The reason there are commandments in scripture regarding the Sabbath is to draw God's people closer to him, not to create an opportunity for endless rules and regulations. So how do we take the Sabbath seriously without becoming legalistic or self-righteous?
Today on Truth for Life weekend, Alistair Begg answers that question as he concludes the message titled, The Delight of the Sabbath. Some of you are already sitting there saying, well, you know, this is simply a matter of personal preference. I really don't need to be concerned or alarmed or really pay very much attention to whatever he's about to say, because he's just going to simply share his preferences with us, and that doesn't matter at all. This is not a matter of personal preference in the first instance.
What is it? Well, it is many things, and I must be selective, not exhaustive, and so I'm going to say that this issue is this. Number one, it is a doctrinal issue. Secondly, it is a biblical issue. In other words, it is a matter of biblical interpretation. Turn to Galatians chapter 4, if you would. Galatians chapter 4, verse 10. Well, verse 9, he says, you know, you used to be slaves to those who by nature are not gods, but now that you know God or are rather known by God, he says, now that you've been redeemed, justified, how is it that you're turning back to those weak and miserable principles?
What are these weak and miserable principles? He says, you want to be enslaved by them all over again? Then he iterates them. Verse 10, you're observing special days and months and seasons and years. And then in verse 11, we have him kind of shaking his head in disgust.
He says, you know, I fear that somehow I've wasted my efforts on you. I came here, and I proclaimed to you the grace of God. He says, I told you that you could not gain acceptance with God by climbing up this ladder, but rather that the law of God confronted you with your need of a Savior and that if you trusted in Christ you would discover that he justifies the ungodly. Why, then, are you going back to these weak and miserable principles?
What were they doing? They were seeking, by means of observing special days and months and seasons and years, to build their hope of acceptance with God. And Paul says this is a superstitious futility, and it must not be. Now, the reason I turn you to this is because this is one of the phrases and passages that people use for saying, you see, the Fourth Commandment and the Sabbath and the Lord's Day, they're not around anymore. After all, look at what Paul says in Galatians 4. Now, you're sensible people, and you must judge.
Do you want to conclude, on the strength of what you have learned so far of the Bible and what you understand, do you want to conclude that Paul is referring to the moral law of God as weak and miserable principles? You can't. Not if you know the book of Romans.
You can't. And yet so many do. Colossians chapter 2, same kind of approach. Verses 16 and 17. Since Paul says, Don't 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, people say, There you go. We're not supposed to be concerned about this matter of the Sabbath day.
Now, the Colossian heresy was simply this—that false teachers were suggesting that faith in Christ was not enough to provide fullness of knowledge and wisdom and power and salvation. Then Paul is saying, Don't let anybody come to you and give you that garbage. He says, You know your Bible's well enough.
You know that that isn't the case. But I ask you again to think seriously. Do you think that what he's saying here in Colossians 2 is that the Sabbath day is the fourth commandment which is being vetoed from the Decalogue? Or, and lastly, in Romans chapter 14, where it comes to a classic head, in Romans 14 5, one man considers one day more sacred than another. Another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord. He who eats meat eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God, and he who abstains does so to the Lord, and gives thanks to God, and so on. Now, you'll notice at the beginning of the chapter that this has to do with the issue of disputable matters, because in verse 2 he says, One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man whose faith is weak eats only vegetables.
Okay? So the guy who is weak is the guy who says, You can't do this. The chap who is strong says, You can do it if you want. We tend to think of it the other way around. We tend to cast the strong man as the man who says, You can't do this, and the weak man as the man who says, I can do what I like.
It's the other way around. Look at verse 3. The man who eats everything must not be guilty of contempt, must not look down on him who does not. And the man who does not eat everything must not be guilty of condemnation of the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master, that is, to the Lord, he stands or falls, and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Now, it's then in that context that he goes on to the matter of the day.
It's the same question. Do you think, then, that the day to which he refers is the fourth commandment? Do you think that he is referring now to what has been this day of resurrection, this amazing discovery of the fullness of the Spirit, this that has been sanctified by the arrival of Christ and has taken on such a perspective for these early believers? Do you think that what Paul is doing here is saying, Don't let anybody stand up as your pastor and tell you that the Christian has to comply with the fourth commandment? Do you think that's what he's saying?
Of course, if you conclude yes, then you can just patently disregard all that I have said so far and all that I'm about to say by way of conclusion. Now, here's the question for the biblical interpreter. One man considers a day more sacred than another, and another man considers every day alike. What is the day? What's he talking about? See, this is what it means to interpret the Bible.
What is the day? Well, you know the fact of the matter? We don't know what it is. Because he doesn't actually articulate it.
So there are a number of things that it might be. For example, it is distinctly possible that the day one man considers more sacred than another, all right, who in this case would be the weak man, right? Because he's saying, This is something you've got to do.
The strong man's saying, This is a matter of indifference. So it is distinctly possible that the day is the seventh day, the Jewish Sabbath, and that here you have an individual or individuals within the Roman church, and while they worship on the Lord's Day, a la Acts 20 verse 7, he still believes that he must shut up his shop on the Saturday. So he is around the fellowship saying, I'm glad to be here to sing the songs with you in worship today or tonight, but yesterday I shut up my shop.
