Is the Sabbath Required for Christians?
A question from Irene:
In my daily devotions I was reading Isaiah 56 yesterday. One of the things you didn’t comment on was the three-time repetition of the keeping or defiling of the Sabbath. I have been wrestling with the keeping of the Lord’s Day / Sabbath as the church teaches today that that is an Old Testament teaching and no longer applies to the church of today.
I’m not convinced of that, since, a) the LORD kept the Sabbath, b) He gave it to man as a gift, c) the punishment in the OT was death for not hallowing the Sabbath, and finally d) it was an opportunity for us to honor God.
And yet I struggle, since all the churches I have attended since I left the Reformed church, teach keeping the Sabbath is no longer relevant.
However, Isaiah 56 seems to be referring to the time after Jesus, so the New Testament era that we are living in. God is still stressing the keeping of the Sabbath for the “foreigners.”
What do you think?
First, I’m glad you’re reading through Isaiah!
This is a common question, and a good question.
First: The references to the Sabbath in Isaiah 56:
Thus says the LORD:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come,
And My righteousness to be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who lays hold on it;
Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
This first reference to the Sabbath is really just the use of as an indication of a righteous man or woman – the faithful Israelite who will see the  salvation that is about to come. I don’t see anything here that indicates the permanence of the Sabbath.
For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
Even to them I will give in My house
And within My walls a place and a name
Better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
That shall not be cut off.
Again, this is a description of those excluded from the people of God – the eunuchs – who are nevertheless included among the people of God, because they received and keep the covenant of God, including God’s Sabbaths. Once again, the Sabbath is here as a marker of obedience to God under the old covenant.
“Also the sons of the foreigner
Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him,
And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants—
Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant—
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
This use is much the same. The idea is of those who were excluded from Israel’s covenant community – the eunuchs in verse 4, and now here the sons of the foreigner in verse 6. God is saying, “These people who were excluded from Israel, My covenant community, will be welcomed in if they embrace the covenant I made with Israel.” And, a big part of that is honoring the Sabbath –  Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath.
All this is basically an announcement to the nations – to those excluded from Israel’s covenant community – that says, “If you come and honor God and keep the covenant, the Lord will accept you.” And, a big part of keeping the Old Covenant was observing the Sabbath. We see this fulfilled in what are called the God-fearing Gentiles of the New Testament, such as Cornelius in the Book of Acts.
The New Covenant community is definitely not primarily in view here, and this is seen by the reference to their burnt offerings and their sacrifices offered upon God’s altar as mentioned in verse 7. It’s true that in an ultimate sense, the gathering of the outcasts of Israel and the gathering of others besides those mentioned in verse 8 finds its ultimate fulfillment in the New Covenant, but that isn’t really fleshed out here. Its ultimate fulfillment is more anticipated, and seen off in the distance.
So, Irene – I don’t see anything in Isaiah 56 that says, “this means the observance of the Sabbath should be same under the New Covenant as it was under the Old Covenant.”
Now – to the question – “Is the Sabbath Required for Christians Today?”
The Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 makes this clear:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
All of these things – regulations regarding food and drink, laws about festivals, or sabbaths – are all a shadow of things to come. They are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He has fulfilled the ceremonial law so that believers are no longer under it. We have the substance in Jesus; we don’t need to go back to the shadow. Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest (as Hebrews 4 describes). For the Christian, all foods are pure (1 Timothy 4:4-5) and all days belong to God.
This idea of the law being fulfilled in Jesus and is therefore no longer required of us is obviously true of animal sacrifice. We recognize that the New Testament tells us that the sacrificial system was fulfilled in Jesus – so was the ceremonial system. And, even thought the Old Testament often mentions the Sabbath as a marker of obedience under the Old Covenant, it doesn’t make it any more binding on believers under the New Covenant. The Old Testament says a lot more about animal sacrifice than it does about the Sabbath!
There is a big difference: it would be wrong for a Christian to sacrifice animals today. But it’s not wrong for a Christian to observe the Sabbath or a Jewish festival. That’s why Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16: let no one judge you regarding these things.
In regard to these things, we have freedom in Jesus Christ. If someone wants to observe the Sabbath, they are free to. If they want to observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day, they are free to.
