Refuting Christian Sabbath Teaching (Part 2)
The Sabbath-keeping teaching of some Christians are dangerous because it leads those who adhere to it down the path of works to keep in right standing before God. They have failed to understand the implications of such a path which begins to move them beyond the sufficiency of God’s grace. In Part 1, we began to show how these teachings are in error because they inadequately interpreted the Scriptures or ignore clearer portions of Scripture. In Part 2 we further look into the confusion about Sabbath that contributed to their incorrect teachings.
1. It confuses Sabbath as a principle with the Sabbath as a seal in the Mosaic Covenant.
An in-depth study of covenants reveals that God made various covenants with man. However, there are different types of covenants. Some are conditional while some are unconditional. Some are everlasting while some are temporal. Detailed explanations on these are found in the wilsonlailing.com blog article “Covenant In The Bible (Part 1): Its Purposes”. The Abrahamic and New Covenants are everlasting while the Mosaic is temporal as it was superseded by the New Covenant (Gal 3:23-25; Heb 7:12, 18-19).
Further, it is important to understand that God requires 3 elements for a covenant to be fully established (see wilsonlailing.com “Covenants In The Bible (Part 3): God’s Covenants With Man”):
Words of the Covenant – These are promises of blessings and/or curses (what God does), and the terms of agreement (what man needs to do to remain in covenant).
Blood/sacrifice of the Covenant – this rectifies the covenant as valid. The payment to make God’s covenant valid has to involve the shedding of blood, a sacrifice. This is because of the sacredness of the covenant vows. For example, Jesus had to sacrifice Himself to make the New Covenant valid.
Seal of the Covenant – this is the ongoing tangible sign to the authenticity of the covenant. It serves as a constant reminder that the covenant is in operation. In modern day terms it is like the wedding ring that married couple’s wear. It is also described as the sign or token of the covenant.
Sabbath was a seal of the Mosaic Covenant. It is an everlasting requirement for those keeping the Mosaic Covenant, ie the Israelites.
Sabbath was a seal of the Mosaic Covenant. Therefore, breaking the Sabbath day meant breaking with God’s covenant. It is an everlasting requirement for those keeping the Mosaic Covenant, ie the Israelites. Exodus 31:14–17 (NIV) 14 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. 15 For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’ ”
But it is not an everlasting requirement to those who are NOT required to maintain the Mosaic Covenant. Mosaic Law are only for Jews and those who choose to be under it. Romans 3:19–20 (NIV) 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Christians are saved and justified on the basis of the New Covenant and hence we have no obligations to the Mosaic Covenant.
Christians are saved and justified on the basis of the New Covenant and hence we have no obligations to the Mosaic Covenant. Paul argued clearly against any obligations to the Mosaic Covenant and its Law (Gal 2:15-16). In fact, The Mosaic Law are now obsolete. Hebrews 8:13 (NIV) By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Further, the New Covenant through Jesus has elevated any significant Old Testament requirements to its higher spiritual purposes (see also wilsonlailing.com “Covenant In The Bible (Part 5): How The Old Connects With The New”). After all, many Old Testament practices were shadows of the truths more fully described in the New Testament. For example, even the seal of circumcision in the Abrahamic Covenant was stated as an everlasting requirement. A forever covenant between God and all descendants of Abraham. Remember, all Christians are spiritual descendants of Israel.
Genesis 17:7–14 (NIV84) 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you… 9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
If we followed the interpretation methodology of the Sabbath-teachers, then we should logically also have to be circumcised. But the New Covenant dispensed with all of these as Paul clearly explained. Then how is this possible to be an everlasting Abrahamic covenant? It is possible because while the Abrahamic covenant of faith is everlasting, God has elevated the physical requirement of circumcision to its true spiritual requirement. That is circumcision of the heart rather than flesh as explained by Paul (Rom 2:28-29).
In the same way, the physical requirement of a 7th day Sabbath of the Mosaic Covenant has been revealed to point to the greater spiritual truth of Sabbath-rest that is found only in Jesus. The principle is finding rest in Jesus.
