The Keeping of the Sabbath

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Ex. 31:12-17 π Lev. 16:31 π Psa. 46:10 π Prov. 23:4 π Mal. 3:6 π Mt. 5:17 π Mt. 5:19 π Mt. 5:21-22 π Mt. 5:27-28 π Mk. 2:27 π Mk. 6:31 π Mk. 7:13 π Jn. 1:17 π Jn. 13:35 π Rom. 4:16 π Rom. 6:1 π Rom. 6:14 π Rom. 7:14-15 π Rom. 13:8 π Rom. 13:10 π Rom. 14:5-6 π 2 Cor. 10:5 π Gal. 5:14 π Heb. 4:10-11 π Heb. 7:11-12 π Heb. 8:10 π Heb. 10:16 π Jas. 2:8

"And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: 'Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'" ( Ex. 31:12-17; top )

When God gave this law to Israel, He specifically chose words like "throughout generations," "perpetual" and "forever." But we also know that "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath." ( Mk. 2:27 ) And Paul wrote, "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it." ( Rom. 14:5-6 ) And still further, we know that Paul also wrote, "Therefore [righteousness - being and doing what is right in God's eyes] is of faith that it might be according to grace..." ( Rom. 4:16 ) and (in answer to his own rhetorical question, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" - Rom. 6:1 ) arrives at " are not under law but under grace." ( Rom. 6:14 ) As John told us, "The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." ( Jn. 1:17 ) But Jesus Himself said, "I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it." ( Mt. 5:17; top )

With such a seeming contradiction, how are we to know what the full counsel of God is? Though theologians have argued about the Sabbath for centuries and will probably argue about it until Christ returns and removes such contentious stupidities from this earth, the answer is rather simple. God is eternal and does not change. ( Mal. 3:6 ) But the priesthood, being changed from the order of Levi to the order of Melchizedek, necessitates a change in the law. ( Heb. 7:11-12; top ) But what is the change? And how are we to implement those changes?

First, the law has been superceded by the Spirit of grace and truth who will fulfill the laws and ways of God by writing those in our hearts ( Heb. 8:10 , 10:16 ) and causing them to come forth through our hands, fingers, feet and mouth, that is, in our actions. All men will know we are truly His disciples when we love one another with His love. ( Jn. 13:35 ) We are not under the old law but we are empowered to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law through His love poured out in our hearts. ( Jas. 2:8 , Rom. 13:8 , 10 , Gal. 5:14; top )

The law, as given through Moses, are the outward actions which a person governed and led by the Spirit of God would do. But Christ was not interested only in the outward actions. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire." ( Mt. 5:21-22 ) He also said, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." ( Mt. 5:27-28; top ) The standard of the law is not abolished but is rather deepened for the true follower of Christ. No longer can a man be angry with his brother (the heart root of murder) nor can he lust after another woman (the heart root of adultery), now Christ forbids to His genuine followers the very thought, feeling and imagining that accompanies these sins and transgressions of the law.

This is only possible through the powerful, divinely enabling work of the Spirit of grace and truth. Anyone who attempts to keep the law through the strength of the flesh will only find himself frustrated and impotent to please and obey God. ( Rom. 7:14-15 ) But the one who relies on the Spirit of grace and truth will fulfill the law, never being led to violate the least of the commandments nor teaching others to do so either. ( Mt. 5:19; top ) It is in this sense that the law can be best seen as a mirror by which we can check our spiritual condition before God. If we are violating any of God's laws or commands, we can know with certainty that we are not being led by nor obedient to His Spirit. If we are attempting to obey His laws by our flesh or mind alone, then we can know also with equal certainty that we are not being led by nor obedient to His Spirit. Only the one truly being led by and obedient to His Spirit can actually fulfill the law of love that is in Christ Jesus.

Now we must apply all this to the law of the Sabbath as well. We are no longer called to legalistically obey the Sabbath law as given through Moses. But it is equally true that the one who is led by the Spirit of God will find one day (perhaps the same one each week, perhaps not) in which to cease from all labors so as to give one's mind, body, soul and spirit rest. The soul loves to be busy and finds it exceedingly difficult to simply be at rest. This is one reason the Sabbath rest day (the true meaning of the term is "day of rest") is called an affliction for the soul. ( Lev. 16:31 , etc.) Jesus still says to the overworked individual, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." ( Mk. 6:31 ) and wisdom still says, "Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease!" ( Prov. 23:4 ) The Spirit still draws every follower of Christ to be diligent to enter His rest "for he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His." ( Heb. 4:10-11; top )

While there is certainly a spiritual application to be made to one's entire life whereby we cease from the works of the law and enter into the finished work of Christ, there is also the physical application that God's laws and ways as handed down to men are still to be followed and implemented into our lives. F.W. Robertson said, "I certainly do feel by experience the eternal obligation, because of the eternal necessity, of the Sabbath. The soul withers without it. It thrives in proportion to its observance. The Sabbath was made for man. God made it for men in a certain spiritual state because they needed it. The need, therefore, is deeply hidden in human nature. He who can dispense with it must be holy and spiritual indeed. And he who, still unholy and unspiritual, would yet dispense with it is a man that would fain be wiser than his Maker."

God has not abolished the Sabbath rest just because it is a spiritual picture and available reality for us of the finished work of Christ. Nor has He abolished the Sabbath rest just because some over-zealous Jewish ritualists and lawyers perverted it into a tradition of man that nullified the work of God among men. ( Mk. 7:13 ) Those who are following the Spirit of God will simply be led - just as they are led to work for His kingdom throughout the week - to find one day wherein to honor God by resting. Those who for one reason or another are unable to live this way must seek the Lord for the remedy to the lack of a rest day in their life. The Sabbath rest is not a law to keep by our own strength - rather it is an indication of whether our life is truly submitted to the Lord in every way or not. Those who do not submit to the regular discipline of a Sabbath rest day are likely to find it difficult to bring their minds under control to the mind of Christ ( 2 Cor. 10:5 ) and nearly impossible to truly be still and know their God. ( Psa. 46:10; top )

Let he who has ears hear.

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