings helped pave the way for Christ, the Sabbath also played a part, although not exactly the same way. It's worth noting that nobody thinks we should still be doing the Old Testament offerings today. So, when we compare what Paul says about the Sabbath with those offerings, it seems like he's saying the Sabbath is no longer something we have to follow.


An essential passage regarding the Sabbath can be found in Romans 14:5, which states: "One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind."

Within Romans 14:1–15:6, the focus of Paul's discussion centers on dietary practices, particularly those influenced by the Old Testament food laws, believed to be defiled by some. Paul's teaching diverges from Leviticus 11:1–44 and Deuteronomy 14:3–21, asserting that all foods are clean (Rom. 14:14, 20), aligning with the new era of redemptive history.

In essence, Paul supports the theological stance of those who view all foods as clean, the stronger position in the argument. Nonetheless, his concern lies in preventing harm to the weaker individuals and promoting respect between differing viewpoints.

While the stronger position outweighed among the Roman congregations, Paul underscores an important aspect. He seeks to safeguard the consciences of the weak, even as he personally aligns with the viewpoint of the strong on matters of dietary laws and observance of days.

Paul's argument rests on the principle that dietary and observance laws are no longer applicable due to the shift away from the Mosaic covenant. This stands in contrast to the Old Testament, which unequivocally dictates such laws as divinely ordained.

In this context, Paul upholds the freedom to consider all days equal, including the Sabbath, which holds significance for Jewish readers due to their weekly Sabbath observance. While Paul respects those who set aside the Sabbath as special, he emphasizes that this should not be tied to salvation or imposed on others. Differing viewpoints should be met with honor rather than disdain. Conversely, those who consider every day as equal should not be deemed spiritually lacking. Paul's own strong faith informs his perspective, underscoring his opinion that every day is uniform in significance.

Crucially, this perspective challenges the binding nature of Sabbath regulations. Paul advocates for strong believers to refrain from imposing their beliefs on the weak and instead to show kindness to those holding opposing views.

Consequently, Paul subtly erodes the authority of the Sabbath principle, as he grants latitude to individual opinions on observing specific days. This stands in contrast to the Old Testament's rigorous stance on Sabbath observance, which includes severe penalties for violation. Paul's context shifts under a different covenant, leading him to assert that the observance of one day out of seven as a Sabbath is no longer a critical matter.


The lack of direct implication from the above is not telling that the Sabbath holds no significance for believers. As Paul articulated, it stands as a representation of the substance we now possess through Christ. While Hebrews does not overtly employ the term "shadow" in relation to the Sabbath, it provides the most comprehensive elucidation of its role as a precursor.

In Hebrews, the Sabbath is portrayed as a foretaste of the ultimate rest awaiting the people of God in the eschaton (Hebrews 4:1–10). This "Sabbath rest" remains a future prospect (verse 9), destined to be realized on the final day when believers cease their earthly toil. Therefore, the Sabbath concept directs our gaze toward the final rest for God's people.

However, due to the tension between the already-realized and the not-yet-attained aspects of rest in Hebrews, a question arises:

Should believers continue Sabbath observance during the interim phase?

My response leans toward the negative, primarily because the New Testament evidence steers us in an opposing direction. A pertinent example lies in, again, Colossians 2:16, where the Sabbath is linked with dietary regulations, new moon observances, and Passover. Despite this conjunction, there is no compelling rationale to uphold the practice of food laws, Passover, and new moons before their ultimate fulfillment. Paul's argument hinges on the fact that believers now belong to the forthcoming era, unbinding them from the obligations of the Old Covenant.


Can the Lord's Day, denoting Christian worship on the first day of the week (Sunday), be construed as a realization of the Sabbath?

References to the Lord's Day within the New Testament are scant.

o  In Troas, adherents convened "on the first day of the week" for communal sharing and an extended discourse from Paul (Acts 20:7).

o  Paul, in his instructions to the Corinthians, urges them to allocate funds for the needy "on the first day of every week" (1 Corinthians 16:2).

o  John, in Revelation 1:10, recounts hearing a resounding voice on "the Lord’s Day."

o  These sporadic indications imply that early Christians eventually adopted the practice of assembling on the initial day of the week. This tradition, perhaps, traces its origins to the resurrection of Jesus, as he manifested himself to his disciples "on the first day of the week" (John 20:19).

o  The Gospels underscore that Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week, that is, Sunday: "very early on the first day of the week" (Mark 16:2; also see Matthew 28:1; Luke 24:1). The noteworthy consistency across the Gospels in emphasizing Jesus' resurrection on this day merits consideration.

Bottom-line: There is no conclusive indication that the Lord's Day serves as a direct fulfillment of the Sabbath. It is possible that the practice of congregating on the Lord's Day originated within the earliest Christian communities, as the absence of historical debates on this matter suggests.

This is in stark contrast to the robust disputes that engulfed the determination of the Easter date in the initial centuries. The Lord's Day, in contrast, has encountered no such contentious deliberation in the annals of church history.


The New Testament teaches that Christ freed us from the demands of the Law because He has completely fulfilled it (Matt. 5:16; Rom 10:4, etc.). All of the laws of Israel were given to point us to a greater reality that has come in the God-man, Jesus Christ. Ceremonies, special days, and dress codes of the Old Testament all pointed forward to His coming. 


When Jesus literally and bodily resurrected three days after his death (1 Cor. 15), he fulfilled the Sabbath law. Thus, Christians changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. In short, the point is that Christ is himself the Sabbath (Heb. 4) and, if we are resting and rejoicing in His resurrection, we have fulfilled this commandment


You may say, “Okay, that’s great. But you still haven’t answered the question. Am I still required to keep the Sabbath?”


Friend, you should still keep the standard of the Sabbath. While we are freed from the technical law-keeping of the Sabbath itself, we are still sinners just like the Israelites were. This means that we should take the Lord’s Day (Sunday) to do a few things.


First, we should, literallyrest. No, this doesn’t mean you sleep all day. Be active in your local church on the Lord’s Day. Take a nap. Go to bed early. Avoid the trap of playing “catch-up” on your school work, laundry and house work.


Second, we should remember the mighty work of God in the Gospel. Why? Because, ultimately, the Gospel is our identity in what Jesus Christ has done for us. In Jesus, we’re totally loved and totally established by the only God whose opinion really matters. The self-improve and self-justification project many call their Christian life is quicksand.


Third, the Gospel is our security. I know that if God saved me, He’ll take care of me. If God gave up His Son to rescue you from slavery, do you really think He won’t help you to pay the light bill? Finally, the Gospel reminds us of our God-given purpose. When you look through the Gospel lens, everything starts to look different — your job, the people around you, your family.


Fourth, take time to recalibrate your focus on God Himself. As humans, though created in God’s image, we are like a car out of alignment or a battery that must be recharged. You need — you must! — take one day to truly refocus your heart. God gave us His church to do that! It’s not about you. There’s only one glory and audience to live for — and that is God!


What do you trust in for your identity, security and provision? If you truly trust God, it will be shown if you obey Him (1 John 5:2-3). If you really trust Him, you obey Him knowing that He is responsible to meet your needs. Resting on His day is proof of this, too.


And what do you delight in?

What do you rest in?

What one thing are you most excited about?

What does your heart most naturally gravitate toward?


If it isn’t resting in the all-providing God, you may be breaking this commandment.


Will you trust Him alone today?