Christians are therefore free to keep a kosher diet or to observe the sabbath if they please. There is nothing wrong with those things. However, they cannot think that eating kosher or sabbath observance makes them any closer to God, and they cannot judge another brother or sister who does not observe such customs.
Again, we say that the Sabbath is not required for us under the New Covenant on the same basis by which we say that animal sacrifice is not required: it is fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus, but His perfect obedience and perfect work on the cross.
Who are the “robbers and thieves” Jesus referred to in John 10:8?
John 10:8 – All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.
I find your question quite challenging. My first reaction is to say it’s the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. But I want you to notice something in John 10:8. Jesus says, “All those who ever came before Me.” So He’s talking about people before Him. Maybe He means people before Him, in His immediate day, but He seems to be talking about times prior to His ministry, when He says, “All those who came before Me are thieves and robbers.” It’s easy for us, and often appropriate, to put the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day into the “bad guy” position. But that doesn’t entirely fit here; it kind of does and kind of doesn’t.
Then I want to say, “Well, it’s false messiahs.” And make no mistake about it; before the time of Jesus, there were false messiahs. But here’s the problem. A false messiah only works as a false messiah if they get some traction with people, and some people follow them. But Jesus says John 10:8, “All whoever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.”
I would guess that Jesus is perhaps referring to false teachers, who promoted a branch or style of Judaism that was detached from God the Father. Maybe he’s referring to false Christs or false messiahs. But the real point in verse 8 is that those who are truly the sheep of Jesus would not hear them. Those who were not the sheep of Jesus, who were deceived by these false and corrupt leaders, could be led astray, but not the sheep. And the sheep referred to in John 10:8 are Jesus’ true sheep, His true flock.
I think the best answer to that question, which is a little more challenging than I would first understand it on the surface, is that it refers to false teachers and false religious leaders who are doing more harm than good for the people of God. The true sheep of God would not hear them, and would not really resonate with them.
Christ said to keep the Sabbath. How does Paul have authority to supersede what Christ said?
I think it was Jesus Himself who very vigorously challenged the traditional Sabbath observance of His day. We know that Jesus kept the Sabbath. He kept all the Law of God. There’s no doubt that the Sabbath is a requirement of the Old Covenant Law which God made with Israel. It’s an aspect of the ceremonial Law. Jesus kept the Law perfectly; so, Jesus observed the Sabbath.
But He repeatedly and consciously challenged the traditional understanding of the Law. Jesus said in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Jewish people had put such a priority and idealization onto the law of the Sabbath that they were forbidding people to do good on the Sabbath. Jesus went out of His way to challenge those wrong ideas about the Sabbath.
Now, I’m going to be up front with you: I don’t see a chapter and verse where Jesus said, “Keep the Sabbath.” Jesus wouldn’t have told people not to keep the Sabbath. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill [it].”
So, we can’t really ask the question, “How does Paul have authority to supersede what Christ said?” because Paul isn’t doing that. Paul is recognizing the fulfillment of the ceremonial law.
You need to ask yourself a question: On the same logic by which you would say the Sabbath should be fulfilled, on what basis can you say that we should no longer sacrifice animals to God? What is the reason why we as Christians do not sacrifice animals to God? Even though, number one, it was repeatedly practiced in the Old Testament, and, number two, Jesus had at least some participation in the sacrificial system as an observant Jew. Jesus never told anybody to not observe the sacrificial system. But it was understood that when Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system, by His perfect sacrifice, the Old Testament sacrifice should now be understood in a new way by those in the New Covenant. The same is true for the ceremonial law of God, as is made clear by Colossians 2:16-17.
So, I’m going to respectfully disagree with you about your question. I think it’s a wrong framing of the question to say that Jesus promoted keeping the Sabbath, and that Paul came along later and said, “I can change it.” No, Paul simply recognized that just as Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system, so Jesus also fulfilled the ceremonial system of law.
