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Is Sabbath-keeping something Christians should do?

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When non-Jews began converting to faith in Jesus in the early church, the disciples gathered together to discuss this topic at what is called the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). One key consideration was whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity should be commanded to keep the Law of Moses.

At the conclusion of this council, James declared, "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:19-20). Aside from these essentials, the early church did not require that non-Jewish Christians keep Jewish laws, including the Sabbath.

The apostle Paul would also write on issues related to special days such as the Sabbath. He taught, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17). Here Paul made clear that the Sabbath is not a requirement for Christians to observe; it is optional.

Paul's writing in Romans 14:5 echoes this principle: "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." The Sabbath is not a Christian essential; it is a matter of religious liberty. In fact, Jesus spoke of the Sabbath as being made for man (Mark 2:27); it is a gift.

A few additional matters should also be mentioned regarding the Christian's relationship with the Sabbath. First, the Jewish Sabbath was Saturday, not Sunday. If a Christian desires to truly celebrate the Sabbath, it would be on Saturday. Some traditions have suggested that the church has replaced Israel and as such that Sunday has replaced Saturday as the Sabbath. This is both historically and biblically untrue. Jewish Christians often observed the Sabbath (on Saturdays) and worshiped with other Christians on Sundays.

Second, the Sabbath was a day of rest, not necessarily a day of worship. Sabbath-keeping does not mean we must attend church and not work on a certain day. Biblical Sabbath-keeping was a day of rest, following the pattern of God's rest on the seventh day after completing the creation of the universe. Rest is also a demonstration of faith. The Jews were told to observe the Sabbath, in part, as a reminder of God bringing them out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). In the Sabbath, a person stops his or her work both to remember and to demonstrate trust in God's provision.

As to the worship piece often thought of in Sabbath, in the early church, Christians met at a variety of times and places. The Jerusalem Church actually met every day: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47).

The teaching of the New Testament is not focused on one particular day or time to worship Christ or to rest. Rather we should worship Christ every day and at every moment. We should accept the rest He gives and live with an attitude of trust in Him. We can follow Jesus' example of fellowship with the Father, fellowship with others, and rest. We may find it helpful to choose a particular day each week where we routinely focus primarily on worship or on rest, but Christians are not required to follow the Old Testament laws of the Sabbath.

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