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You Are Not Under Law: The Sabbath

November 13, 2006

Yesterday I taught our congregation that the phrase “not under law” in Romans 6:14 means not only that we are not under the condemnation of the law, but also that we are not under the commandments of the law of Moses.

While many Reformed people say that the ceremonial law is abrogated but that the moral law of Moses is still binding on Christians, I believe that the biblical way of saying it is that we are not under the law of Moses, but under the law of Christ.

One of the strongest evidences in favor of my view is the way the New Testament deals with the fourth commandment.   The other nine of the ten commandments are reasserted in the New Testament.   But of the Sabbath Paul says, “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” (Col 2.16) And in Romans 14:5 he says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

How could Paul say these things if he believed that we were still under the binding authority of the Ten Commandments?

Some would argue that the fourth commandment is a part of the ceremonial law, but that just shows just how artificial this moral/ceremonial distinction can be. 

Most Reformed folk would not say that the fourth commandment is ceremonial, and so they have to find some other way to explain Col 2:16 and Rom 14:5 so that they can say that we are still under the law of the Sabbath.   And then all the shouting starts about whether you can go shopping or watch football on Sunday.  Or maybe we even got the day wrong!  It should probably be Saturday because Moses said the seventh day and we can’t relax even the least jot or tittle, right?  But since NCAA football is so much more exciting than the NFL, we should definitely keep doing church on Sunday.

All this silliness is eschewed in my view.  We’re not under the law of Moses, not even under the Ten Commandments.  We’re under the law of Christ.

But I still love to keep the Sabbath holy.  That doesn’t mean I worry about how many sticks I gather on Sunday, but it does mean that as I have sought to be obedient to Christ, serving in the new way of the Spirit, I have meditated on the teachings about the Sabbath in the law of Moses (and elsewhere in the OT) and have discovered wonderful things about how God values rest and the priority of worship.  The Sabbath is a blessing (Gen 2:3).  The Sabbath is a delight (Isa 58:13)  So maybe I won’t watch TV on Sundays and instead I’ll use the time for fellowship, or Bible study, or a nap.  That seems like the kind of thing a wise, godly man might do on a Sunday, even though he’s not under the law of Moses. 

The heart of the Sabbath commandment is the priority of worship and humility to admit that you’re not God and you need a break.  I shouldn’t put words in Jesus’ mouth, so let me say this with caution and humility:  I think that if Jesus had included the Sabbath commandment in his sermon on the mount he might have said something like this:  You have heard that it was said ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy’ but I say to you that if you’re ever worrying about work when you should be delighting in worship, then you have failed to love God as you ought.

And, of course, we’ve all failed to love God as we ought.  So whatever you think about whether or not we’re under the commandments of the law, let’s praise God together that we’re not under the condemnation of the law.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kris C. permalink
    November 13, 2006 4:37 pm

    This sermon was one of many recently that has been a challenge for me. I grew up in a very Calvinistic school – in fact, I would say that they erred into legalism in many ways – and so my perspective has been more the idea that only the ceremonial law has been done away with. However, I’m not sure that I disagree with you, either – it’s just going to require a lot of thought, prayer, and study. But, hey – that’s good, right? Thanks for the consistently challenging sermons.

  2. November 14, 2006 12:46 am

    Haha, “it’s just going to require a lot of thought, prayer, and study. But, hey – that’s good, right?” Amen to that.

    Hmm, haven’t thought of that Sabbath argument before. Here are some thoughts: didn’t Jesus say that even in the Old Testament David “and those who were with him… entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests” (Matthew 12:3-4), and that “the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless” (Matthew 12:5). The law has always been, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7), and Jesus’ point was that the Pharisees had twisted this law into legalism. Jesus says that he is “lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), not a “replacement” of the Sabbath.

    Perhaps Paul’s point in Colossians 2:16 and Romans 14:5 was simply to clarify the original intent of the Sabbath: “made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

    I dunno. Based on other passages and arguments, I still find it unconvincing that Jesus came to abolish the OT law.

    But nonetheless, as you said, “whatever you think about whether or not we’re under the commandments of the law, let’s praise God together that we’re not under the condemnation of the law.” Praise God for Jesus Christ =).

  3. November 14, 2006 8:33 am

    Mike,

    Just to be clear, my position is not that Jesus abolished the law, since Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. “Replacement” is closer, but that’s still not my word. What I said is that Jesus is the second Moses, a new law-giver, and that we are not under the law of Moses, but under the law of Christ.

    And remember that although I don’t say that we are under the moral portion of the Mosaic law, I say that disciples of Christ still obey the eternal moral principles that are found in the law of Moses because Jesus told us to love God and neighbor, and love is the fulfillment of the law.

    So, if you believe that we are still under the binding authority of the fourth commandment, how do you practice it? Do you believe it is sin to study on Sunday? Do you believe it is sin to shop on Sunday? Do you begin the Sabbath on Saturday at sundown?

    In my post I shared how I, as one who is not under the law of Moses, still profit from resting on the Sabbath. How do you, as one who believes he is still under the law of Moses as binding moral commandments, obey the laws of the Sabbath?

  4. November 21, 2006 10:24 pm

    Heh, haven’t worked through everything yet. I’m new to this theological topic, so I’m basically just exploring the different viewpoints right now. You are extremely convincing, so we’ll see where I end up =).

  5. November 21, 2006 10:41 pm

    I have one question, though. Jesus telling us to love God and neighbor isn’t new to the Bible. It was in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. How do you respond to this?

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