Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sabbath Shadows

The New Testament grants considerable liberty where the Sabbath is concerned.  But in an article in Christianity Today it is not clear that Kevin Emmert appreciates that liberty.

It is difficult to determine whether  the focus of Emmert's piece is Sabbath observance or the concept of rest as a spiritual practice, because, while he moves back and forth between the two topics and clearly ties the concepts, he does not clarify their relationship to each other.

On the subject of "rest" he has many thoughful things to say, although I think his approach to spiritual rest is much more passive than Scripture intends. For example, he states, "Sanctification, we assume, involves work and effort on our part." Well, we assume it because, for example, in Philippians 2:12 believers are commanded to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Emmert correctly states "We can do nothing to earn our salvation", then makes the assertion that "most of us imagine we must play an active role in our sanctification..." But following the command of Scripture is not imagining, it is obeying. Yes, we rely on the grace of God and the power of God for our sanctification (Philippans 2: 13, 4:13), but we are also commanded to actively cooperate (Philippians 2:12, 1 Peter 1: 13). Salvation is a gift by grace through faith, while sanctification involves our outworking as we rely on God's grace working in us.

Then Emmert appears to equate Sabbath observance with spiritual rest and seems to be making the case that Sabbath observance = spiritual rest = means of sanctification. He states, "...the Sabbath may be the most important 'discipline'." In reference to the command in Exodus 31: 12-13 to Israel, concerning the keeping of the Sabbaths, he insists, "This is the most important one!" And he clearly means that in reference to applying the command to believers today.

But we know the most important commandment; it is stated by the Lord Himself in Matthew 22: 36-37. We also know the second greatest commandment, found in Matthew 22: 39. We also know a few things about the Old Testament commandment to the nation of Israel concerning Sabbath observance.  What we know, based on Romans 14: 5-6 and Colossians 2: 16 is that in the New Testament Christians are not required to keep the Old Testament Sabbath observance. In fact, Colssians 2: 17 explains the Old Testament Sabbath-keeping was a mere shadow-- by implication, of an eternal fulfillment. The fulfillment is God's eternal rest described in Hebrews 4: 1-11. Rather than impose an extra-Biblical requirement on saints today, it would be better to reiterate and follow the exhortation and commandment of Hebrews 4: 11 to "be diligent to enter that rest..." (NASB).

Emmert's article finishes with a confusing juxtaposition of encouraging "rest" on the one hand with a legalistic Sabbatarian regulatory mandate on the other. In the end the reader is unsure of exactly what is being said, except some sort of allusion to the notion that  keeping the Old Testament Sabbath requirements given to Israel is a condition binding on Christians today.

And that is not what the Bible says.

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