The Sabbath: Mystery, Ignored, or Valid?

           As we begin the new week, today is Monday, I’m excited for it to end—why, because next week we will have our first worship service in Missoula, MT.  Therefore, in preparation for worship, I want to reflect on Sunday or as we like to call it, “the Lord’s Day.”  Should Christians worship on Sunday or is any day of the week sufficient?  This attention-grabbing question concerns the fourth commandment, a command that has aroused more controversy than its nine partners.  Many Christians deny its validity, others simply ignore it, yet for many it remains a mystery.  Is the fourth a legitimate commandment that Christians must keep it?  If so, how are they to do so?  In the Reformed church, we rightly believe that Christians should keep the Sabbath.  We do so by not hindering or omitting its Sabbath requirements.  Heidelberg Catechism question 103 asks, “What does God require in the fourth commandment?”

In the first place, that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church, to learn the Word of God, to use the holy Sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms.  In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by his Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.

This answer reveals the general work of sanctification the Lord’s Day creates and inspires by its duties.

Before we jump into the Sabbath’s requirements, it is important to know first the basis for the Sabbath. Why does the fourth commandment remain a duty for the justified?  You do not have to look far in your Bible to see where the Sabbath comes from; the first two chapters of Genesis ground the Sabbath in creation.  Genesis 2 explains how God finished his creative work on the seventh day, rested and, “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (v. 3).  This does not exactly “indicate that God commanded Sabbath observance already in Paradise,” however, the broader context (1:26–28) does prove this.

In the end of Genesis 1, God created man after his own image.  This image determines who and what mankind is.  As image bearers we must follow the image of the one we bear. Therefore, God commanded man to subdue and have dominion over creation (v. 28) to reflect God, who did the same.  This image bearer is to work as God.  God worked.  Now the question must be answered, “How did God work?”  God is the Alpha and Omega.  The Alpha’s fiat work, “let there be,” gives way to the Omega’s “it is finished” and “behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31a; Ex. 39:43).  God the “cosmic builder” finished his work then rested.  God worked toward a goal—he worked that he might rest.  If man is to work as God, he must work toward that same end—rest.

This work/rest pattern highlights a works principle known in Reformed theology as the covenant of works.[1]  God demonstrated this covenant by finishing his work and entering his everlasting rest (2:3).  As Creator, he then waited to pronounce the verdict, “very good” faithful servant if his image bearer obeyed, or the conviction, “depart from me,” if his image bearer failed.  His creation was to enter eschatological consummation only after Adam completed his work.  Man’s goal was the tree of life held out for him but then taken away after his failure (2:9; 3:24), and so creation groans (Rom. 8:22) waiting for the second Adam to complete the work and rest (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 5:12ff).

Hopefully Genesis 1–2 makes it clear that the Sabbath is not peculiar to Israel for it began in the Garden.[2]  Creation grounds the fourth not Sinai, which only republished this universal moral will of God for Israel.  The Sabbath is proto-logical, looking back to creation and eschatological, looking forward to re-creation and the rest Christ secured.  As proto-logical, it sets the pattern of a six-day workweek followed by a day of rest.  Exodus 20 validates this creational order by referencing creation (20:11) not redemption (from Egypt).  It appeals to the image of God, which stimulates his people to do specifically as he did on the seventh day.  He worked then rested.  He hallowed the Sabbath and Christians are to do the same.  God sanctified the day and his people merely live according to this objective reality.  Man is a sabbatical creature made in the image of his sabbatical Creator.  Grounded in creation, the Sabbath is God’s moral will.[3]  Man must sanctify it in every dispensation.  Heidelberg 103 therefore speaks of a continuing Sabbath duty.

So, work hard this week unto the Lord, and prepare yourself to rest this coming Lord’s Day.  If you do not have a home church, please attend our worship service this Lord’s Day at 1:00pm August 28.  We would love to have you honor the fourth commandment with us as we come before our God to be cleansed of all our sins that we might turn next week and love our neighbor as ourselves.

[1]The Belgic Confession calls it a “Commandment of life,” (Schaff, 393).

[2]Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” further corroborates that this is a creational ordinance.  Jesus appeals to creation to ground the Sabbath and says it was made for man (anthropos) not Israel.  This is not a Mosaic ordinance but a creational command.

[3]Scripture and nature contain the substance of the moral law.  New Testament summaries reveal the will of God in the Decalogue (Matt. 19:18–19; Rom. 13:8–10; James 2:8–11).  The NT’s use of the Decalogue provides framework for moral analysis and exhortation (Matt. 15:19; 1 Tim. 1:8–11).  Jesus cites the sixth and seventh as a Kingdom ethic (Matt. 5:21; 27).  Paul calls Christians to obey the fifth (Eph. 6:1–4) even universalizes the land promise as entitlement to heaven.  The NT also places unbelievers under the moral law comprehended in the Decalogue (Rom. 1:18–3:20).


4 thoughts on “The Sabbath: Mystery, Ignored, or Valid?

  1. The Sunday is a blessing given to us all by God.
    “To equip us for service by resting from our daily work and study and reflect upon God’s work”.
    We start our week with worship. Sunday, the day of the resurrection is the Holy day, set apart and we look forward to that eternal Sunday.

  2. Pingback: Janus and the Everlasting Sabbath « Missoula Reformed Fellowship

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