According to Seventh-day Adventists, a religion of more than 14 million people, and folks like Mark Martin, an ex JW activist gone evangelical preacher, we won’t be saved if we don’t observe the Sabbath—that means to perform no “works” on Saturday (according to the Jewish calendar).
Of course, Sabbatarians often pronounce that the Sabbath predates the Mosaic law and was set in place at the time of creation. If this is so, then why is a Saturday Sabbath according to the Jewish calendar preached by Sabbatarians? Surely at the time of creation there was no calendar made by man.
If the principle of being in God’s rest is active in the hearts and minds of true Christians, then surely, such Christians understand that we are made righteous by our faith, by means of the holy spirit and not by our own repetitious, futile efforts (Romans 8:9,10). And, of course, we have to remember that the children of God are spiritual people, a new creation, (2 Corinthians 5:17) who have found their freedom in Christ; freedom from not only the slavery to sin and death, but also to all the WORKS that they do to atone for those sins. The apostle Paul emphasized this when he said that if we are still trying to gain salvation and reconciliation to God by repetitious works that we think make us worthy (as in Christians following the Mosaic Law or counting hours in the field service ministry) then we have been severed from Christ and have fallen away from grace.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery…You who are trying to be justified by the law have been severed from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the hope of righteousness.” (Galatians 5:1,4,5)
These are powerful words! Don’t be seduced by the teachings of Sabbatarians or you will be severed from Christ. For those of you who may be in the process of being led astray by the idea that you have to “rest,” have to observe a time-restricted Friday to Saturday Sabbath from sundown to sundown or will face the consequence of receiving the mark of the beast (or some other such nonsense) and so will be destroyed at Armageddon, take a deep breath. Let’s reason exegetically from scripture without preconceived biases and discuss this logically.
First, if keeping the Sabbath is a condition for being included in the resurrection of the righteous with Jesus Christ, then wouldn’t a big portion of the good news of God’s Kingdom that Jesus and his apostles preached make mention of it? Otherwise, how could we Gentiles know? After all, the Gentiles would have had little preconception of or preoccupation with a Sabbath observance and what that involves unlike the Jews who practiced it as an integral part of the Mosaic Law for more than 1,500 years. Without the Mosaic Law regulating what can and can’t be done on the Sabbath, modern day Sabbatarians must have to make up their own new rules about what constitutes “work” and “rest” because the Bible doesn’t give any rules that way. By not working (Will they not carry their mat?) they keep the idea of remaining in God’s rest a physical idea rather than a spiritual one. Let’s not fall into that trap but keep in mind and never forget that we have become righteous before God by means of our faith in Christ, and not by our works. “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the hope of righteousness.” (Galatians 5:5).
I know it is very difficult for those coming out of organized religions to see that work is not the way to heaven, to serve with Christ in his Messianic Kingdom. The Scriptures tell us that salvation is not a reward for the good works we have done, so none of us can boast (Ephesians 2:9). Of course, mature Christians are very much aware that we are still physical beings and so act in accord with our faith as James wrote:
“O foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is worthless? Was not our father Abraham justified by what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith was working with his actions, and his faith was perfected by what he did.” (James 2:20-22 BSB)
Of course, the Pharisees, who harassed Jesus and his disciples for picking heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath, could boast about their works because they did not have faith. With something like 39 categories of forbidden activities for the Sabbath, including picking grains to satisfy hunger, their religion was preoccupied by works. Jesus responded to their goading by trying to help them understand that they had instituted an oppressive and legalistic system of Sabbath laws that lacked mercy and justice. He reasoned with them, as we see at Mark 2:27, that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” As the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5) Jesus had come to teach that we could recognize that we need not labor to achieve our salvation by works, but by faith.
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)
When Jesus later told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God would be taken away from the Israelites and given to a people, the Gentiles, who would produce its fruit at Matthew 21:43, he was saying that the Gentiles would be the ones to gain God’s favor. And they were a much more populous people than the Israelites, weren’t they!? So it follows that if indeed observing the Sabbath was (and continues to be) an essential element of the good news of God’s Kingdom, then we would expect to see multiple and frequent scriptural exhortations commanding the newly converted Christian Gentiles to observe the Sabbath, wouldn’t we?
