Throughout the history of the Christian church in its nearly 2000 years of existence, Christians have gathered to worship the Lord on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, following His resurrection on this day. However, many consider the 4th commandment and the Sabbath have been done away with in Christ with His having fulfilled the requirements of the law upon the cross. According to them, this means that we can worship God anywhere and everywhere and that we don’t need to dedicate one specific day of the week to resting and worshiping Him. The result of this view is that we see many Christians having worship services on Fridays or Saturdays in order to have time to have recreation, perform work, or rest at home as much as they’d like.
The question I seek to answer is this: Is the Lord’s Day (the 1st day of the week) as practiced by historical, orthodox Christianity the continuation of the 4th commandment? Is it the day on which we are to rest from our labors and devote ourselves to worship of the true Lord God? Or can we worship any day of the week that pleases us, since all days of the week are basically the same now (Romans 14:5)?
In search of the answers to these questions, the evidence for the Christian worship on the 1st day of the week, which has changed from the 7th-day Sabbath, will be demonstrated from Scripture. Following the demonstration of the fact that the Lord’s day is the day when Christians gather to worship, evidence will be given to show that the Lord’s day is a continuation of the 4th commandment, and that the 4thcommandment is part of the moral law of God which is to be continued and kept through all time from the beginning of God’s creation.
The Lord’s Day as the Christian Day of Worship
The fact that Christians worshiped on the 1st day of the week following Christ’s resurrection is demonstrated from Scripture as follows:
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”
1 Corinthians 16:2:
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”
Paul also speaks of “the Lord’s Day” in his introduction to his apocalyptic vision:
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet…”
“The Lord’s day” is speaking of the day of Christ’s resurrection, the first day of the week:
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”
Aside from the fact that the first day was a special day for the obvious fact of the Lord’s glorious resurrection, it was further demonstrated directly by God of it being an especial day. Jesus appeared on the 1st day of His resurrection to several people, including Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-17), the other Mary and Salome (Matthew 28:9-10), two men on the road to Emmaus, one being Cleopas (Luke 24:13-24), Peter (Luke 24:34), and to the 10 apostles (minus Thomas and Judas, who had died) (Luke 24:33-49). Exactly a week later, again on the 1st day, Jesus appeared to the 11 apostles (John 20:26-30). There were several other appearances of Jesus to the apostles, and even one time to about 500 people according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6, but the exact timing of many of these appearances is not known. He appeared finally, 40 days after His resurrection, to the apostles before His ascension (Acts 1:4-9), which was 10 days before Pentecost. The day of Pentecost itself was on the 1st day of the week, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Jews who were there present as a demonstration of God’s power being poured out upon the people (Acts 2). This was an event signifying the divine affirmation of the work of the apostles and the institution of Christ’s church officially on the earth.
The fact that Christians gathered together on the first day to commemorate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is confirmed in a first-century writing, “the Didache” (literally, “teaching”), which was a kind of primitive instruction manual. In Chapter 14 of “the Didache”, it says the following:
Chapter 14. Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day.
But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.”
The Greek word for “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10, κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ (kyriake hemera), has a very similar construction to that used of “the Lord’s supper”, κυριακὸν δεῖπνον (kyriakon deipnon), from 1 Corinthians 11:20. It demonstrates that this day of the week belongs rightly to the Lord and is a holy, sanctified day set apart specifically by and for Him. Just as the Lord’s supper is a sacred ordinance for the church of Jesus Christ to be observed until His coming, the Lord’s day is a sacred day to be similarly observed. And just as the partaking of bread and wine is no profane act or without significance, and must be dedicated to the Lord Jesus in partaking it, the Lord’s Day should not be considered a mundane occasion. It is the day we remember and rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection. It is a day that is holy, set apart, and belongs to the Lord for rest and worship, just as the 7th-day Sabbath was for ancient Israel (without the extensive ceremonial attachments and prohibitions added to the Sabbath in the Mosaic administration). It is a continuation of the principle of the 4th commandment to devote one day in seven to worship and rest. This has been the belief and practice of the church since its inception.
