“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  Exodus 20:8

Let’s not dictate Sabbath observance today.  The point of the Sabbath is a dress rehearsal for a future eternity of glad rest in God.  So, for now, every one of us can work out the details personally.  But in our frantic modern world, the Sabbath offers wisdom that has lasted since the beginning (Genesis 2:2-3).  It is not written on our calendars as much as we are built into its calendar.  It seems to be part of the God-created rhythm for weekly human flourishing.

If we did set apart one day each week for rejuvenation in God, we would immediately add to every year over seven weeks of vacation.  And not for doing nothing but for worship, for friends, for mercy, for an afternoon nap, for reading and thinking, for lingering around the dinner table and sharing good jokes and tender words and personal prayers.

How else can we find quietness of heart in today’s world?  If anyone has a more biblical (and more immediately beneficial) place to begin, I’m open.  But raising hermeneutical objections to the Sabbath principle doesn’t in itself actually help any of us.

I wonder if the very concept of “the weekend” is biblical.  It seems to me that “the weekend” turns Sunday into a second Saturday.  Home Depot may gain, but we lose.  It turns Sunday into a day to catch up on what we didn’t do Saturday or a day to ramp up for what’s ahead on Monday.  It hollows out our whole week, because it marginalizes God and church and sermons and all the other vital things that happen in our lives only when we make the vital things also the central things.  If we accept the concept of “the weekend,” we risk “fitting God in” rather than centering our every week around him.  We risk living soul-exhausted lives, and wondering why God isn’t more real to us, why we’re grumpy.

If we want to find our way back into quietness of heart and reality with God, the first step might be simple.  Bold, but simple.

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39 thoughts on “Is the Sabbath still relevant?”

  1. Mark G says:

    “Let’s not dictate Sabbath observance today. The point of the Sabbath is a dress rehearsal for a future eternity of glad rest in God. So, for now, every one of us can work out the details personally.” That should play well to modern American individualism and hedonism. Is the statement itself not “dictating Sabbath observance today.”? Perhaps God has something to say about how he is to be worshipped. Bold but simple.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thanks, Mark. What I meant was, Let’s not dictate to one another. Every one of us can work it out personally before the Lord.

  2. Peter says:

    Thank you for the solid reminder of the importance of Sabbath-keeping. I do, however, have a question. Why the commendations when the attendant qualifiers almost negate the original commendation? Shall we also not “dictate” concerning stealing, or lying, or murder? Why the allergy to saying God “dictated” rest? The Law is good–yes we must always place in in proper relation to the Gospel–but have we forgotten that its delights inspired the longest Psalm, spurring even declarations of undying love? If you were a slave whose back still bore the blood and scars of an unceasing Egyptian whip, would you hear not hear grace in God’s holy dictation from Sinai that all must rest–parents, children, servants and sojourners? And are not the OT penalties (no longer binding) for refusal to rest the perfect picture of the eternal folly of rejecting a gospel that commands to repent and believe in Jesus, and in Him find rest for your souls? The moral law stands, to be obeyed with joy and gratitude for deliverance, including the Sabbath. And not some nebulous Sabbath (would we say just why don’t you just “work out the details of adultery personally”?) but the full, delightful, gracious, wonderful Sabbath day of New Testament resurrection joy and body life and worship and mercy over which Jesus Christ remains Lord. I am as unashamed to say God commands this Sabbath rest as I am to say God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus. Again, a great and needful reminder for Sabbath rest–but if God indeed did dictate that rest, lets have the courage to do the same and then live accordingly.

    1. Ethan says:

      “The moral law stands, to be obeyed with joy and gratitude for deliverance, including the Sabbath.”

      I struggle with whether Sabbath observance is a moral or a ceremonial law. When you look at the NT church, do we find any Sabbath observance? There is certainly meeting on the Lord’s Day, but it says nothing of “a day of rest.” There is no evidence the Gentile converts were charged to observe a Sabbath.

      That said, I think Ray’s article is excellent.

      1. Patrick says:

        The Sabbath was instituted in creation long before Mt Sinai, so it is not a ceremonial law. Also we do not see the abolition of the Sabbath in the NT either, but rather moved to Sunday to represent the ultimate rest and newness in Christ.


      2. jay kay says:

        “I struggle with whether Sabbath observance is a moral or a ceremonial law.”

