Should Christians Observe Keeping The Sabbath?

keeping the Sabbath

When I was growing up, I knew that keeping the Sabbath holy was one of the Ten Commandments.  In my family, we didn’t do work on Sundays.  After church we would eat a simple lunch, sometimes leftovers, and then, together as a family, we would usually go for a ride, often ending up at the home of relatives for a visit. 

My husband has often quoted a saying he heard while growing up: ‘What you do on Sunday, you’ll waste on Monday.” 

For all of my adult life, I have been a nurse, mostly working in the emergency setting. So, you know what that means – working any variety of shifts and weekends, including Sundays

At one time I was crushed by a sermon where my pastor chided Christians for working on Sundays. I felt guilty for years because I must not have enough faith to say no to an employer who would expect me to work on the Lord’s Day. 

Finally, I am exploring what keeping the Sabbath day holy really means to believers. And after a long career that included working many Sundays, I can finally say I am relieved of the burden of guilt that I carried for so long. 

What Does Keeping The Sabbath Mean?

When God took Moses onto Mount Sinai and gave him the Ten Commandments for the Israelite people, He told them: 

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.” Exodus 20: 8-11

The Sabbath commandment pointed back to the creation of the world: 

Genesis 2:203

“On the seventh day God had completed his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it he rested from all his work of creation.”

God appointed the seventh day of the week for His people to rest from all work, just as He had done after the creation. This was for the good of His children and for His glory. The Hebrew word Shabbat, or Sabbath, is the weekly Jewish celebration that commemorates God’s rest after creating the world. 

Should Christians Celebrate A Sabbath Observance?

But the question is, are Christians who are not Jewish supposed to be celebrating the Sabbath also? If so, should we be following the Jewish tradition, or is our Sunday the same as Sabbath?

I’ve heard many Christians call Sunday the Sabbath Day, and never thought much about it. However, we definitely don’t celebrate it in the same way or think the same way about it as the Jewish Sabbath. Even though Sundays are our day of worship, a Christian church service in no way mimics the Jewish religious festival of the Sabbath. 

This presents some food for thought, to be sure. So I decided to explore the true meaning of Sabbath, looking at the origination of Shabbat, the practice of Sabbath keeping, and what it means, or should mean to the people of God who celebrate the life and death of Christ Jesus. 

Sabbath Rest Or Sunday Worship?

We all know how refreshing a day off can be. God knew that, too. He is so good, and did you know that everything He does (and tells us to do or not do) is for our good?

God Himself set the example for us of a rest day for His people, and then declared it holy. This was for His glory. When we enjoy a weekly day of rest we can thank Him for it, which is turn glorifies God, who cares for us as we care for our own earthly children.

God gave the people of Israel, later known as the Jewish Nation, certain customs or rituals, to perform in keeping the Sabbath. 

The Pharisees, the Jewish law-makers and law-keepers, added more rules to God’s original Law. And eventually, nobody seemed to be able to remember which rules came from God and which were man-made. 

Charles Swindoll quote

The Sabbath And God’s Provision

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, God provided them manna to eat. On the sixth day of the week, they were able to gather an extra day’s worth of manna for the Sabbath (gathering extra on any other day, meant rotting manna, as it could not be stockpiled)

The Lord provided for them on their day of rest. Sabbath is a way we can live out our trust in God, by not providing for ourselves on that day, but by trusting that He will provide for us. 

God also decreed another type of Sabbath, the Sabbath year. Every seven years, the land was to have a rest from producing. And for a whole year, they did not till or harvest from the land. 

Just like the manna on the day before Sabbath, He provided a larger harvest the year before, in order to provide for His people. They trusted Him for their provision – and He provided. Read more of the subject of God’s provision at What You Need To Know About God’s Provision

So, the Sabbath day and the Sabbath year were not only for resting but for trusting in the blessings of God. It was an opportunity to recognize God as provider (and not themselves), demonstrating this belief by resting on the Sabbath (both day and year). 

Charles Swindoll quote
words in parenthesis mine

Keeping The Sabbath in the New Testament

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God’s preparations for a Savior. And then He sent Jesus. With Jesus came change. In addition to Sabbath rest, Jesus taught on the Sabbath, healed on the Sabbath, and cast out demons on the Sabbath, yet He still observed and honored the Sabbath. 

Mark 2:27-28

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So then, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” 

Matthew 12:6-8

I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 

Luke 6:9

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you: Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” 

Matthew 12:11-12

He replied to them, “Who among you who, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t take hold of it and lift it out? A person is worth far more than a sheep; so, it is lawful to do what is good on the Sabbath.” 

