Former Sabbatarian

While I was under the error of Calvinism I became vulnerable to a legalistic teaching of keeping the Lord’s Day holy. Understood as an observation of the 4th Commandment [Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15] the Christian Sabbath is seen as a holy day requiring an adherence to a list of things that can and cannot be done.

I understood that the Sabbath had been transferred to the first day of the week (i.e., Christian Sabbath) from the former seventh day of the week that had been ordained at creation and commanded of Israel. Though there is not any Scriptural support that the Sabbath was officially transferred from Saturday to Sunday it was reasoned that Christ’s greater work of redemption, that was fully accomplished on the day of His resurrection, necessarily overrode the Old Testament Sabbath as a far greater ‘work and rest’. The second giving of the law in Deuteronomy, in which Israel was to rest (i.e., keep holy) in the light of that work of redemption that God had accomplished in delivering them from bondage in Egypt, also seemed to affirm an ultimate transfer of the Sabbath to a day of rest in which the New Covenant people of God remembered the full and complete redemption that is in Christ.

What is of particular importance as a Sabbatarian is the keeping of the Lord’s Day as holy.

At the conclusion of a Sunday, in which I attended at least two church services, I either felt a sense of affirmation if I had kept the day holy, or I felt a sense of condemnation, if I had done something I should not have done on the Sabbath. What is striking to me, now from the perspective of a former Sabbatarian, is that I actually thought I had kept the day holy.

If I had kept myself from the following things I would have considered myself as having fulfilled the Commandment of keeping the day as holy:

  • rested from all unnecessary work, except from works of necessity and mercy
  • avoided all secular activities, private or social (e.g., sports, entertainments, general reading, media of any kind)
  • avoided gathering with non-Christian family and friends to the best of my ability
  • desisted from ‘my own thoughts’
  • did not cause others to work (e.g., no participation in any business of buying food, petrol, or services)

While not every Sabbatarian is uniform on those things that can be done in observation of the day, the following things occupied my time on the Christian Sabbath:

  • reading the Scriptures and Christian literature
  • attending a sound church
  • fellowship with the brethren
  • taking a leisurely drive or walk
  • doing acts of mercy (e.g., visiting a veteran’s nursing home)
  • sleeping (e.g., resting)

Though I no longer consider myself a Sabbatarian, I still make Sundays the weekly opportunity to set aside lawful things for the express purpose of taking an undistracted time for worship and devotion. The essential difference for me is not so much whether I do or not do certain things on Sunday, but that I no longer think of keeping a day as holy as a commandment that I must fulfil. I rejoice that I am in Christ, who literally fulfilled the requirement of the Law, so that I am set free from the law of sin and of death and that, instead, there is for me the law of the Spirit of life [Rom. 8:1-4].

The Folly of Making a Day Holy

The folly of making a day holy is the folly of works righteousness. When God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, He did so for an express purpose. That purpose was not that we should actually fulfil the commandments, but that Jesus, as the promised seed, would do so [Acts 15:10,11Gal. 3:19; Gal. 4:4,5]! The Law serves to show how sinful we actually are [Rom. 3:20Rom. 5:20; Rom. 7:7; Gal. 3:19]. Only a legalist thinks that he has observed the Law of God! When a Christian is thinking the way he ought to be thinking then he necessarily affirms the Law, by owning his own utter sinfulness and Jesus’ sinlessness [Rom. 3:31; Gal. 3:21,22]. If we now try to rebuild our own righteousness, as the Galatians were tempted to do so, in light of the Ten Commandments, when we have already affirmed our utter bankruptcy, we only affirm again that we are sinners [Gal. 2:18].

When it comes to the Fourth Commandment, God was showing us that we could not even keep one day out of seven holy, not that we should delude ourselves in thinking that we had actually done so!

While there is not a single text in the New Testament instructing us to keep a Christian Sabbath, the way the Old Testament Sabbath was commanded, here is a text of Scripture we should be aware of.

Colossians 2:16,17 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day–things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.