The 4th Commandment as a Perpetual Commandment in the Moral Law of God
In addition to the evidence given in the introduction for the Lord’s day being a special day unto God for worship and rest, I would like to demonstrate several key points that show the status of the 4th commandment not merely as a temporary command but as a continuing moral command that still applies today. These points are as follows:
1. The Decalogue (10 Commandments) represents the summary of the eternal moral law of God, which were written on the heart of man at creation.
It is accepted by many scholars on both sides of the divide on this issue that the 10 Commandments held a higher and holy place among all the laws, commandments, and statutes in the Mosaic administration for multiple reasons, several of which are as follows:
- They were the only commandments written by the finger of God Himself (cf. Exodus 31:18, Deuteronomy 9:10),
- They were kept in the ark of the covenant (cf. Exodus: 40:20, Hebrews 9:4),
- They were the basis for the remainder of the law, which were almost entirely specific case laws, expansions, and applications of the Decalogue (10 Commandments),
- They summarily represented the moral laws which God had written on man’s heart from the beginning in creation (cf. Romans 2:14-15).
For support of point iv, we see God bringing judgment against Cain for murdering his brother, destroying Sodom and Gomorrah for their abandoning the poor and their various idolatry and sinfulness, flooding the earth in the days of Noah, etc., long before the 10 Commandments had officially been given to Moses on Sinai. These few examples (being only several among money) demonstrate that God judges those outside of His covenant people by these same set of moral standards. For this reason, all men everywhere at every time will be judged by these standards. This is one reason Paul writes in Romans 2 of all men, even those without the law, will stand guilty before God:
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them”
Thus, when men do something in conformance to the moral law, they do so because of the “work of the law” written on man’s heart which is manifest in the conscience. This conscience also witnesses against them when they break this law as a demonstration that certain things are moral or immoral. Even atheists who deny the existence of God speak of some things as objective “right” or “wrong”, even if they have no real logical or absolute basis to make such an assessment based solely on their worldview. Thus, they make claims that are only consistent and rational within the Christian worldview because of the image of God given to them by their Maker.
Further evidence that it was specifically the moral injunctions represented in the Decalogue that were written on man’s heart at creation is the following passage in the New Testament:
2 Corinthians 3:1-3:
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
In this passage, Paul is dealing with the “super apostles” (c.f. 2 Corinthians 11:5) who claimed to a higher authority than even Paul to declare the Word of God. Paul defends his authority throughout the epistle and, despite not being one of the original 12, is an apostle of Christ. In this specific passage, Paul describes how some of these false preachers were coming with “letter[s] of recommendation” to try to substantiate their authority. Paul rebuts this requirement by displaying the Corinthians that he had taught and nurtured in the faith as evidence of his authority; they were his living “letter of recommendation”. They were converted by the work of God the Holy Spirit in the hearts of these believers, which was demonstrated by their exercising faith in the Lord Jesus. They are a “letter” written “not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts”.
The “tablets of stone” and “tablets of human hearts” juxtaposes the tablets of the 10 Commandments, with the law written upon them, with the heart of His people upon which God would write His law. This is a reference to the prophecy of the New Covenant described in Jeremiah 31:
Jeremiah 31:31, 33:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Instead of the law being strictly written externally on stone tablets, they would be written on the hearts of His people.
The question must be asked, then, “what law is written on their hearts?” With the passages of 2 Corinthians 3 and Jeremiah 31 being clearly connected, I think we can make the connection that the “tablets of stone” are referencing the Decalogue (10 Commandments). Instead of being an entirely separate law written on the heart of man, the same moral laws were the content written on the heart of man at creation in Adam and Eve. Following the fall of Adam, this writing has been tainted for the fallen man, but the remnants of the “work of the law” (cf. Romans 2:14-15) still remain in man in the form of the human conscience. This conscience, however, is imperfect, which requires God to rewrite the law more clearly upon the hearts of the believers in regeneration, restoring what was once lost after the fall.