        If you don’t give your employees one day off a week, you’re going to hell. That’s the moral part of the Sabbath commandment. The ceremonial part is putting it on one particular day to commemorate a certain event.

  3. K says:

    While we don’t know whether the Gentiles observed the Sabbath (which, to be clear, is the seventh day, not the first day – the Lord’s day being the first day, the day on which we gather collectively to worship God and receive instruction), we do know how the apostles used it: to preach and teach the gospel. The commandment to keep the Sabbath is a moral commandment: the reason why it is to be kept is because God sanctified it. It is HIS day. The specific commands on HOW to observe the Sabbath are the ceremonial aspects of it. Big difference. The controversy in the gospels was about how Jesus used his time on the Sabbath (with the Pharisees labeling his actions “work”, when the intent of the Sabbath was a day entirely devoted to God through rest).

  4. Flyaway says:

    The Sabbath was made for man. Man wasn’t made for the Sabbath. Let us follow God’s example and find rest on the Sabbath. In my life that involves resting in His Word at church with fellow Christians. We encourage each other to love and good works.

  5. Mike Ford says:

    Ray, my poor kid is sick and I feel this urge to also get more household “work” done while he’s sleeping. I have a very busy schedule and I constantly feel this tug to work and keep doing stuff. I’ve found the most profitable weeks and health for my soul have been when I worship God with God’s people. It actually motivates me to keep working on Saturday so that Sunday I may rest.

    So thank you. I completely agree with your first paragraph and also the necessity of such a sabbath. And that we become more and more human when we do so.

  6. vj says:

    God instituted a day of rest ‘in the beginning’. Modern medical science tells us that we *need* regular periods of rest/relaxation/rejuvenation, otherwise we will suffer physical/psychological/emotional burnout. Should we not then recognize God’s sovereign wisdom in providing us with the means to rest and recover and be restored, which is what a Sabbath rest gives us? Why would we not want to have a break from the hustle and bustle of regular daily life – in whatever specific form that may take for each of us?

  7. Josh says:

    Great discussion. Yes, Christians keep the Sabbath BECAUSE of the fact that they are Christians — they have found daily rest in Christ. Jesus reiterated the 4th commandment in Matthew 11:28, because every other religion is still working (for their own righteousness) every day of the week. So, in resting from your own self-righteous efforts by coming to Christ, you are fulfilling this commandment IN Him, just like every other commandment is fulfilled in and through Him. He is Lord of the Sabbath so we observe a Sabbath-rest 7 days a week because of the light yoke that He has given us. I do think a day of rest is still a good idea either way.

  8. Marco Vasquez says:

    I enjoy very much learning about the historical context of Scripture, and often it brings into question our current presuppositions and assumptions about a given issue. In terms of Shabbat, I don’t think that the OT saints all got up and got the kids ready for church.

    It is my understanding that, historically, shabbat was not a time of corporate worship, but rather focused on rest and relaxation among the extended family unit, and perhaps the village (many of which were quite small). Corporate worship happened primarily during the yearly schedule of festivals (“feasts”) as well as the new moon celebrations.

    So, how might this understanding of Shabbat in the OT might inform our understanding of Shabbat now?

    1. Drey says:

      this is also my understanding from my research

  9. Aaron says:

    I keep hearing that the Sabbath was instituted at creation. I see clearly where God rested (stopped creating) but don’t find where humans observed it until the COI gathered manna in the wilderness.

    It was instituted as a shadow of Christ and the rest He would be bringing (Colossians 2:16,17). Now that He has come we have a better Sabbath (Hebrews 4) (“Sabbatismos” or Sabbath-like rest) that is unlike what was given to Israel. Christ fulfilled the shadow. It really is all about Him.

    1. jay kay says:

      Do you think people worked every day of the week before Sinai? I mean come on. And what’s with being against the Sabbath? All that will bring you is slavery. If all the Christians in our society don’t say “No Mr. Boss Man, I can’t work on Sunday; that’s the Lord’s Day!” then eventually your freedom to not work on Sunday will be taken away. If you don’t enforce Sabbath-keeping you lose even the voluntary possibility of Sabbath-keeping, because secular society will enslave you and you’ll be working 24-7 7 days a week and still barely surviving pay check to pay check.

      1. Drey says:

        jay kay, u may have overlooked what came before sinai. the people who were at sinai had just been freed from slavery in egypt. so yes, it can be accepted that they did work everyday.

