You Are Created for a Sabbath Rest

Do you take one day off every week to rest? Most of us don’t. Taking a Sabbath day of rest is the 4th Commandment. We’re not under “The Law” anymore, but are there things in the Mosaic Law (Old Testament) that we should be practicing today as Christians?

Our society perpetuates an unrelenting busyness today upon which many American Christians fall victim. Taking a day off from work for some is rare. For a Christian to actually keep a Biblical Sabbath rest is practically unheard of in Western culture. However, to many today, anything involving the Old Testament Law is seen as not only a complicated set of regulations, but often viewed as legalistic, like a person is trying to earn credit with God instead of relying on the grace of Jesus Christ. Yet there is an order to the moral law God ordained for many reasons. The law shows humanity its sin (Rom. 3:20). This should produce a heart of thankfulness by which one can bask in the grace of Christ since He fulfilled the law (Rom. 10:4). But does this mean the believer is not beholden to the Law of Moses in any form?

Very few Christians I have met believe that we need strict adherence to Old Testament laws, with the exception of the Ten Commandments. These commandments are still viewed as the basic moral guideline. Sadly, one would be shocked at how many people cannot cite all Ten Commandments! Most remember do not murder, commit adultery, steal or lie. That is less than half. What about the others?

The Decalogue
The Decalogue, known as the Ten Commandments, is the first of God’s laws for Israel (Exod. 20:3-17). These laws summarize of all of the commands contained in the Mosaic Covenant. The primary focus of the Decalogue is summed up in one word: faithfulness. Scholar Albert Baylis succinctly describes why:

“First, faithfulness to God. No other gods. No idols. No misuse of his Name in oath-taking. Keeping the Sabbath is a sign of commitment to his rule over you. Faithfulness in relationship to others is the focus of the remaining commands. Parents deserve honor in the family. Faithfulness to your community of neighbors involves not lying, not committing adultery, not stealing, and certainly not murdering. It even involves faithfulness in your motivation. You should not mentally steal your neighbor’s wife or anything else that is his.”

-Albert Baylis

The Ten Commandments set Israel apart from other nations of the world by establishing a
relationship with God and instruction on how to treat its fellow man. The first four
commandments deal with relationship to God:
[1] No other gods
[2] No idols
[3] Do not take the Lord’s name in vain
[4] Remember the Sabbath.

The last six have to do with relationship to others:
[5] Honor your parents
[6] Do not murder
[7] Do not commit adultery
[8] Do not steal
[9] Do not lie
[10] Do not covet

When Jesus was asked which of the laws were the greatest, He summed up the law into two basic principles: “Jesus answered him, ‘the first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 KJV).

When the scribe agreed with Jesus by saying that if we do these two commandments (love God and love others), we fulfill the law “more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” put together, Jesus responded to him by saying “he was not far from the kingdom of God” (v. 34).

What were all those other laws?

Over 600 Laws!
All the other burnt offerings and sacrifices the Israelites had to complete were a tiresome amount for any nation. There are a total of 613 laws in the Torah, according to a list compiled by Mendy Hecht, one of the contributing authors to the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. The Talmud is composed of 248 positive commandments (do’s), and 365 negative commandments (do not’s), ranging from civil and criminal matters, to worship standards and practices. All these regulations were designed to recognize God’s sovereignty, provide ceremonial regulations, and separate Israel out among all other nations to be a blessing for all mankind. It is very difficult to imagine having to keep the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Pentateuch) in everyday practice. However, without a Jewish Temple in existence today, many of these laws cannot be practiced as long as there is no Temple in Jerusalem.

The Temple
The Jewish Temple practices have nothing to do with Christians since the Temple now exists inside the believer (1 Cor. 3:16-17). The kingdom of God today is the corporate Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). Christ by his Spirit dwells in all true believers. By this, Christians can be led by the Spirit to obey God’s will, asking for forgiveness in Jesus’ name when mistakes are made. Today is the Day of Salvation, a new covenant of grace that provides salvation through faith alone (2 Cor. 6:2). The Old Testament Law does not provide a means of salvation—no one could keep it, as history has shown. Yet the Jews fell into thinking that by keeping a throng of rules and regulations, as the Pharisees did by adding to the law, they could somehow attain salvation. The law was never meant to be a means of salvation but instead points mankind to the need of a savior—the promised Messiah. Author Douglas Moo understands this as a “progressive succession within a salvation-historical framework.”

