Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Sabbath

Many who identify themselves as evangelicals in our day are opposed to the idea of the Christian having a weekly Sabbath. The Sabbath, in this view, is an Old Testament institution, part of the Law of Moses and not reiterated in the New Testament for the church. There is an extensive literature available dealing with the issue, and I have no possibility of adding anything new to the discussion. I do, however, want to deal briefly with one passage and make some application of it.

Hebrews 4:10-11 says, “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” By the non-Sabbatarian, these verses are taken to be saying the following: when we believed in Christ, we rested from our works. Therefore, we have already entered that rest of which the Old Testament Sabbath was a figure. Since we have already entered that rest, there is no more need for the Sabbath.

In some sense, it is true that when we believed in Christ, we entered that rest. However, the passage is not speaking about our present enjoyment of that rest. It is speaking about our future enjoyment. Hence, the “there yet remains a Sabbath rest” of verse 9, as well as the “let us strive” of verse 11. My sense of this is that while we, by trusting in Christ, have entered into rest, we have not entered into that final rest which is in view here. We have, as it were, left Egypt, but we have not yet entered Canaan.

The Sabbath in the Old Testament had a three-fold consideration with regard to time. First, it made the believer look back to be reminded that he was God’s creature (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:11). The past fact was that God created. The present fact (for that Old Testament believer) was that God was his creator. The future fact was that God would be the creator of the new heavens and the new earth. Second, the Sabbath made the believer look back to be reminded that God was his redeemer (Deut 5:15). The past fact was that God redeemed a people. The present fact was that God was his personal redeemer. The future fact was that God would usher him into a redeemed new heavens and new earth. Third, the Sabbath was a sign that they were his people and he was their God (Ex 31:12-17). God had chosen a people going back to Abraham (in fact going all the way back to Adam, though the “I will be your God, and you will be my people” language goes back only to Abraham). They had been his people in the past. They were his people in the present, ad they would continue to be his people into the future.

We, as New Testament believers, have the same identity. We are God’s creatures. We are God’s redeemed people. God has given us a sign that these things are so. We still have the same need—to be reminded that these things are so. Yes, we have entered rest, but we have not fully entered it. Do you not find that your heart is often restless, worried, anxious? If so, you have not fully entered into that rest. This is right, because our redemption is not yet complete. We are being sanctified. We will be glorified. But that work is not yet complete.

Some say that there is no distinct holy time for the New Testament believer because all time is now holy. But we all know that when everything is special, nothing is special. We still need that weekly time; time that is not ours to do with as we please, but time for God. He has given it to us in the weekly Sabbath. Will we not take advantage of it, preparing ourselves for that full rest that we long for?


James Hakim said...

Thank you for your article, Dr. Shaw. I praise God for it. It might be strengthened by noting that the Greek from v9 says that what remains for the people of God is a sabbatismos (a Sabbath keeping). The other instances of 'rest' in this passage are the more general katapausis or its verbal form. It is beyond linguistic doubt that the Holy Spirit means that the New Testament church is to keep a weekly Sabbath now, until we enter God's final rest later.

Al Rommal said...

This is a wonderful post. I hear the argument that "every day is the Sabbath day..." which cannot be possible. God ordained the other six days to do all the (good) work he has given us to do. We imitate his pattern of behavior at the creation.

Excellent words Brother!