Water from the Well: October 18, 1995

The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

A few years ago I ran into a Seventh-Day Adventist layman who told me that I wasn't really a Christian because I don't worship on Saturday. He pointed out that God had commanded, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8), and so all who really believe will worship on Saturday rather than Sunday, because our Saturday is the Old Testament Sabbath day.

It was neither the first time I've been told I'm not a real Christian, nor has it been the last. Those who make such statements usually make observing Old Testament laws the standard for true Christianity rather than faith in God's promises. I pointed out to this Seventh-Day Adventist that the Old Testament Sabbath was a law given to God's people before Jesus came. Jesus kept and fulfilled all God's laws for us; that's why the Bible no longer requires us to observe one particular day as God's holy day.

God gave his many laws to his Old Testament believers for a purpose--to keep their minds focused on his promise that he would send a Savior from sin. As sinners, human beings are quick to forget God and his promises and to go their own way. God promised to send a Savior, one who would free all people from slavery to sin and from the eternal punishment we deserve for sin. To keep his people from forgetting his promise, God gave his people various laws to observe--laws about sacrifices and holy days--which would remind them of the coming Savior. That's what the Sabbath law was to do. God required his people to rest on Saturday as a reminder of the true rest and peace Jesus would bring.

Jesus brings us true rest and true peace by bringing us forgiveness of our sins. Jesus obeyed God perfectly and kept all God's laws in our place. Jesus gave up his own sinless life to pay for all the sins we commit; he suffered and died for those sins so we wouldn't have to. Jesus rose from the dead to show us that he had fulfilled God's law for us. By his life, death and resurrection Jesus freed us from sin, death and God's anger.

Because Jesus did all this for us, he also freed us from obedience to all those ceremonial laws God gave in the Old Testament, such as the sacrifices and the holy days. Paul wrote that "God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations" (Colossians 2:13-14).

That includes the Sabbath law. We are no longer required to worship God on one particular day. Christians worship God every day, and may assemble to worship him publicly any day. "Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17).

Since Christians are no longer required to observe one particular Sabbath day, does the Third Commandment still hold any meaning? This commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy," is still very important to Christians. It still reminds us to keep our eyes on Christ, not by observing an outward holy day, but by seeking Jesus where we can find him--in the Bible.

Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism that the Third Commandment tells us that "We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but regard it as holy, and gladly hear and learn it." For God's Old Testament people, the Sabbath day pointed them to Christ. For us Christians, God's New Testament people, the Bible points us to Jesus by telling us about him and showing us what he did to rescue us from the punishment we deserve for our sins.

The Bible is God's Word to us, the place where God teaches us what he wants us to know about our forgiveness. Since God brings us faith in Jesus and forgiveness of our sins through his Word, we want to listen to that Word to learn more. The Bible tells us that we are free--free from slavery to sin, free to serve God and to live our lives for him. Since the Bible is God's own message to us, it is natural for us to want to "regard it as holy, and gladly hear and learn it."

God gives us many opportunities to hear his Word. We can hear it read and explained in public worship. We can hear and read it for ourselves. Take every opportunity to read, study and learn the good news God has for you in the Bible.