However, if you search the Christian scriptures looking for an instance where the Gentiles are commanded to observe the Sabbath, you won’t find a single one–not in the Sermon on the Mount, not in the teachings of Jesus anywhere, and not in the book of Acts of the apostles. What we do see in Acts is the apostles and disciples preaching to the Jews at the Synagogues on the Sabbath to put faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s read about a few of these occasions:
“As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.” (Acts 17:2,3)
“And from Perga, they traveled inland to Pisidian Antioch, where they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue leaders sent word to them: “Brothers, if you have a word of encouragement for the people, please speak.” (Acts 13:14,15)
“Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks alike. And when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself fully to the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 18:4,5)
Sabbatarians will point out that those scriptures say that they were worshipping on the Sabbath. Of course the Jewish non-Christians were worshipping on the Sabbath. Paul was preaching to those Jews who still kept the sabbath because that was the day they congregated together. Every other day they had to work.
Something else to consider is that when we look to the writings of Paul, we see him spending significant time and effort teaching the difference between fleshly people and spiritual people in the context of understanding the difference between the Law Covenant and the New Covenant. He exhorts the children of God to understand that they, as adopted children are spirit guided, taught by the holy spirit and not by a written code of laws and regulations, or by men – such as Pharisees, scribes, “superfine apostles” or Governing Body members (2 Corinthians 11:5, 1 John 2:26,27).
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).
The distinction between the spiritual and the fleshly is important because Paul is pointing out to the Corinthians (and all of us) that under the Mosaic Law Covenant the Israelites couldn’t be taught by the Spirit because their consciences couldn’t be made clean. Under the Mosaic Law covenant they only had the provision of atoning for their sins repeatedly by offering animal sacrifices. In other words, they worked and worked and worked to atone for sins by offering the blood of animals. Those sacrifices were just reminders of having a sinful nature “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:5)
With regards to the action of God’s holy spirit, the writer of Hebrews, had this to say:
“By this arrangement [atoning for sins by means of animal sacrifices] the Holy Spirit was showing that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. It is an illustration for the present time, because the gifts and sacrifices being offered were unable to cleanse the conscience of the worshiper. They consist only in food and drink and special washings—external regulations imposed until the time of reform.” (Hebrews 9:8-10)
But when Christ came, everything changed. Christ is the mediator of the new covenant. While the old covenant, the Mosaic Law Covenant could only atone for sins through the blood of animals, the blood of Christ purified once and for all the conscience of everyone who put faith in him. This is essential to understand.
“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that their bodies are clean, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, purify our consciences from works of death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13,14)
Naturally the change from the Mosaic Law Covenant, with its over 600 specific rules and regulations, to the freedom in Christ was hard for many to grasp or accept. Though God brought an end to the Mosaic Law, that kind of rule following appeals to the fleshly mind of unspiritual people of our day. Members of organized religions are happy to follow laws and regulations, like the Pharisees created in their day, because these people don’t want to find freedom in Christ. Since the leaders of churches today have not found their freedom in Christ they won’t let anyone else find it either. This is a fleshly way of thinking and “sects” and “divisions” (all the thousands of registered religions created and organized by men) are called “works of the flesh” by Paul (Galatians 5:19-21).
Looking back to the first century, those with “fleshly minds” still stuck in the Mosaic Law when Christ came to fulfill that law, couldn’t understand what it meant that Christ died to set us free from slavery to sin because they lacked the faith and desire to understand. Also, as evidence of this problem, we see Paul scolding the new Gentile Christians for being swayed by Judaizers. Judaizers were those Jewish “Christians” who were not led by the Spirit because they insisted on returning to the old law of circumcision (opening the door to observing the Mosaic Law) as the means by which to be saved by God. They missed the boat. Paul called these Judaizers “spies.” He said about these spies promoting a fleshly way of thinking and not a spiritual or faithful one:
“This issue arose because some false brothers had come in under false pretenses to spy on our freedom in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.” (Galatians 2:4,5).