Christological Fulfillment
The laws practiced around the blood sacrifices foreshadowed the coming of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. He was sinless, representing the lack of blemish as required for the sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament practice. Jesus was the pure sacrifice, not breaking a single Mosaic Law. He did violate traditions the Jewish leadership added to the law, which is one of the many reasons the Pharisees did not like him since he exposed their sinfulness in violating the spirit of the law. Jesus’ goal was to emphasize the importance of love in the spirit of the law. In regard to this, Moo states, “Obeying all the commandments in the law without manifesting love for God and love for one’s neighbor is useless and unprofitable. Jesus, therefore, does not suggest that love is to replace the law, but that love is central and vital to the law.”

Jesus fulfilled the law. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18 KJV). He is the fulfillment of the law because Christ manifested everything in which the law pointed. Jesus fulfilled all Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah by perfectly living them out in deed and spirit, and proclaimed the kingdom of God as anticipated.

This was not to abolish the law

“Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). Paul is explaining that Jesus is both the fulfillment and the goal of the law. Expounding on that idea, Moo compares the law to a race with Christ being the end goal. In Jesus’ sacrifice, the race is over for those who believe and submit to Him. Those who do not believe, continue to run the race, and remain under the law that is in effect until the Final Judgment. They continue to run the race, even though the finish line is well within their reach. The focus now is on justification by faith alone; yet the law provides guidance on how to live as Christians in a sanctification process of becoming more Christ-like.

Christians are not under the law, and have no requirement to live according to its many Jewish traditions. However, scholar Willem A. VanGemeren argues against Moo, who he sees as promoting a release from the law. Instead, VanGemeren thinks it is a spiritual change within a person—an internalization of the law. He sees the New Covenant as a renewal of the relationship between God and His people, confirming an existing relationship.

Then what of the Gentile believer? The influx of Gentiles changed the emphasis on the Torah as binding. Paul spoke strongly against keeping the law for the gentile believers, who never had any previous relationship with Mosaic Law, because the Jewish Christians were requesting they be circumcised. He said the New Covenant focuses on a “circumcision of the heart” (Rom. 2:29).

Another scholar, Greg Bahnsen, argues that Moo is separating the law into a “pre-Christian era,” saying this provides too much latitude permitted on a subjective basis. He sees the moral and ceremonial laws as being distinctly different. Bahnsen asks whether or not the laws against bestiality (Exod. 22:19; Lev. 18:23), and cursing a deaf person (Lev. 19:14), be binding on today’s Christian? This is misunderstanding of Moo’s interpretation. Instead, Moo implies that the Law of Christ, based on love, will help Christians naturally not want to do these things. What Moo emphasizes is that the laws are not morally binding on salvation premises.

The moral and ethical standards expressed in the law must manifest in the behavior of a Christian with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is how the New Testament law functions for the believer today. Yet, the Fourth Commandment is not a “moral” law in the sense of ethical behavior. So how should the Christian respond to the law of keeping the Sabbath?

The Sabbath
Sabbath keeping is not a moral law like the other commandments in the Decalogue but a sign of the covenant. It recognizes God as Creator—Yahweh. It celebrates His created work as good, a day on which even God rested. It is also a sign of commitment to His rule over the time of a believer. Taking a Sabbath rest is meant to be a religious observation taken once a week, trusting God is Lord over the ordering of one’s time. Israel took the Sabbath on Saturday as a release from physical labor and a memorial of the great acts God accomplished in both creation and redemption (Deut. 5:15). This also provided an opportunity for devotion to the worship of God. It separated Israel out from surrounding nations as a people with an allegiance to Yahweh.

How many times has this happened? Plenty. And what does it remind people of? SUNDAY is God’s day!

