How do we keep the Sabbath?

Before I address the Sabbath specifically, I think it might help to again talk about the relationship between the Law that God gave Moses and the New Covenant we have in Christ. The key concept is found in Matthew 5.

Matt 5:17-20
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

There are several points I want to draw out from this passage. First of all, the Old Testament is still very much relevant to us as New Testament believers. Jesus did not come to destroy the law and he clearly communicates that not one single item from the Law is to be discarded. Secondly, though the law does not change, and though it remains relevant in our lives, our relationship with the Law does change because Jesus has fulfilled the Law. Finally, because of what Jesus has done, it is now possible to experience heart level transformation and to thereby live out a righteousness that exceeds that of anyone simply following the requirements of the Law.

How did Jesus fulfill the Law?
Jesus fulfilled those portions of the Law related to the Temple Cult and the practice of animal and other sacrifice when he died on the cross. Jesus is the reality to which that entire process pointed. Jesus fulfilled those portions of the Law related to the civil government of national Israel / Judah by inaugurating a new people inclusive of every ethnic group that supersedes any national or political boundary marker. Those civil laws were designed to govern a specific people during a specific time. Finally, Jesus fulfilled the moral law completely by being the only Man to every keep it. He imparts this righteousness to those who believe and then empowers them by his Spirit to experience the inner transformation necessary to walk that out in day to day holiness.

Here’s another key verse.

Gal 3:24-25
24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

This helps us understand the change in our relationship with the law that takes place because of Jesus. The picture here is of a tutor. Think of a combination between a nanny and a teacher. This is the person assigned responsibility for the welfare, upbringing and education of a child UNTIL that child reaches maturity. While a child, the tutor determines when the child gets up, when he goes to sleep, what he eats, what he wears, what he does with his time, etc. Once the child reaches maturity, he no longer needs to be governed in this way. At maturity a man must be governed internally, not externally. This is maturity.

I did not have a tutor growing up like this, so I can’t personally relate to that imagery. My mom fulfilled that role in my life and I think as an illustration that works well. My mom governed all those things in my life as a child. Now I’m 38 and I don’t call her any more to ask when I should go to sleep. I have reached a point of maturity where I do not need to be externally governed in this way. But, this does not mean I have no relationship with my mom. In fact, I would say my relationship with her now is richer and deeper than it was before.

The same is true with the law. Prior to Christ, God’s people needed to be externally governed by the law. This law, though perfectly righteous, was unable to make God’s people into the kind of people who could keep it. But it did serve as a tutor, and brought the people of God to Christ. Because of Jesus, I can be internally transformed by his Spirit into a difference kind of person who loves God and loves others in an ever increasing way. His law is now written upon my heart. This is the work of the Spirit in my life.

What about the Sabbath?
God rested on the seventh day from all his work. This fact points us forward to Jesus, who is our Sabbath rest, for I only enter the rest Christ offers when I first cease from my own works.

Heb 4:9-10
9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

The legal practice of resting on the seventh day as commanded in the Law of Moses served three purposes. First, it provided a weekly prophetic picture of the rest that God would bring through Christ. Secondly, it served as a boundary marker that distinguished Israel from the surrounding nations who did not observe this practice (or circumcision, or kosher food laws, etc). Third, it practically required people to get some rest each week which is an important thing for our health and general well being.

Because of Jesus, our relationship with the Sabbath has changed. First of all, the reality to which Sabbath pointed is now ours in Christ. Why settle for the picture when you can have the person? Second, the New Testament makes it plain that Sabbath laws, kosher food laws, circumcision and other nationalistic/ethnic boundary markers are obsolete, as now God’s people are marked out by faith alone and not by any such practices. Thirdly, it’s still a great idea to get some rest.

Here’s what I recommend. Ask Jesus what it looks like for you to enter into rest. I encourage you to read Hebrews 4 all the way through and see what God speaks to your heart. Don’t just mark off a day that you don’t work. That’s just a picture. Enter the reality by abandoning any reliance on your own works altogether and instead rely on Jesus’ finished work alone. And, I encourage you as the Spirit leads, to set aside one day a week to rest. It’ll be good for you. And, if on your day of rest you go to a restaurant, I hope your server has the wisdom to do the same on a different day.


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