Do Christians Have to Observe the Sabbath?
By Rev. D. Earl Cripe, Ph.D.
There Remaineth a Sabbath Rest
In Genesis, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. The Hebrew word for moved is rachaph (raw-khaf’) and it means to brood, to flutter, to shake, to be relaxed. In other words, the Spirit of God hovered, the Spirit of God brooded, He fluttered, He fussed over the waters. God’s attention was directed to His creation much in the same way a little bird fusses and broods and hovers over her nest when she’s building it. She puts in a twig; then she gets out on the limb and she looks at it; she hops around; she picks up another twig and puts it in place, and pretty soon the nest is done and the bird moves into it to raise her family. We might liken it to a man who spends his spare money and time building a house for his family. Eventually, when it is finished, he rests from the labors of building the house and moves into it. This does not mean that there is nothing for the man to do in the house, or for the bird to do in the nest. It means that the work of preparation is done. Now the individual who has done that work ceases from the work of accomplishing it and comes to rest; settles down; colonizes if you please. This is what the Greek katapausis (kat-ap’-ow-sis) means, which is translated in Hebrews 4 as rest, to settle down, to colonize.
The Rest of Completion
What did God do when He finished the creation? He rested. But why did He rest? He did not rest because He was tired. Certainly, we believe that God exerted effort. God always puts forth a great effort in the things that He does, and particularly for man who is created in His own image. Yet we know, from the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, that the everlasting God is never weary nor faint. When God finished His creation, He rested from the labor of creating, and He moved into it. He settled down in it, there to colonize with man, His creature. That is the sense in which God rested on the seventh day.
All that God had in mind for man in this world under the old dispensation was finished in the creation by the great creative work of God. But man, because of his unbelief, never took advantage of it. God was not calling on man to build something out of his own genius and effort. God was inviting man to come and settle down in, to colonize and to take advantage of something the works of which God had already completed. All that remained for man to do was to hear, to believe and to act.
Thus, we find God resting the seventh day from all His works of creation:
Heb 4:5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.
The attention here is focused on the fact that God did the works which were necessary to make this rest — this great Kingdom of God, this place of settling down, coming to rest, ceasing from our aimless wandering in the wilderness and finding our place of belonging — a possibility for us. God did all that was necessary to make that available, but it remained for man to act and to take advantage of it.
Heb 4:6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
Many of God’s children have not been Sanctified. Many of God’s children have not ceased from their aimless, alien wandering in the barrenness of this fallen mortal world. Many have not given up the old ways; they have not died to self; they have not considered the Kingdom of God a thing to go for; they have not considered the reward, the inheritance of the saints, to be worthwhile; they have not considered either the invitation or the commandment of God to be significant enough to compel them to enter into this rest of God.
The Analogy is Not an End in Itself
Some of these people were in the company of religious men. Some of them went through the motions. There were many who crossed over the river (or crossed through the river) in Joshua’s day. But God was calling for something more than that, and this is where man and the religious world often misses the mark. He thinks that God is simply calling for him to stand in a certain spot, to make a certain profession, to sign a card, to go through a liturgy, or to undergo some rite or some ordinance of the church. But God had something more in mind for His children than just physically crossing the River Jordan. Crossing the Jordan was a means to an end, but not the end in itself. God wanted them to rid their hearts and lives of the discontent, the unbelief, the selfishness, the dissatisfaction and the murmuring. He wanted them to not only enter into the Promised Land, but at the same time to enter into a condition of faith, confidence, rejoicing, joy, peace, reverence, worship and fellowship with God. He wanted them to possess in their hearts a real appreciation for what God had done.
God Looks on the Heart
Many who went through the motions of entering into the Promise Land, never achieved that condition of spirit and heart. Something happened to the outward man, but nothing happened on the inside. Thus it was that, far into the future in the days of David, long after the River Jordan had been crossed, God was still calling upon His people to enter into this relationship with Him of belief, of faith, of appreciation and of joy.
Heb 4:7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Heb 4:8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
The Greek name Jesus is identical to the Hebrew Joshua. Evidently here, the meaning is that if Joshua had given them the rest that God wanted them to have by leading them across the Jordan, then God would not have still been calling upon them to enter in during the days of King David.
If all God was looking for was the mere physical crossing out of the wilderness through the Jordan, then there would have been no further call of God to enter into His rest. But, while this event symbolized and typified Sanctification, and was necessary as an ordinance and a symbol to witness the decision on the part of the children to follow God, there was more to it than just lining up, marching across and saying: “All right; we were over there, and now we are over here.”
John Baptized with Water, But Ye Shall be Baptized With the Holy Ghost and With Fire
In the matter of Sanctification, more is called for than the mere enacting or acting out of physical things. This is where the church is short in its understandings so often. Many are committed to the mere proposition of getting someone to walk down to the front of the church, or to join up, or to undergo the ordinance of baptism or some other rite, believing that in these physical things there is efficacy. The truth is that there is no efficacy in them. At best they are only testimonies of a truth which must be possessed by the truly convicted, penitent, person who is making an honest decision. It must, if it is to have meaning and to not be hypocrisy, represents a condition of heart. This is what God is calling for: “Enter in to my rest.”
