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Christ Our … Sabbath Rest?

Christ Our … Sabbath Rest?

What is the Sabbath? In the Bible, it is defined as the seventh day of the week, a day which God set aside as holy at Creation: “On the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2, 3). To the greater Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic population, however, it is the first day of the week, commemorating Christ’s resurrection. 

In cruder terms, it’s when you go to church.

But a recent blog in The Baptist Messenger by staff writer Chris Forbes titled “The Christian Life as Sabbath Rest” is taking another stab at defining the Sabbath.

Christ’s Finished Work

Like all good Baptists, the author understands the wonderfully good news of the gospel: salvation by faith in Jesus apart from the deeds of the law. After all, what serious Christian who believes in obeying God’s law (and what serious Christian doesn’t?) actually thinks he or she is saved by keeping the law?

None: “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law” (Galatians 3:21). But it’s not. It’s “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (2:20).

Understanding this truth, Forbes writes, “The life we live as Christians is marked by resting from working to earn God’s favor and trusting in the completed work of Christ on the cross to [fulfill] God’s requirements for salvation. … Christ’s work of gaining salvation for us [through] His death … and resurrection is the fulfillment of what God intended from the foundation of the world (Heb. 4:3).”

With All Due Respect …

So far, so good. But then he goes on: “The Sabbath day of rest in the Old Testament was a foreshadowing of Christ’s completed work on our behalf. Christ said, ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30) on the cross, after all. Thus the entire Christian life can be considered as a Sabbath rest. … There is no Christian Sabbath … because Jesus is our Sabbath rest, and our life becomes a Sabbath rest from our spiritual works as we walk in Him.”

With all due respect, that is a gross leap of assumptions. So in Forbes’ viewpoint, the Sabbath does not exist as a day of the week or even a length of time anymore. It has become a shapeless conceptualization stuffed into a catchall “Jesus.” Scripture tells us that “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), not that He is the Sabbath. There’s a big difference.

There’s also this problem: The seventh-day weekly Sabbath rest of Hebrews 4:4 did not, against Forbes’ claim, ever foreshadow Christ. The animal sacrifices of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary system did. How do we know? Scripture says so: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:12), it says of Christ. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) John the Baptist cried out when Jesus arrived. Read Hebrews 8–10 for a detailed explanation.

We know this also because, as we have seen, God made holy the seventh day at the very beginning—before sin ever entered the world. How did that become a foreshadowing of what Christ would do in order to solve the sin problem when, at that point, there was no sin problem?

Do you know what Christ was referring to when He uttered His dying words? The ancient sanctuary system was what had “finished” at the cross; it was the veil of that sanctuary which “was torn in two” (Luke 23:45; see also Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38). How does one go from the abolishment of the earthly sanctuary system to the abolishment of one of the Ten Commandments, the nullification of a holy day that had been instituted long before the sanctuary system? One doesn’t, at least not biblically, anyway.

Jesus as Our Sabbath Rest

Forbes’ blog starts out quoting a friend who asked of his theory: “Is this some new doctrine you have created?” It is far from it. In fact, see our full, biblical response to this frequently asked question “Doesn’t Hebrews 4 mean Jesus is our Sabbath rest?

Implicit in Forbes’ writing is the classification of a “mandated … holy day” as an example of salvation by works. “Such legalism is foreign to the Gospel,” he writes. That is a great irony to claim regarding the one commandment that is all about rest—not work. Could not one just as easily argue: Anyone can say that he is resting in Christ, but the seventh-day Sabbath is the outward manifestation of the rest that we have been given in Jesus? Indeed, one could, and the Bible supports it. Learn how the Sabbath is actually a sign of your faith in Christ in our free, online article “The Sabbath and Legalism.”

In conclusion, let us default to the inspired words of James: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? … You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. … For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:20–22, 24, 26).

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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