Has the Sabbath been abolished?

To address this argument, we need to consider three related matters: the Bible’s teachings concerning grace, the Law, and the Ten Commandments.


The Bible’s teaching concerning grace


The word for “grace” in the New Testament Bible is the Greek word charis[1]—a word that signifies “unearned and unmerited favour”.[2] This is a particularly fitting description for that aspect of God’s work which underpins the whole Christian faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8–9); “…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Tim 1:9).

The Bible is clear that we have been saved on account of God’s grace. Salvation is His free and merciful gift; we did nothing to earn it. God bestowed it when He sent His beloved Son to die for us and to shed His blood. The outcome is that we are now justified through faith in Jesus Christ.

[B]eing justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.

Romans 3:24–27

However, the Bible is equally clear that grace through faith in no way relinquishes our practical obligations towards God. On the contrary, faith entails action. This is well illustrated by the fact that when God invites us to accept salvation through the gospel, we are required to respond in the appropriate manner: to repent, receive water baptism and to ask for the infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Lk 11:13). In short, grace only becomes ours when we manifest our faith.

Furthermore, after entering into God’s salvation, we have a duty to press onward and upwards by keeping God’s commandments and living a fruitful and holy life (Mt 19:17; Jn 15:8; 1 Pet 1:15–16). His commandments include the Ten Commandments in their entirety. When we live proactively in this way, we reveal our Christian faith: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas 2:18).



The Bible’s teaching concerning the Law


Concerning the issue of whether Jesus abolished the Law, there is no clearer answer than His own words, which are recorded in the Book of Matthew:

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17–19

From Jesus’ words, we note two points: He came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. The word for “fulfil” in Greek is pleroo and has various nuances of meaning, including to “make full”, “complete”, and “make perfect”.[3] Knowing this helps us to understand a couple of key points.

Firstly, Jesus fulfilled the Law by making it complete. He did this by realizing those aspects that had been a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb 8:5; cf. 10:1). These were the rules governing the religious life of the Israelites and concerned matters such as the tabernacle (Ex 25–31), offerings (Lev 1–7), clean and unclean animals (Lev 11), purification (Lev 12–15), the priesthood (Lev 21–22) and festivals (Lev 23). They also included the ceremonial laws of the Sabbath—the offerings (Num 28:9–10) and the setting out of showbread (Lev 24:5–8). All these pointed to the work of salvation that would be accomplished by Jesus, including His establishment of the church (Heb 8:2, 9:11). Hence, the writer of Hebrews explains that some parts of the Law were “concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation” (Heb 9:10)—the time of reformation being the coming of Christ. Likewise, Paul describes these as “a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:17).

Secondly, Jesus fulfilled the Law by making it full and perfect. He did this by making clear its spirit—specifically those aspects to do with our moral obligations towards God and man. Hence, during His ministry, He expounded on God’s commandments—including the Ten Commandments (Mt 19:17–19)—to reveal their meaning at a more profound level and to highlight the fact that God now requires us to keep them from within our hearts (e.g. Mt 5–7). In terms of the Fourth Commandment, Jesus showed us through His personal example and teachings a number of important truths: the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mk 2:27); it is a day for doing good to others (Mt 12:12); God desires mercy over sacrifice (Mt 12:7); He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mt 12:8).

In summary, far from abolishing the Law, Jesus fulfilled it through His work of salvation and by making clear the spirit of God’s commandments. The Bible reveals that, under the new covenant, God has placed His laws inside our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and no longer in writing as in times past (Heb 8:10; Ezek 36:27). His will is that we submit to the Spirit, so “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4).


The Bible’s teaching concerning the Ten Commandments


It is important to reiterate that Jesus did not abolish the Ten Commandments. From the Bible, we understand that they constitute a special element of God’s Law. Indeed, their unique status was first indicated through His writing of them with His own finger onto tablets of stone (Ex 31:18) and His instructions to Moses to place them within the ark of the covenant (Deut 10:2). It is particularly significant that, thousands of years later, the Holy Spirit enabled the apostle John to glimpse the ark in a vision of the heavenly temple—God’s true church (Rev 11:19). These truths reveal that the Ten Commandments remain binding on God’s people until the end of time. Importantly, for our purpose, they are simple to keep and do not carry the curse associated with the old covenantal Law. For this reason, elder James refers to them as the “law of liberty” and exhorts believers to live by them (Jas 2:12).

In conclusion, the Fourth Commandment—the Sabbath commandment—still applies today. What do not apply are the regulations and the penalty of death for transgression. Jesus Christ has ushered us into a period of grace and spiritual maturity, whereby we no longer need the letter of the Mosaic Law to teach us in detail how to keep the Sabbath (Gal 3:24–25). What God now requires of us is to keep this holy day from our heart, in sincerity and faith.