Thursday, March 10, 2011

Still . . . the Sabbath

(Note: this post is a message I shared with a friend of mine who asked me about the Sabbath. He/she has been a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist and sees the importance of the Sabbath, but wonders about its endtime significance and whether those living in the last days must be Sabbath-keepers in order to be "saved." This is a question that often arises and so I thought it would be helpful to share it publicly as well. Since it is not a simple issue and needs a lot of background information, the post is long - though it is not definitive in any sense. It is a pretty "raw" explanation of the issues and is in no way scholarly/exhaustive. It is my attempt at giving a timely response!)

I want to share my thoughts with you about your Sabbath questions. This is a very important one that cannot be answered hastily or without a great deal of deliberation. There is no quick, easy answer that can be given without a great deal of misinterpretation by the listener. And thus, I have written a long, long, long response that might be intimidating! I will understand it if it takes you a long time to read it and/or respond.

But here goes . . .

You specifically asked the question this way: “I believe Saturday is the correct day, but I dont think that in the end times it will really come down those who worship on Sunday will be wrong and not be saved as I have been taught as an Adventist? thoughts?”

Whatever answer we come up with, we need to make sure, of course, that our views are based on the Bible and not people’s opinions, or human emotion, or speculation. We also need to listen to Jesus’ warning: “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matthew 24:4). The devil is a “liar” and the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and it is his goal to “deceive the whole world” (Rev 12:9) and he wants nothing more than for us to be confused about God, His character, and His plans. Similarly, Revelation 13 – which is where this whole Sabbath discussion centers around – makes it plain that the devil is going to use an earthly power to “deceive those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 13:14). So we need to take Jesus’ counsel seriously that we make sure “no one deceives” us.

As a foundational thought, though, I think it is important we recognize a few things that are paramount to this whole discussion. First of all, it is vitally important to note that there are basically three conflicting principles that are being fought over between God and Satan. Those three are: truth (God) vs. error (Satan), freedom (God) vs. slavery (Satan), and love (God) vs. fear (Satan). Every battle in life revolves around these three principles.

Simply put, God is all about truth, freedom, and love, while Satan is all about error, slavery, and fear. And this is the war that is being waged between God and Satan—that which we call the “Great Controversy.” (Interestingly, Satan is actually accusing God of engaging in the very things—ie., error, slavery, and fear—that is true of himself. We see this right in the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, in Gen 3:1-5, when Satan spread his first lie to humankind through Eve).

How does all this relate to the Sabbath?

Well, we need to take a step back and realize a few basic facts about God that are outworkings of His character of love. First of all, it is clear from Scripture that God loves the whole “world” (John 3:16). It is also clear from Scripture that He wants EVERYONE to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). It is also abundantly clear that He is trying to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get to heaven, and that there is no reason why anyone should not be in heaven, by virtue of the fact that He has already paid the penalty for every human beings’ sins (1 John 2:2). And, in fact, the only reason anyone will NOT be in heaven is not because they didn’t follow this rule or that rule, but because they resisted God’s love and lived a life of “unbelief” (Heb 3:19).

This last idea is very important: the only reason someone will not be in heaven is because of their unbelief—because they have refused to respond to God’s love by faith. If we are not saved “by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9), this also means we are not lost by a lack of works.

What the Bible does present, however, is the idea that a person who is actually living by faith has works in his/her life. In other words, doing good works are the “fruit” of one’s faith. James is very clear on this when he says that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17) and then goes onto say, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (v. 18).

So I like to put it this way: we are not saved BY our works, but we are not saved APART from works. In other words, the reason a person will go to heaven is not because of anything good they have done, but every person who does go to heaven will have good works reflected in their lives.

But does this mean that everyone who goes to heaven will have been a Sabbath-keeper on earth?

Not at all!

There will be millions upon millions of people (I would imagine) that are in heaven who never kept the Sabbath on earth. This is because when it comes to participating in good works in our lives, all of us are a “work in progress” and God cares more about the direction we are going, rather than how far we got by the time we die. This is why we should be careful in judging people. We may not see some things in their lives and assume that they are not living by faith, but they may be at a different place in their journey and God has not yet convicted them of the same things He has convicted us of. This is the case with many when it comes to the Sabbath. They are living up to the best “light” they have been given, but for whatever reason they have not yet been convicted of the beauty of the Sabbath. (This does not mean there is no place for lovingly encouraging people in righteousness and using discipline with people when they persistently refuse to follow something God has plainly revealed to them—especially those who are in leadership and “claim” to subscribe or teach one thing, but refuse to or downright deny its truth or importance.)

Does this then mean we do not worry about whether they come into the beautiful joy and rest of the Sabbath?

Well, there is where the “end times” comes into play as revealed in the book of Revelation.

