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02 January 2014

Do I really need to keep the Sabbath?

Do I really need to keep the Sabbath?

Knowing what to believe about the Sabbath is harder than it looks. Some Christians believe little has changed in relation to the fourth commandment and Sunday is now a Christian Sabbath.

Others argue the Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ and there is almost complete freedom in our weekly routines. A minority believe Saturday is still the proper day for Sabbath rest and worship. Personally, I resonate with New Testament scholar Greg Beale's three conclusions.

First, the seventh-day commemoration in Genesis 2:3 and Israel's Sabbath ordinance is transferred from the first day of the week because of Christ's resurrection. Second, Israel's way of observing the Sabbath, with all its detailed requirements, falls away, and there is a return to the creational mandate. The observance of this mandate is a day of commemoration of God's creative rest, a celebration that Christ has entered that rest, that believers have begun to enter and a pointing forward to believers completely entering that rest. In addition, Christ's coming fulfills Israel's unique Sabbath commandment, since he is Israel's Messiah.

I think the most important part about the Sabbath commandment is that we should rest in Christ alone for our salvation. But along with that is still an abiding principle that we ought to worship on the Lord's Day and trust God enough to have a weekly routine where we cease from work.

I hope every Christian can agree that God has hard-wired us for rest. He built it into the creation order and command edit of His people. He made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). He also offers us Sabbath as a test; it's an opportunity to trust God's work more than our own. When I go weeks without taking adequate time off, I may or may not be disobeying the fourth commandment, but I'm certainly too convinced of my own importance and more than a little foolish.

It's easy to find people who think work is good and leisure is bad (i.e., you rest to work). You also find people who think the opposite (i.e. you work to rest). But according to the Bible both work and rest can be good if they are done to the glory of God.

The Bible commends hard work (Proverbs 6:6-11; Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10) and it also extols the virtue of rest (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 127:2). The hard part is putting them in the right places. Many of us are less busy than we think, but life feels overwhelming because our days and weeks and years have no rhythm. One of the dangers of technology is work and rest blend together. We are never completely 'on' and never totally 'off'. So we dawdle on YouTube at the office and then catch up on emails in front of the television at home. Perhaps this arrangement works for some employers and may feel freeing for many employees but most of us work less effectively and find work less enjoyable when there is no regular and concentrated break.

People say life is a marathon not a sprint, but it's actually more like a track workout. We run hard and then rest hard. We charge up a hill and then drink some sports drink. If we want to keep going we have to learn how to stop.

We may feel like more work is the answer to our goldfish-like attention span, but rest is often the antidote we really need. The Israelite calendar had times for feasting and times for fasting.

It's concerning that our lives are getting more and more rhythm-less. We don't have healthy routines. Evening and morning have lost their feel. Life becomes a malaise, until we can't take any more and spiral into illness, burnout, or depression.

If this article on rest seems like hard work, that's because it is. It's hard to trust God, hard to let go, and hard to stop. When thinking about busyness, people talk as if hard work is the problem. But we're not actually in danger of working too hard. We simply work hard at things in the wrong proportions.

We don't realise we have to work hard just to rest. I can't make it through Sunday without a rhythm. I won't make it far in life without one either. There must be times when I won't work, otherwise I won't rest. And there must be times I have to sleep or I will keep borrowing what I can't repay. I'm not so important in God's universe that I can't afford to rest. But my God-given limitations are so real that I can't afford not to.

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He blogs at the Gospel Coalition and has authored or co-authored numerous well-known books such as Just Do Something, The Hole in Our Holiness and Crazy Busy, from which this article is adapted.

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