Most people of faith learn that the Bible’s Sabbath day is rooted in its first chapter. We could tell the world, if we would, that God made everything in six days, then ceased His creation work and blessed the seventh as part of His plan from the start (Genesis 2:1-3). The weekly Sabbath was a rest day for the God who never gets tired.
Why did He rest, if not as an example for those created in His image? God invites us still to imitate Him in that rest. Many have, but they are few compared to those who see no need for God’s rest — neither His eternal rest nor its weekly token.
Day of law
First, the Bible Sabbath was a day of rest. Next, the example of Genesis 2 becomes the command of Exodus 20, and Sabbath becomes a day of law: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (v. 8).
This fourth commandment uses many words, but its essence shortens to three: keep it holy. They mean, set the seventh apart from other days. Whatever our work and business routines Sunday through Friday, Sabbath is the day to step up, to reset our affections above, to choose the more excellent things that glorify God, and to bless others in ways we couldn’t or didn’t earlier in the week.
Is Sabbath, then, mostly just a piece of the law, written on stones at Mount Sinai? Consider how God’s rest day is honored, not downgraded, by its place on stone tablets. There it joins nine other words of immense value to people at all times and places: Put God first. Don’t blaspheme His name. Honor your parents. Respect others’ spouses, properties, lives, and reputations (vv. 2-17).
Its location in the moral law, therefore, is no discredit to the seventh day, but a feather in its weekly cap instead. To refuse Sabbath because it’s in the Decalogue is to ignore God’s purpose for His holy commandments in both old and new covenants (Deuteronomy 6:24, 25; Romans 7:7-12; Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:15-17).
Pinnacle and climax
Moving past Sabbath as primarily a day of rest and secondarily a day of law, we come to the pinnacle point and our climactic conviction about the seventh day: Sabbath is, ultimately, a day of grace!
This bold claim seems counterintuitive at first. After all, doesn’t the new covenant insist that people are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, not by law or the days they keep? Yes, that’s true (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; 4:10, 11; Ephesians 2:8, 9). How, then, can we label Sabbath as a day of grace?
In claiming Sabbath as a day of grace, we’re not claiming Sabbath as the source of salvation; God’s grace is its source. We’re not claiming Sabbath as the basis of salvation; Christ’s death is its basis. We’re certainly not claiming that salvation is received only when we start keeping Sabbath; the sinner’s faith validates their salvation. And we’re not claiming Sabbath as salvation’s sign, God’s identifying mark on His people; that’s baptism and the Spirit’s fruit of love. Rather, we’re simply recognizing that Sabbath is linked with Christ’s grace and new covenant salvation in at least three ways:
- Christ, who observed the Sabbath, was full of grace. Jesus regularly assembled on the seventh day for prayers (at the throne of grace), for learning and teaching (to grow in grace and knowledge), and for helping and healing (grace for life and wholeness). He taught that Sabbath was God’s gift (His grace) for all people, not just for Jews. He rescued Sabbath from the legalistic clutches of Jewish leaders, restoring it to good purposes. Our Savior’s teaching and practice, therefore, link Sabbath with the grace and truth that filled Him (John 1:14-17; Luke 4:16; Mark 2:23—3:4; Matthew 11:28—12:13).
- Sabbath is rightly observed in much the same way salvation is received. To be saved, we cease all efforts to save ourselves. Instead of working for redemption, we trust and rest in Him who died and rose again to redeem us. Likewise, to observe Sabbath, we cease our labor of six days and trust the One who continues His perfect work for us and in us even on the seventh. Thus Sabbath and salvation are linked — both gifts of God’s grace, neither gotten by work at the start nor kept by works along the way (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Hebrews 4:1-11).
- Sabbath reminds us of, and invites us to, eternal rest ahead. In its nature and purpose, every seventh day is a foretaste of the full and final joy to be celebrated by saints when Christ returns at the end of the age. The final link between salvation and Sabbath for the saved is that this weekly Sabbath shadow will someday become the reality of an eternal Sabbath kingdom whose Lamb fills the City of God with His Son-light of grace, truth, rest, and peace (Hebrews 4:1-11; Revelation 21:1-7, 23).
We have explored the Bible’s truth that Sabbath is much more than a day of rest and of moral law, although it is both. Ultimately, Sabbath is a day of amazing grace in that the God of all grace and the Savior full of grace gave examples and words of its intended observance. In that, it accurately illustrates and previews God’s unmerited eternal favor toward us in Christ.
This grace-focused view of Sabbath sets well with a Christ-following people of God who are saved by His grace for good works, not by them (Ephesians 2:8-10). The Bible’s fifty-two days off each year remain available to all who recognize their need for God’s rest and receive it by faith in Jesus, with love for all God’s people.