Paul was not against the keeping of the ceremonial law, if a person’s conscience was moved to do so by the Holy Spirit. Acts 18 records for us that the Apostle Paul took and fulfilled a Nazirite vow, as a mature believer, apostle, missionary, church planter, and leader in the body of Christ. To me, that’s kind of mind blowing. That is something very much connected with the Old Testament ceremonial system. Here’s the point. Paul was free to do it. He was free not to do it. He was free to listen to the Holy Spirit. God forbid that I would tell anybody, “Don’t keep the Sabbath. Don’t observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day, as your conscience would dictate.” I would never say that. But I do want to make clear that the New Testament does not require that of believers, and we have liberty in Jesus Christ.
What does it mean in 1 Peter 4:18 that the righteous will scarcely be saved?
1 Peter 4:18- Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
Peter is making an analogy. He’s saying that if the salvation of the righteous person is something that should amaze us, then it is even more amazing that the ungodly and the sinner should expect to be saved. This is the point here. On our side, we are scarcely saved, but not on God’s side. Nothing God does happens “scarcely.” No, God does everything according to His wisdom and His honor and His glory. God doesn’t do anything halfway. God’s all in.
I think that when we get to heaven, we will be joyful, but also amazed at the power of God. In Christ, we’re strong, but in ourselves, we are weak and failing and sinful. We will be amazed at how our Good Shepherd was able to shepherd us home. Now, in this sense, if the righteous need to be on guard and stay close to Jesus, how much more of an incentive that is for the ungodly and the sinner to say, “I need Jesus desperately.”
Peter is describing it in a way connected to our perspective, not to God’s perspective. God isn’t wondering if I’m going to make it to the end, or if you, dear believer, are going to make it to the end. God knows His salvation is sure. But given our perspective, the Bible says that we need to make our calling and our election sure. We need to be diligent until the end. There’s a way to look at this from God’s perspective and a way to look at it from our own human perspective.
What advice would you give to a newly married man about being the spiritual leader in his home?
I think the most important thing you can do is to make it a regular and daily habit to pray with your wife. I know some couples that do their devotions together, they read the Bible together, they have a whole devotional time together. And obviously, that is a wonderful thing. That’s a blessing. For other couples, their spiritual life together is more focused on just praying together. That’s been the practice of myself and my wife for many, many years, in our decades of marriage. And it’s been a tremendous blessing.
Build the foundation now, early in your marriage, of praying together daily with your wife. It’s sort of our custom. We pray together in the mornings. Make this custom with your wife; go to effort and trouble now.
You would think, for a Christian man and a Christian woman, a Christian husband and a Christian wife together in marriage, that it would be the easiest thing in the world to have a good prayer life together. Let me tell you, that for many of us, it’s not easy. And it wasn’t easy for us. Now, at this point, I’ve been married almost 40 years, and our prayer life together is easy. It just does flow. We’re in the habit and the flow of it. But in the beginning, it was very difficult for us to pray together.
I could probably give you several suggested reasons why. But I just want to make this point: you must be willing to fight through any difficulties which might arise, to build a good, strong prayer life together as a couple. I would also say this: if you can find some way to serve the Lord together, do it. You both have gifts and talents and abilities that are used for God’s kingdom. Now, it may be that you are primarily gifted in one way, while your wife is gifted in another way. So maybe a lot of times your service isn’t together, and that’s fine. But find some way that you can also serve together. I think that would be a great blessing for you.
What does submission look like practically in a marriage?
I think this question is almost impossible to answer without spending time with a couple. Husbands and wives come from all different kinds of backgrounds, and the dynamic between spouses can be very, very different from couple to couple. I’m not sure there is just one way that submission should always look in a marriage.
I do know what the Scriptures say about the idea of submission. It’s spoken about in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, where Paul talks about marriage. In those passages, the idea of submission is to come under rank, which is a military word. To come under rank means to recognize that somebody has a rank, and you need to respect them. It’s a lot about respect. It’s recognizing that God has established an order for the family.
The way in which that particularly works out in a marriage varies from couple to couple. Some people out come from a culture or background, or it’s just their natural disposition, where submission comes very easily to them. It’s the kind of people they are. For other people, because of how they were raised, or the home they grew up in, or their own natural inclinations, submission is much more challenging.
Submission might be very differently perceived from couple to couple.
