At Immanuel, we’re diving into a Sunday night teaching series on the fourth commandment. My plan is to work from the beginning of the Bible to the end, studying each passage where Sabbath is mentioned. Should be fun.
So here’s the thought that’s been echoing in my head: do we, the proponents of Sabbath-keeping, approach the fourth commandment in a way that denies our need for grace to obey it?
Let me explain. In studying the first three commandments, our church has repeatedly seen how far short of God’s law we fall and has been brought to fresh repentance through the law. None of us would dream that we can honor God’s name simply by trying a little harder and making a good list. All of us acknowledge that we sinfully tend to worship anything and everything other than God. But it seems to me that when we approach Sabbath-keeping, the natural thing is to teach it and practice it like something we’re able to do apart from God’s grace and mercy. We teach the fourth commandment in these terms: “make your list of do’s and don’ts and keep it.” And even if we don’t say it outright, we may often give the impression that here is a commandment you are able to obey all by yourself.
This becomes particularly problematic when we run into the way Jesus uses the law. To those who thought they’d never killed anyone, he revealed our hateful heart of murder. To those who claimed innocence from adultery, he revealed our adulterous hearts of lust (Mt. 5:21ff). By showing the real depth and limits of the law, Jesus shows how the law was always meant to be a tutor, driving us to the Messiah for salvation (forgiveness and sanctification). But each of the commandments are meant for this, each are designed to rid us of our self-righteousness and drive us to Jesus. Except, it would sometimes seem, for the fourth commandment.
Here’s a stab at diagnosis: we often fail to understand the heart of Sabbath-keeping and therefore manage to keep it wrapped up in self-righteousness. The heart of Sabbath-keeping is resting in God. It’s not not working. It’s not morning and evening worship. It’s not keeping the t.v. off or taking good naps. It’s resting in God, trusting him, delighting in him, being at peace in his mercy, turning our hearts and eyes (not just our schedules) to heaven, where Jesus is. This is something I definitely can’t do by myself.
Which is where true obedience must begin.