  10. Marie says:

    I have a question about sabbath-keeping. It’s been on my mind for some time, now, and perhaps someone could give me some pointers. I play in the music team at church, which means that I get up at 7am, drive to collect other team members, arrive at 8am every Sunday for a practice. Church runs from 10am until 12pm, and then afterwards there is often a course or cell group until 1pm. Once a month, there is a prayer meeting from 5pm to 6pm which also requires the music team. Other times there are sometimes volunteer meetings or projects running.

    So, I am doing ‘Christian’ things for most of the Sunday, but I am not resting, I am working. And unlike my pastor family-members, who then take Mondays as their sabbath, I am back in the office Monday to Friday. Should I treat Saturdays as my sabbath instead? And if so, when will I get the chance to buy my groceries, since stores are closed by the time I get home from work?

    I ask the question not to argue, but because this is an issue I am grappling with personally and I would appreciate some guidance.

    1. Jen says:

      There are greater theological minds than mine that can weight in on this, but it occurs to me that we sometimes make such a production out of church that those involved get little Sabbath rest, and little time to absorb God’s teaching on that day. Just thinking.

  11. Jonathan Tomes says:

    It might be helpful if someone were to provide a list of resources on the subject, esp. from a biblical-theological perspective. There does seem to be much confusion on the theology and practice of Sabbath.

    In my own thinking, I do agree that Sabbath was an ordinance in original creation. The problem comes when you look at the nature of that original creation. Adam was a priest-king and his realm sounds an awful lot like a temple. This is a theocratic expression of the Kingdom. We see this again with national Israel. So, Sabbath belongs to theocracy. No theocracy, no theocratic expression of the Sabbath. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have significance in the New Covenant. It is simply suggestive that the Sabbath, as we now experience it, belongs to life in the Spirit, and not life in the secular Kingdom (i.e., we rest in Union with Christ and as we benefit from the ordinary means of grace).

    At the least, Sabbath should be more than “taking a break every once in a while.”

  12. Casey Hough says:

    For those interested in a biblical-theological essay on the sabbath and it’s relationship to the the theme of rest, the link below will take you to an essay that I wrote for seminary. I don’t bring any thing new to the table, but the bibliography would be helpful for those interested in more study in this area. By the way, I am aware of the typos and misused words, just haven’t had the time to edit the paper since it was graded.


  13. Preacherman says:

    I believe that the Sabbath is more about the attitude and principle of Rest than the specific day. None of us can keep the law perfectly that is why Jesus came. But we are still to live under His Lordship and the principles and teaching of the Bible. Jesus did not “keep” the Sabbath the way the Pharisees said he should have, but Jesus teaches that the Sabbath was made for us not the other way around. Then we have later teaching from the Apostles about how we are to treat days. The hard thing is that most people either fall into a “legalistic” Sabbath keeping (either Sat or Sun) or a totally liberal “non” Sabbath keeping. I have become convicted that neither is correct for the Christian. We are to take a regular day of rest as a symbol and offering to our Lord because we need it and we rely on Him to provide for us. Yet I do not see this as the same as our day of corporate worship. Certainly in typical Western culture we could not honestly say Sunday is a day of rest for those employed by the Church or most of the “key” volunteers. Yet so often it is taught to be so, but that is just not true. So I believe we must decide our day of rest in the principles Jesus taught, and also we are to worship corporately. My Sabbath is on Mondays. My day of Corporate worship is Sunday.

  14. richm612 says:

    Surely, as Preacherman says, it’s a case of applying an unchanging principle to the present context. It’s the same as with the command about graven images, that clearly does not just refer to making statues and worshipping them. The important thing is that Christians do take time out to rest. That needs to be worked out in a way that is practical and helpful, and keeps the spirit of the command. Yes, the commands about, for example murder and lying need to be more clear cut, but Jesus had some strong words to say about them too!

  15. Rob Roy says:

    //Let’s not dictate Sabbath observance today….for now, every one of us can work out the details personally.//

    Can we “work out the details personally” of the other 9 commandments, or just the 4th? One wonders….


  16. jay kay says:

    “I wonder if the very concept of ‘the weekend’ is biblical. It seems to me that ‘the weekend’ turns Sunday into a second Saturday.”

