In my early teens I met a girl at a youth camp who was Seventh Day Adventist. I thought she was pretty, so I looked in the Bible to find out whether what she believed was an important issue or not. The passage that helped me was Romans 14, which I discuss a little later in this article.
In the years that followed I heard various Christian claims about how the Church changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday and how relevant the Old Testament law was or wasn’t for us today.
Today I finally decided to put together an article exploring the Christian attitude to the Sabbath, particularly for those who are struggling with whether Christians should or should not keep a day each week as a holy day.
The most prevalent voice about Sabbath keeping today is that of the Seventh Day Adventist church, so this article is probably of greatest relevance to those who have been influenced by the Adventists. So I will start with a comment about who to listen to.
Who To Listen To
We are warned in several ways about who we listen to and the company we keep.
“He that walks with wise men will be wise: but a companion of fools will be destroyed.” Proverbs 13:20
“Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man you shall not go: Lest you learn his ways, and get a snare to your soul.” Proverbs 22:24,25
“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” 1Corinthians 15:33
“My son, stop listening to instruction that causes you to err from the words of knowledge.” Proverbs 19:27
Adventists have a couple of specific topics which they sow into the hearts of their listeners. The topic of Sabbath keeping is a key issue for them and one which they regard as essential for correct worship.
If you have been reading Adventist material or listening to their messages you will already have imbibed something of their concern for this topic, as you are gradually led to hold their beliefs. That is the purpose of their speaking on the topic.
Please heed the caution to take note of who is speaking into your life. Are you being led to Biblical wisdom, or are you being led to a mindset or belief that the Adventists hold dear?
New Testament Sabbath Keeping
Now, take a look at the New Testament teaching about Sabbath keeping.
There is no direct New Testament instruction to keep the Sabbath day, either as a Saturday or Sunday. Instead we find the opposite message conveyed.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s comments about keeping a particular day. I have condensed a passage from Romans 14:5-13.
“One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Romans 14:5
“He that regards the day, regards it to the Lord; and he that disregards the day, to the Lord he disregards it.” Romans 14:6
“For none of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself.” Romans 14:7
“For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” Romans 14:8
“But why do you judge your brother? or why do you set at nought your brother? for we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Romans 14:10
“So then every one of us will give account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12
“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Romans 14:13
No Special Day
Here is Paul, the architect of the New Testament church, and a man who was taken into heaven and shown things too wonderful to ever talk about and who wrote the most books in the New Testament, telling us that there is no Biblical imperative about keeping a particular day. Instead, the keeping of a special day or treating all days as equal is a matter of personal conscience, not Biblical mandate.
Despite the clear responsibility of Jews to keep the Sabbath, as we see in the insistence of the Pharisees that Christ not work on the Sabbath, this former Pharisee, Paul, speaks quite casually about whether one day or all days are to be honoured.
In Christian worship there is no special day, either as Saturday or Sunday, that must be given honour over any other day. If you choose to esteem one day over another, that is a matter for your conscience. If you choose to esteem all days alike, that too is a matter for your conscience.
And no Christian is to judge another about which day or days they hold in esteem. Each of us must answer to Christ, and give an account of ourselves to Him. Therefore “let us not judge one another any more”.
The Early Church Leaders
We also see the same message that Paul gives in Romans 14 affirmed by Peter, James and the other church leaders when they gave instruction to the Gentile believers about what was required of them.
The church leaders in Jerusalem were asked to clarify if Jewish laws applied to Gentile believers. The church leaders came out with the following conclusion, which they sent to the Gentiles.
“And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting to the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:” Acts 15:23
“Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, You must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:” Acts 15:24
“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things;” Acts 15:28
“That you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if you keep yourselves, you will do well. Fare you well.” Acts 15:29
Here are the church leaders of the New Testament age holding the very first conference about what is doctrinally correct for believers. And they do not impose the Jewish Law, Sabbath Keeping, Circumcision, or any such thing. They focus on three elements of diet: food offered to idols; blood; and things strangled. And they focus on sexual purity. That’s it! No Sabbath Keeping!
Life in the Spirit
We learn from the Book of Hebrews that the Old Testament laws were a pattern and earthly replica of eternal things in the heavens. Christ fulfilled the true meaning of the Old Testament pattern and laws. Spiritual realities now dominate our lives in the church age, not legalistic requirements of religious duty as were applied under Jewish law.
We find this truth explored in the following verses from Hebrews 9, which I will paraphrase.
“The first covenant had ordinances of divine service (the Jewish laws) and a man made sanctuary, with various pieces of furniture” Heb 9:1-5
“The priests served in the tabernacle but only the high priest could go into the holiest place, once a year, with blood of animals offered for himself and the people” Hebrews 9:6,7
“This Jewish legal process was the Holy Spirit’s way to show us that real access to the true holy place was not available under Jewish Law, which was a mere model of the real thing, with processes that could not fully deal with sin, but were in place until the time of reformation, the time when the true heavenly realities are revealed.” Hebrews 8-10
“But Christ is a high priest of the heavenly reality, the greater tabernacle in heaven, where he entered only once with his own blood into the true holy place where he obtained eternal redemption for us.” Hebrews 9:11,12
“If animal sacrifices purified the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, completely cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the Living God?” Hebrews 9:13,14
All those laws the Jews were slavishly bound to were a mere reflection of the true spiritual reality yet to be revealed, which is now fulfilled in Christ. So we are free from those “dead works” which the Jews were religiously bound to, and now we serve God with a clean conscience and free from the old laws.
