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Editors’ note: 

This article is part of a three-view forum on the Sabbath command.

Last year my family moved to Toronto for me to pastor a church. I told my new congregation I would be spending the first several months trying to listen more than lead. 

As I visited with elders, staff, and lay leaders, I asked them all a question: “Do you feel like your soul is flourishing, or do you feel drained spiritually?” 

Almost without exception, the reply came back: “Drained.” 

Working Ourselves into a Frenzy

Perhaps your church, your family, or you are, once again, in an overly busy season. Maybe you say things like, “We need to do more as a church for _____,” “We want our kids to be the best at _____,” or “I can’t relax until I accomplish _____.” 

Why do we tell ourselves we believe the gospel but then work and schedule as if it’s all up to us? Multiple sports for the kids. Music lessons. Small-group night. Volunteer dinners. Coffee with new visitors. None of these things is bad in and of themselves, of course, but with the number of commitments piling up, it’s no wonder we feel more drained than fulfilled. 

If you can relate, hear these simple words from Jesus: “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). The principle of weaving regular, Christ-centered rest into our schedule is a piece of peculiarly divine brilliance, a revelation that—while clearly counterintuitive to many of us—is for our flourishing and God’s glory.

Just as Eve was created so that man wouldn’t have to live alone, the Sabbath was created so that man wouldn’t have to live exhausted. The only problem is, we’re not good at following rules—even when they’re good for us.

Enduring Principle

The seven-day week, unlike every other part of our calendar, has no basis in nature; only in divine revelation. Though it predates the Ten Commandments, the seven-day week is enshrined in the fourth command: keep the Sabbath day holy.

Just as Eve was created so that man wouldn’t have to live alone, the Sabbath was created so that man wouldn’t have to live exhausted.

Although New Testament believers relate to the law differently than old-covenant believers do, Scripture seems to indicate that a Sabbath principle still exists. Not only did Jesus observe the Sabbath himself and affirm its value, but the principle behind the commandment—just like, say, marriage—predates the law itself.

We no longer sacrifice animals, prohibit pork, or observe ceremonial feasts as they did in the Old Testament. Yet most Christians throughout history have believed the Ten Commandments still apply to us today. 

Striving for Christlikeness means striving for conformity to God’s character and creation ordinances, such as Sabbath observance. There can be little doubt Sabbath observance has undergone some fundamental changes since the Old Testament era. For starters, it’s now observed on a different day—Sunday, the first day of the week. This is when Christ rose (John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1–2) and why it’s called “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). 

Sabbath’s Shadow-Caster

The Sabbath, like all the rest of the law, finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. It is meant to point us to Christ as our great rest, our great salvation. As Jesus himself says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29).

No amount of vacationing, streaming entertainment, or social-media escapism will give us true rest. Running to Christ, submitting to his provision and direction, is the only real and lasting sabbath for the soul.

No amount of vacationing, streaming entertainment, or social-media escapism will give us true rest. Running to Christ, submitting to his provision and direction, is the only real and lasting sabbath for the soul.

As Dane Ortlund beautifully observes, “He is that of which the sabbath is a shadow; Jesus is the shadow-caster. He doesn’t just forgive our sins; he lets the frenetic RPMs of the heart slow down into calm sanity. And no external circumstance can threaten that rest, as we look to him.”

Reminder of Rest

Being overly busy is, in the end, a way of pursuing Godlike status. When we think we can schedule our way to significance, we’re trying to supply what only God can. And we’re seeking to be what only God can be: omnipresent and omnipotent. A sabbath rest, then, becomes a regular, timely reminder to us that we are not God.

For people and churches across the globe, there has recently come a kind of forced Sabbath. The coronavirus and resulting quarantine have forced us to slow our frenetic pace and recognize how we depend on the Christ we claim. We can’t schedule or work or strategize our way out of the challenges we face. 

But this is helpful, isn’t it? It means we must ultimately throw ourselves on God and the real-life, day-to-day salvation he provides in Christ. It means busyness is not the answer. It means we ourselves are not the answer. God alone is.

God has revealed to us principles by which to live, and in which every human soul will flourish. The Sabbath principle is not just another rule to keep. It’s an opportunity God is providing to enjoy him more. We affirm our faith in God’s Word and his revelation when we observe a Sabbath principle as Christians. 

Observing the Sabbath Today

So, what might a sabbath principle look like in our day? More than a negative command (“thou shalt not”), we are told to “keep” the sabbath principle, to actively engage in the Sabbath’s purpose. 

This could mean making special pancakes and celebrating the Lord’s Day with your family. It might mean you spend time with believing friends or read a book that draws you near to the heart of Christ. It should certainly involve engaging with the body of Christ. It might include acts of mercy, which draws your heart toward others and thereby draws others’ hearts toward God. 

Whatever day it is, use this principle to help you and your family see your dependence on Christ, your need for rest, and that Christ is your strength.

Sabbath rest should, at the very least, consist of intentional time to pull away from every other pursuit or obligation and instead feast on who God is in Christ. 

This will certainly mean building regular seasons of rest, refreshment, and worship into your life. Even if your employment situation requires you to work on Sunday, you can still honor the Lord and provide rest for your soul on a weekly basis. Whatever day it is, use this principle to help you and your family see your dependence on Christ, your need for rest, and that Christ is your strength.


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