Category Archives: theology

The Sabbath in ALL of History

Sun Breaking Through Clouds

Last post we looked at the Sabbath as one of the three creation ordinances God established to give structure to our relationships with him, his world, and our fellow man. These ordinances are simply ways in which man is to imitate God. Work, marriage and rest are all done by God and as his image-bearers, we should do them as well.

These ordinances were established prior to the fall into sin, and form a perpetual order for mankind. They make up part of the core of man’s obligations to God. There are other obligations God places on his creation as well as part of his relationship with the world. These relationships between God and man in their different forms are called God’s covenants in Scripture. Prior to sin, God’s covenant with man was defined along the lines of his obedience. Man was to live before the Lord in perfect obedience, and in response God would graciously give life (Cf. Gen. 2:17). The initial relationship between God and man is typically called the Covenant of Works, or Life. However, after the fall in Gen. 3:8 man dies both physically and spiritually. His thoughts, motivations and desires are all corrupted by sin.

Man can no longer meet the righteous requirements of the obligations that go along with God’s covenant. However, God in his grace inaugurates another covenant: the Covenant of Grace. In this covenant, though man is unable to fulfill and obey, God sends the seed of the woman to be the mediator between God and man. This mediator is the Christ who lives in perfect obedience to God on our behalf. He came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt. 5:17). His perfect righteousness is imputed to us that we would have life. If Christ had disobeyed he would not have been able to mediate between God and man. So Christ’s obedience does matter. God’s obligations for man never change, because they reflect his unchangeable character. These obligations make up God’s moral law.

God’s moral law is distinct from his other laws. When God summarizes the obligations of the covenant he gives to Israel, he summarizes them in the Ten Commandments (Cf. Deut. 4:13). We have already seen that God’s obligations do not change between covenants administrations. That means in all ages, the Ten Commandments are binding. We can easily see this distinction if we try and apply the Decalogue to pre-fall Eden.

If Adam, in Eden, would have decided to make an idol, he would have sinned. If Adam, in Eden, would have murdered or would have stolen, he would have sinned. However, if Adam failed to set up cities of refuge in Eden, he would not have sinned. The moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, was binding for him. The other laws are specific applications of this moral law to the people of Israel, or to the world as a whole now stained with sin.

Now here comes the point of this whole exercise. Since the Sabbath Day is part of the Ten Commandments it is part of God’s perpetual obligations for man and therefore is applicable for us as well. Exactly how that plays itself out in today’s world I leave for the next article.

What Is the Sabbath?

Ten Commandments

“And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ (Mark 2:27)

Thus the debate begins. Is Sabbath an abiding principle, or is it something just for the nation of Israel? Are there Ten Commandments or nine? Does the New Testament church still need to honor the Sabbath? These are questions over which many sincere believers disagree. But what does the Bible teach us? Before we answer that question let us make time to understand our cultural context.

Until fairly recently North American culture respected the idea of Sabbath. This idea was implemented by the settlers of the New World and can be traced back as early as 1620. More than 300 years later, in 1961 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of laws prohibiting commerce on Sunday. In Canada, the Lord’s Day Act was finally struck down in 1985 to allow stores to be open on Sunday. Those prohibitions have long been cast aside and the idea of a national day of rest is laughable to most. Others, on the other extreme, turn Sunday into a day of list keeping. Therefore we have two extremes. One says the Sabbath is to be ignored, the other turns it into a checklist of things to and not to do.

To understand Sabbath we have to start at the beginning. To what point in history can our foundations for the Sabbath be traced? We can turn right to the beginning of time: creation. As God creates the world he institutes foundational ordinances to shape man’s relationship with the world he is to steward as well as with the God who gave him this responsibility. We will look briefly at the first two before settling in on a more detailed study on the Sabbath:

  1. Work. In Gen. 2:15, God places Adam in Eden to work there. Work is not a result of the fall, but precedes the fall and will continue into heaven. Work is what God does (see John 5:17). Man, as his image bearer, should reflect him.
  2. Marriage. In Gen. 2:24, bringing Adam and Eve together is the foundation for the institution of marriage. It is because God brought the first people together that marriage continues today. In Hosea, God himself is described as the faithful husband to an unfaithful bride, Israel. Marriage is designed by God and practiced faithfully by him. Man, as his image bearer should reflect him.
  3. Sabbath Rest. In Gen. 2:1-3 God sets apart one day in seven for rest. This rest is made up of the enjoyment of God’s blessing and the recognition of the special purpose assigned to the seventh day when God makes it holy (v. 3). Blessing in the Bible is the opposite of cursing. When God curses Adam after the fall he banishes him from his presence (Gen. 3:24). This curse is replaced in heaven with blessing when God promises to dwell among his people (Rev. 21:3). In addition, God makes the Sabbath holy. When God makes something holy he sets it apart for a special use. The seventh day is set apart to enjoy the blessing, or presence, of God. God rests on the seventh day, not from all his work, but from the work of creation. God rests on the seventh day. Man, as his image bearer should reflect him.

Sabbath. It is established at creation as one of the three foundational creation ordinances. Whatever we conclude in the weeks ahead, we cannot say Sabbath is cancelled with Moses’ other ceremonial laws, because it predates the law given at Sinai. Our task in the weeks ahead will be to discern the significance of this creation ordinance in the life of Israel, but then also in the life of the church.

Take Time to Find Yourself…It’s Not What You Think

Bible Open

At the beginning of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin begins by identifying true wisdom as consisting primarily of our knowledge of God and man. Specifically he states that “Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter 1.1). We could spend a long time investigating that statement, but let us briefly consider its significance.