We experience many ways in which the “work of the law” operates in the human conscience. Man generally knows that to kill, rape, or steal is wrong (represented by the 6th, 7th, and 8th commandments, respectively), and many unconverted turn to pagan idolatry because of man’s natural yearning to worship a higher being given to them by God (correlating to the 1st commandment). Man also recognizes there is time needed for repose, reflection, and worship, although they don’t all turn to the Triune God for proper worship (correlating to the 4th commandment). Many turn to hobbies, sports, pagan gods, etc., (violations of the 2nd commandment and, arguably, the 1st) to attempt to satisfy these desires, but they never find true fulfillment without the working of God the Holy Spirit to make them into new creatures who desire to turn to the true and living God for salvation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
This evidence points to the conclusion that the law that is written on the hearts of believers as promised by God in Jeremiah 31 is represented by the Decalogue, i.e. the 10 Commandments, the summary of the moral law of God. Just as God wrote His moral laws on the tablets of stone at Sinai directly and personally with His finger, the moral law is rewritten upon the hearts of those who are born again (regenerated), justified, adopted as children, and initiated into the New Covenant following the direction of the Father, accomplishment of the salvific work of the Son, and application of the Holy Spirit.
2. The law is not dictated by how or whether those to whom the law is given obey it.
As shown in the previous passage, the moral law of God was written on the heart of man at creation and, therefore, all mankind is subject to and accountable to this moral law. However, there are those who say that there are those who give examples as to why observing the Lord’s day as a day of rest is impractical, either now or during the time of the New Testament church, and as evidence that it is not commanded to be kept at all. One example given is to point out that many early Christians were probably slaves who were owned by non-Christian slave owners. This would mean they would probably have to work on the Lord’s day and couldn’t gather with other believers on the Lord’s day. (There isn’t really any information as to how many Christians were slaves, or whether they were incapable of gathering on the Lord’s day for worship or not; it is an argument from silence). Thus, if they couldn’t rest or worship, then they were in sin against their will.
I would respond that the fact there were Christian slaves in the early church doesn’t negate the morality of the Lord’s Day. A commandment is either a moral ought for us today or it isn’t, regardless of our capacity (or lack thereof) to keep it. The rules don’t change to fit us; we are called as Christians to honor God in obeying Him as best we can in praying for sanctification and grace. This is how we glorify God. Whether we have the capacity to keep any of God’s law, “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (cf. Romans 7:12) Many Reformed theologians recognized and distinguished “duties of necessity and mercy” from other activities:
“8. This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”
(Westminster Confession, Chapter XXI: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day, and 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession, Chapter XXII: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day)
I think they would agree that being a slave owned by a master and forced to work on the Sabbath with no other choice (other than death or other severe consequences) would qualify as a “duty of necessity”. However, this has been used as an excuse for many modern Christians to neglect Lord’s day worship and rest because their job requires them to work on that day. Since we are not required by force of death or civil punishment to work on a job that requires working on the Lord’s day, we can and should seek employment that will allow time off for that day. Excepting cases are those jobs which are unavoidable on that day, such as those in the medical industry, law enforcement, etc.
Thus, if someone is forced against their will to work on the Lord’s day at a job that they cannot change or is necessary for the functioning of society, I think this qualifies as a “duty of necessity” and the person involved would not held accountable for it. Ancient Israel had a much clearer demarcation for avoiding work on the Sabbath day, since the law was a civil law that everyone in the land was forced to keep (by penalty of death if they broke the commandment, or if they caused someone else to break it). The fact that no employer, servant, slave, etc., could work meant that everyone kept it, regardless if they were a true believer in God or not.
If someone were to break the proper observance of the Lord’s day without a valid excuse, they would not be put to death, but it would be against the moral command of the 4th commandment. This is why we should not only avoid as much as possible our normal work or other strenuous activities that distract from the Lord’s day, but we should also avoid recreational or other activity on that day that would cause someone else to work. Not only could this lead to their possibly being limited from attending their Lord’s day worship services, but it is directly against the Lord’s adjuration given regarding the day of worship. Anyone who works or causes someone to else to work without a just or extenuating reason also breaks the 4th 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.”
The fact that many Christians do not observe the Lord’s day does not make it permissible or sanctioned by God. For the reasons stated in this article, I think Christianity can and should return to observing the Lord’s day as a day of rest and worship of the true and living God.