And you know what? You should have shut your shop as well, because yesterday was the Sabbath, and you did not observe it. Now, if that's the case, what Paul is saying is, Don't let this guy tie you up in knots, because he believes he has to shut up his shop. Because that was the seventh day, this is the first day, this is the Lord's Day, and he can go do with his day what he chooses.
He should not be guilty of condemnation, and you must not look upon him with contempt. But do you honestly think that the day is the Lord's Day, and that what Paul is saying here is that it is the weak person who has a concern about the Lord's Day, and that it is the strong person who says, Hey, you know, when old Weko here finally figures his Bible out, he'll discover that every day is the Lord's Day. Now, be careful of that, because every day is, in a sense, the Lord's Day. But it is not the Lord's Day in the sense that the first day of the week has been given to us as a unique privilege to enjoy. And most of the people that I meet who tell me that every day is the Lord's Day are concerned to make Sunday like Monday through Saturday rather than to make Monday through Saturday look like a Sunday. So you'd understand that where I'm coming from, for example, in churches who say, Well, Sunday is just any old day, and so on Sunday we do a Saturday night evangelistic rally on a Sunday morning, and we have Sunday on a Wednesday night. And we're free to do that because of Galatians 4, because of Colossians 2, and because of Romans 14. Well, that's a matter of biblical interpretation.
I'm sorry I flat-out disagree with you. I do not believe that you're free to call Wednesday Sunday. And when somebody phones up the radio and says, My son has recently become a believer, and he works in a market gardeners, and he is interested in coming to church, but unfortunately, he is scheduled to work all day on a Sunday.
What should I do with him? I want him so much to come to church. And the answer comes from a well-known, high-profile Christian teacher on radio that you folks hear every day.
The answer is, Tell your son not to worry about it. There is no Sunday. There is no Lord's Day. Every day is the same. It doesn't matter what day he goes to church. That was the answer.
I heard it with my own big ears. Now, that is a product of a systematic theology. It is a doctrinal issue.
He betrays where he's coming from. I disagree. It is a matter of biblical interpretation. He says that this sets it aside. I disagree. And you are sensible people, and you must learn to read your Bibles.
Don't you come here for me to spoon-feed you every answer. It is a matter of biblical interpretation. If we were to allow that Romans 14.5, the day there is the Sabbath day, then what Paul would be saying is this, that the fourth commandment has no abiding obligation, that the first day of the week has no prescribed religious significance, and that actually observing the Lord's Day is a sign of a weak Christian, and because he hasn't understood that all the days are the same. Thirdly, it is a personal issue. That is, once we have concluded that when Jesus declares himself Lord of the Sabbath, he is not depriving men of its benefit, but he is establishing for men its fullest enjoyment, then the way in which each of us work out this aspect of our salvation will not be uniform.
Hear me. Will not be uniform. When you travel the world, as many of you have done, and you go in amongst the people of God, you discover that the only fact of uniformity amongst the nations of the world, and indeed amongst clusters of believers even in this continent, the only uniformity is not the uniformity of the details but is the uniform approach of either saying there is no Lord's Day to be concerned with or the uniform approach of saying we want to understand what it means to believe and to honor and to obey God on this day. There is the uniformity. And that actually is where the uniformity starts and finishes. Because the law of God—if you think about it for a moment in terms of the law and its totality, and not just the fourth command—the law of God provides us with a comprehensive ethic, but it does not give to us an exhaustive application.
Isn't that striking? Now, it did for the people in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers within the Pentateuch. That's why you couldn't light fires. That's why there were all those things.
God hedged all that about. And all of those Mosaic obligations have found their fulfillment in the rest and peace and reality which is provided in trusting in Christ, who came to fulfill the law. And he, by his life and his keeping of the law, and finally by his death and resurrection, fulfilled in all of its finality all of the obligations of the law. So that we then, in turn, in trusting in him, need not go through all of that Mosaic stuff. And you will find people from time to time, and they've been here in our church, and they've gone off for other places, because they couldn't convince me of the fact they're called theonomists.
You will find that their conviction is that we should reestablish all the Mosaic legislation and that we should reimport it into the church today, and that we should then champion it in our culture and so on. It's a matter of biblical interpretation, with which, clearly, I find no concurrence. God's Word binds us as believers. The Word of God binds us, but it binds us—notice this—only to him and to his Word. To what should you be bound as a believer? Well, you should be bound to Christ, and you should be bound to his Word, and that's it. As individuals today, we are free of every human directive which is additional to the Scriptures in matters of faith and worship. It's clear in matters of faith and worship, because we're not free from everything that is additional to the Scriptures. For example, we're not free to not pay our taxes, and we're not free to disregard the speed limit.
But what I'm saying is this. We are free in matters of faith and worship from every human directive, which finds no sanction in the Bible. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this. We are free from the doctrines and commandments of men. Therefore, no one should be bound by a taboo or by a directive which lacks the sanction of Scripture.
