Thus far I have been presenting (see https://theologicalresonance.com/sabbath-keeping-as-sanctification-part-1/) my reflections regarding the essential purpose of the biblical commands to keep Sabbath. And also why theologically it makes the most sense to categorize sabbath keeping as sanctification. This idea has several implications for not only how we think about the Sabbath commands but how we may go about fulfilling them. For surely God desires us to enter into his rest!
A friend of mine related to me that this past year Javalina came onto his property and dug up and tore out an irrigation line which he had put underground. This irrigation line stretched around his whole property (about one acre of his land). He had to replace the entire irrigation line because of the damage done by the Javalina—which cost him a lot of money and took a lot of time to replace! Javalina are notorious for scavenging whatever they think is needful for them to survive. Many people think that navigating through human experience requires more or less the equivalent behavior of the Javalina. Yet this is not God’s way revealed to us in Scripture but rather the perverse and insidious deception of sin and the demons.
Sabbath keeping is revolutionary because it profoundly challenges and protests against the notion that we must initiate and establish our own security and safety in life by means of our own devising. Sabbath keeping is an act of faith in the living God to be one’s keeper and stronghold in a harsh and cruel world. This is the testimony given throughout the Psalms and explicitly promised in the Torah. God is able to keep his own people but is worthy of our trust! What we do in response to his commands to keep Sabbath reveals much about the quality of our professed faith—regardless of whether someone becomes a religious “legalist” or simply flaunts God’s Torah.
I am not of the opinion that Christians must adopt the practices of Judaism (ancient or modern) regarding the Sabbath day nor would I oppose some modified practices of spiritual disciplines by Christians on a designated day (for example, Saturday or Sunday). There are today advocates for both of these options and I am convinced that each person should be convinced in one’s own mind and respect the choices of others (see Romans 14:1-6). To argue over specific devotional disciplines is pointless and misses the entire reason for which God redeemed us through our Lord Jesus. That is, so that we could enjoy the full salvation of God through the union of our whole persons with God’s Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul spoke of this clearly—specifically noting that God’s purpose in the Son is for us to become holy and so demonstrate the goodness and power of the Gospel (see 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12). To use the traditional theological term, to become sanctified for God’s use in his Kingdom on earth. I contend that the command to keep the Sabbath day holy is a means toward God’s end purpose for us and thus assert sabbath keeping as sanctification.
The Apostle Peter uses what I take to be unmistakably clear terminology to teach the same truth as the Apostle Paul.
“Bracing up, therefore, your minds for action and perfectly composed, fix your hope altogether on the grace that will be coming to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children do not shape your lives by the passions that controlled you in your previous ignorance; instead, as the One who called you is holy, so should you personally become holy in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, because I am holy!’ [Leviticus 11:44]” (1 Peter 1:13-16, Berkeley Version [Zondervan:1965])
The Apostle Peter then goes on to exhort his readers (see chapter 2) to seek before God a vigorous practice of faith which necessitates the turning away from sin and reformation of character and conduct. And this teaching content and exhortations are echoed throughout the New Testament writings. What are we then to conclude from this teaching?
Here is what I suggest: That God’s concern is not with ritual or specific disciplines of spirituality in themselves but rather the honest response of a person’s will being expressed in faith. If genuine faith is present and active in individuals and communities then God will answer that faith by manifesting his Presence and power. For we must remember that the focal point of the Holy Spirit’s interest and supernatural operations is the human person—and thus also human bodies.
Andrew Murray makes a very helpful point about sanctification and what God wants from believers and further what God desires to do in our bodies.
“Many believers fail to watch over their bodies, to observe a holy sobriety through the fear of rendering them unfit for the service of God. Eating and drinking should never impede communion with God. On the contrary, they should help us maintain the body in its normal condition. The apostle spoke also of fornication, this sin that defiles the body and that is in direct opposition to the words, ‘The body is for the Lord.’ It is not simply sexual promiscuity outside the married state, but all voluptuousness, all lack of sobriety regarding sensual pleasure that is condemned in these words: ‘Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost’ (1 Corinthians 6:19). In the same way, all that goes to maintain the body—to clothe it, strengthen it, give it rest or enjoyment—should be placed under the control of the Holy Spirit. Just as, under the old covenant, the temple was constructed solely for God and for His service, even so our bodies have been created for the Lord and for Him alone.” (Andrew Murray, Divine Healing [Whitaker House:1982], p.53; italics in original.)
Murray’s assertions are clearly born out in Scripture. What is the purpose of the Lord’s ministry and teaching in the Gospels? Is not the Lord’s plain teaching, repeated again and again, that he alone has the right to demand obedience from people? And that he alone has in himself the divine life of God and the right to give it to those who exercise faith in the living God through him? And finally, that since he himself became human and set himself (his body) apart to accomplish God’s will on our behalf, he then knows how to guide us into full knowledge of our God shaped purpose and potential?
The Kingdom of God was manifested in the bodies of people he met and in that our Lord spoke to their hearts (the seat of the will). God’s commands in Scripture all require the right and proper use of the human body. And this explicitly is so in regarding to sabbath keeping. Thus I am convinced that the purpose of the Sabbath can be paralleled with God’s sovereign labor of making his own people holy. I am convinced of this but I am not yet satisfied that I have demonstrated this contention adequately.
In order to demonstrate sabbath keeping as sanctification I suggest a careful read of Exodus and God’s words which we recognize as the “Ten Commandments” (see Exodus 20:1-17; see also Deuteronomy 5:1-21). The first command is a prohibition against idolatry and the second involves misusing the name of holy God. Then comes the command regarding the Sabbath.
“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. . . . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20:11, NRSV)
What then follows is God’s words to them that specifically relate to their conduct and relationships with other people. These commands, by anyone’s analysis, should be read and interpreted together as forming a unified vision for God’s will for his people. The Sabbath command is interrelated with the commands to worship God alone and to wholeheartedly and with integrity speak God’s Name. But more than that, the Sabbath command becomes a theological bridge because it unites God’s creative and redemptive activity in the world with human remembrance and participation in God’s covenant. The remainder of the commands address the attitudes and conduct of people toward each other in the community.
To actually pursue God’s commands requires faith and to take action with one’s body in the concreteness of human relationships. This sphere of human experience is where people sin against one another and dishonor their Creator. And for disciples of the Lord Jesus, according to our Master’s words, we are commanded to practice righteousness. And this is the core of becoming sanctified—to freely give of our bodies and wills to obey what the Lord has taught us.
I began this series of essays by citing Hebrews. I will conclude it in the same way. After the section narrating about and warning the readers to not miss entering God’s true rest he immediately turns their attention to Christ himself. He speaks of his humanity and role as the great high priest. And then exhorts them to “therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NRSV)
Salvation is found in God alone. His commands are designed to lead and guide us into understanding his ways and how he has provided for us. To keep God’s commands requires that we have genuine faith in God’s character—otherwise we will seek some other means of security and self-preservation.
The Sabbath command, and all the possible specific forms of pious discipline we can practice, are merely means of opening our whole selves up to the Holy Spirit and his holy and mysterious operation of grace in us. Our obedience to God’s commands is thus from faith and only then can it paradoxically become an act of resting in God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Surely, this is what Paul was referring to and summarizing when he asserted that they should
“not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14:16-18, NASBU)