ON KEEPING THE SABBATH

There are some believers, and these are not just Seventh Day Adventists, laying on others an obligation to keep a Saturday Sabbath.

This is to forget or ignore the apostle Paul, who was firm about any kind of regression into Moses or any enslaving religion: “. . . But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and destitute elemental powers? Do you want to be slaves to them all over again?  You are observing days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid on your account that perhaps I have laboured for you in vain.” (Galatians 4, NASB). No. God loves us and saves us from enslaving religion.

And in Colossians 2: “Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or Sabbath.  These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.” (NASB)

The Letter to the Hebrews—written to believers who were formerly locked up in Judaism—shows how all has changed in the New Covenant and that the ordinances we read about in the Old Covenant were shadows of what was to come. Truly Jesus’ sacrifice for us and his resurrection has changed everything. The love of God for us all is now wonderfully portrayed!

Jesus took the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross affirms Paul (Colossians 2:14).  God’s amazing grace and love again!

The Sabbath was an ordinance given to the people of God in the Old Covenant under Moses. Exodus 31:12—18 shows us that the Sabbath was given as a gift to the people of Israel. It was a special sign of God’s covenant between Himself and Israel—there was a special relationship between national Israel and Sabbath keeping, as Exodus 31 shows (31:12—18), especially vss 16-17. The emphasis was on the whole nation keeping the seventh day holy, rather than merely a day of rest.

This issue was the major stumbling block for leaders of natural Israel because of the huge emphasis on Sabbath observance in their scriptures—an emphasis which is so noticeably absent from the New Testament. In the New Covenant we must follow Jesus and not Moses: “this is my beloved son—Listen to him” said the Father on the mountain.

By contrast, Abraham received no such special sign in the covenant which God made with him and which preceded the Law by 430 years! Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew of no Sabbath. Now Paul insists the covenant blessing of Abraham extends to Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we can receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Having begun in the Spirit do we finish in the flesh? No way. (Galatians 3)

The Sabbath ordinance like all the others, was nailed to the cross. Jesus has become our Sabbath, and in Him alone we rest in everything. We have been transported into the kingdom of Christ, the New Covenant made between Jesus and the Father, a covenant that can never be broken by us because we cannot break a covenant we did not make. Oh such love!

Jesus gave many commands to his disciples but not once did he mention the Sabbath to them. When he said “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” and “the the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” you will find the context was that of religious churchy leaders accusing Jesus of working on the Sabbath. They were out to get him even though he was doing the very works of the Father—working on the Sabbath! Loving everyone. He did not rest on the Sabbath but he certainly kept it holy.

In Acts 15, the apostolic leaders in Jerusalem appealed to Gentile believers merely to “avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals and blood.” Nothing else—nothing there about keeping the Sabbath. Now for Jews to say that could only come from the Holy Spirit!

There is nothing in Paul’s writings to support Sabbath-keeping, nor in any of the other apostolic writings. Examine Paul’s last letters, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy and you find several lists of sins predicted ‘in the last days’ and there’s nothing about expectation of the sin of neglect of the Sabbath! Neither is there any hint of Sabbath-neglect among the lists of faults of people contemporaneous with Paul’s letters. None.

The bottom line is the New Covenant we have in Jesus—our lives are hidden in Christ with God. All has changed in the New Covenant. We are not Israel after the flesh, but we are the Israel after the Spirit. We come to Jesus weary, heavy laden for his rest to our souls and to learn from him (Matthew 11:28-29). Oh, what love!

Of course there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that we should not meet on Saturdays! Or any other day of the week. Or how often, for that matter. There is such freedom for the people of God.

It does say that our being together should be frequent. We see this in Acts 2:46  . . .  “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.    . . . . . . And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

And Hebrews 3:13 reminds us to constantly encourage one another daily while it is still “today,” so that none grow hardened by the deceit of sin.

Every day is the Lord’s Day in the New Covenant, “now is the accepted time—this is the day of salvation”. That’s because Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath—we follow him and not Moses who promised the coming of “that prophet” who turns out to be our Lord Jesus. So unexpected!

This is just another issue that we should not need to tackle–we who are partakers of the divine nature and upon whom the end of the ages–the new covenant in Jesus–has come! The devil loves to sideline the people of God into these sorts of things while people are dying around us and we trifle with doctrines which have long been rendered obselete. Let’s get on with making Jesus known, making disciples, healing the sick, proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God.

12 responses to “ON KEEPING THE SABBATH

  1. Ian,
    Rex stole my thunder. So many of God’s people are living under the persuasion that they have to complete what Christ began. That’s akin to refusing His great gift of grace.

  2. Graeme Cooksley

    Hi Ian,
    A good article, and may I add a few comments.
    I understand the rest that God undertook in Genesis, was to rest from his creating, He is still sustaining.
    As Col 2:16-17 points out, let no one judge an other in regard to “a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
    These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
    Ask yourself, “How can I turn away from Christ, and want to be a slave to observing days again?” ref Gal 4:9-10
    Heb 4 spells out the reality spoken of in Col above. The reality is, that Christians i.e. “the people of God” (v9), have entered into their Sabbath rest (v10).
    An individual may chose to make a Sabbath rest day, (Col 2 above), but to lay that expectation on others is to be legalistic.
    One does not win or lose “browni points” with God on the basis of whether or not one does or does not keep a Sabbath.
    Graeme

  3. Such lively debate. We are free in the Spirit, but it is good to have a day set aside to come together in our busy lives. The problems begin when we gauge the temperature of our faith by our commitment to “going to church” or worse still, ‘worship’. Sally and I have learned the beauty of going throughout the day, talking with Jesus throughout the day about everything – in fact, I wonder if she is now starting to talk to him more than me. But our weekly gatherings are very special.

