Should You Keep the Sabbath?
There is nothing that so sets apart and distinguishes God’s people from the world as Sabbath observance. Factories, professional sports and retail stores are open seven days a week. Working on the Lord’s day is a mandatory condition for employment in many jobs. The Christian who desires to honor the Lord on his holy day faces constant pressure from the world to give up his Sabbath observance. Incredibly, he may face even more intense pressure from Christians who feel there is no longer any need in the present dispensation to keep one day in seven holy unto the Lord. Should you keep the Sabbath? Consider the following teachings of God’s holy and inerrant word.
1. Keeping one day in seven holy to the Lord is the requirement of the fourth commandment. As part of the moral law which was never abrogated, it remains binding until heaven and earth pass away (Matt. 5:17–18). It is a binding moral obligation upon all men and institutions. As such it is to be kept today. The fourth commandment reads in full: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Ex. 20:8–11). “Remember” implies that God’s people were already aware of this moral duty. Thus, keeping the Sabbath is not exclusively a Jewish institution but a creation ordinance (Gen. 2:2–3). God himself hallowed the Sabbath; so man, in imitation of God, is required to hallow it (keep it holy) as well.
2. The church observes the first day of the week as the weekly sabbath following the example of Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath. Every week of his life our Lord “went into the synagogue on the sabbath day [the seventh day of the week]” which was “his regular custom” (Luke 4:16). Two days before his passion he pronounced judgment upon the temple, saying, “Your house [not “my house,” as earlier, Matt. 21:13] is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple . . .” (Matt. 23:38–24:1, cf. 26:1–2). It is highly significant that after his resurrection Jesus altered his lifelong practice and never again participated in seventh-day Sabbath worship; instead, he met in a gathering with his disciples on the first and second occurrences of the now-inaugurated first-day Sabbath (John 20:19, 26). Again, after his ascension he met with his gathered church on the first day of the week, pouring out his Spirit upon them on the day of Pentecost (50 days inclusive, Acts 2:1), which was the seventh first-day Sabbath of the post-resurrection era. These meetings of Christ with his people establish the pattern for Sabbath-observance for the church in the present age. It is Christ himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, who changed the day (Matt. 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5). This was recognized by his disciples, who continued this practice in the New Testament church (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:1–2, Rev. 1:10). Contrary to the oft-repeated charge of Seventh-day Adventists, the church does not keep the first day of the week on the supposed basis that the church changed the day. Christ himself changed the day!
Following their Lord’s example, the early disciples met on the first day of the week to observe the Lord’s Supper and hear the preaching of God’s Word (Acts 20:7). The apostle Paul directed that a collection for the saints be taken on the first day of the week, when the church met for worship, so that there would be no need for a special collection when he came to visit the church: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2).
By the incomparable wisdom of God the language of the fourth commandment perfectly fits both the Old Covenant seventh-day Sabbath and the New Covenant first-day Sabbath: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God . . .” (Ex. 20:9–10). The commandment does not read: “The seventh day of the week” but simply “the seventh day.” The pattern in both dispensations is six days of labor and one day of rest unto the Lord. In observing the first day of the week as the Sabbath the church follows the example of her Lord and King (1 Pet. 2:21).
Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 59 summarizes the Bible’s teaching on the change of the day as follows: “Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath? From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.”
3. God has directed that a holy convocation of his people be called on the Sabbath day. A convocation is an assembly of persons called together to a meeting (from the Latin com, together, plus vocare, to call). God instructed: “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings” (Lev. 23:3). The elders of the church are responsible for calling the church together for public worship.
4. Sabbath-keeping is connected with reverence for God’s sanctuary, the place where he himself dwells: “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord” (Lev. 26:2). In the New Testament the sanctuary is identified as the gathered people of God. Paul wrote, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17; note that the plural “ye” is used, not the singular “thou”). Thus, the Sabbath is to be kept by gathering with God’s people for the purpose of meeting with the risen Christ who dwells in the midst of his church.
5. The Sabbath is hallowed or sanctified in the context of assemblies called by God and owned by him. He says through the prophet Ezekiel, “And in controversy they shall stand in judgment; and they shall judge it according to my judgments: and they shall keep my laws and my statutes in all mine assemblies; and they shall hallow my sabbaths” (Ezek. 44:24). God claims and reserves for himself exclusive ownership of the Sabbath day and Sabbath worship. Christ, not the church, is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) and determines how it is to be sanctified.
6. Far from diminishing the duty of assembling with God’s people for corporate worship, the New Testament intensifies this duty, explicitly forbidding the forsaking of public worship: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Thus, it is evident that keeping the Sabbath is a moral duty required of all people and not limited to the Jewish nation.
7. The title and opening verses of Psalm 92 suggest that the pattern for Sabbath worship is to gather together for corporate worship both morning and evening: “A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: to show forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night” (Ps. 92:1–2). In the Bible “evening and morning” stand for the whole day (e.g., Gen. 1:5). The practice of beginning and ending the Sabbath in corporate worship shows that the entire day belongs to God.
8. The particular rest which is required on the Sabbath day is a special rest to the Lord, a rest which is to be observed on the Lord’s terms, not man’s, and for his glory alone. “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death” (Ex. 35:2). Though resting one day in seven is a practice beneficial to one’s physical and mental health, the Sabbath rest required by God is for his glory, not man’s convenience. It is rest “to the Lord.”
9. It is evident that works of necessity and mercy, as well as those essential to the public worship of God, are lawful on the Sabbath. Jesus taught that his disciples’ gleaning of grain to satisfy their physical hunger, the priests’ offering of sacrifices in connection with public worship, the rescue of an animal which had fallen into a pit, and his own performing a healing were all lawful Sabbath work (Matt. 12:1–13). Changing a sudden flat tire and taking care of the sick are lawful Sabbath work; but scheduled vehicle maintenance and elective surgery, which could just as well be performed on any of the other six days of the week, are not. Should the Christian shop at a store or eat at a restaurant on the Sabbath? Moses expanded upon the individual’s Sabbath duty in these words: “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou” (Deut. 5:14). Whether in your full-time employment or serving you only once, another person should never be hired to do nonessential work on the Sabbath day. In deciding whether any particular Sabbath work is lawful or not, God’s people need to be honest before the heavenly Judge who examines one’s heart-motivation: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).
10. The particular duty required in keeping the Sabbath day is to bring honor to God by obedience to him; contrariwise, the sin forbidden is doing one’s own pleasure. In perhaps the most eloquent statement on Sabbath-keeping in the entire Bible, God promised his people through the prophet Isaiah, “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honor him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 58:13–14). This passage is worthy of special reflection and meditation if you earnestly desire to know the will of God concerning your keeping one day in seven holy to him.
Should you keep the Sabbath? Indeed you should! Those who obediently follow the Lord rather than the lawless spirit of our age will be richly blessed both in this life and in the life to come.
Where are the pastors with the courage to preach their people’s obligation to keep the Sabbath day holy? Where are the church members who refuse to do unnecessary work or shopping on the Lord’s holy day? Where are the Christian businessmen who as an act of obedient faith close their business—even when the competition is open—and trust God to bless them for their obedience? Where are the professional athletes who refuse to play on the Lord’s day because of their Christian convictions? Where are the Christian real estate agents who refuse to hold an open house on the Sabbath? What tremendous blessing will come upon our land when Christians repent of their careless indifference to the things of God and begin to keep the Sabbath day holy to the Lord!