Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Sabbath and New Testament Christians

Last Sunday’s sermon on the 4th Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) was a tough one. It calls upon each of us to make uncomfortable choices we would rather not have to face. For many, church has become an option on Sunday mornings, to be engaged in when other, more pressing matters are not more urgently demanding our attention. For many more, church is so much a part of their week, they are uncomfortable when they can’t make it. What is right? Can we miss the corporate worship service without being thrown into Hell? How many times? How do we make up for it when we’re not there?

For those who take church seriously and have a strong desire to honor God through the week, but particularly on Sundays, the answers to these questions can get bound up in legalism and judgment. We can walk around with guilt, either imposed on ourselves or by virtue of those around us judging us and our motivations. For others, a second thought is never given to skipping the corporate gathering and they are more than willing to tell others why it’s OK.

There are tons of reasons we have gotten to such a place in the history of the church that actual church attendance is a debatable issue. Those reasons run from a misunderstanding of the exact nature of our freedom in Christ (we are actually not free to do whatever we want, particularly, to disobey a direct commandment) to the overall idea that "God will understand that...(fill in the blank with, "I was tired." or "This situation is special." or "I just didn't feel like it."). For extra credit and a sobering look at how our attitude shows appreciation for His grace, use those same excuses to fill in the rest of this statement, "Jesus refused to hang on the cross because...." See? Any justification we try to use for not obeying a commandment shows a gross disregard for the grace that has saved us. Unfortunately, God does indeed understand. He understands that many of our decisions are for our own welfare even if they seem to fly against those things He deems good and beneficial for us. It is very good for us that He is merciful in His understanding. It is a very good thing He will change our hearts...if we are willing to let Him. 

Still, we struggle with obeying the 4th Commandment. 

Before we get too deeply into this, though, we should understand that none of us, as Christians, are subject to neither the ultimate condemnation nor the consequences of the Law…death. We will not die for violating a commandment if we are truly regenerated and are blessed with the indwelling Holy Spirit. God is not going to smite us for missing church. Still, we also have to understand the role of the Commandments in the life of a believer as a measure of our sanctification. The Holy Spirit will use them to point out areas in our life that need refinement. He does this because one of His functions is to draw us closer to God, mold us into His image. This is a lifelong process, not an event.

As the process rolls out, our changing hearts, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, have more and more desire to please our Father in heaven. This leads us to strive to conform to His commandments. This is what John describes in 1 John 3:24, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” You can also look at 1 Tim 4:10.

Obviously our new found freedom in Christ does not make us free to ignore His commandments and ordinances. Nor does it give us license to do whatever we like. John 14:15 tells us, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

Still, His commandments are no longer condemnation to those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is made clear, by John again, in 1 John 5:3 “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”

This can get pretty confusing…let me give you my opinion on what’s going on here. This has been the gist of my teaching throughout the Sermon on the Mount and up through the 10 Commandments.   
Our God is gracious, patient, kind and loving. He saves us by His grace, sanctifies us in His patience, kindly gives us His Holy Spirit to guide us through the while process because He loves us enough to make us reflections of His glory. We, on the other hand, have few of those attributes, have much to learn and will spend the rest of our lives learning it. We don’t always walk the way we are called to walk. We don’t always do what we are called to do. We don’t always behave the way we are called to behave. This is exactly why God has given us His commandments and His word, to show us what we are called to. This is also why He has graciously given us the indwelling Holy Spirit. We need His guidance, wisdom and counsel to do what we are called to do. We are unable to do it ourselves. If we were able to accomplish this on our own, we would have no need of a savior, no need of His word and no need of His Holy Spirit. His Spirit, revealing His word to us and our inability to conform ourselves to it, are God’s means of our sanctification. We are unable work our way into being holy just as much as we are unable work our way into salvation (Gal 2:16  “…nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”)

Here’s the point many believers miss, though: Our ongoing sanctification will manifest itself in the things we do and why we do them. God’s transformation of our hearts will result in a newfound desire to obey His commandments, no longer under condemnation but by the work of a regenerated heart and a new, God given motivation to draw even closer to Him. This is how we can read Gal 2:16, then move over to James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Our works are the result of our sanctification, not the reverse. The more we allow the Holy Spirit to conform us to His image, the more like Him we become. As a result of being more like Him, we have a greater desire to become holy, a greater desire to obey His ordinances and statutes.

If we understand this, then the outcome of further disobedience to the Father through refusal to obey His commandments is not condemnation, but the stagnation of our sanctification. We get mired in our disobedience and stop growing spiritually. This is why the Law is a measure of our sanctification. The more we are sanctified, the more obedience will manifest itself in our lives. Our obedience does not save us, it is a result of our salvation. We are no longer under the old Covenant, the covenant of the Law. We are under the New Covenant, the covenant of the heart.

If this is true, then our new hearts will lead us to walk in a new way. It’s not enough just to claim a new heart. It’s not enough just to say we are transformed. There has to be evidence of the new heart, evidence of the transformation. The only measurable evidence we have is the degree to which we are conformed to His image and submit ourselves to the essence of His character and nature, The Law (Rom 2:18-29).

So…how does this apply to the Sabbath? How does it apply to our activities on Sunday morning, those that would keep us away from church?