3. In general, if we see someone do something in Scripture, it doesn’t necessitate that this is the pattern for all believers to follow. In other words, description does not necessitate prescription.
We see many times people in Scripture who break the law in one point or several, yet it doesn’t mean God is giving His sanction of the unrighteous practices. For example, look at 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles to those kings and rulers who were “righteous” yet they still had their “high places”, i.e., places of pagan worship. These “high places” were not condoned by God as valid worship practice based on what we know from the five books of Moses, and saying that these kings and rulers were still called “righteous” yet kept these pagan practices was not God sanctioning the practice. Again, as with the previous point, if there are Christians who break this law, it does not negate the moral command to keep it.
4. God’s moral law is unchanging; if it applied to men before Christ, it must apply to men after Christ. Thus, the moral law applies to everyone from creation onward.
Evidence that the 10 Commandments are still valid for us today is the fact they are referenced in many passages of the New Testament as if they were still authoritative. One passage which seems to demonstrate the validity of the 10 Commandments is 1 Timothy 1, where Paul demonstrates the many ways sinful man can break God’s law. The passage says the following:
1 Timothy 8:8-11:
“But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”
This passage can be broken down into the first 9 of the 10 commandments in the Decalogue as follows:
“lawless and rebellious” – 1st commandment violation (rejecting God and His authority over them)
“for the ungodly and sinners” – 2nd commandment violation (practicing in idolatry either explicitly or in refusing to worship the Lord)
“for the unholy” – 3rd commandment violation (disrespecting the Lord and His holy name)
“… and profane” – 4th commandment violation (refusing to keep the Sabbath holy and profaning it)
“for those who kill their fathers or mothers” – 5th commandment violation
“for murderers” – 6th commandment violation
“…and immoral men and homosexuals” – 7th commandment violation (sexual impurity)
“kidnappers” – 8th commandment violation (stealing humans as if they were property)
“liars and perjurers” – 9th commandment violation
There are those who may say that 1 Timothy 1:8-11 clearly references the 5th through 9th commandments, but it is a stretch to claim it refers to the 1st through 4th commandments explicitly. This may certainly be the case. However, with the reference to “the unholy and profane”, either one or both of these seem to be referencing those who disregard what God has considered to be holy. One such thing that God has sanctified and set apart as holy is His Sabbath day of rest when He commanded Israel to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (cf. Exodus 20:8). Whether “unholy” and “profane” in 1 Timothy 1:9 are specifically referencing the 3rd and 4th commandments explicitly, respectively, or if “unholy and profane” in the same verse are referencing those who blaspheme and disregard anything holy to God generally (without specifically referencing the Sabbath), it makes little difference in discussing the Sabbath. The Sabbath would be included in either case, since it is a day that God had set apart as a holy day unto Him. If the former interpretation is correct (“unholy” refers to taking the Lord’s name in vain in the 3rd commandment and “profane” are those who break the Sabbath in the 4th commandment), or the latter interpretation is correct (those who generally disregard anything holy unto God), the Sabbath is included. The only difference is that the latter interpretation would be more inclusive of other doctrines or subjects that have also been declared holy by God and are being profaned by the “lawless and rebellious” for whom the law has hold.
Richard Barcellos speaks of 1 Timothy 1 more extensively in his book, “In Defense of the Decalogue”, providing the evidence for the interpretation that 1 Timothy 1:8-10 lists specifically the 1st through 9th commandments. He also makes the possible connection of the 10th commandment (and all other violations of the moral law) being demonstrated in “whatever else is contrary to sound teaching” (cf. 1 Timothy 8:10).
The 10 Commandments are variously referenced throughout the New Testament, such as in Matthew 19:18-19. Paul also references one of the 10 Commandments when speaking of whether the Law is evil or has no use for us today:
“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
The 10th commandment (“You shall not covet”) is directly quoted in verse 7 of Romans 7, and indicates that this commandment brings guilt upon us for breaking it. He speaks of a kind of “dying” in the understanding and recognizing the law of God and our incapacity to keep it perfectly. What law is Paul speaking of here? He specifically referenced one of the 10 Commandments as an example, so it seems that he is referencing specifically the Decalogue.