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus was concerned with showing the true purpose of the Sabbath by exposing the abuses and misunderstandings of its requirements. It was never intended to enslave people by its insufferable demands. What constituted work on the Sabbath had become a detailed regulatory passage of 39 articles and 1521 passages in the Mishnah. Supposed violations of Jesus’ ministry on the Sabbath was an attempt by the Pharisees to find some fault with him—there was an incredible amount of animosity towards him—because they wanted Jesus punished as a lawbreaker. What Jesus did on the Sabbath was to heal people. To their shame, the Pharisees would rather rescue an animal in distress on the Sabbath but not permit Christ to rescue a man with dropsy (Luke 14:5).

Jesus said he was the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28; Matt. 12:8; Luke 6:5), thus he determines how Christians may act on this day. Jesus demonstrates his assertion that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). What did he mean by this statement? Jesus did not hesitate to carry out ministry on the Sabbath. Jesus is teaching a Christological point here by recognizing some requirements within the law were more important than others, but insists all requirements be obeyed with the right motivation. Jesus taught that human need takes precedence over the obedience to the details of the law. So when he also picked heads of grain to feed his hungry disciples on the Sabbath, he is innocent of breaking the Sabbath law because compassion supersedes sacrifice (Matt. 12:7).

The disciples were serving and following one who is greater than the Temple laws or King David. This point illustrates that Jesus is claiming to be both the fulfillment of the law and greater than it.

The Law of Christ
Christ not only fulfilled the Law but also expanded it to include the thought life of the believer—the heart motivations behind the actions. His famous Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) clarifies God’s will. Paul confirms in his epistles what Jesus taught, carefully framing it in the context of love (Gal. 6). He also noted “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Gal. 2:21).

Paul goes on to use the phrase no longer “under the law” eleven times in the New Testament. In essence, Paul is telling Christians that they are no longer condemned by the law, under legalized perversion of it, or under it as a regime.

The Lord’s Day
Christ transformed the Sabbath law to guard against legalism. Yet there is an analogous relationship between Sunday worship and the Sabbath. They both occur weekly, celebrate redemption, and have a notion of worship and Lordship over time to them. Paul exhorts each believer to determine keeping one day as sacred, or set apart for God, on the basis of his own conscience (Rom. 14:5-8). We are not to judge another believer by his diet or observance of holy days.

The Mosaic Law has progressed in salvation history to the Law of Christ, showing that God is concerned for the whole person: body, mind and spirit. His overarching concern is that humanity is motivated out of love. During Jesus’ ministry on earth, He taught a deeper meaning to the law, expanding it to include motivations and thought life. It was insufficient to simply not commit adultery, for example, as now a man must not even look at a woman lustfully. This is to exemplify that sin begins in the mind before it becomes action. Today, a Christian needs to understand the law by how Christ transforms and transcends it.

Jesus is God incarnate—His word is the final word regarding the law. He is also the final sacrifice for sin. Having never sinned, Jesus fulfilled the law and is the perfect Lamb of God—humanity’s Messiah. A strict adherence to the literal application of the law is no longer required, yet the Mosaic Law does provide guidelines, both morally and physically, that the Christian should manifest in action. One is regular rest.

Recently, a guest lecturer at Christian Life College (where I work as Lead Instructor at a small, satellite study center) asked students of all the days in creation (Genesis), which one was the most significant? Everyone answered the sixth day, when God created people. But that was not the answer the lecturer believed was the “most significant.” This is what he explained:

“On the seventh day of creation, this is the first time anything was called ‘holy’ — set apart for God.”

Pastor Isaac Gilmore

A Sabbath shows us that bodily rest is needed for well being, and it is a reminder that God is Lord over one’s time. Christians should be ‘set apart’ from the current culture of extreme busyness as an example to the world showing that humanity’s chief end is not to be working all the time. Regular periods of rest produce an inner peace found in the freedom of Christ. This should create a desire to worship stemming from a thankful heart because of salvation in Christ. Sunday worship and rest each week are good disciplines to practice. Paul said it is on the basis of one’s own conscience to observe a special day as holy, but everyday we should praise the Lord.


Baylis, Albert. From Creation to the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.
Carson, D.A. From Sabbath to Lord’s Day. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999.
Hecht, Mendy. “The 613 Commandments.” Jewish Practice: Mitzvahs & Traditions. Lubavitch
World Headquarters.
The-613-Commandments.htm [accessed November 27, 2016].
Strickland, Wayne G. Five Views on Law and Gospel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.


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