So, we see:
Heb 4:9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
Heb 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
We have noted that in almost all cases the Greek word that is translated rest is the word katapauo (kat-op-ow’-o), which means to settle down or to colonize. In verse nine the word rest is sabbatismos (sab-bat-is’-moss). “There remaineth therefore a keeping of the Seventh,” is literally what it means, or a keeping of the Sabbath.
God Rested and We Rest
Earlier in the chapter, God is said to have rested the Seventh day from His own works. This constrains me to make a few observations about the commandment to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy. Most Christians, certainly Historic Orthodox Christianity, acknowledges the glaring difference between the Old and the New Testament (or the Old and New Covenant). But many have mistakenly believed that because the Covenant of the Law has passed with Christ and the Cross, so has the moral law itself. This is not true. Men have not listened, since it was Jesus Himself Who said in St. Matthew:
Matt 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
Matt 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
In Romans 3:31, St. Paul asked the question:
Rom 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith?...
He then answers his own question: “…God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Rom 3:31)
Faith does not make the Law void; faith fulfills it.
In Romans 8, he says:
Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
Rom 8:4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
The Royal Law is kept in loving your neighbor as yourself, said St. James. St. John declares that anybody who does not keep the commandments of God, but claims to know God in his walk and his life, is a liar. To know God in the Christian walk is to obey His laws.
In the New Covenant it was necessary that there be new commandments, because the Old Covenant, when it went away, took the commandments of Moses with it. But the moral law of God has never changed. The way that the righteousness and morality of it could be expressed in the New Covenant was basically in the same as before. We have the ten commandments pretty much repeated in exact form as they were in the Old Testament.
The Light and the Darkness
That does not mean that everything is the same or that nothing is new. St. John said:
I John 2:7 Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
There is nothing new about what I am writing you. It is that same old commandment that you have heard from the days of Moses.
I John 2:8 Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
And yet it is new. It is something that you have never heard before because you have never before had ears that are opened by the Holy Ghost, and it is something that you have never seen before because you have never had eyes to see it with or light to see it by. Now you are in a position to see spiritually, the spirit of the Law, and more than that, now you are in a position to do something about it.
Grace was never given to make the law of God obsolete or unnecessary. Grace was given to take away the Covenant to the law. Grace was given to bring us Justification without the deeds of the law. Grace was given to make it possible for us to understand and obey the law in our lives and service to Him. Therefore it is new, and it is old.
Love God with all your heart and strength and mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Put away lying, let every man stop stealing, and labor with his own hands. Do not commit adultery; do not commit sacrilege. Do to be angry at your brother without a cause.
The New Testament Sabbath
But one commandment that is not repeated anywhere in the New Testament after the Resurrection and Pentecost, is the Sabbath commandment. Why is that?
The reason is that the Sabbath commandment was symbolic all along. The meaning of the Sabbath commandment was not to place any inherent righteousness in not working on Saturday. It was to call attention to the completion of the works of God, and it was to look ahead to the great achievement of Jesus Christ when He would complete a work which would make it possible for man to cease from his own fallen, meaningless, mortal works and enter into the great rest of Christ and of God. This is what the seventh day was all about. All throughout the Old Testament — the seven trumpets, the seventy-seven, the seventh year, the seven days of the feast, the seventh days of the feast, the seventh month, the seventh day of the seventh month, and on and on — we had this symbol of the number seven which again and again and again spoke of Christ: perfection and completion.
What is the New Testament Sabbath, and how does one keep it? Let me begin by telling you what it is not. It is not the seventh day of the Old Testament commandment, or in other words, Saturday. How do I know? Well, apart from the correct doctrine, which I am going to explain here, there is a direct statement in Scripture that specifically and plainly tells us this:
Col 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Col 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
Col 2:15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
Col 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
Col 2:17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
Col 2:18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
Col 2:19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
Col 2:20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
Col 2:21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
Col 2:22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Col 2:23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
Here the Apostle tells us that the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. It was to teach us our failure and our sins. It was against us with its handwriting of ordinances. Christ took all of this handwriting of ordinances off of us, nailing them to His Cross. One specific ordinance that he took out of the way was the Sabbath ordinance. You notice in your Bible (of course I am talking about the King James; there is not other non-Catholic, English Bible that is authorized or legitimate) that in verse 16, the word days that follows the word Sabbath is italicized. Most of you know what that means, but for those who do not, it means that the word was added by the translators, and that it was not in the original. Most of the time these added words are helpful, but in this case it is misleading. The passage actually reads: “...or of the Sabbath”. So there you have it, of those who want to know. The Bible says that we are not to allow ourselves to be made to feel guilty by any legalists because we do not keep the Sabbath. This is not to be confused with the call to worship, which is another issue for which we do not have space at the moment.
