Why don't we still keep the Sabbath? (1)

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: I just did some research on the Sabbath, and the consensus is that modern-day Christians do not have to observe it because the law was given to the Israelites. But why is it okay for a believer not to keep the Sabbath today? It’s in the Ten Commandments… and Christians generally agree that we should keep the other ones. I’m not trying to be a wise guy or anything. I’m just trying to understand why mainstream Christians don’t keep the Sabbath today.

Answer: Greetings, friend. That’s certainly a fair question… and I appreciate that you are asking it in the spirit of inquiry and not in the spirit of contention… so, let me state the question my way to emphasize how I will answer it.

Since the Sabbath is an equal member in a list of behaviors that we currently revere, then why do we dismiss it categorically — but while obeying the other commandments as an expected part of our Christian walk?

We dismiss the Sabbath categorically because it is different categorically. The Sabbath is a sign to the nation Israel (Exodus 31:16-17) … while the other commandments are not. In fact, keeping the Sabbath is more akin to male circumcision than it is to any of the other commandments. Look at the parallels in the language.

“You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.”
(Genesis 17:11, NIV, emphasis mine)

“The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever….” (Exodus 31:16–17, NIV, emphasis mine)

Circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, and faithful Jews observe this even today. But we know for sure that this requirement did not pass down to the New Testament Church because this was the hot-button issue at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15… and the leaders decided that they would not require circumcision going forward.

But why do you suppose they decided this? Circumcision and Sabbath-keeping are signs… and who needs signs after we’ve reached our destination! Remember, all of history pointed to Jesus Christ. He represents the end of our journey because he has fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17). And not only did the cross signal a new day for humankind, it started us a new journey in Grace… so God took down the old signs so we wouldn’t be confused.

Now, we Christians should still respect the Law. After all, Christ shed his blood to fulfill it and to remove us from its condemning power (Romans 8:1). But the Commandments have practical value, too, and as such, they will always be our guide for holy living — even under Grace!

But the sacerdotal aspects of the Commandments have no more efficacy (Matthew 27:51)… and this removes the necessity of anyone showing up on the Sabbath (Hebrews 10:4-10). When Jesus fulfilled the Law, the elements of the Law — like the Ten Commandments — ceased to be the doorway of salvation. Instead, the Lord himself would be that door (John 10:7).

Now, earlier I said that the Commandments were not signs, but this is not entirely true. Our obedience to them is a sign. It’s a sign to one another (and to a lost and dying world) that we belong to God (1 John 2:3-6). But in that capacity, our obedience is only incidentally a sign, whereas keeping the Sabbath would purposefully be a sign, and that has been the case since its inception.

Your question is based on a reverence for the Ten Commandments… which I applaud and support! So let me use that to make my final point.

When people do not steal, this provides a benefit for society. Indeed, many of the commandments have a universal practical value, too… but there’s more going on here. When we make the assertion that we should not steal, people generally accept this because it is a felt truth — like there’s some knowledge about this hanging in the air. Well… there is such knowledge; it’s a transcendental moral code that we parse through the human conscience
(Romans 2:14-15).

But commands to be circumcised or to keep the Sabbath work differently than the other commandments. For one thing, they are not overtly transcendental. But for another, they do not generate the same kinds of global social benefits we would get from not lying or not murdering. They were much more in-house activities for the nation Israel… and the Church is not Israel.

So, although keeping the Sabbath shares some aspects of the others in the list of commandments, it’s not the same by type. As such, we don’t have to treat it the same as the others… and especially in this Age of Grace.

Thanks for that question… and God bless you! 

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