    We used to take church for granted, but we certainly don’t take our gathering together with the saints for granted. There is a difference.

  4. Nicole Hargreaves

    Ian I have 2 issues to raise.
    Firstly, your argument in response to Kevin could also be used to argue that we don’t have to obey any of God’s moral laws either, because it’s all done through Jesus. If we’re only obeying what Jesus taught and said, then there’s actually very little of the moral law left. He never mentioned swearing and coarse joking for instance. If the sabbath is out, even though it was in the ten commandments, then what else is out and how do we determine which?
    Secondly, I think your article misses out one vital point: when Jesus said that “the sabbath was made for man” he spoke much wisdom. God asked the Jews to rest on the sabbath because it was good for them to do so! Taking the sabbath as physical and mental rest from our normal work is important for our mental and physical health. I agree that it’s not a matter of salvation at all, but keeping the sabbath (any selected day of the week) free to focus on worship, fellowship, witnessing, prayer and rest is the best thing we can do for our health. i personally have benefited greatly from keeping Sunday free for this. I do no uni work, no housework that can’t be left for Monday, no paid work on that day. I keep it free so that I can be free to go and do wherever the spirit leads that day. Let’s not forget, in our efforts to denounce those who would say that keeping the sabbath is a requirement of salvation, that keeping the sabbath is still a very good idea and consciously resting brings much blessing. So long as the keeping of it is pleasure and we are not making our lives so difficult that it becomes a burden (for instance, by staying up late on Saturday to get work done in advance) then I think keeping the sabbath is a keeper!

    • Thanks Nicole for your comments. First how do we determine what to do? Oh how I love to answer that! We live in obedience to Jesus. Calling Him Lord and not Moses- (“listen to Him!”) brings a whole new way of living, “as He was in the world, so are we” said John. And we are given the most precious gift–the gift of the Holy Spirit living within us who constantly points us to Jesus, continually as we live “in the Spirit”. “Jesus is made unto us our salvation, redemption, righteousness, wisdom ..”. Being born from above you are a new creation and the old has passed away and all is new. Nothing can compare with the absolutely breathtaking gift of the Spirit in the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus, written on our hearts and with no mere man telling us “know the Lord, for they shall all know me from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 10:15-17). “God is at work in you to will and to work His good pleasure” said Paul.
      Second, you say I missed an important thing about resting one day in seven. I plead mercy–there is a limit on what can be said in this kind of publication. Well I say, go for it, but don’t become enslaved to it. Many believers are enslaved to Sabbath keeping, whether Saturday or Sunday. Sundays are so busy for many and no rest at all. It’s your choice–its not a law for us. The primary thing about the Sabbath for the Jews was to keep it holy–their unique identity–not only to rest from labour. Our identity is to rest in Christ–to strive to enter the rest which remains for the people of God. (Hebrews 4). “Come to me ….. and I will give you rest unto your souls”. Notice how Jesus kept so busy on the Sabbath–it was his “meat” to do the will of the Father. Of course we need to take time off, no doubt. And Jesus did so. And we are called “to focus on worship, fellowship, witnessing, prayer” continually, every day. Certainly rest is very important for our health.

  5. Richard Morris

    Hi Ian I am enjoying your writings We have a mutual friend Do you have a private email I could write to about him?

    Regards

    Richard

    Date: Fri, 12 Jun 2015 07:22:55 +0000 To: reliablerichard@hotmail.com

  6. Hullo Ian. This posting has taken me by surprise. Perhaps I need to replace the bible that I use. I thought that mine says that the day of rest,
    remembering that the Lord made the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh would continue to the end of this age. MMMMMMMMMMM Alternatively maybe we could agree to disagree? Love you, Kevin.

    • Beloved Kevin, we dont need replace the Bible we use. Just replace the covenant–the new arrangement revealed in the New Testament (= the new covenant)! Everything has been changed by the surprising turn of events in the death of Messiah Jesus and his resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit living inside us. We replace the old written code with life in the Spirit, the Law written on stone tablets with the royal law of freedom written on the tablets of our hearts, the natural with the spiritual. The old is now obselete and it is impossible to mix the two. They are incompatible.
      Remember it was Moses who wrote that God rested on the seventh–the Sabbath was a gift of God to the nation of Israel, newly liberated from the slave labour of Egypt. The writers of the New Testament declare that the gospel period is the “end of the age”! If you believe you have to keep the Sabbath then you have to keep the whole law (James 2:10) and thus remain under the curse, now lifted for us who live in Jesus, at the end of the age. Now we listen and obey “that prophet” which Moses foretold. We study Jesus. We live and breate his Spirit. We find life, love, peace, salvation, healing, forgiveness, full acceptance with the Father and the Holy Spirit in continual residence with us. Surely Jesus is the way, the truth, the life who declared “the son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath” — he is above the Sabbath, above all. He is the one we need for both holiness and rest. We must now read the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus and his appointed apostles. Thanks Kevin for this opportunity to say more.

  7. Rex Masters

    Hi Ian,
    A word in season : last night Stacy and I were discussing exactly this trend in the U.S. amongst Christians. A critical point you make is rarely mentioned : the new covenant is between Jesus and God and therefor ‘unbreakable’. Everything on which we rely has been done for us by the only ones capable of perfectly completing that which was required.
    A beautifully laid out exposition : thank you.
    Rex

    >

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