Luke 14:5

And to them, he said, “Which of you whose son or ox falls into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” 

Shelly Miller quote

Jesus Is Our Sabbath Rest

So, after all this, where do we, as believers stand on keeping the Sabbath day holy? Should Christians keep the Sabbath, or is it ok to think differently about it? 

Remember God’s original example of keeping the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day? We do not see any commands about Sabbath rules given to New Testament Christians. We are not Jewish, and not held to the old covenant, or the old Law, because we have Jesus as our Savior.

Throughout the New Testament it is made clear that Christians are no longer obligated to such things as being circumcised, staying away from certain foods, or observing the Jewish traditions of keeping the Sabbath. 

The Apostle Paul writes: “One person judges one day to be more important than another day. Someone else judges every day to be the same. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord.” Romans 14:5-6

He also addresses this in Colossians: “Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.” Colossians 2:16

Jesus gave a beautiful offer to all people when he said: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28

In the above New Testament passages, we see that whatever burdens we have been carrying can be unloaded and given to Jesus, if only we will trade those heavy burdens for His light ones. By accepting this “easy yoke” of Christ, we are accepting His rest, the rest He promised to those who are weary of carrying the heavy burdens that a worldly life continually piles onto them. 

You can read What Does Freedom In Christ Really Mean, and Weary And Worn Out? Try Giving Up Control To God for more about how Jesus takes our loads and offers to carry them for us. 

The author of Hebrews clarifies this issue of Sabbath for New Testament Christians: “Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his. Let us, then, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.”  Hebrews 4:9-11

The word used for Sabbath in this New Testament passage is different from the one used in the Torah, or Jewish books of the law. This word is Sabbatism and is a more permanent form of rest. 

The Benson commentary on Hebrews 4:9-11 says, “It will resemble the rest of the Sabbath, both in its employment and enjoyments. For therein the saints shall rest from their work of trial…”

After we are finished with our work on earth, Jesus will take us with Him for our eternal and permanent Sabbath rest, where we will rest in God’s presence from our own works forever. 

Benefits of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

Even though we Christians don’t observe the same Sabbath that the Jews were taught, we can still see the wisdom in God’s instructions. There are benefits to setting time apart to rest from our labor, even before we reach eternity. 

And when we reach heaven, we will enjoy eternal Sabbath rest, or Sabbatism, for our good and God’s glory. 

  1. After a day of physical and mental rest, we can resume our work in the coming week in this fast-paced world with renewed purpose. 
  2. We can enjoy community by gathering with other believers to praise and worship the One who has given us the promise of true rest, growing together as we explore and hear God’s Word and teachings in our local churches. Taking the focus off of productivity and putting it on other people, especially those close to us, builds up relationships and makes memories.  
  3. We can enjoy relaxing after Sunday morning services and spending quality time with family and friends,
  4. Backing up and looking at our workdays from a place of rest, can give us a whole new perspective, a chance to get a breath from daily life, a different perspective, and the energy to make needed changes. 
  5. When we stop “doing” and make time for a little “planning”, we can often accomplish more in less time, simply because of having a plan. 
  6. A day of rest is perfect for Bible study, prayer time, and genuinely connecting with and listening for God in a relaxed and not rushed atmosphere. 
  7. The day of rest is a reminder of what God has done for us and what we can look forward to in heaven. 

As we can see, keeping the Sabbath Day holy was a discipline that God instituted from the beginning to bring His people closer to Him and to set them apart from the heathen idol-worshiping nations. 

Sabbath was highly important and even vital to the children of Israel in their relationship with Him. God’s plan all along, has been relational, and we are meant to be in relationship with Him as we partake in Sabbath rest. 

By the way, God does not get tired, and He didn’t actually need to rest after His work of creation. However, He didn’t mean for us to be like machines, working constantly. So, He set the example for us of a day of sacred rest, and called it Shavat, meaning “to rest”. 

When we look to Jesus and all He has done for us, we can see that Jesus Himself is much more than a day of the week or certain rituals or observances in this life, but that He has provided us with eternal rest in heaven with Him when our work on earth is done. 

Thankfully, I can finally put aside the guilt I carried for so long because of that pastor’s words. While raising our family, Brian and I did utilize as many Sunday afternoons as possible as days of rest. We still take that day to do something together, get together with family, or just spend quiet time with God.

Even though we don’t celebrate the Jewish Sabbath, we still appreciate the gift of the Sabbath rest that God gave us in the Bible. And we look forward to an eternal Sabbatism someday in heaven. 

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