[On Sabbath] The Judaizer’s Guide to Enslaving Yourself to the Sabbath (Colossians)

Bible opened to Colossians 2 with Lily's 55% Cocoa Almond Dark Chocolate on zebra plate

Today’s Chocolate: Lily’s 55% Cocoa Almond Dark Chocolate

Today’s Passage: Colossians 2:8-19

Reading what Paul had to say about the Sabbath in his letter to the Colossians, I couldn’t help but think of a verse from one of his other letters: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The Sabbath isn’t meant to be a yoke or a burden; it’s meant to provide freedom and rest. And if you intend to keep it, it defeats the purpose to load it up with so many restrictions that keeping the Sabbath itself becomes work!

More than once, Paul had to deal with those in the early church who insisted that new converts had to follow the law of Moses. These people were termed “Judaizers,” and for obvious reasons, a major point of contention between them and Paul was whether conversion required circumcision. Paul says no: “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11). Circumcision was a commandment for the Jews to follow, as a sign of their identity as God’s chosen people. More importantly, though, circumcision acted as a symbol pointing to Jesus Christ. Through his death on the cross, he removes our sin, the metaphorical “flesh” of our uncircumcised souls. Physical circumcision is not necessary for salvation, Paul argues; it’s not even a universal commandment for all mankind that God will lead us to obey voluntarily as a consequence of accepting his grace. It’s a Jewish thing, and Paul as a Jew is adamant that you don’t have to become a Jew in order to be saved.

It’s just so with the Jewish holidays. Paul says: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (2:16-17). The Judaizers were never the arbiters of anyone’s faith, and their elitism is inimical to Christian freedom. Whether or not you’re a Jew, whether or not you keep kosher, whether or not you observe the holidays from the Torah, don’t let anyone look down on you for the decisions you make about these things.

The Sabbath is included in Paul’s list, which may come as a surprise, given all we’ve seen already about the Sabbath and Paul’s own Jewish identity. The Sabbath is even one of the ten commandments! Paul wouldn’t say that refraining from murder and lying and idolatry were “just a Jewish thing” intended to symbolize Christ. Is he saying here that keeping the Sabbath gets a special exemption?

I don’t think so. Here’s Paul’s concern: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (2:8). First and foremost, he’s saying, “Don’t let anyone convince you that keeping the Sabbath (traditionally a sign of Jewishness) has any role in saving you from your sins.” It’s the grace of Jesus Christ and nothing else.

I think resting from work every seventh day is a good practice that God wants us to do, and I think Paul would agree with me, based on how he meets in the synagogues with his fellow Jews on the Sabbath throughout Acts (Acts 17:218:4). But I don’t think it’s a matter of salvation whether you keep it on Saturday or Sunday or even at all! And for better or worse, we live in a society where our days off are staggered; some of us work weekdays in the office, some work nights or graveyard shifts, some have regular days off, some have a different work schedule every week. I’m not advocating you storm out of your job today as a rejection of our sinful practice of working on Saturdays. My advice to you, wherever you are, is simply to have a regular day off on the same day of the week, if your work allows for it, and to spend your weekly day of rest with the people in your life who are closest to you. Work hard six days, then rest together and be free!

And don’t worry if your immediate circumstances prevent you from doing these things. Your salvation is not contingent upon keeping the Sabbath; as Paul says, it’s contingent on nothing else but God’s grace. Respond in faith to his leading, and rest easy.

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