    To Jews Saturday is the Sabbath, to Christians Sunday is — as a result, in American society, we get both days off. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is its been eroded by atheists and liberals, and its getting to the point where we will not only be capable of having any days off, but we’ll be working 24 hour days like we work for Apple at Foxconn or something.

  17. Marisme says:

    A great book to read is The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

  18. Rick Owen says:

    “Is the Sabbath still relevant?,” the author asks. Two thoughts:

    (1) Resting in Christ as our Sabbath is most relevant under the New Covenant. Of course, this does not come at the expense of sensible, periodic physical rest. There is no need to construct an either-or argument or practice here. But the NT draws attention to resting by faith in Christ, not to keeping Old Covenant Sabbaths (weekly or otherwise) per the Law of Moses (especially for Gentile believers).

    There’s no evidence in the NT that the Jewish weekly Sabbath was changed to Sunday for New Covenant believers. Sunday was not a day off for first-century believers. They usually met in the evening after work. Believers are to rest at all times as they live by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), “looking unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:2) in Whom we rest by faith (Heb. 4:1ff).

    (2) The first-century church did not gather for a ‘worship service,’ per se, as we usually conceive of this or suppose the first-century synagogue conducted. The church met to break bread (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). This provided practical refreshment at the end of a work day, and it also provided a covenant-family setting for instruction (which included dialogue and discussion), fellowship (sharing of God-given material and spiritual gifts), praise and prayers.

    Believers are to worship at all times, which means devoting their lives in service and submission to God (Rom. 12:1-2). But Christ’s Ekklesia (i.e., His called-out, participatory ‘political assembly’) met primarily to advance His kingdom (“the fullness of Christ,” Eph. 4:13; cf. Gal. 4:19; Col. 1:27; ). They did this by encouraging and building up one another through the use of spiritual gifts given for “the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:26; Eph. 4:12). Church leaders equipped the saints to do this as they also participated in the process as fellow members of Christ’s body. In a broad, collective sense, this is also an act of worship (i.e., service and submission unto God). But such NT mutual ministry within the body of Christ is not quite the same as ‘worship services’ conducted by churches today which focus on the participation and gifts of a few (e.g., a worship team or pastor).

  19. Larry says:

    I have been extremely troubled by this controversial subject. I have a coworker who started working with me about three months ago. He told me he was seventh-day adventist. This was after I told him I was a believing christian. First day he knew this of me he started drilling me about how Saturday was the sabbath and that observing Sunday was pagan worship day of the sun. I immediately began to study this and found that among all the scholarly writings on this subject none of the authors disputed Saturday as the true sabbath. Only remarks were to whether it was relevant. Which brought me here. Jesus tells us that if we love him we will keep His Commandments which does include sabbath. So why has this simple observance commanded by God and fulfilled by Jesus even in question? Jesus observed it also as he went into the synagogues on the sabbath to read. How can we even dispute not doing likewise? If it was anything but a sanctified (separated) day that God made Holy I would say observe any day you wish. Because it is a specific day we should not be observing any day but Saturday, the real sabbath day! Believe me it was not at all easy for me to admit that for thirty years of worship I may have worshipped in vain!

  20. Rick Owen says:

    “Why not deal with the Ten Commandments in light of the New Covenant revelation? If this is done, then one would see that nine of the ten are restated in the New Testament. The Sabbath commandment is dealt with, but in terms of it being a shadow, the reality of which is Jesus Christ, not in terms of it being a binding commandment (Colossians 2:16-17).

    The Sabbath was different than the other nine commandments. It was a ceremonial type, not an eternal moral law. This is shown by the fact, as Jesus pointed out, that the Sabbath was technically violated, but those who ‘profaned’ it were guiltless (Matthew 12:5; cf. Mark 2:23-28). Which of the other nine commandments could be broken and the perpetrator be held guiltless? (Cf. Robert Morey, Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath?, 1979, 16 pp.).

    This highlights the problem of simplistically saying the Ten Commandments must be preached before the gospel. How are you going to preach the Sabbath as commandment to Gentiles who were never bound by it? [Ray] Comfort says, David broke all Ten Commandments in his sin with Bathsheba.’ Pray tell, how did he break the Sabbath in this iniquity?”

    From Jon Zens’ “A Critique Of Ray Comfort’s ‘Hell’s Best Kept Secret'”

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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