A similar passage which demonstrates various commandments in the Decalogue in the New Testament is Romans 13:9:
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
In this passage, the 7th, 6th, 8th, and 10th commandments are directly quoted, respectively, in verse 9. Both this passage and Romans 7:7-12 demonstrate the validity and authority of the 6th through the 8th and 10th commandments. This does not mean Paul is limiting the authority and validity of only these 4 commandments, as if he were saying the remaining 6 no longer apply. It is reasonable that, by extension, he was teaching that all of the 10 Commandments are applicable and are to be kept in the period of the New Testament church.
What is worth mentioning from Romans 13 is the concept that “love is the fulfilling of the law” (cf. Romans 13:10). Does this simply mean we can have warm, loving feelings and do as we please, then it means we can somehow bypass the law entirely? When asked which is the greatest commandment by the Pharisees, the Lord responded thus:
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Many scholars seeing these two great commandments – loving the Lord and loving your neighbor as yourself – as summarizing the 10 Commandments, with the first table (commandments 1 through 4) being summarized as loving God, and the second table (commandments 5 through 10) as representing loving our neighbor as ourselves. This doesn’t mean that if we simply have loving feelings towards God and our neighbor that we are automatically exempt from actually holding to the 10 Commandments. Recalling 1 Timothy 1 verse 9, it says that the “law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners…”. The law brings conviction to those who are disobedient and have no love for God. If we have true love as God calls us to have for Him and for our neighbor, we would naturally desire and strive to keep the moral law as summarized in the 10 Commandments and not to neglect them.
5. The Sabbath was instituted at creation, not during the time of Moses. As it is a creation ordinance, not a positive commandment given subsequently, it has jurisdiction over all mankind and is not limited either to ethnic Israel or God’s covenant people.
The Sabbath was not instituted by Moses or by God to Moses. It was confirmed and further laws and statutes were added in adherence to the Sabbath, but it was not a novel practice among the Israelites. For example, we see before the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai that God commanded the following:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.””
Moses and his people were commanded to gather twice on the 6th day in preparation for the 7th day so that they could rest. We also know that God blessed the 7th day and sanctified it:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
This was being written by Moses to a Jewish audience after the fact, so when they would read Genesis chapter 2, they would understand why it is that they keep the 7th day as a day of rest.
It is undoubtedly true that the 4th commandment and practice of the 7th-day Sabbath in the Old Testament is pointing backward to God’s resting on the 7th day of creation. There is no debate on this topic among any of the sides of this debate. However, there are those who would argue that this requirement was accomplished in Jesus Christ on the cross, meaning that we no longer need to keep it. However, we must examine this claim. Did the Sabbath rest following creation not point backward also to an accomplished reality: God’s resting in creation? Yet they were still expected to keep a day of rest after that point. The fact that it points to an accomplished reality does not negate its binding nature upon men. The people of the covenant were expected to honor the Sabbath as a day belonging to the Lord who had redeemed them.
If a Jew in the days of ancient Israel were to use the argument that God’s rest is an accomplished, past reality, and that it represented something that had already been fulfilled, would that have sufficed to give him permission not to keep it? Just because the rest of God on the 7th day marked His rest in the accomplished reality of the creation period, does that mean this moral command was no longer required to be kept? Of course not, and we wouldn’t see a faithful Jew make such an argument, since the 7th day at creation was used as one of the reasons to justify the need to keep the 7th-day Sabbath, not as an excuse to neglect it.
Following this reasoning, now that we live in a time following Christ’s new creation at His resurrection and rest from His salvific labors on the cross, can we similarly claim that we no longer need to keep this moral command to rest and worship God? Wouldn’t it be just as untenable for us as with the Jew in ancient Israel to make the claim that we do not need a day of rest and worship dedicated to the Lord because God’s work of creation and rest had already taken place?
