Home Pastors Articles for Pastors Why the Sabbath Still Matters—And Why It Doesn’t

Why the Sabbath Still Matters—And Why It Doesn’t

Is the Sabbath binding on Christians?

A debate has long raged between Christian scholars. On one side, some say that the Sabbath was instituted by God in creation and is therefore binding upon Christians. Others believe that the Sabbath was instituted by God in the Law of Moses and was therefore fulfilled in Jesus and is no longer binding upon Christians. How we answer this question depends on how we interpret the Old Testament law.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, Paul uses the analogy that the Old Testament law is like a guardian, or a school teacher. The law helps us see our sin and our need for a Savior so that when the Savior arrives, we understand that apart from him we’ll never meet the demands of the law.

Although Jesus met the requirements of the Old Testament and the law is therefore no longer binding on Christians, some moral laws are repeated in the New Testament. Our salvation does not depend on our compliance, but these laws remain in place for our good and God’s glory.

Each of the Ten Commandments is reiterated in the New Testament, except for the command to Sabbath (interestingly, the command to work remains clear in passages like 2 Thessalonians 3:10). To further complicate the matter, if we intend to keep the Sabbath as a binding law upon Christians, we would also have to enforce the other aspects of Sabbath, such as the seventh year Sabbath to rest the land, and the fiftieth year Sabbath when prisoners were freed and debts were cancelled.

I would argue that, following Jesus’ resurrection and the establishment of the new covenant, the Sabbath moved from biblical law (like the rest of the Ten Commandments) to biblical wisdom (like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or James). It may no longer be a mandate, but it’s still a good idea, a gift from God to enjoy. Dedicating one day a week to rest from our labors and gather together to pray, grow friendships, attend church, take communion and hear the Bible preached is wise and a practice of the early church.

Many legalistic attempts have been made to rob the Sabbath of its worship and joy by carefully dictating what can and cannot be done. But Jesus intentionally lived in public view to serve as a contrary model of the Sabbath, distinct from that demonstrated by other legalistic teachers.

For example, Jesus healed on the Sabbath, taught on the Sabbath and promoted evangelism on the Sabbath. Jesus demonstrated that the Sabbath was not to be enforced legalistically, but existed for worshipful fun and rest. “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” he declared, and, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Paul spoke clearly on this issue as well. He advocated both the concept of a Sabbath and a freedom from its legalistic enforcement. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike,” he wrote. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.” He states that the day of our worship is a debatable matter that we should not codify, since the main thing is who we worship, not when we worship.