Q/A Friday: Are we obligated to keep the Sabbath today?

Jesus’ Example

Jesus observed the Sabbath and the Bible tells us it was His custom (Luke 4:16). Jesus lived under Old Testament law; He was born under the law and He kept it perfectly. However, for Jesus it didn’t play as significant of a role. It didn’t rule over Him as the Sabbath did over others.

We also know Jesus worked for the Father on the Sabbath (John 5:17-18) – unlike those whom it was forbidden to. He worked on the Sabbath because He is Lord over the Sabbath (Mark 2:28).

One example would be when He healed a man with a demonic spirit on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). He did that to rebuke the religious leaders for overlooking mercy and compassion on the Sabbath in favor of their own legalism and also to show them He is Lord over the Sabbath. On another occasion, he healed a man with dropsy on the Sabbath to illustrate the same mercy and compassion (Luke 14:1-6).

The Sabbath is only a shadow.

It is clear in Paul’s letters to the church in Colossae that the Sabbath is not binding upon believers –

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:13-17).

Paul calls the Sabbath and other feasts and festivals “a shadow” which means it points to Christ and is fulfilled in him. The word for “shadow” (Greek skia) means “form” or “like.” It is a reflection of the real substance, which is Jesus Christ and would no longer be binding since the substance – Christ – has come.

John Calvin would say,

“There is no doubt that it ceased in Christ; because he is the truth by the presence of which all images vanish. He is the reality at whose advent all shadows are abandoned. Hence St. Paul said (Col 2:17) that the sabbath has been a shadow of a reality yet to be.”[1]

The Gospel frees us from keeping the Sabbath.

Paul warns us,

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 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 worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (Gal 4:8-11).

Paul is rebuking the Galatians for thinking God expected them to observe special days (including the Sabbath). He is telling them not to return back to their legalistic way of keeping days like the Sabbath in order to earn His favor. And if they did return to legalism, Paul feels as if his ministry to them would have been futile. Paul is saying that the Gospel frees them from the obligation of keeping days like the Sabbath.

Christ is our Sabbath rest.

The Sabbath is a foreshadowing of the eschatological rest of the people of God.

1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who lis10ed. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, ‘As I swore in my wrath, ‘they shall not enter my rest,’’ although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this passage he said, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Heb 4:1-10).

This is an already-not-yet promise where we get a taste of the final rest now by being released from the demands of the Sabbath. Paul’s argument is that believers now belong to the age to come and the requirements of the old covenant are no longer binding. Thus, they experience spiritual rest in eternity but earthly rest in being released from the obligations of the laws like the Sabbath. Hebrews is telling us to enter that Sabbath rest provides by Jesus Christ and not reject it in any way.

The N.T. never commands observing the Sabbath.

If the Sabbath were required today, it is surprising that the N.T. never directly repeats the command like it does the other nine commandments of the Decalogue. The N.T. never criticizes anyone for breaking it. Paul dealt with numerous problems of Christian living, but he never tells us how to keep the Sabbath. He lists numerous sins that can keep a person out of the kingdom of God, but he never mentions the Sabbath. Nowhere is any Gentile nation or people commanded to observe the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is important, the silence of the New Testament is astounding.

Final Thought

Believers are not obligated to observe the laws of the Sabbath. However, we are to honor and respect those who think the Sabbath is still mandatory for believers. That is what Romans 14:5 is all about – “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Paul forbids those who observe the Sabbath (these were no doubt weak Jewish believers) to condemn those who do not (Gentile believers).

Final answer: follow your conscience.

 

If you have a question you would like to submit to our blog to be answered in the future, please it to charlesheck@cox.net or pose your question in the comments section of this post.

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[1] Reference unknown

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