In a word, yes. I believe we should. But not for the reasons you think.

There are many professing Christians who believe God commands us to keep the Sabbath holy (the Sabbath being a full 24 hour period, either Saturday or Sunday). They point to the 4th Commandment found in Exodus 20:1-17 and again in Deuteronomy 5:1-21. Proponents of Sabbath-keeping, or Sabbatarians, will ask of Sabbath-breakers, “So, since you break the 4th without much thought, do you commit murder or steal as well?” or if they are a bit sarcastic, “I’m sorry, I thought there were 10 commandments, not 9 plus a suggestion.”

As you walk through the passages concerning the Sabbath, it’s easy to wonder if many in evangelicalism are unwittingly disobeying God. As Moses left Mt. Sinai, knowing he was probably foggy in his head because he didn’t have food or water for 40 days and 40 nights, God reminded him, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you” (31:13).

And if pull out your WWJD bracelet, you’ll discover that Jesus practiced the Sabbath, albeit with some rebellious tendencies. Paul, having a pristine Jewish pedigree, kept the Sabbath holy as well.

So, why do so many believers find it optional in their Christian life?

First, let’s briefly look at the reasons why God commanded His people to cease for a day. Then we’ll return to our question.

Rest and Refreshment. In Genesis 2:1-3, God modeled the Sabbath practice. After creating humanity, the climax of His creation, He rested. As we were created in His image, He wired something into humanity’s DNA that needed to rest. Deut. 5:15 reminds the Israelites that people who work 7 days a week without rest are called slaves. He freed them from 400 years of constant production and said – take a break!

A Sign of His Covenant. Exodus 31:12-17 mentions twice that the weekly Sabbath served as a sign of God’s commitment to Israel. God set up some physical signs for anyone who wasn’t a Jew to see something was different about these people. It wasn’t hard to figure out who the children of Jacob were in any culture throughout history: they were circumcised, they never ordered bacon-wrapped shrimp, and they never worked from Friday night until Saturday night.

God’s Sign of Sanctification. Not only does Sabbath serve as a reminder to the world the children of Israel worship Yahweh as Father, but it’s a weekly reminder to God’s children that He does His best work when they don’t. God says in Ex. 31:13 the Sabbath illustrates that only God can declare and make someone holy. Sabbath is a gospel-sign in the Hebrew Scriptures. Life is not about what we do for God, but what God does for us. There is nothing that the children of Israel can do to impress or prove that they are worth God’s love and attention. By ceasing for a day, they remember God is working in them and in the world to reconcile all people back to Himself.

So when God commanded the Sabbath in the Hebrew Scriptures, He did it for rest, as a sign to the world the Jewish people belonged to Yahweh, and as a reminder of God’s work of holy transformation in their lives. Why would Christians abandon that commandment?

Abandon One, Abandon All.

There’s a small stretch of road between Kalispell, MT and Big Fork, MT along the massive Flathead Lake where someone has spent serious coin on 10 billboards displaying the 10 commandments. When I saw the 4th, I noticed they didn’t put a footnote: no longer applicable to Christians. It seems we are desperate to keep the commandments before people (see court cases regarding the 10 commandments on everything from classrooms to yard art), but we are inconsistent with our execution.

Most believers also don’t realize that the commandments are part of a much larger context involving laws on everything from when you have sexual relations with your wife, children being stoned for disobeying their parents (I know what you parents of teenagers are thinking), and of course, the prohibition against pig roasts and lobster bakes. Why not put up billboards saying, “Thou shalt not eat shellfish?”

It only took a few years, but the early church almost split over this very issue – how applicable is the Mosaic Law to Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians? While it wasn’t over the Sabbath specifically, this division applies to our discussion. Take a moment to read Acts 15. Quite a brawl erupted between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The former believed the latter needed to be circumcised in order to experience salvation. But a group of apostles, all of them Jewish by the way, said that Gentiles were not obligated to follow the Mosaic Law as it related to circumcision (and all the men hollered, AMEN!) or dietary restrictions. Since the apostles could not send out a blast email to all Christ followers, they reminded churches one by one through letters and/or visits about the purpose of the Mosaic Law in the lives of believers.