The day of the commandment has changed from the 7th day to the 1st day following the Lord Jesus’ resurrection, but as the Lord of the Sabbath (cf. Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5), He has the sovereign right to positively change the day on which the day of rest is to be observed. However, He has stated that He has not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. He cannot change His own eternal moral law, including the 4th commandment. To completely eliminate one of the moral commands would place doubt on whether God could change the command not to murder, commit adultery, etc. We would have a changing standard of morality, rather than an objective, unchanging standard of morality.
Doesn’t it seem strange that everyone living prior to Christ would be judged based on the entirety of the moral law summarized in the 10 commandments, but everyone after Christ would only be judged according to 9 of those commandments, the 4th commandment supposedly being abrogated? Or, for those who say the 4th commandment is fulfilled in any number of ways (we rest in Christ, we rest from trying to earn our salvation, we can rest and worship God any day of the week that we like, etc.), why do none of the other 9 commandments change in how they are kept in their fundamental nature?
One may object, “but we do not keep the entire law given to Moses as ancient Israel did” as evidence that the law can change. It is true that Israelites were commanded to keep the entirety of the law of Moses (moral, civil/judicial, and ceremonial), and Christians today are not judged about whether we eat pork, wear cloths of mixed fibers, offered the ceremonial sacrifices to God in the temple, etc., so there are some laws by which those of ancient Israel were judged and by which modern Christians are not judged. These were moral in the sense that God commanded them to be kept by Israel, and if God commands us to do something and we disobey, we have sinned (since “sin is lawlessness”, cf. 1 John 3:4). However, the ceremonial and judicial laws that were abrogated were not moral in the sense that they are to be kept by all men everywhere or represent the eternal moral law of God. This moral law cannot change in its fundamental nature, even if the specific applications of this law may look different depending on which time or place we find ourselves. The abrogated civil/judicial and ceremonial laws had a specific scope in time, space, and context, and with the completion of the purposes for those additional laws, they were no longer required. This is all consummated in Jesus’ declaration that he came not to break or abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). (As a side note, there was overlap in these areas, with many ceremonial and civil/judicial laws having moral implications. The moral components of these laws, representing the eternal moral law, do continue to apply today. This is called the “moral equity” of the law by Reformed theologians, and it is this aspect of the civil and ceremonial laws that are of worth to Christian living).
The moral principles of the 10 Commandments all remain, whether in regard to the positive and negative aspects of the laws, or in how the violations of the law may appear, but they do not change drastically in their nature or how they are to be applied. Thus is the case with the positive change of the Sabbath being from the 7th day to the 1st day by authority of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, yet the moral principle of setting aside a day of rest and worship of God remains. Similarly, we are to only worship the Lord God and none other, and we are not to worship false gods or make graven images or idols in worship, yet these images may look different today than that of ancient Israel: many may choose their brand of idolatry to be agnosticism, humanism, materialism, etc., which all differ greatly from the cults of Baal, Asherah, etc., of the Old Testament, yet these are all violations of the 1st and 2nd commandments.
Imagine if we could claim that we can reinterpret the fundamental nature and principle of the moral law. worship any God that we choose, as long as we only pick 1 God to worship in order to fulfill the 1stcommandment. Such would be a preposterous idea. We do not set the criteria for how the moral law is kept: God sets the standard.
6. The moral law reflects God’s holy nature. Since God’s nature is unchanging, you cannot abolish or destroy the moral law.
Scripture speaks of God as being good, just, and holy:
“O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)
“Surely God will never do wickedly, Nor will the Almighty pervert justice.” (Job 34:12)
“Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)
“…Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)
“Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:3)
“Exalt the LORD our God And worship at His holy hill, For holy is the LORD our God.” (Psalm 99:9)
And not only is God good, holy, and just, but so is His law:
“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8)
“So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12)
Not only are moral commandments the standard by which all men everywhere will be judged, they are a reflection of God and His perfections and character. Since we believe in a God who has always been God and “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (cf. James 1:17), His moral law stands for all time. The moral law as summarized in the 10 Commandments cannot be changed. Could we imagine an occasion where God would allow murder without a just cause, rape, lying, stealing? Then why is the 4th commandment treated as if it were completely separate or not of a moral nature, despite being listed with 9 other moral commandments?