This is a topic for you and your wife to think about, pray about, and read and study in the Scriptures together, and prayerfully come to an idea. This is how God wants to work in our marriages. We see the Scriptures, we see what they teach, and we live accordingly.
You can find my audio teaching series on the Ephesians 5 passage about marriage on my website, enduringword.com.
How can we practically encourage Christian brothers and sisters to have unity, considering varying opinions on vaccines, masks, politics, etc.?
I think there are a few things we can do to build unity. First, we can decide to think the best of one another. This is what love does. Love thinks the best of others; that’s the role or function of love. We need to make a determined effort to think the best of one another, and to love one another.
Secondly, we need to reclaim the true New Testament understanding of Christian liberty. I don’t believe the Bible gives specific instruction on whether or not you should receive the vaccine for COVID-19. I believe the Bible gives you liberty as a believer to decide on it between you and the Holy Spirit. You have freedom in Christ do that. You should not judge your brother or sister who comes to a different conclusion than you do. That’s between them and the Holy Spirit. If you have the freedom to decide what’s best for you and your family – which I believe on a matter like this, you have the freedom in Christ to do – then other people have the freedom to decide for themselves.
So don’t look down on your brother or sister who feels that they need to take more precautions than you think you should take. If they think they should wear a mask, God bless them; if they think that they should receive a medical treatment that you wouldn’t receive, God bless them. It’s between them and the Holy Spirit.
Now, there’s a lot more that I could say on that, and maybe I’ll do a special video on this topic. But this is what I want to get down to: We need to realize that the Holy Spirit can deal with people on these things. Be at peace about that. You can be firm in your convictions for yourself, and at the same time recognize that the Holy Spirit has liberty to deal with other people as He pleases. So just leave it at that. I think that’s something that can powerfully build unity. Think the best of others, recognize the truth of real Christian liberty, and realize that in Jesus Christ, what unites us is greater than what divides us.
Look, I have close Christian fellowship with people with whom I would disagree concerning their understanding of politics or the economy. Make no mistake; I think they’re wrong, and I think their ideas are bad for the culture, the nation, or the community. I think that they’re not good ideas.
But I understand how they come to their thinking. And they’re my brothers and sisters. I think that they are my mistaken brothers and sisters, and I think that they need to be shown a better way. But at the end of the day, they are my brothers and sisters.
Recognize the unity that Jesus has made between us. We don’t create it, but we endeavor to keep, as Paul says in Ephesians, the bond of unity in peace.
If a person rejects the gospel now, will they be unable to believe it after the rapture because of strong delusion?
Does 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 teach that those who have been presented with the gospel but reject it NOW, will not be able to believe in the gospel after the rapture because of strong delusion?
2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 – and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
No, I don’t believe this teaches that everybody who rejects the gospel now will be unable to believe, at a later time which we would call the Great Tribulation, because they’re under such a strong delusion. One reason is because the Bible tells us that there is an innumerable multitude who will be saved out of the Great Tribulation. One of the things we don’t often consider is how the Great Tribulation will be a time of great harvest on the earth. Yes, there will be many, many, people, perhaps a majority of mankind, who are so hardened in their sin that there is nothing that would bring them to repentance. But then there will be many others who answer God’s call and surrender their lives to Him. There is an innumerable multitude during the Great Tribulation who pay the ultimate price in martyrdom for their faith, and they are saved out of the Great Tribulation.
To me, it’s inconceivable that those people would not include any who right now in some way or another are rejecting the gospel. I wouldn’t phrase it the way that you have phrased it. I would phrase it like this: To many of those who continue in the rejection of the gospel, God will give them what they desire. And what did they desire? They have embraced a delusion by rejecting God’s truth, and God will essentially say this: “You want a delusion? I’ll give you a delusion.” As it says there, “They did not receive the love of the truth.” And then in verse 11, “God will send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie.”
Brothers and sisters, there is a great danger for those who continually reject the gospel: God may very well give them what they are asking for. They are wanting to be deceived, they’re wanting to push away the truth. And it may be that at some time, in some place, God says, “Fine, this is what I will give you.”
It’s a heavy question that you bring up. I wouldn’t phrase it the way that you have phrased it, based primarily on the idea that there are so many who are saved out of the Great Tribulation. But surely this is speaking of God giving those who reject Him the delusion that they have longed for. I think that’s what it’s speaking about there.
