A gracEmail reader asks, “Are the Ten Commandments binding on Christians? What about the Fourth (Sabbath) Commandment?”
* * *
Strictly speaking, the Ten Commandments were given only to Israel, as part of its theocratic covenant with God as his chosen People in the Land of Palestine (Ex. 19:1–20:17; Deut. 5:1-22). However, the Ten Commandments express the spirit of a morality grounded in the character of God. This is the same morality divinely written “in the hearts” of pagans (Rom. 2:13-16), exemplified by Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:17-18; Heb. 10:5-10), prompted by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4) and motivated by love (Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14).
The Sabbath (Saturday) is not a day of worship but of rest, and God never imposed it on Gentiles (except foreign sojourners among Israel). Most non-Jewish believers in Jesus have from earliest times met for worship on Sunday, not as a Christian “Sabbath,” but as “the Lord’s Day” — a commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week (see John 20:1; Rev. 1:10; perhaps Acts 20:7). The earliest Jewish believers in Jesus continued to observe the Sabbath and the rest of the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20-26). Several groups of Christians today also worship on Saturday (Sabbath), not to attain salvation but to commemorate the “rest” Jesus gives to all who trust in his finished work of atonement.
Indeed, Jesus invites the weary and worn-out to come to him for “rest” (Matt. 11:28-30). Those who believe in Jesus enter now into spiritual “rest” (Heb. 4:3). And an eternal “Sabbath rest” still awaits the people of God (Heb. 4:9-11). Meanwhile, I like to enjoy a rest day on Saturday and then to worship with others on Sunday — not because the Fourth Commandment is binding on me as such, but in keeping with its spirit. (I once dreamed that I made this proposal to Ellen G. White, the prophetess-founder of the Seventh-day Adventists, who agreed that it was a good resolution. But that was only a dream!) Not even Gentiles need to work all the time.