If the 4th commandment is of a moral nature, as has been asserted, and the moral law represents the character of God, then what does the 4th commandment reveal about Him? The 4th commandment points, in part, to God resting on the 7th day at the end of His creative work, where He looked upon all of His creation and saw that it was good, holy, righteous, and glorifying to Him. It demonstrates God’s desire to bring glory to Himself through His creation. This was the case following the first creation. Following Christ’s resurrection, this day of rest (now on the 1st day) points to the glory of God in accomplishing His redemptive work in the new creation. The 4th commandment also represents God’s benevolence in recognizing that man has need of a time for rest, recuperation, and spiritual rejuvenation in worship. For this reason, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (cf. Mark 2:27). It was not meant to be a day where heavy burdens were given to man to weigh him down, but to give him new life and energy for the other 6 days of the week.
7. The Sabbath day as a day of rest continues to serve God’s people in their being set apart from the world and sin in sanctification. Since our sanctification is not yet complete, the Sabbath day still remains necessary and useful.
As redeemed believers in Christ, we look to the future in our fallen world of sin, wickedness, and unrest, and we yearn for a time of eternal peace, of an inheritance with God where we would be free from the pains and consequences of sin that envelop our lives and society. Ancient Israelites certainly must have seen the land of Canaan as a type and shadow of the heavenly reality of living with God. The law would also indicate the clear need of a Savior, a Messiah, who would rescue them from the burden of the law which didn’t bring salvation, but only served as a curse for those who attempted to be righteous by keeping it perfectly. It brought them to the humbling reality that they were sinners and needed to be saved:
“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”
With the accomplishment of Christ’s salvific work on the cross and applied to all those who believe and trust in Him, we have a taste of that freedom from sin. We feel free from the burdens of the wrath of God looming over us for our disobedience. We are no longer slaves to sin, but we are now free in Christ. But this freedom is not yet complete at this time. We look to a time when this freedom from sin and its effects will be complete with God. The law no longer binds us under its wrath, but now serves as the tool to point us to Christ and to live in such a way as to glorify God. Paul, speaking to saved Christians, adjures them to live a pleasing life unto God:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
As if Paul were expecting people to think he was saying the law no longer mattered in the life of the Christian because we are no longer under the penalty of the law “but under grace”, he immediately addresses this concern in the following verses:
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”
The law serves as teaching us how to separate ourselves from sin and the ways of the world and to become “slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification”. Christ’s people are constantly being purified, sanctified, set apart from the world, its sinfulness, and the carnal desires of the sin nature. This realization is only partial in this life, and will only become complete in glory.
This is why the author of the epistle to the Hebrews states “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9): we have need of growth, sanctification, a setting apart from the world and the affairs of the world, in order to dedicate ourselves unto worshiping God. The writer continues by encouraging fellow believers to strive toward that eternal rest with God:
“Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9-10). The continuing Sabbath day of rest points towards a future fulfillment to completion, and which requires our striving toward that ultimate goal of entering the rest in heaven with our God.
The fact that the 10 Commandments have been shown to represent the law written on man’s heart at the time of creation, held a special place among all the laws of Moses, are the summary of the eternal moral law of God, represent God’s holy and unchanging nature, it is concluded that all of the 10 Commandments continue to apply to mankind until the eschaton (end times). It is for this reason that the 4th commandment to observe one day in seven to rest from our labors and worship the Lord, must continue today as it has been observed since mankind has existed.
Further resources on the continuation of the Sabbath Day and the application of the Decalogue (10 Commandments), the following books are of particular value:
Richard Barcellos, “Getting the Garden Right”, Founders Press (2017)
Richard Barcellos, “In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology”, Winepress Publishing (2001)
Walter J. Chantry, “Call the Sabbath a Delight”, Banner of Truth (1991)
Robert Paul Martin, “The Christian Sabbath: Its Redemptive-Historical Foundation, Present Obligation, and Practical Observance”, Trinity Pulpit Press (2016)
Joseph A. Pipa, “The Lord’s Day”, Christian Focus (1996)