What do you say to a friend who seems unconcerned about going to hell?
What would you recommend saying to a friend of mine to whom I have pointed out sin in his life, and how he’s not a follower of Christ, and the punishment is death, but his response is always, “I’ll just go to hell”?
I am so sorry to hear about your friend. What a terrible thing to have a friend who is so settled and persistent in his rejection of Jesus Christ. That’s very sad and a tragedy. But I would simply say this. Why don’t you speak to your friend, and simply ask your friend, “What do you think hell is going to be like?” Then maybe you can spend a little bit of time speaking to your friend about what the Bible says hell will be like. That is a terrible thing to contemplate. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it, when somebody laughs off hell and says, “Man, I’ll go to hell, I’ll party there with all my friends.” When we hear the descriptions in the New Testament of what hell is really like, no sane person would choose to go there. So, I would ask your friend, “What do you think hell will be like?” And then maybe share with them. Just say, “Hey, you can think whatever you want about hell. Let me tell you what the Bible says hell is like.” I think that would be a good discussion for you to have with your friend.
Do those who don’t pay tithes risk being under the curse spoken of in Malachi 3:9-10?
Malachi 3:9-10 – You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”
I would just say yes. One curse that comes from it least is the curse of not having the blessing of God upon your obedience regarding your money. You know, money is an extremely important discipleship issue. What do we do with what God has given us? It’s very important that we honor God with our resources, and with what He provides for us. The tithe was one way to do that in ancient Israel.
God wants His people to be givers. He has promised blessings to those who are generous in their giving, who tithe and give according to the patterns suggested by the Old Testament. Those patterns are certainly not contradicted in the New Testament.
So yes, there is some curse, if you will, upon those who are not generous, who are not givers according to the way that the Bible commands us to be. Sometimes God curses actively; He puts an active curse upon something. But then there are other times when God curses passively. A passive curse would mean God curses by withdrawing His hand of blessing from something. Don’t you want God’s blessing on everything you are and everything you do? I know that I sure do.
I think this is worthwhile for us to consider this: We want God’s blessing. So, we need to surrender and submit our finances and our material things to God. And one important aspect of that is our generosity, our giving and tithing. There are different ways to describe it. Each one of these descriptions has their own kind of meaning and importance. But let’s just think of it under the broad term of generosity. It is very important. If you want God’s blessing upon your financial and material life, you should honor Him with your financial and material life.
Is there a difference between receiving the Holy Spirit and being born again? Could it be that one event occurs and the other did not?
Your question requires a little bit of an explanation. The Bible tells us that when a person is born again, when they have received new life in Jesus Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit. You can’t be born again without receiving the Holy Spirit. However, the Bible does speak of subsequent or additional experiences with the Holy Spirit. That is sometimes described as the filling of the Holy Spirit, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
I definitely believe that when a person is born again, yes, they have the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that if anyone does not have the Spirit of God, he doesn’t belong to God. Having the Holy Spirit which God gives is just part of belonging to God. However, there is a certain aspect of abundance, in the measure or proportion of the giving of the Holy Spirit. We can ask for and walk in a greater outpouring or outflow of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We shouldn’t step back from that. We should be saying, “Yes, Lord, I want more and more of your Holy Spirit, and what that would mean for me in my life.”
Can we combine belief in God and the study of the natural sciences?
My dad has a hard time accepting the fact that I believe in the Bible and study natural science at the same time. How should I tell him that it’s possible to combine God with natural science?
This is a very good question. I think the answer is rooted in very traditional Christianity, going back hundreds of years. Because God has made a natural order that can be understood, we should understand it. Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”
God has concealed wonderful things throughout the universe. It is the glory of mankind to pursue these things, and to discover the beauty and power and glory of God’s created world. You can tell your dad that your God in heaven, the God who created all things, has created an amazing world for us to discover. It’s like a treasure hunt. And that’s what we can do in the natural sciences. We can study, we can learn, we can honor, we can glorify, we can see the brilliance and wisdom and goodness of our Creator by studying the natural sciences in greater and greater depth.