The Law as a Guardian

Soon after the Jerusalem Council, Paul wrote one of the first books of the New Testament, Galatians. In it, he wrote, “Now before faith came, we were held captive by under the law (Mosaic Law including 10 commandments), imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian (or tutor) until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:23-28).

Did you grow up with a curfew? Maybe it started at dusk and then every year it moved up an hour or two until your senior year when the clock struck midnight you better be home or your car turned into the personal property of your parents. Your parents did not put the curfew in place so that when you became an adult you would make sure you were home at midnight. They knew one day you would no longer be under their jurisdiction, but hopefully their law might have taught you some personal responsibility. They maintained a hope that soon you would move from their laws to your conscience. After clubbing into the wee hours and then getting up at 6 am for work, you discovered the wisdom of “early to bed…” In the same way, the Law served the people of God as a guardian until freedom was found in Jesus Christ.

The Law: An Obsolete Operating System

Super Bowl XVIIII (1984) will be remembered for Marcus Allen running all over the Redskins and for a third quarter commercial directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Black Hawk Down) that cost 1.5 million dollars. Called simply, “1984,” it unveiled a brand new computer: the Macintosh. For a few minutes the whole world paused and beheld its glory: a sleek beige box design, a whopping128 K of memory, a huge 9 inch screen, mouse, and keyboard all for only $2495 (that’s 1984 dollars, not adjusted for inflation).

As glorious as the commercial was, I doubt anyone would trade their iphone in for one of the first Macs. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone (10 Commandments and by extension the whole Mosaic Law), came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory” (3:7-10). Read that again. While the Mosaic Law was glorious, it was a lot like Ridley’s commercial, amazing in its day. However, as we will see, the Law served a purpose, to point out sin and point towards our need for a Savior. Once the new operating system comes, there’s no need for the old one.

The book of Hebrews, written to mostly Jewish Christians, states, “in speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete (Mosaic Law). And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (8:13). Something better has come, and His name is Jesus.

Live Under a New Law

Later in Galatians Paul says that if you are “led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” He then goes onto to say that those people who try to live under the law can’t (6:13), but they do a great job helping people feel guilty about not following the old operating system. Laws by their nature encourage judgment. When we inevitably fall short, we condemn ourselves and others when they are broken (remember Paul referred to the Law as a ministry of condemnation). Why don’t they practice the Sabbath? Why do they go to R rated movies? But Paul is clear, “For neither circumcision (you can insert Sabbath here) counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (6:15-16). Remember the source: Paul was a circumcised, Sabbath keeping, Jewish believer releasing Gentile believers from following the Mosaic Law.

In another church it appears the issue wasn’t circumcision, but the other sign of God’s old covenant – the Sabbath. Paul contends, “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” (2:16-17). Paul’s passion was for people to be freed from an old system and bonded to Jesus Christ. The beauty of Christianity is that we believe in Jesus and nothing else to justify us before a holy God. Jesus said people will know you are my disciples by your love, not by what you don’t eat, not by circumcision, and not by taking a day off. Those signs served a purpose for a limited time, but God instituted a new covenant. Paul doesn’t mince words about people who tried to apply the Mosaic Law to Gentile Christians. In Philippians he shouts with his pen, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh (Jewish believers requiring Gentiles to get circumcised to be acceptable to God)” (3:1). Again, you can replace circumcision with no shellfish, or with Sabbath.

Whenever you establish laws or rules, it’s easy to start believing that because I follow the rules I am acceptable to someone. As parents we fall into the trap of establishing our children’s self-worth by their good behavior. God never established the Mosaic Law to pave the path to earn our righteousness or become worthy in His eyes. He set the Law up to reveal to humanity that we can never live up to that standard. We need a better way.

