Category Archives: Holiness

Sabbath, Work on Sunday’s, and the New Testament Rest in Christ

SabbathRecently, I read a transformative chapter in A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer on the Lord’s Day.  In particular, how the Puritans viewed the Lord’s Day.  Right off the bat, I know some may say of the Puritans, “LEGALISTS!”  Maybe at times this can appear to be a fair critique of the Puritans, although I think it is a gross misunderstanding of who they were and what they stood for.  I think Puritans held to a high view of personal holiness and corporate or community holiness, so much so that at times it appears (especially to our more post-modern, antinomian minds) to be that the Puritans were legalists.  This is an especially important point for the Fourth Commandment.  Let’s remind ourselves of the Fourth Commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work,  you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within  your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  (Exodus 20:8-11, English Standard Version)

Now, the Reformers and the Puritans generally agreed on much, but as far as the Sabbath, the Puritans (who came after the Reformers), had what Packer calls “a corrected view of the inconsistent view” that the Reformers held of the Sabbath.  Packer goes on to say,

They (Puritans) insisted, with virtual unanimity, that, although the Reformers were right to see a merely typical and temporary significance in certain of the detailed prescriptions of the Jewish Sabbath, yet the principle of one day’s rest for public and private worship of God at the end of each six days’ work was a law of creation, made for man as such, and therefore binding upon man as long as he lives in this world...In fact, they saw it (the Fourth Commandment) as integral to the first table of the law, which deals systematically with worship: ‘the first command fixes the object, the second the means, the third the manner, and the fourth the time.’ (A Quest for Godliness, page 237, emphasis my own)

The Puritans agreed with the Reformers that the Sabbath was and is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  This point rests in the fact that the Jewish work of keeping the sacrificial system (old covenant) is replaced and trumped by the “Great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14) Jesus Christ, who became the sacrifice Himself (new covenant), and was accepted by God on behalf of, or for, His people.  Yes and amen!

But the Puritans pushed the Fourth Commandment further than only being a ceremonial law, and much of the emphasis came from the context of the other nine commands in the Decalogue – namely, that the other nine commandments are moral in nature and thus still binding on believers in the New Covenant.  The Puritans saw all ten of the commandments as binding – especially the fourth.  Packer says of them,

(The Puritans argued) that the seventh-day rest was more than a Jewish type; it was a memorial of creation, and a part of the moral law, and as such it was perpetually obligatory for all men.  So that when we find the New Testament telling us that Christians met for worship on the first day of the week (Acts 23:7; 41; 1 Cor. 16:1), and kept that day as ‘the Lord’s day’ (Rev. 1:10), this can only mean one thing: that by apostolic precept, and probably in fact by dominical injunction during the forty days before the Ascension, this had been made the day on which men were henceforth to keep the Sabbath of rest which the Fourth Commandment prescribes. (A Quest for Godliness, page 238)

I think the wording of the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20 is especially important for the New Testament believer in relation to purpose of the Sabbath and function of the Sabbath.

1. Purpose of the Sabbath – To keep it holy and to remember that which is holy

“The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…”  On this day, there is a specialness that ought to invoke a remembrance, memorial, and worship which is different and of more importance than the other six days of work.  Now, make no mistake, I am not saying that our “normal labors” are not an act of worship – they certainly are – but only that they are a different kind of worship.  Our “normal labor” is done by those who were made to work and as those who are given the charge to work.  These six day serve the purpose of worship through obedience – both in obeying the command of the Lord to work and in fulfilling the imago dei in which God has made us to work.

But the Sabbath day, the seventh day, is a different kind of worship, a special worship, a worship in which we explicitly and purposefully set aside all other work to do.  This worship is for the purpose of magnifying Christ and serving as a community expression of the gospel – namely, that God has saved sinners and gathered them together, that they will be His people and He will be their God.  This is an “already” aspect of the already-not yet aspect of the eschatological (end times) people of God.  We are already the people of God and we have God as our God, but we await the day of the New Jerusalem, where it will only be God and His people.

There are some special things, then, to do on this Lord’s Day.  In the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, we time and time again read of God’s people gathering to hear the Word of God spoken to them.  This comes in various forms, granted, and today specifically and primarily through the preaching of the Holy Scriptures.  Throughout Scripture, it sometimes came as verbal, or from the mouth of God Himself.  Other times it came prophetically, or from God to His messenger (the prophet, such as Moses, Isaiah, etc.), and from His messenger to His people.  Other times it came expositorally, or from the written Holy Scriptures, to the apostles or pastors/elders, and then to God’s people (this is primarily the New Testament method).

This shows in form the purpose of the Sabbath – to learn “thus saith the Lord” – and as we hear what God has said to us as His people, we are formed, or shaped, by it.  This leads us to function of the Sabbath.