Let me say that to you again, because it's fundamentally important. No one should be bound by a directive or a taboo which lacks the sanction of the Bible. Now, let me quote to you from a Scottish theologian, as we get to wrap this up. This is a crucial area, because in the church of God there has always been a tendency to multiply directives, restrictions, and taboos. Isn't that true? If you've been around church circles for any length of time at all, you know that's true.
You go to a church, and very quickly they'll tell you what their list is. Oh, we're very concerned about this, and very concerned about that, and you need to sign off on this and sign off on the next thing. I understand the motivation. But there is no biblical sanction for things that are merely matters of human tradition. The difficulty, says Donnie McLeod, is that not only do human authorities—and mainly ministers and elders, I might add—not only do these characters have a tendency to multiply directives, but there is something in the believer—himself or herself—an element of childishness that craves the securities of such taboos.
We want someone to tell us what is wrong. We want a list of taboos. And traditionally, churches produce lists. Smoking is always on it. Drinking's always on it.
Dancing's always on it. In Scotland, makeup is usually on it. And I'm not talking about men wearing makeup. I'm talking about women wearing makeup. That's on it. And I could take you to churches this morning in the north of Ireland, the west of Scotland, where all of you ladies, if I may say so graciously, would be taken into the ladies' restroom and have your face well and truly scrubbed in order that you would be fit for the worship of God. It's on their list of taboos. Shopping on a Sunday.
Pop music any day. Clothes, length of hair, earrings, nose rings, belly button rings, telephone rings, any kind of rings—on the list! Now, listen here, and listen real carefully. Church leaders—and I speak to myself here and to my colleagues—have to learn that they do not have the right to interfere with the liberty of God's own children in matters where there is no biblical mandate. Loyalty to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ requires that we refuse to let men lord it over our consciences. Christ has purchased the right to be our only master. Christ has purchased the right to be our only master.
And that fries some of you, I can tell by your eyes. Because each of us lean in one direction or the other. Some of us lean into the arena of what I would call restrictive formalism, and others of us lean in the direction of unbridled freedom.
And this, by dint of our personalities and our backgrounds and every other thing, there is no question that I lean in the direction of restrictive formalism. Because freedom brings risk. And so you find yourself saying, I don't know if I want to give to my dear children these kind of freedoms, because there's a tremendous risk attached to it. That's right. It's called parenting. It's called letting go.
It's called giving principles and recognizing that ultimately they will have to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Ask yourself this afternoon, think about it. If you lean—unless, of course, you're the one person that I've never met who doesn't lean—if you lean, what direction are you leaning in? And then maybe you could ask the question, I wonder if it's possible for me to stand up a little straighter. It's really all about a matter of time.
It's a matter of time. Let me give you this little illustration that I'll pray. Imagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with eighty-six thousand four hundred dollars. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening it deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day.
What would you do? You would draw out every cent, of course. Well, each of us has a bank, and its name is Time. Every morning it credits you with eighty-six thousand four hundred seconds. Every night it writes off as lost.
Whatever of this, you have failed to invest a good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours.
There is no going back. There is no drawing against the tomorrow. You must live in the present on today's deposits, and you must invest it to get from it all that you may. Well, what about the investment in this Lord's Day? Whatever it is, Christian Sabbath or not, how can I take the issue seriously without becoming a Pharisee, without it becoming a form of suffocating legalism, without me immediately being guilty of judging others about matters which the Bible provides no requirements for or no specific directives about? How is it possible for me to hold my convictions about the Lord's Day without it becoming an instrument of self-righteousness?
That is such an important question. As believers, we are bound by God's Word and not the unsanctioned mandates that human beings may add to it. We're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life Weekend. Alistair will be back to close with prayer in just a minute. In today's message, Alistair pointed out the importance of reading our Bibles so we can tell the difference between Biblical teaching and false teaching, God's laws and man's extraneous rules. That's why Alistair teaches verse by verse from Scripture and frequently begins by inviting us to open our Bibles. You can have access to God's Word right at your fingertips no matter where you go. Download the Truth for Life mobile app to your phone or your tablet if you haven't done so already. The app contains all of the Scripture in the format of the ESV Bible.
You can download it for free when you search for Truth for Life in the App Store. When you visit our website today, check out the current book recommendation. It's a book called Partners in the Gospel, 50 Meditations for Pastors and Elders' Wives. This is a book that addresses many issues that pastors' wives or elders' wives can face.
This is the last weekend to request your copy. Visit truthforlife.org to find out more about the book Partners in the Gospel. Now, here is Alistair with prayer. Father, thank you that the Bible is alive and worthy of our study, demanding of our most careful attention. We realize again how much we need the Spirit of God to be our teacher, to be our teacher. We want to acknowledge today that as we've approached this day, we regard you, Lord Jesus Christ, as our worship leader, and we want to look to you. We regard you, Holy Spirit, as our teacher through the Bible, and we want to depend upon you. We pray that you will help us in the hours of this day to understand a little more of what it means that you are the Lord of time, the Lord of the Sabbath. And may your grace and mercy and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be our abiding portion today and forevermore. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. What is permissible on the Sabbath? That's been a source of quarreling for centuries. Next weekend we'll learn some helpful principles that can guide us. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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