Before Jesus, the restriction to eat certain foods, circumcision, and the Sabbath were all physical signs reminding the Jews that God is working in their lives. But unfortunately the Jews turned the signs of His work into attempts at their work to please a Holy God. Jesus came and revealed their foolishness. However, Jesus did this by not abolishing the Law, but fulfilling it, and in a way, intensifying it for us today. Jesus summed up the Law with two commands: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Personally, there are moments when I’d rather go back to the old law rather than the new law. The old law pushed people to focus on good and bad behavior; Jesus focused on our hearts. The old law tended to move people to clean the outside of the cup; Jesus wants to clean the inside. With the old law I knew the moral law by hearing, “Thou shall not murder.” Now the bar has been raised, “But I say to you anyone who hates his brother already has committed murder in his heart.” With the old law I knew I shouldn’t cheat on my wife. Now I’ve to figure out when a look becomes a lust for if I lust after a woman I’ve committed adultery in my heart. Before I knew to love my neighbor and hate my nemesis – now I have to pray for those who hate me. Worse, Jesus may ask me to buy them a new coat.

Before it was a tithe of my money, now it’s something immeasurable – whatever the Lord prompts in my heart. Before it was one 24-hour period once a week. Now Jesus says, “Follow me,” and He can ask me to clear my appointments any day of the week.

That’s why the gospel is so crucial. Unless Jesus changes our hearts, then it’s impossible to live under this new law. I need Him to deal with my hate, my lust, my greed, and my incessant desire to perform, to accomplish, and prove to this world that I matter.

So…What Do I Do with the 10 Commandments?

But I’ve got this sweet bookmark with the 10 commandments on it and I’ve been sending money to the Christian Legal Defense Fund to keep the 10 commandments on the courthouse lawn! Should we just cut out the Ten Commandments, portions of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy? Theologically no, but practically, believers circumcise the Mosaic Law without a second thought. I don’t see anyone setting up the tabernacle (except maybe our set up teams), obeying the stoning laws, or waiting eight days to bring their son back to the hospital for circumcision (sooner the better right!). Why show Ridley Scott commercials about a $2495 Macintosh with a nine-inch screen, when I can see a $199 iphone program my direct TV from a plane?

Paul says, “All scripture is profitable and useful…” When he wrote that to Timothy, his devotions were only in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Law captures the heart of a God who wants to redeem all humanity to Himself. Without the Law I wouldn’t know how impossible it is for humanity to come anywhere near the holiness of God. Without the Law I wouldn’t know the deadly ramifications of sin. Without the Law I would never know that sin requires a sacrifice in order to appease a holy God. In other words, without the Law, I wouldn’t know my incredible need for a Savior.

So that brings me back to the original question, “Should Christians keep the Sabbath?” And I say, yes, but not because I’m following an obsolete operating system.

The Sabbath was designed as a gift of God to the Jewish people (man was not made for the Sabbath, but Sabbath for man) to help them cease from their weekly pursuits and see how passionately God pursues His people. It was never designed for His people to try and pursue God with their religious activities. It saddens me that my first thoughts when I started researching this topic were:
– Do I have to do this?
– How can I possibly carve out time each week?
– Is it a whole day, or can I piece 24 hours through the week?
– Does the day matter? Does it need to be Saturday, Sunday, Monday?
– When does the day start? At sundown? Sun-up? What if I live in Alaska?

Those questions tend to reveal one thing, “Just tell me if I have to follow another rule.” What I am doing is trying to live under the old operating system and turn the Sabbath into a Law rather than the gift God created for His people. The gospel proclaims Jesus plus nothing. Not Jesus plus going to church. Not Jesus plus a kosher diet. Not Jesus plus obeying the Sabbath. But God gives us a gift, the gift of margin. If you examine the original three reasons for the Sabbath, I wonder if it’s exactly what many of us in Suburbia crave and need. So here’s why I’m starting to accept God’s gift of the Sabbath:

Sabbath was designed in Creation, not the Law. When God put together humanity’s wiring, He designed us for a day of rest and refreshment. The principle established in Genesis 2:1-3 is not that humanity must rest on Saturday. God never used the days of the week in Genesis 1, “On Monday, God created the heavens and earth.” Men named the days of the week. The principle is work six and rest one. When that happens is up to you. The Mosaic Law and the Prophets were specific about the day, but God isn’t in Creation. The reason why many of don’t take a Sabbath is that we are either too busy (so we worship the idol of our own self-importance and lack the trust that God will meet our needs) or, we are too lazy. With all the distractions in our day, I wonder if any of us really practice the principle of six full workdays. We easily blow a Sabbath on hours of TV, internet, video games, and “hanging out.”