In the first pages of Scripture God’s greatness is established. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” However creative we may think ourselves, none of us can speak and bring worlds into existence. But not only does God create, but throughout Genesis the patriarchs are led, protected, corrected, and preserved by the Lord. He made the world, brought the flood, called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to bless all the families of the earth through him. It is only God’s greatness and goodness that establish these things.

Scripture, on the other hand, does not present man in the same light. Eight verses after God finishes expelling man from the Garden of Eden the Bible records its first murder. A few verses later, we are introduced to Lamech, the first polygamist and boastful murderer. The patriarchs don’t fare much better. Noah is a drunk, Abraham is twice willing to give his wife to another to save his own skin; Isaac copies his father’s survival technique. Jacob does his best to live up to his name, which means deceiver. Ten of his  sons dabble in a host of wicked behaviors, all in the first book of the Bible. So how does all this help us?

To understand both God’s holiness and man’s depravity means we understand the greatness of our salvation. It is good for us to meditate on both those truths. Especially for those of us who have had the blessing of learning our faith on our parents’ laps, we can begin to grow numb to the message of Scripture. It is in seeing the discrepancy between God’s holiness and man’s depravity that we realize the greatness of our love. Let me illustrate in a limited way by looking at human relationships. We can think of the times when we have been most deserving of our spouse’s, siblings’ or friends’ anger. Yet it is when they return our unkindness with kindness that we realize how much they love us. If Scripture only taught us of our wickedness we would despair. If the Bible only taught us about God’s goodness, we would lose our awe of him. It is in knowing both God’s goodness and our depravity that we see the greatness of God’s gift of redemption. And understanding the greatness of this gift will lead to a daily rejoicing in our salvation, expressed in a commitment to taking every thought, word and deed captive in the service in Christ’s kingdom.

Why Does the Bible Matter?

the Bible

Even those who do not believe in what the Bible says recognize it as tremendously influential. However Scripture, contained in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is not just influential. It is the center-point for the thought and practice of the Christian. During the protestant reformation of the 16th century, the Bible was given an important place. In fact, it is included among the distinct principles, or the “solas” of the reformation. Sola Scriptura, means Scripture alone is our authority for doctrine and practice. This elevated status flows from a proper understanding of what the Bible is.

The Bible makes claims about itself. One of the best-known is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Within these verses we find the proper perspective toward our approach to the Bible.

In 2 Timothy, Paul speaks of the Bible’s inspiration. That means that when we read the pages of Scripture we read God’s words. In other words, when we read our Bibles we read the very thoughts of the only omniscient, or all-knowing, being. Since God is all-knowing, he is only one who can reveal with certainty the proper order of things. Man’s appeals for certainty outside of God fall on shifting foundations. Without total knowledge you can always discover you were wrong. Inspiration makes the Bible’s words certainly true. In the Bible, therefore, we have the only immovable foundation: the thoughts of the omniscient God.

Many implications for our approach to the Bible flow from the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. For example, the Bible is authoritative, along the lines of Sola Scriptura. Or the Bible is sufficient, meaning that it contains in its pages all that we need for faith and practice. Bart Ehrman notwithstanding, we must also believe that what God inspired he is also able to preserve. The church today can confidently state it is reading God’s word when it opens the Bible.

We are confident not only of the implications that flow from the Bible’s inspiration, but also in its clarity, or perspecuity. To be sure, there are parts of God’s word that are difficult to understand. For example, volumes have be written to reconcile the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. We may never get a definitive answer on those passages. However, the Bible makes clear how we are to glorify God, be reconciled to him through Christ, and express our love to him for that salvation in good works.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that hearing and doing his words makes for a foundation built on the rock. To turn away from the Bible is to turn away from certainty, which means your foundation will be shifting. No doubt about it.

What You Think Shapes What You Do

Idolatry-of-Solomon-cropped

What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A #1)

I have great appreciation for the Westminster Standards. Westminster’s Confessions of Faith, Larger, and Shorter Catechisms have been useful in shaping my own and my children’s understanding of the Bible’s teachings. In fact, I think the first question and answer of the WSC sets the proper tone for all proper Christian understanding and practice.

I know peripherally of the controversy surrounding this question and answer stemming from an article written by Mark Jones over at reformation21. This article is not a response to what he has written. Be gone with you, all you polemicists! Instead, I want us to benefit from what is written rather than argue about what we think should be written, as valid as that discussion may be. So what is the chief end of man? The catechism gives us two main objectives for living. First, glorify God. Second, enjoy him.

To glorify God means to recognize his rightful, exalted position. It means we are to understand his greatness. To be able to recognize the disparity between God and ourselves, we need a reference point. We describe an ant as small compared to ourselves. In the same sense we understand the greatness of God by comparing him to ourselves. In his word we see his greatness in creation, the flood, the exodus, in establishing David’s kingdom, his judgment in the exile, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and in his promised return, among other things. At the same time, we see and experience our own weakness in sin, limited knowledge, and inability to control anything, just to name a few of our inadequacies. When these two pieces of knowledge come together, it causes us to glorify God. The Lord of heaven and earth stoops down to save wretched men. To live in that recognition leads us to glorify God, to worship him as the One True God. We do not re-invent him in our own image as Israel did when they made the golden calf (Cf. Ex 32:4-5). Instead, we live according to his commandments, recognizing he is worthy of our obedience.

The catechism’s charge to enjoy God keeps us from thinking we can glorify God without also delighting in the process, as if some external consent would be enough. The one who rightly understands the greatness of God and his own sin, sees the greatness of the gift of salvation God purchased for him in Christ. A begrudging obedience will not do. Rather, the Christian sees the burden of his master as easy and his yoke as being light.

What is the chief end of man? It is to recognize God’s greatness and our sin. It is to see wonderful gift of salvation. It is to have our hearts filled with joy and thanksgiving for that work. It is to express our understanding of the glory that already belongs to the Lord in thought, word and deed.