That same truth is also expressed by Paul in Romans 8, showing that to live in the Spirit is the reality of God’s plan, not the following of the law. By entering into the spirit of what God has planned we become free from the practical demands of law.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:2
“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:” Romans 8:3
“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:4
Keeping Your Liberty
As these verses show, we enjoy a wonderful liberty and freedom through Christ. We are no longer bound by the laws that enslaved the Jewish people.
We now serve God out of a clear conscience and a heart of love toward Him. “We are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
But in the early days of the New Testament church there were Christian teachers who insisted that the people come under the law. Some insisted on circumcision and others on the keeping of various laws.
Paul particularly challenged the church at Galatia that it had been seduced to come back under law. Note these various verses from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
“I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel:” Galatians 1:6
“Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:7
“And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” Galatians 2:4
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Galatians 2:16
“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” Galatians 2:19
“O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” Galatians 3:1
“This only would I learn of you, Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Galatians 3:2
“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:3
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” Galatians 3:10
“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11
“And the law is not of faith: but, The man that does them shall live in them.” Galatians 3:12
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree:” Galatians 3:13
“That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:14
Those verses say we are set free from all the demands of the law, to live by grace through Christ. Some people try to ensnare us to a gospel based on our works, such as keeping various laws, but we are to remain in the Spirit, relying only on Christ and living only for Him.
Christ our Sabbath Rest
I pointed out earlier that Hebrews 9 shows that the old testament pattern as a model of the real things in heaven. Hebrews 4 also speaks on that theme and shows that Christ is our true rest.
The Jews had a weekly day of rest, a Sabbath. But that did not give them true rest.
After instigating the seventh day, Sabbath, rest, God promised that another “rest” would be given to His people. This was to be the true rest.
Hebrews 4 refers to a promise of rest given in Psalm 95:7-11, saying basically that “There is a rest yet to come, and those who hardened their hearts missed out on it.” That rest is entered into when we stop relying on our own actions and trust in Christ.
“There remains therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest is he who has also ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:9,10
We cease from our own works by relying on the finished work of Christ, by faith. And so Christ becomes the fulfilment of the Sabbath Rest for us.
What God signified to us by instigating the Sabbath was not the true rest God has for us. That is why people who kept the Sabbath could miss out on God’s true rest. The Jews who refused to believe God would lead them to the Promised Land kept the Sabbath faithfully each week, yet they were denied God’s rest.
“Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” Psalm 95:11
So the true meaning of rest is not fulfilled by keeping a weekly Sabbath. It is not fulfilled by treating Sunday as the new Sabbath, as some Christians teach. The true rest is not about a day off, or a day of religious observance. It is about finding rest to our souls because we rely on Christ and the grace of God through Him, and so we abandon all thought that our own actions count for anything toward our salvation. That is the true REST God gives.
Protect Your Liberty
We are instructed by Paul to resist any who would steal our liberty in Christ from us.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1
The Jewish laws, including Sabbath keeping, are a yoke of bondage. The Jews could not keep those laws and those laws did not bring them salvation. All the Jews who faithfully kept the Sabbath desperately needed to put their faith in Christ, just like all the Gentiles who did not keep the Sabbath. Sabbath keeping has no bearing on our salvation or our on-going Christian life. It is not the true REST which God has for us.
The Jewish laws like Sabbath keeping can now only rob us of our freedom to worship Christ and to celebrate the glory of grace that saves us.
Sabbath keeping entangles us in a yoke of bondage and destroys our liberty in Christ.
Putting it Together
The New Testament teaches about a Sabbath rest that has nothing to do with any particular day of the week. In fact, the New Testament shuns the idea of any particular day being exalted over another, except in the conscience of individual believers.
We are to rely on Christ for our full salvation and not to become entangled in the “yoke of bondage”.
We are also to avoid allowing people to bewitch us into moving away from our full trust and reliance on Christ. We need to be aware that those who speak into our lives will lead us in their direction, for better or for worse.
The devotion of some Christians to a particular day shows that they have not understood and do not fully walk in the teaching of the New Testament church. They have mixed old and new covenant ideas in a way that can only ensnare them and those who listen to them.
That does not make them sinners, but it does mean they have missed the true Sabbath rest, because they now rely on their own works, instead of totally relying on Christ.
Enjoy a Day of Rest
Now that the religious imperative for Sabbath keeping has been addressed, allow me to remind you that God has given you one day in the week for your refreshment. While we are not forced to honour any particular day and we are to avoid religious regulation that ensnares us, we are also offered a wonderful gift from God, of a rest day each week.
Jesus taught that the day of rest was a gift to man. Man was not made to worship the Sabbath.
“And he (Jesus) said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” Mark 2:27
Jesus did not rebuke his disciples for doing what was considered to be “work” on the Sabbath, allowing them to pluck grain and eat it as they walked along with Him (See Mark 2:23,24).
Note too that God created the day of rest back at creation. God rested on the Seventh Day and blessed it (See Genesis 2:2,3).
Subsequent to creation the Jews were brought under a strict law regarding keeping the Sabbath, including the death penalty for those who worked on the Sabbath. While Christians are not under the Jewish law and its legalistic constraints, we are still privileged to have a rest day blessed by God.
The Apostle Paul allows you to choose any day to esteem over others, or to esteem them all equally, as we saw in Romans 14. So even God’s blessing on the Seventh Day does not bind us to it. We have liberty in Christ.
Sabbath Keeping is a religious bondage. Enjoying a day of rest each week is God’s grace to us.
So, be led by the Spirit of God to enjoy what God has given you, free from religious constraints, legal bondage or man made religion.