Paul made it clear that true believers would rely on their faith in Jesus Christ and be led by the Spirit and not by the men trying to return them to practicing works of the Law. In another chiding to the Galatians Paul wrote:
“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After starting in the Spirit, are you now finishing in the flesh? Have you suffered so much for nothing, if it really was for nothing? Does God lavish His Spirit on you and work miracles among you because you practice the law, or because you hear and believe?” (Galatians 3:3-5)
Paul shows us the crux of the matter. Jesus Christ nailed the commandments of the Law code to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and they died with him. Christ fulfilled the law, but he did not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). Paul explained this when he said about Jesus: “He thus condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous standard of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3,4)
So there it is again, the children of God, the true Christians walk according to the Spirit and are not concerned with religious rules and old laws that no longer apply. That is why Paul said to the Colossians:
“Therefore let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a feast, a New Moon, or a Sabbath.” Colossians 2:13-16
The Christians, whether of Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, understood that for freedom Christ set us free from bondage to slavery to sin and death and, also, therefore, the rites that atoned for having a perpetually sinful nature. What a relief! As a result, Paul could say to the congregations that being a part of the kingdom of God did not depend on enacting external rites and rituals, but on the action of the holy spirit bringing one to righteousness. Paul called the new ministry, the ministry of the Spirit.
“Now if the ministry of death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at the face of Moses because of its fleeting glory, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry of righteousness!” (2 Cor 3:7-9)
Paul also pointed out that entering the Kingdom of God didn’t depend on the kind of food the Christians ate or drank:
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17).
Paul stresses over and again that the Kingdom of God is not about external observances but seeking to pray for the holy spirt to move us to righteousness by means of our faith in Jesus Christ. We see this theme repeated over and over in the Christian Scriptures, don’t we!
Unfortunately, the Sabbatarians can’t see the truth of these scriptures. Mark Martin actually says in one of his sermons called “Intending to Change Times and Law” (one of his 6 part Hope Prophecy Series) that keeping the Sabbath day separates true Christians from the rest of the world, which would include all Christians who do not keep the Sabbath. That is a brazen remark. Here’s the gist of it.
Like Trinitarians, Sabbatarians have their own ill-conceived biases, bold and false assertions, that need to be exposed the way that Jesus exposed “the leaven of the Pharisees.” (Matthew 16:6) They are a danger to the children of God who are only just beginning to understand their adoption by God. To this end, let’s see what other Seventh-day Adventists have to say about the Sabbath. From one of their websites, we read:
The Sabbath is “a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom, and a perpetual sign of God’s eternal covenant between him and his people.” (From Adventist.org/the-sabbath/).
What a lofty collection of elevated words, and all without a single scriptural reference! They assert that the Sabbath is a perpetual sign and seal of God’s eternal covenant between himself and his people. We must wonder what people they are referring to. They are, in fact, establishing a false doctrine that the Sabbath, as part of the Mosaic Law covenant, becomes an eternal covenant ahead of or more important than the new covenant that our Heavenly Father made with the children of God as mediated by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:24) based on faith.
The confused writer of that Sabbatarian website blurb takes the Biblical Greek terms used to identify the holy spirit as the sign, seal, token, and guarantee of approval of our heavenly Father for his chosen children of God and uses those words to describe a Sabbath ritual. This is an act of blasphemy as there is no mention of a seal, sign, token, or symbol relating to the Sabbath anywhere in the Christian Scriptures. Of course, we see the terms “sign” and “seal” were often used in the Hebrew scriptures referring to things like the covenant of circumcision and the covenant of the Sabbath but those usages were restricted to the ancient Hebrew texts in reference to the Israelites under the yoke of the Mosaic Law Covenant.
Let’s have a look at Paul’s writings about the seal, the sign, and the guarantee of the holy spirit in many passages that shows the approval of God towards his chosen adopted children based on their faith in Jesus.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:13,14)
“Now it is God who establishes both us and you in Christ. He anointed us, placed His seal on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:21,22 BSB)
“And God has prepared us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a pledge of what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 5:5 BSB)
Okay, so let’s summarize what we have discovered so far. There is no mention of the elevating of the Sabbath as the seal of God’s approval in the Christian scriptures. It is the holy spirit that is identified as the seal of approval upon the children of God. It is as if the Sabbatarians do not exercise faith in Christ Jesus and the good news that he taught because they do not understand that we become righteous by the spirit and not by an ancient, ritualized work.
Still, in proper exegetical manner, let’s turn to have a careful look at what elements constitute the good news to see if there is any inkling of any kind of mention of Sabbath-keeping as an integral part of being accepted into the kingdom of God.
For starters, it occurs to me to mention that the line-up of sins that keep people out of the Kingdom of God enumerated in 1 Cor 6:9-11 doesn’t include not keeping the Sabbath. Wouldn’t that be in the list if it were in fact elevated as “a perpetual sign of God’s eternal covenant between him and his people” (according to the Seventh-day Adventist website we quoted above)?