2. It confuses Sabbath as a principle with the Sabbath as a legalistic commandment from the 10 Commandments.
It is argued that the 10 commandments were not part of the Mosaic Law because it is ethical commandments which transcends the Old and New Testaments. Yet that is an artificial distinction resulting from an inadequate understanding of the role of the 10 commandments and its place within the Mosaic Law.
It is crucial to understand that the 10 Commandments were part and parcel of the Mosaic Covenant. It was given to Moses all together with the bulk of the Mosaic Law at Mount Sinai. It cannot be separated from the Law. In fact, the 10 Commandments summarised the essential principle undergirding hundreds of laws in the Old Testament. Jews hold this view. As some rabbis put it, the 10 Commandments are the first 10 laws out of 613 laws that God gave.
It has also been argued that the 4th commandment of Sabbath keeping preceded Moses since it was practiced by God Himself. Thus, some argued that Sabbath-keeping was an eternal law in itself. If so, why is it that God never instructed nor insisted that other godly followers before Moses kept Sabbath? Especially if it was a command that is seemingly so important to God? Yet it only occurred at Mt Sinai when God gave many The Mosaic Law (see Ex 20 to 23 and 25 to 31).
In the New Testament when it stated that we are no longer obligated to the Law, it includes the all the 10 Commandments.
This is why in the New Testament when it stated that we are no longer obligated to the Law, it includes the all the 10 Commandments. Some Christians get confused here as they try to separate out the 10 Commandments as special moral laws, as if it was not part of the Mosaic Law, then get stuck with the 4th. What we are to observe are the principles behind these commandments, not the Law themselves. Principles which are contained in the Law of Christ. As explained in Part 1, the Law of Christ do contain many elements of the 10 Commandments but modify it to principles, which often lifts it to a higher standard.
The difference between the form and principle is minimal for the most part of the 10 commandments, except the 4th commandment of the Sabbath day. (For a more detailed explanation see “Covenant In The Bible (Part 5): How The Old Connects With The New”). This difference was alluded to by Jesus and more clearly explained by Hebrew as detailed in Part 1.
Some may further argue that Sabbath should transcend because it was practiced by God Himself since He rested on the 7th day. God practised the principles of Sabbath, that of rest. God also expects His people to practice rest. But the true rest is not found in a day, but in a Person. It is error, to confuse between principle and the form given by the 4th commandment.
The problem of the Sabbath-rest teaching is that it elevates Old Testament practices above the clarity of New Testament teachings. They have tried to argue that the 10 Commandments especially the Sabbath day cannot be lumped together with the religious ceremonies because the 10 commandments are eternal commands unlike the ceremonies. Yet the New Testament is very specific Sabbath day is a shadow of the spiritual reality to be found only in Christ. No longer are believers to rely upon what they can do religiously for salvation is purely by God’s grace. We only need to believe by faith.
The problem of the Sabbath-rest teaching is that it elevates Old Testament practices above the clarity of New Testament teachings.
The interpretation issue is that they have given more weight to the Old Testament using their own understanding as opposed to the clear teachings of in the New Testament. They have applied incorrect interpretation methodology which confuses between the principle of Sabbath, which is finding rest in Christ with that of observing a given day of rest.
New Testament is very specific Sabbath day is a shadow of the spiritual reality to be found only in Christ.
It also shows a distinct misunderstanding of how God operates. God has shown that He operates by eternal principles and expects His people to learn to operates likewise. Though He did apply in the Old Testament times more legalistic requirements and practices as “shadows” pointing to the spiritual realities and principles. This is because the hearts and minds of the people then were not ready to comprehend and appreciate the spiritual truths which we now have in the New Testament.
If we are to take Sabbath observation as a requirement of God today, then logically we should do likewise with the other Law as well. Firstly, the 10 Commandments cannot be separated from the Mosaic law. Secondly, once we require more than Christ’s sacrifice alone for salvation, we totally undermine the sufficiency of God’s grace alone through Christ. Hence Paul’s point in Galatians 5:2–6 (NIV) 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.
Therefore, we should avoid the Sabbath-keeping teachings as it binds believers back into a legalistic requirement. Instead, Christ has set us free from all those requirements to bring us into a higher and greater obedience motivated by love and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
A useful reference:
Why observing the Sabbath is not applicable to the Christian
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