2. Function of the Sabbath – to be Shaped and Formed in community by God through the Word of God

“On it you shall not do any work,  you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within  your gates…”  There is community language in the Fourth Commandment – clearly as written to the community head.  The head has the responsibility to see that no one in the household (in those days, it would have included servants, sojourners, children, etc.) does anything except that which is used by God to make them holy.

I agree with the Reformers that the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ in ceremony, and thus He is our rest, and via union with Him, we (the church) are in His rest also.  In the Fourth Commandment, what was it that God was making to be holy?  It was the Sabbath – the rest.  In the New Covenant, what is it that God makes to be holy?  It is those inside of His Sabbath – those united with the fulfilled Sabbath, which is Christ.  So, Peter says to the church, “as obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV).

The Sabbath day is unlike the other six days.  What does this mean spiritually?  Those in the Sabbath – those in the rest that is Christ – are to be unlike those who are “conformed to the passions of ignorance”.  Those in Christ are to be holy, as our rest (CHRIST!) is holy.  The function, then, of the Sabbath, is to be the day that households gather together to meet with God, and are shaped and molded and formed by the Word of God to be made holy.

Conclusion

The Puritans understood this.  There was a ceremony, a specialness, a uniqueness to the Sabbath.  They approached the Sabbath expectantly.  They prepared for it on Saturday by praying and meditating on Scripture, and by going to bed early so that they would be in full faculty for their community worship gathering on Sunday.  They knew that this was a grace given by God to His people.  We don’t have to wonder when God is going to move – He is going to move in His people when they gather.

The Puritans not only approached Sunday differently than us, they treated Sunday differently than us.  After the service, the fathers would review their notes with their families to the point of meditation and memorization.  This would take place all day on Sunday, and Sunday dinner was spent discussing points of application from the sermon.  The pastor, later in the week, would visit different homes and quiz families on his sermon from earlier in the week.  This led to intense understanding and personal, as well as corporate, holiness, for the people of God were truly being shaped and formed by the Word of God.

What about you?  How do you view the Sabbath?  I welcome your comments in the comment section, and please share if you found this helpful.

 

 

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Filed under Church, Holiness, Legalism, Puritans, Sabbath

Preaching the Gospel – Words or Lifestyle?

keep calm and preach the gospel

A popular Christian saying I have heard in the last several years is in regards to preaching the gospel.  People say, “preach the gospel, if necessary use words”.  They usually ascribe this to St. Francis Assisi, which, is not actually true.  For further reading about the issue of quoting St. Francis, go here.  I believe that this quote is misleading.  One reason, as is said in the link above, is that it intimates that people who faithfully live out their faith are more faithful and better Christians than those who preach the gospel with words.  It also makes a distinction between the two that I don’t believe needs to be made.  There are cases of people who preach the gospel, but their lifestyles are completely opposite of their words, and in this case, I understand the idea behind this quote.  But I will make the case that true gospel living is gospel preaching.  I am preaching through the book of Acts in our youth group at church on Wednesday nights, and it is amazing that time and time again, the ministries we see the Apostles partaking in are primarily preaching and teaching ministries.  Not only in Acts, but the main thrust of Jesus ministry was also a preaching and teaching ministry.  I say “main thrust” only because I do not mean to say that all they did was preach and teach, and that the other things they did were not important.  I say “main thrust” because I believe the main ministry of the gospel is a preaching and teaching ministry, out of which flows other things, of which are important as well.

So then, how ought we preach the gospel?  With words?  With lifestyle?  I believe it starts with words, which is made evidence by our lifestyle.  So, yes, I am that guy saying “both and”.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus commissions His people and says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…(ESV)”  What does Jesus mean?  His people get Power which is distinct from other power, it is a borrowed power – a power which we receive when the Holy Spirit comes upon us.  In other words, Jesus says in Matthew 28 that all authority under heaven has been given to Him.  And how does He delineate His power to His people?  By giving us the Holy Spirit.  We now have the exact power Jesus meant when He said that He had all power.

But this power does something in Acts 1:8.  This power witnesses.  It is amazing to see time after time the LORD working through His apostles and establishing His church.  Oh that the Gospel would spread like that wild fire today through our witness!  The question, then, becomes how did they witness?  We just got done reading and studying through Acts 17, and I love verse 6 especially, when the angry Jews said of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, “These men who have turned the world upside down…” Oh that we would be people who turn the world upside down! So, again, how did they turn the world upside down?  By teaching and preaching.

