Question:

How important is the Sabbath day (Saturday)? Is it something that we have to do? Thanks for the help.


Answer:

Ever since the covenant changed with the death of Jesus, the observance of the Sabbath has ceased to be a requirement. The law brought down from Mt. Sinai by Moses, which included the laws for observing the Sabbath, was given specifically to the people of Israel."And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb" (Deuteronomy 5:1-2). It was not given to any other nation. "He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them. Praise the LORD!" (Psalm 149:19-20). Hence, the Old Covenant was a barrier to people of other nationalities becoming followers of God. God did not intend that it would remain thus. "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD" (Jeremiah 31:31-32).

This new covenant that would be different from the old covenant was established by the death of the Son of God. "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh -- who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands -- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:11-16). Because of the change in covenant, there is no longer a distinction made between Jew and Gentile. As Christians we are now one people. "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" (Galatians 3:28).

While many of the terms of the new covenant are similar to the old covenant that God made with Israel, not all of them are the same. After all, if they were exactly the same, then it would not have been new. One of the changes was in the use of circumcision to indicate that a person was under the covenant. "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:11-14). Baptism replaces the sign of circumcision found in the Old Law. Does it mean that it is wrong to be circumcised? No. It simply means that circumcision carries no meaning in the Christian religion. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation" (Galatians 6:15).

Because circumcision has not meaning in Christianity, it became wrong to insist that a person be circumcised in order to be a Christian. God did not carry circumcision over from the Old Covenant, so to insist that it be done would be adding to God's Law. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:1-4). Paul's argument is that each law system was a whole. You cannot pick portions of one, saying that these you will keep, while discarding the rest. If circumcision was still required, then the rest of the Old Law must be followed -- including animal sacrifices and worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem. If animal sacrifices must still be offered, then Jesus' death was for nothing and we would still be in our sins. God's whole plan of salvation would unravel when a person attempts to seek justification by a commandment in the Old Law.

Circumcision was not the only law that changed. The entire system of dietary laws, holy days and festivals also changed. "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17). Notice carefully that the Sabbath was just a shadow of the reality in Christ, just as circumcision was a shadow of baptism. Like circumcision, there is no harm if someone wants to observe the Sabbath or one of the Jewish holy days, so long as that person doesn't make it a requirement. Circumcision carries no meaning in the Christian religion, and neither does observing the Sabbath. One of the purposes of the sabbath was to remind the Israelites of their freedom from slavery in Egypt. "And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day" (Deuteronomy 5:15). The observance of the Sabbath was a sign of covenant between God and the people of Israel. "Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: 'Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed'" (Exodus 31:13-17). Think carefully about this: If the Sabbath regulation is still required for the Christian, then so must be the death penalty for not keeping the Sabbath. Remember Paul's argument that you can't pick and choose the laws you would like to follow, the law comes as a packaged whole.

The Sabbath had significant meaning to the people of Israel, but it carries no meaning for the Christian. If a person would like to take a day off to worship God, there is nothing wrong with it, so long as that person doesn't say that everyone must do the same. "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks" (Romans 14:5-6).

Hence, you find in the New Testament Christians of Jewish descent joining Jews in the synagogues on the Sabbath day as an opportunity to teach. Of Paul it is said, "And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 18:4). Yet on the first day of the week, Paul joined Christians to worship Christ. "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight" (Acts 20:7). Going to the synagogues on the Sabbath did not interfere with Christian worship on the first day of the week. Attendance at a synagogue on the Sabbath was never a requirement, but Paul used the gatherings as an opportunity to spread the good news regarding Jesus. "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law" (I Corinthians 9:19-20). Notice closely that Paul said he lived by the Law in order to teach the Jews even though he himself was not under that Law.

Remember how strongly Paul argued against continuing circumcision? Yet, at one point he had Timothy circumcised. "Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek" (Acts 16:3). Timothy's mother was of Jewish decent, so Timothy had the right to be a Jew if the Old Law was still in effect. In order for Timothy to have free access to the Jewish people -- to be able to teach in the Jewish synagogues, Paul had him circumcised, even though circumcision is not a requirement in Christianity.

Therefore, observing the Sabbath has no significance to the Christian, but a Christian may choose to observe the Sabbath if he so desires. It cannot be made binding on other Christians, but its observation might be useful in some circumstances if it allows a Christian an opportunity to teach the truth.

November 11, 2012