Sabbath Creates a Regular Rhythm of Rest and Joy. For most of us, our weekly rhythm looks like a snare drum. We go from one beat to the next without much of a breath. One activity to the next and we wake up and our time has flown, the lines on our face grow deeper, and our kids are driving out the driveway. God calls that life – it’s but a vapor. Sabbath is a gift of ceasing and seeing the God who is. It guarantees that for at least 52 days out of the year, I’ve created some margin to enjoy God, creation, and community. Think about how many times you’ve said this New Year’s resolution, “I need to spend more time with God this year.” God gives you the how – Sabbath.

God Works Best When We Don’t. I tend to evaluate a good or bad day on how much I accomplish. I talked to a salesman at Panera one day who said, “I look at everything based on R.O.T.” What’s going to be my “return on time” with this activity or event? It’s only worth my precious minutes if I get something out of it. We daily bow down to the idol of performance. We craft our identity from our accomplishments. After weeks, months, and years of that mentality, it’s easy to see why my Christian life tends to be defined in the same terms – it’s not what God does for me, but what I do for God that matters. Pretty soon, I’ve shackled myself to the Law. I read my Bible, pray, go to church, go to Bible studies, love my wife, and build into my kids. All out of duty rather than desire. My life has been spent proving to God I’m worthy, acceptable, and good. Sabbath is a weekly reminder of the Gospel – God works in me when I do nothing for Him. He wants to enjoy me. He wants to speak to me. He wants to prove to me that He is changing my heart without me lifting a finger.

Isn’t that the paradox of the Christian life? He calls us to feast with him through fasting. He beckons us to conquer the world on our knees. He wants to do more with 80-90% of our income than we can do with 100%. He advances His greatness through our weakness. He saves me through His work on the Cross, not my work on earth. He wants to do more through us in six days than we can accomplish in seven. Sabbath affords us the chance to actually see evidence of His power. In Sabbath we behold His glory because we have ceased from pursuing our own.

Here are a few suggestions if you do believe God is leading you to do this:

1. Let it be a conviction of your heart rather than an imposed rule. Paul says in Romans 14:4-12 that some esteem one day better than another (Sabbath), while another esteems all days alike. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Remember the gospel is about following Jesus plus nothing. If He convicts your heart to take one day or two or none for Him, be convinced in your heart and judge no one else (for those 7th Day Adventists, please look at Col. 2:16-17)
2. View it as a gift, not a command. Sabbath then turns into a “get to,” not a “have to,” There may be certain seasons of life where Sabbath may be impossible or the day might need to change, but challenge yourself to accept and enjoy this weekly respite from God.
3. Be Consistent and Courageous. The reason why most of us wouldn’t practice a Sabbath isn’t theological (We stubbornly say, “It’s not about a Sabbath, it’s about a Savior. I’m in the new covenant, not the antiquated old covenant!”) The reason is we can’t imagine God giving us a good “R.O.T.” If we are looking for God to appear, to download a message, to fix a problem, or change some issues in our life in 24 hours, then we’ve missed the point of the Sabbath. The return is much needed rest. The return is His worthiness. The return is finally stopping for a day so I can catch a glimpse of His glory and His passionate pursuit of me. Don’t miss the irony of R.O.T. Whatever we accomplish in this life will one day rot and pass away. The enemy wants you to believe that you can inherit this worldly kingdom – he offered it to Jesus and he’ll offer it to us. Most of us spend a lifetime pursuing the passing pleasures of this world and wonder why life feels empty, rushed, and disconnected with our Creator. All the while the God of the Universe waits in the waiting room of our life, wondering if we will trust Him with a few hours of our week.
4. Prepare. It won’t happen unless you think, pray, and plan for it. And that probably leads to your next question, “How do I fill up a whole day with nothing?”

Ah that’s for another sermon. For now I just encourage you in the words of the Psalmist, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”

Footnote: Many believers will try to divide up the Mosaic Law into three categories: moral (10 commandments), ceremonial, and dietary. They will then decide to follow the moral law in part or in whole. Others, like the 7th Day Adventists will follow both the moral and dietary laws. However in both cases, their lives are marked more by trying to follow the laws rather than being led by the Spirit. They create lives of legalism and their relationship with God is reduced to how well they are following rules rather than the freedom promised by Jesus Christ.