Up until Acts 18, look at how often we see the Apostles teaching or preaching (WORDS!) the gospel:

  • Peter’s sermon at Pentecost – Acts 2:14-36
  • Peter commands repentance – Acts 2:38-39
  • The believers devote themselves to the teaching of the Word – Acts 2:42
  • Peter and John proclaim Jesus to a lame beggar – Acts 3:6
  • Peter addresses the crowd in Solomon’s Portico – Acts 3:12-26
  • Peter addresses the High Priest and the council after being arrested for preaching Jesus – Acts 4:8-12
  • The believers pray and afterward the place shakes with the power of the Holy Spirit – Acts 4:24-30
  • The apostles escape prison by an angel who broke them out, and afterward they return to the temple to teach – Acts 5:25
  • Again before the High Priest and the council, Peter preaches the gospel – Acts 5:27-32
  • The word of God increases and priests in Jerusalem are saved – Acts 6:7
  • Stephen, the deacon (THE DEACON!), preaches the gospel – Acts 7:1-53 (and the deacon preached a LOOONNNGGGGGG sermon, imagine that!)
  • Stephen, facing death, preaches the gospel again! – Acts 7:54-60
  • Philip proclaimed Jesus in Samaria – Acts 8:4-8
  • Peter comes and helps Philip, and also preaches the gospel to Simon the Magician – Acts 8:14-25
  • Philip preaches Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch – Acts 8:35 (Philip began talking, with the scripture!!!)
  • Saul (Paul), immediately after his conversion, begins preaching Jesus in the synagogues – Acts 9:20
  • Saul leaves Damascus and goes to Jerusalem, and continues preaching Jesus – Acts 9:28-30
  • Peter proclaims Jesus to Cornelius, a Centurion – Acts 10:1-34
  • Peter preaches to the gentiles – Acts 10:35-43
  • Barnabas and Paul preach Jesus for a whole year in Antioch – Acts 11:25-26
  • The word of God continues to increase – Acts 12:24
  • Barnabas and Paul preach the gospel in Seleucia and they go through the entire Island! – Acts 13:4-6
  • Paul preaches Jesus and a magician is healed and believes the gospel – Acts 13:9-12
  • Paul and Barnabas are asked to share a word, so Paul shares the gospel in Antioch Pisidia – Acts 13:13-41
  • They are invited back to speak again on the next Sabbath, so they do – Acts 13:42-52
  • Paul and Barnabas declare boldly the word of the LORD in Iconium and they become fugitives – Acts 14:1-7
  • Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel in Lystra, and Paul is almost stoned to death as a result – Acts 14:8-19
  • Paul flees to Derbe with Barnabas, and preaches the gospel the day after he is almost killed – Acts 14:20-23
  • They preach the word on their way back to Antioch Syria – Acts 14:25
  • They return to Antioch Syria, and they proclaim the gospel to the church – Acts 14:27
  • Paul and Barnabas remain in Antioch, after the Jerusalem Council, and continue to preach the gospel – Acts 15:35
  • Paul preaches the gospel and Lydia is converted in Philippi, thus began the Philippi church – Acts 16:11-15
  • Paul casts a demon out of a slave girl by proclaiming the name of Jesus – Acts 16:16-18
  • Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns (WORDS!), and the Philippian Jailer is converted – Acts 16:25-40
  • Paul and Silas and go to Thessalonica and reasoned with the Jews – Acts 17:1-6
  • Paul and Silas escape to Berea, and they preach the gospel to the Jews there – Acts 17:10-12
  • Paul goes to Athens and proclaims Jesus to the philosophers – Acts 17:16-34

And the book of Acts isn’t even over!  Certainly, they didn’t only preach the gospel, but don’t be fooled, that was their main objective.  Even when they did some needs-based ministry, it was always tied to the proclamation (WORDS) of the gospel.  Now, I think part of this saying to preach the gospel with our lifestyle, is the call for Christians to be holy.  Peter writes in 1 Peter 1 to “be holy in all of our conduct, because it is written, ‘be holy, because I am holy (says God).’ (my own interpretation)” So, when we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, yes, we ought to also have a holy lifestyle.  A life in which we are not hypocritically calling people to repent, while living in ongoing patterns of sin.  At some level, each preacher, each Christian, is going to be a hypocrite.  Every believer in Jesus Christ is going to sin, at least periodically.  We will, at times, be drawn away from the gospel and again believe the lies of Satan.  But the gospel doesn’t give license for sin, as Paul says in Romans 6:1ff.  The point of Romans 6 is that Jesus saves us so that we can obey Him and put to death sin in our lives, because, well, Jesus has already conquered sin!  It has no power over us.

So, when someone preaches the gospel, the proclamation is enhanced by a holy lifestyle.  I think of preachers who I know are holy men, that when they preach, the sermon is all the more powerful because I know these aren’t just empty words coming from them.  I also know preachers who, when they preach, are preaching only words, and their lives are not matching their proclamation.  But make no mistake – evangelism and witnessing and winning people to the Lord and missions is not done by living a holy life alone.  In fact, it isn’t even the holy life that is primary.  It is the gospel.  The words of the gospel and the sharing of them are what is required for believers.  All believers.  Not just the super-Apostles in the book of Acts.  Not just for the pastors.  But for you.  Where you work, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  Where you go to school, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  Where you live, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  With words and with your holy living.  Not one without the other, but certainly not without words.

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