Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 1

There are few subjects in the church today that garner as much controversy as the issue of the Sabbath. People line up on both sides of the debate. The question is, who is right? This is no small matter. If the Law has not been abrogated the flagrant disregard of the 4th commandment is a matter of great sin, and if it has been abrogated Sabbatarians are guilty of improperly binding men's consciences. Sadly, in my experience, it would seem that far too many have chosen their position without ever making it a matter of serious study. Far too many Christians today find it convenient to simply follow the pattern of our secular culture. I'm aware of the position of those holding to New Covenant Theology and I disagree with their hermeneutics and their conclusions, but at least they've given themselves to serious study on the issue. Much hinges on a proper understanding of the relationship of the Law and the Gospel. Most of us would agree on the purpose of the Law in convicting the sinner and driving him to Christ? Most would agree that the Law is God's standard of holiness, reflecting His holy character, and that the disobedience of God's Law is His standard of judgment. Most would agree that Jesus was made under the Law and met the Law's demand of perfect obedience. The question is, what is God's standard of holiness after conversion? Has His standard changed? In Romans 7 Paul (the believer) speaks of his struggle with obedience to the Law of God. To what Law is he referring?

Much could be argued on the subject of the non-abrogation of the Law and the perpetuity of the Sabbath, but for the purpose of this blog entry (and at risk of immediately alienating some readers) I'm going to presuppose the perpetuity of the Sabbath. I want to focus on the blessing of God's gift of the Sabbath to man. I'm afraid that too often those who hold to the 4th commandment are unfairly labeled as legalists; a caricature that reveals an ignorance of the true nature of legalism. Legalism in its truest definition is looking to the Law as the basis of justification. Many who oppose the Sabbath call it legalistic because they consider it harsh, binding and restrictive rather than a blessing; something to be received with delight and thanksgiving. I want to describe why we should look at the Sabbath as God's gift and why we should observe it with delight. "If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure, And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isaiah 58:13-14).

What are some of the ways God has provided the Sabbath as a blessing? This will be the first installment on this subject.

First, consider our humanity. How has God created us? What are the rythms of life? God created us to work. Work is a gift, not a curse. But were we designed to work nonstop? Can we learn anything from God's creation of time upon the earth--days and weeks and years Have we not been created in such a manner as to labor during the day and sleep at night? In fact, our bodies will not allow us to disregard this pattern. Extended sleep deprivation can even lead to death. Is there anything significant about God's creation of a seven day week? Is there anything significant about His example of creating the world in six days but reserving the seventh for rest? Can we disregard this pattern without doing harm? To many, especially in our secular world, the Sabbath seems like a wierd, outdated practice reserved for religious fanatics. The truth is the Sabbath is a day of rest for our good and the disregard of it is detrimental to our wellbeing. It was established at creation and reiterated as a part of the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath has a prominent place in the Old Testament but is not abrogated in the New Testament. Jesus and Paul critiqued the Sabbath practices of their day while at the same time observing and affirming the Sabbath as normative for God's people. We need this day of rest as an essential element of our life. It should be seen as a rich blessing from God, not an inconvenience or obstacle to our own desires.

I will continue with this subject in my next post.

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