“Nine Commandment Christians”
Have you heard of “Nine Commandment Christians”? They are even more common than “Four Point Calvinists.” If “limited Atonement” is the most difficult of the Five Points to believe, the fourth commandment of God's Law is the most commonly neglected or even despised of God's Law by modern Christians. Of course, Antinomianism is rife among modern Christians. Antinomianism is the idea that Christians are free from the law of God in every sense. “Ye are not under the law but under grace” is the mantra of Antinomianism. Did you notice, however, that Romans 6:14 has a context? The complete verse is, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law but under grace.” We are not under law in the sense that we are not under the condemnation of the law, the curse of the law, and the bondage or slavery (dominion) of the law. But the law does define for us how we shall live as thankful Christians.
Very few Christians would dream of openly breaking the first commandment (by worshipping idols) or the third commandment (by blasphemy) or the sixth, seventh, eighth commandments (murder, adultery, theft). Then why do so many Christians openly break the fourth commandment, by not observing the Lord's Day? Why are they not found worshipping God where the gospel is faithfully preached? Why are so many Christians at the shopping centre, beach, park or cinema on the Lord's Day instead of in the house of God? Why are others working or watching TV or playing video games instead of worshipping God? So few Christians today even think about these things. The very concept of Sabbath observance is foreign to them. Apart from the obvious problem with Antinomianism there are some misconceptions about the Fourth Commandment.
Objection 1: “The Sabbath is a Jewish commandment, not applicable to New Testament Christians.” But what does the fourth commandment itself say? It refers back to the creation: “For in six days God made...” (Ex. 20:10-11). If the fourth commandment is a merely Jewish commandment, all of them are, because the entire Ten Commandments are prefaced by a reminder of God's redemption of Israel from Egypt. But we New Testament Christians have always understood redemption from Egypt to be a type of spiritual redemption from sin (see 1 Cor. 10). The fifth commandment, for example, promises long life in the land of Canaan, yet Paul applies it to the Gentiles (Eph. 6:1-2), for Christians understand Canaan to be a spiritual picture of heaven. If the fifth commandment still applies to Christians, why not the fourth commandment?
Objection 2: “The New Testament makes the observance of days a matter of Christian liberty” (Rom. 14:5-6; Gal. 4:10-11; Col. 2:16). The Sabbath days, new moons and other days mentioned in those passages are the ceremonial law, the Old Testament feast days, etc. These are not references to the fourth commandment. The various Old Testament feast days pass away in the New Testament, but the Sabbath remains as a perpetual commandment. However, the Judaizers made observance of the ceremonial law (circumcision, food laws, days, etc.) necessary for salvation, which teaching is heresy. Although the law is not necessary for salvation and the ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament pass away, the moral law abides as the rule of our gratitude. God says, “Love me and love your neighbour.” We ask, “How?” God answers, “Love me by keeping my commandments, all ten!” “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Rom. 13:9). “If there be any other commandment” includes the fourth commandment!
Objection 3: “We no longer observe the seventh day.” This is true, but it is no reason to stop observing the fourth commandment. The principle of the fourth commandment is of one day in seven being devoted to God, but the day can be changed. God changed the day from the seventh to the first because of the Resurrection of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath. As the Lord He has the right to change the day, and He did (Matt. 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5). Christ indicated that He is Lord of the Sabbath by rising on the first day of the week and by meeting His disciples after His resurrection on the first Day of the week (John 20:1, 19, 26; Luke 24:1, 13). In addition, the practice of the churches set up by the apostles was for worship on the first day of the week. For example, in Acts 20, Paul arrives in Troas, and yet the church there waits until the day before he was scheduled to leave, the first day of the week to have public worship (Acts 20:6-7). Why would they do that if, as many teach, any day will do? And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul commands the churches to take collections for the relief of the saints on the first day of the week. Surely, they could have taken collections on any day of the week, but Paul had in mind the public worship services that took place on that day!
Objection 4: “The Pharisees were obsessed with Sabbath-keeping.” Yes, they were, and they made the Sabbath Day an intolerable burden, but the abuse of something does not mean that we should not use it at all. We can learn to avoid the excesses of the Pharisees without depriving ourselves of the blessing of Sabbath rest.
Conclusion: God’s Gift of Rest: This is good news, nor a drudgery. God does not give us the Sabbath to ruin our weekend, but for our spiritual welfare. He knows that we need it. Therefore when we neglect it, we harm ourselves spiritually. We should be glad to have one day in seven to worship God, to rest from our earthly labours, to fellowship with God and with one another. As Hebrews 4:9 says, “There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God” (The Greek word means “Sabbath observance” or “Sabbath rest”). God calls us to rest on the Lord’s Day. We need that rest and He gives that rest through the preaching of the gospel. Instead of neglecting the Sabbath, let us say with the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 121:1).
Rev. Martyn McGeown
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010.Website: www.limerickreformed.com/
Address38 Abbeyvale, Corbally
Telephone(011) 35361 635582