Tag Archives: Legalism

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.


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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The False Gospels of Antinomianism, Legalism, and Liberalism

fingers pointing

When Hollywood or political figures create a buzz for Christians, it is usually because we (Christians) are against what they have said or what they are doing.  We know these as commonly termed culture wars. A culture war is something where (at least) two sides sit opposed to each other and believe that what is best for society is their side and their view points.  Several culture wars are happening currently in Western society, and I would go so far to say that this is indicative of God’s judgment on our society.  This post is not a theological discourse of the judgment of God, so suffice it to say that in reading Romans 1, God gives people what they want, and that is often the very judgment of God.  Romans 1:21-25 says:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen. (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)

God gives people what they want when they don’t want Him – He gives them exactly the thing that they think will make them happy.  The point?  It won’t make them happy, only God can make them happy.

We as Christians see different culture wars happening and we are prone to lash out on social media.  We have a stigma about us that we are haters, judgmental (I assume in a condemning way, although when most people use this term, they don’t *actually* know what the Bible says about judgment), and bigots.  Of course, the irony is that in their accusations of us being intolerant, they want us to be tolerant.  The problem for them is that they cannot tolerate our views, so the tolerant become the intolerant.

The reason for writing this blog post is to warn and exhort believer’s to only post truth.  Post the whole truth or none of it.  If we want to be the light of Christ to the world, we must give the whole truth of who Christ is.  I generally see three categories of postings from Christians in response to cultural wars:

  1. Your sin is wrong!  The Bible says that is wrong, you shouldn’t do it, etc. etc.  (Legalism)
  2. (In response to #1) Just come to Jesus as you are, find His love for you, and He will take care of you because He loves you! (Antinomianism, also called “easy believism”)
  3. Just have faith, in whatever it is you believe in, and in the end we will all reach the same God (Liberalism)

I will give a short answer to each of these categories.  Before I do, let me be clear: we need clarity.  And we also cannot be silent.  As a theme of my last few blog posts, I have sought to articulate the need for defending the true faith of Christianity as opposed to what we see in much of Christianity today – “pop-culture Christians” who could care less about right thinking.  In doing so, I have challenged believers to think highly about everything.  We don’t have anything better than what the Bible has to say, so in our thinking highly about particular things, we ought to primarily and most importantly be thinking biblically and theologically about every issue.  After all, everything bears the weight of representing and reflecting the glory of God.  To that end, we as Christians have something better than each of these three responses above.  We have the whole truth.  Let’s be clear truth communicators, and remember, giving only part of the truth of the gospel is changing the gospel, which then it becomes no gospel, at least no Christian gospel.

1. Legalism

Legalism is that way of thinking that demands Christians hold to the Old Testament law in order to receive divine favor.  This way of thinking demands of people to become holy, so that you will be holy.  I hope the problem with this jumps out at you, but if not, here is what is wrong with this thinking – it is backwards!  The gospel is not to call people to conform to our moral code so that they will be saved.  Instead, the gospel calls people to Christ so that they can repent and turn away from their sin, and then they will be saved.  Apart from the Holy Spirit giving someone a new heart that wants to worship God and only God, we cannot and should not expect sinners to want to conform to our standard of morality.

In the story about the woman caught in adultery (John 8), the Pharisees bring this woman to Jesus and ask Jesus if they ought to stone her, because after all, the Old Testament law says she should be stoned.  Jesus responds with “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her (v. 7, ESV).”  Jesus was denying validity to legalism and its demands.  Legalism demands righteousness before salvation.  The gospel that saves says that righteousness only comes after salvation.  This is the point Jesus makes.  And don’t forget, Jesus absolutely does deal with her sin.  The last thing He tells her is “go, and from now on sin no more (v. 11, ESV).” 

Our response to culture and to people on social media ought not to be legalism in its demands.  Yes, it is true that their sin is wrong, but that isn’t our message, it is only the beginning of our message.

2. Antinomianism

Antinomianism is also termed “easy believism” because it essentially tells people to come to Jesus just as you are, and you can stay just as you are.  In the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, antinomianism is defined as “an ethical system that denies the binding nature of any supposedly absolute or external laws on individual behavior.  Some antinomianists argue that Christians need not preach or practice the laws of the OT because Christ’s merits have freed Christians from the law.”

In response to the legalists, I have seen person after person, usually a well meaning brother or sister in Christ, rant about those ranting.  They will post something to the effect of this: “I am tired of seeing believers post against this issue because our message isn’t that, our message is love and we should love people and call them to Jesus and He will take care of them”.  Just like in legalism, this is only partly true.  In this system, though, we tell people to come to Jesus and that your sin won’t condemn you in Him and in Him you will have a better life.  This message is missing one huge aspect of the gospel – the gospel starts with us as sinners.  Jesus saves us from sin, from our former life.

In John 8, the antinomian would have Jesus only tell the adulterous woman “neither do I condemn you”, which Jesus actually does say to her (v. 11a).  But that isn’t all that is said – Jesus calls her to repent from her sin by adding “and from now on sin no more” (v. 11b).

Our message to non-believers and to culture is not a message of easy believism, rather it is a message of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  We ought to be careful that we don’t attempt to sugar coat the gospel in attempts to draw people in, only to “lay the hammer” on them once they are in by telling them they need to change their entire way of thinking and way of life (repentance).

Legalism says you must be righteous to be saved.  Antinomianism says Christ was righteous for you, so it doesn’t matter what you do before or after you believe, as long as you believe, you will be saved.

3. Liberalism

Liberalism is the increasingly popular idea that everyone is on the path to God, we just all take different roads to get there.  I see this posted by people who claim to be Christians, and I just cringe.  Our message is absolutely not a universal approach to God and to deep questions of existence.  Simply looking at John 14:6 will answer for us why – Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me (ESV, emphasis mine).”

I recently taught a group of high school students this truth.  In it, I used what I think to be a helpful illustration.  Liberalism and pop-culture seeks to say that we are all on the path to God, we just use different approaches.  I use the illustration of a mountain.  In liberalism, we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and God, or nirvana, or reincarnation, or whatever you believe about the end or eternity, is at the top of the mountain.  We are all – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, ect. – on the same mountain, we just take different roads to get to the same point at the top.

The true message of Christianity is 100% against this idea.  I like the illustration of a maze.  In a maze, everyone starts out at the same starting point.  To get to the end, there is only one way that leads out.  Other ways may seem right, but in the end, it only leads to a dead end or may even lead you back to the starting point.

The message of Christianity is that only the God of the Bible will satisfy your soul.  Your sin will not satisfy you now or for eternity, so repent of your sin, but turn to Jesus Christ, who will satisfy your soul, now and for eternity.  There are many other religions in the world, but only one has God rescuing people out of the mess of life and out of sin and into the state of true blessedness, now and forever.

As Christians, let’s not mix our messages.  Let’s not preach a one-sided gospel.  We have something better – we have the whole truth of God’s Word and the gospel.  The true Christian gospel is not legalism, it is not antinomianism, and it is not liberalism (all-inclusivism).   So, don’t fall into the trap of appearing to be any of those, because each of those will only lead people either away from God or into something that isn’t really God.

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Filed under Antinomianism, Legalism, Liberalism, True Christianity