Let’s start by reading what Paul wrote to the Colossians about the good news. He wrote:
“For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News. This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” (Colossians 1:4-6)
What we see in this scripture is that the good news involves faith in Christ Jesus, love for all God’s people (no longer just considered the Israelites but more significantly the Gentiles), and understanding the truth about God’s wonderful grace! Paul says that the good news changes lives, which implies the action of the holy spirit upon those who hear and understand. It is by the action of the holy spirit upon us that we become righteous in God’s eyes, and not by works of law. Paul made that very clear when he said:
“For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” (Romans 3:20)
By “law,” Paul is here referring to the Mosaic law covenant, consisting of over 600 specific rules and regulations that each member of the nation of Israel was commanded to perform. This code of conduct was in place for around 1,600 years as a provision that Yahweh gave to the Israelites to cover their sins—hence the law code was called “weak through the flesh.” As mentioned above in this article, but it bears repeating—the law code could never give the Israelites a clean conscience before God. Only the blood of Christ could do that. Remember what Paul warned the Galatians about anyone preaching false good news? He said:
“As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be under a curse!” (Galatians 1:9)
Are the Sabbatarians preaching a false good news? Yes, because they make observing the Sabbath the mark of being a Christian and that is not scriptural, but we don’t want them to be cursed so let’s help them. Perhaps it would be useful to them if we talked about the Covenant of Circumcision that Yahweh (Jehovah) made with Abraham about 406 years before the Law Covenant was established in around 1513 BCE.
God also said to Abraham,
“You must keep My covenant—you and your descendants in the generations after you…Every male among you must be circumcised. You are to circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and this will be a sign of the covenant between Me and you…My covenant in your flesh will be an everlasting covenant. (Genesis 17:9-13)
Though in verse 13 we read that this was to be an everlasting covenant, it failed to be. After the Law covenant ended in 33 C.E. that practice was no longer required. Jewish Christians were to think of circumcision in a symbolic way in terms of Jesus taking away their sinful nature. Paul wrote to the Colossians:
“In Him [Christ Jesus] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of your sinful nature, with the circumcision performed by Christ and not by human hands. And having been buried with Him in baptism, you were raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11,12)
In a similar way, the Israelites were to observe the Sabbath. Like the Covenant of Circumcision, which was called an everlasting covenant, the Sabbath was to be kept as a sign between God and the Israelites to time indefinite.
“…Surely you must keep My Sabbaths, for this will be a sign between Me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you…The Israelites must keep the Sabbath, celebrating it as a permanent covenant for the generations to come. (Exodus 13-17)
Just like the everlasting Covenant of Circumcision, the everlasting Covenant of the Sabbath ended when God gave the Gentiles the promise through Abraham. “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 4:29)
The Mosaic Law was ended and a New Covenant became operable by the shed blood of Jesus. As the scriptures say:
“Now, however, Jesus has received a much more excellent ministry, just as the covenant He mediates is better and is founded on better promises. For if that first covenant had been without fault, no place would have been sought for a second. But God found fault with the people…” (Hebrews 8:6-8)
“By speaking of a new covenant, He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)
As we come to conclude, we must keep in mind that when the Mosaic Law ended so did the injunctions to keep the Sabbath. The sundown to sundown Sabbath was abandoned by true Christians and not practiced by them! And when the council of apostles and disciples met in Jerusalem to talk about what the Gentiles would be expected to uphold as Christian principles, in the context of the resurfacing issue of those falling back to circumcision as a means to salvation, we see no mention of observing a Sabbath. The absence of such a spirit-directed mandate is most significant, is it not?
“For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you except these necessary things: to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:28, 29)
He also said,
“Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you that the Gentiles would hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, showed His approval by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He cleansed their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:7-9)
What we need to recognize and meditate on is that, according to Scripture, our inward condition of being in Christ Jesus is what really matters. We must be led by the Spirit. And as Peter mentioned above and Paul mentioned many times, there is no outer distinctions of nationality or gender or level of wealth that identifies a child of God (Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28,29). They are all spiritual people, men and women who understand that only the holy spirit can move them to be righteous and it is not by following rituals, rules and regulations laid down by men that we gain life with Christ. It is based on our faith not on the Sabbath. Paul said that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” There is no scriptural support to say that observing the Sabbath is an identifying mark for the children of God. Instead, it is an inward faith in Christ Jesus that qualifies us for everlasting life! “When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)