Do We Need to Keep the Sabbath??

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11

This is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, and there’s a bit of debate whether this still applies to Christians today. In the spirit of Labor Day, I thought this might be a good topic to think about. To our loss, many Christians don’t spend much time in the Old Testament. Probably because some of it is difficult to understand because we are so far removed from the original context.

While it may be difficult, understanding is not beyond us if we are willing to put it some work (pun partially intended). Of course this is not the only verse that begs the question of relevance to us. How do we know if something in the Old Testament still holds true for us? I like to ask the following questions (at least):

1. Is the command repeated in the New Testament?

The books of the Bible come together to paint the whole picture of God’s salvation plan, a plan that is unfolded and made more clear throughout the course of history. Paul talks in various places about the “mystery” of Christ (e.g., Romans 16:25, Eph 3:4) that is now revealed through the cross, and so the New Testament does shed new light on what was written previously.

What does the New Testament say about the Ten Commandments? I won’t go through the references, but nine of the ten can be found repeated in some form. The one missing? The command to keep the Sabbath. In fact, something that greatly offended the Jewish religious leaders of the day was that Jesus did not keep the Sabbath, at least not the way they thought the Sabbath should be kept. On one occasion Jesus said, “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12b) after healing a man with a deformed hand.

2. Has the command been satisfied by the work of Jesus?

Life would be very different if all the laws of the Old Testament were still applicable to us. For one, my allergies would go insane everyday because of all the animals that would be around for the many different sacrifices. Clearly we are no longer required to offer sacrifices in order to atone for our sins. Why? Because Christ, the sinless God-man, came and died on our behalf as the perfect sacrifice, once and for all.

And as the books of Hebrews make clear, many of the commands of the Old Testament served as a temporary foreshadowing of what was to be achieved permanently in Christ, particularly the many rules about temple worship and animal sacrifices (Hebrews 9-10). Hebrews 4 also speaks about entering a Sabbath-rest that is separate from something physical here on earth, in this passage the Promised Land. While this chapter is a bit confusing, I think it is an exhortation to enter into the permanent rest of God that is made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Colossians 2:16-17 also says, Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

 3. What is the purpose behind the command?

Like I mentioned in my previous post about tattoos, some commands that seem weird at first make sense when we understand the reasoning behind them (i.e., avoiding certain hair-styles/headgear associated with pagan worship). More broadly though, it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of the Law in its entirety was to set apart the nation of Israel from her neighbors so that God could be made known.

The Law was given as part of a special covenant that God made with this particular ethnic group. And so, not everything given to Israel is a direct command to us. The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes that we are under a new covenant (for example, 2 Corinthians 3:7-18). While there are laws that are repeated that we should obey (see #1), those in Christ are no longer bound by the Mosaic Law as a whole.

But we should…

My conclusion? We are not required to keep the Sabbath. But having said that, I do think taking a Sabbath is a great idea, and in some ways is actually vital to our spiritual lives. God rested not because He was tired, but He carved out a time that was holy, dedicated to Him who is the Creator God. Well, we do get tired, and we should set aside a time for us to take a step back from our busy weeks in order to rest in God and marvel at His hand in our lives.

Christians honor the Sabbath by going to church, spending time on Sundays worshipping, fellowshipping, and listening the the Word. But if we are honest, especially those who serve, church can be the opposite of rest. And it can be very easy to go through an entire Sunday doing Christian things but not connect with our God.

It is a battle in our hyperactive culture to slow down and reorient our hearts towards God, even at church. And beyond the couple of hours we reserve for God on Sundays, we need to also carve out times that are just set apart for God. The thing I miss the most about the retreat I just went to was the blocks of undistracted and protected time I had just to be with God.

The big cliche of Christianity is that it is a relationship, so we need to find the time to connect relationally with our God. Just as I need to be intentional about scheduling meet ups to catch up with friends or date nights to connect with my wife, we need to put some thought into how to connect with God. Maybe it’s time to plan a hangout time with God, perhaps a couple of hours, or even a whole morning, just to be with God in the Word and in prayer. For those of us fortunate enough to have the day off, maybe we can do that today. Happy Labor Day!

What can you do practically to stay connected to God?


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