First, let’s acknowledge that there are legitimate reasons for missing church and non-legitimate ones as well. People may miss because of health limitations. Here may be extenuating circumstances surrounding a job, school or family situations. We have all experienced them and will continue to do so, over time. Let’s also acknowledge that the Law, under the Old Covenant revealed sin. Under the New Covenant, it reveals the need for sanctification. We are not condemned by the Commandment to observe the Sabbath…but we can be sanctified by it.

But then, we have the non-legitimate reasons for missing church. Those that are habitual, whether it be out of laziness, misplaced priorities, apathy or simple rebellion. I’ve heard...and made, myself…all the excuses:
·       “My mission field is on the golf course!” Let me ask you this, “How’s that working for you? How many have come to the Lord through your ministry on the links? Are you spending your time with your foursome teaching them the gospel and filling them with the word of God?”
·       “My child will flunk out of sports if I don’t let him play on Sunday morning! He will not get a scholarship.” Take a close look at that we teach our children through this one; “God will not provide, we have to do it ourselves.” “Our commitment to God is not as important as our commitment to the sports program and, ultimately to ourselves.” This is a tough one, folks. We may get it, but do our children? Keep in mind our children frequently learn more by example than by teaching. My Dad used to tell me never to drink, all the while holding a bottle in his hand. Dad had it under control, he was a good man. He used to tell me, “Don’t’ so as I do, do as I say.” I grew up wanting to be like my Dad…not what he said, I wanted to do what he did. So…I did. To my near-demise, I did not have the control my Dad did. But, I was following his example. I thought I could handle it. I couldn’t. Our kids may not be able to handle what looks like a casual approach to church. Our kids watch us. They do what we do. If the assembly of believers is unimportant to us, it will be to them.   
·       “I do church at home, with my family.” This is a pretty common one. It may actually work, in the short term. The vast majority of people will not remain consistent, though. Things will trail off and begin to slip. One day they will look up and find themselves in the “There just isn’t time today…we’ll get caught up next week.” syndrome.

Ultimately, we all have to pause, ruthlessly examine our hearts, compare them to the Scriptures and determine where we are in our relationship with God. If our actions are not consistent with His directive, we need some heart-work. If we have moved with a pure heart and honorable motives, we may be OK.

It always gets down to the heart motive. What is happening in our hearts? If our hearts are self-serving, we will find ourselves trying to justify our actions, defending our reasoning and explaining to others…and to God…why we did what we did and why we should be excused for doing it. If our hearts are oriented on making God our highest priority, then not only will we be guilt free, but we will enjoy His blessing.

I used Eric Liddell’s story at the beginning of the sermon last week. His willingness to honor God by refusing to run on Sunday was inspiring and a great example of God’s blessing. With His heart attitude, I believe Eric could have run that race Sunday and won. I don’t think God would have killed him. I’m not even sure God would have chastised him. Eric ran for God’s glory. I believe you can do anything for God’s glory any day of the week, and it will bless God (John 9:14). Eric decided for the greater blessing, though. He wanted the deeper walk. He knew His God had sacrificed for him, and he wanted to show his earnest gratitude for that sacrifice by sacrificing for his God. Liddell wanted to show the world, himself and God, that Christ was His highest priority. As a result, Eric continued down his road of sanctification and…we are still talking about his demonstration of commitment and faith today.

We have new hearts. But, we have to work to accommodate them. We have to work to get our minds and our actions in line with them. This is why Paul tells us to “…work out our salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) and James tells us, likewise, our “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14-26).

If we grasp this, then we will clearly see that the Law is given to believers as a gift of grace, revealing the areas in their lives that need their attention. With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can then grow in God’s blessing and provision.

With all this in mind, what do we do when we find ourselves conflicted over Sunday morning?

Realizing God’s greater blessing is found in the assembly, we make the best decision we can. If that decision keeps us out of church, we need to recognize that God's rhythm (work, work, work, work, work, work, rest as in  Gen 2 & Ex 16) calls us to a regular, weekly time of focus and worship on Him and the teaching of His word, after our work is done. We’re not going to be thrown into the lake of fire, if we miss the corporate service…but, if we are truly saved and have received that new heart,we will not only want to be there, but when we are not, we may miss a beat in our sanctification. There are a number of things we can do to avoid this:
  • Have a true family time Sunday evening (or Monday). Gather around the dinner table, listen to the sermon, it’s always on this page. You should do this every time you miss a service. How can you understand the teaching of your home church if you’re not hearing all of it? You can download it (right click then ”save as”) or listen on line. I this is not possible, you can have family devotions. If that’s not easy for you, you can just read Scripture and talk about it then spend some time in prayer. This will be refreshing to your souls and a great example to your family of how important God and spending time focused on Him is.
  •  Come to an earlier or later service
  •   Listen to a teaching CD or tape. We have many in the WBF Bookstore and I have a huge personal library I’m happy to lend out.

If your heart is truly toward God, you’ll find a way to honor Him. If He has saved you, the Holy spirit and your new heart will show you the way. All you have to do is respond…and grow.  

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post John! Truly, our sanctification is the will of God.

    God bless you.