Secondly, the New Testament Sabbath is not Sunday. No, no, no! It is not Sunday. Sunday is not a seventh in any sense of the word. It might be considered the fulfillment, in a certain limited sense, of the Old Testament symbol of the eighth days (we will not go into that either just now) but in no sense is it a “seventh.” Sunday is the first day of the week. Saturday is the last, or seventh day.
All right, if it is not Saturday and it is not Sunday, what is the New Testament Sabbath, if in fact there is such a thing? There is such a thing, all right, and it is very important. But it is something entirely different in nature and kind. We keep the New Testament Sabbath by entering into the rest, the completion, the perfection of Christ. How do we do that? By ceasing from our own works and working the works of God.
You may say that this is very confusing to you. Well, I do not feel that it is that confusing, but whether it is or not, it is all important to those who wish to serve God and make something eternal of their lives, so you had better set you mind to it, and do so prayerfully and with a reliance upon the Word and the Spirit of God.
Heb 4:9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
Heb 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
Heb 4:11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
There remains therefore to the people of God the keeping of a sabbath — a keeping of the seventh. It is accomplished by ceasing from your own works and entering into His rest. The word cease is the Greek katapauo, which is the same as the earlier word rest. It means to settle down, to colonize, to desist and to cease. What is it telling us? It is saying that, like a nomad, we need to cease our wilderness wandering, we need to desist from the restless and fruitless striving, we need to settle down in the grace and the provision of God, we need to give up on ourselves, our own ideas, our own self-oriented ambitions, and we need to let God lead and work out from within us by His Spirit. This is not talking about idleness, or the lack of works. It is talking about the source upon which we draw. Is it Christ, by the Cross and by faith; or is it the religion that is native to natural man, and that we, now that we are Christians, believe that we should be able to make work?
Remember that the example here is the first generation of Israelites who left Egypt. They were religious, they were ambitious, they were in measure courageous, and they were willing to follow what they thought they should see developing. But in their hearts, they knew only their own ways, and did not know the ways of God. They did not trust Him any further than they could see their way. They did not trust God any more than they could understand in their own fallen religious minds as to what was going on and why. This was the very unbelief that caused the Good News of the Kingdom of God not to benefit them. Another way of putting it is that they refused to let go of their own works. They refused to rest in the completed work of Christ.
Do not get the wrong idea here, as many have. This is not talking about the doctrine of our Justification. It is not calling on us to passively reckon with the merits of the Cross, and that alone, and to do nothing else. Justification is talking about the salvation from the Cross by grace alone and by faith alone, which has been given as a gift for our lives. In Sanctification (or in other words, Christian living) the grace is in the provision! That is what the writer is telling us.
He that has entered into His rest has rested from his own works. He has crossed out of the wilderness and he has settled down — he has come into the place where he belongs, like the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat after wandering aimlessly all over the world (and I am not saying there was no purpose in that; I am making an illustration). He has come into that for which God originally created him, and for which God has recreated him in Christ — to work the works which God has before ordained, that we should walk in them. This, of course, is from Ephesians 2:
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
We are created unto good works. Titus says, “Tell the people that they are to be zealous of good works, and let ours also be careful to maintain good works for necessary uses, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God.” St. James puts it this way: “In Sanctification, when you by faith work the works of God, this proves the genuineness of your belief in Christ and His Gospel, as it pertains to the present Kingdom and God’s will for your life.”
How can you say you believe in the good land, yet stay over in the wilderness, looking longingly across the Jordan but never crossing over? You talk the talk. You say that good land is worth it, we ought to enter into it. We should quit this carnal, unfulfilling business of carnal religious works in a wilderness place. We should be over there in the Kingdom of God where God and the devoted people are. We ought to clear out the enemy; we ought to take possession. That is what you say.
But in the vernacular of the street these days: you do not walk the walk. You never get over there and plow a furrow or cut a weed or chase an enemy. This, definitely this, and only this, is what this text in Hebrews is about.
We enter into the good works that God has ordained by ceasing from our own works. Is there really a difference? Does it really work? Anyone who has ever come to the end of himself, given up, plunged in the baptismal waters of the river Jordan and come out on yonder side with a resurrected new life in Christ would never ask that question. Oh, there is such a difference between the fallen and useless works of man and the works of God. He that has entered into that Sabbath — that perfect rest of Christ — has rested from his own works as God did from His. Why did God rest? Because His work was complete. Why do we rest? Because the works of Christ, in making the new creation available to us, are finished too. Now we can settle down with God and reap the fruits of this New, Good and eternal land. No, it is not of this world. One day it will be of and in the new world, but not yet. But it is real, it is eternal and it is ours!
Heb 4:11 Let us therefore labor to enter into that rest.
To enter into that rest it takes labor, it takes faith, and it takes discernment from the Word of God in order to know what to do and how to do it. If you think there is a contradiction here, you have something very important and very urgent to learn.
*This article is an excerpt from our commentary on the book of Hebrews, titled The Other Side of Jordan, and is available for purchase on Amazon in Kindle or paperback format.
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