What the book of Revelation essentially shows is a group of people, living in the “end times” right before Jesus comes, whose spiritual maturity and growth has “sped up,” so to speak, and find themselves a long ways down the road towards what God has been trying to do all along with humanity.

Remember, Satan has accused God of being unloving, fear-driven, and controlling. He furthermore has insinuated that God’s people are merely following Him for these reasons, and when the going gets tough, there will be no real reason why anyone would want to follow God (we see this in the story of Job). Furthermore, He has claimed that God’s law is arbitrary (think back to what He told Eve in the Garden about God’s restriction of not eating from the tree) and there is no reason for it, and that when people really understand this they will not want to follow it.

Then think about this scenario for a second: imagine that you are an angel or another created being in the universe and everything is right in the world. Everyone loves one another. There is no such thing as hate, violence, or anger. Then, all of a sudden, God creates this place called “earth” and a short time later, this thing called “sin” is introduced into the universe and there are created beings that display anger, hatred, violence—people killing one another, stealing from one another, etc. If I was a perfect being, living somewhere else in the universe, a thought that would come to my mind would be, “What in the world was God thinking when He created that place??”

Furthermore, think about this: at some point, in the near future, God will announce that these sinful/hate-filled beings are going to be “released” from their little corner of the universe and coming to a neighborhood near you! These imperfect beings are going to inhabit perfect heaven.

Wouldn’t such a thought be a frightful proposition? It would be like a neighbor, bringing home notoriously violent dogs, training them, and then announcing to everyone that he is going to release them to roam around freely in the neighborhood.

Wouldn’t you want some assurance that these dogs—or humans—could completely behave themselves before being released? After all, your safety is at risk!

And so this is the dilemma that God finds Himself in. His actual plan and character is on the line because of the fact that He brought us into existence, not to mention the fact that Satan has made claims against Him that He is unloving, arbitrary, controlling and manipulative.

In a word, the Bible teaches that GOD is actually “on trial” and being judged, and He is waiting in these last days to be “proven right” through His people (see Romans 3:4). This is what the “great controversy” that we speak of is all about. There is something far greater than my salvation and future that is on the line; God’s future is actually hanging in the balance.

This is hinted at through the Bible whenever you come across the word “mystery.” Paul, in the book of Ephesians, touches upon this when he says that “from the beginning of the ages” there has been this “mystery . . . hidden in God” that people cannot quite figure out (see Ephesians 3:9-11). Other created beings from the universe are scratching their heads and saying, “What is God up to?”

Amazingly, Paul goes onto say that “now the manifold wisdom of God” is being “made known BY THE CHURCH to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” In other words, God is trying to reveal His character of love, truth, and freedom through us. (After all, a testimony is more powerful about someone when it comes from others, rather than yourself. This is what Jesus says in John 5:31, “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not valid.”) Paul elsewhere talks about this “mystery” when he says that “God will to make known what is . . . the glory of this mystery . . . which is, Christ in you, the hope of glory.” So when we allow Christ to live “in us” and through us, and His life and love are reflected in our lives, God’s mysterious plan that He has been working on from the beginning is revealed.

Most importantly, the book of Revelation talks about how, in the very end, this “mystery of God would be finished” (Revelation 10:7). This, again, is what God is trying to bring to completion right now.

All this seems to relate to the Sabbath in a very simple and logical way. God’s people are defined in the very end as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). They are also defined as those who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (v. 4). In other words, they follow Jesus and do exactly what He wants them to do.

But the only reason they do so is because they have a “love affair” with Him and are responding by faith. They do not follow Him and His commandments because they want to earn salvation, or because God is controlling or manipulative (like Satan maintains), or even simply because they want to go to heaven. They follow Him completely because they have been so blown away by His love and faith in them as shown in His crucifixion, that they would rather die than not do what He asks of them.

Of course, the Sabbath is one of those “commandments” they keep (and it just one of them; we cannot neglect the other ten to overemphasize the fourth—nor can we especially neglect God’s greatest commandment to love Him and love others [see Matt 22:36-39], which is what the whole really law boils down to [see Romans 13:10]). But the Sabbath does have special significance because the book of Revelation gives it special significance. Chapter 13 actually mentions the word “worship” five times, each time pointing to the fact that the devil’s agents are going to try to force people to “worship,” even resorting to the death penalty to force people to do so (v. 15). This is a control and fear-based tactic, which is not God’s ways of worship at all.

Instead, God simply “invites” people to freely worship Him (see Rev 22:17), without any fear or manipulation, without any control or coercion. This is seen in the fact that in Revelation 14:7 God invites people in the last days to “worship Him.”

And what is the basis of that worship? We are invited to “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea, and the springs of water.” This last clause is a direct quote from the Sabbath commandment (see Exodus 20:11)!

So this is the difference between Sabbath and Sunday worship in the last days! Satan’s minions are going to try to enforce Sunday worship as a means of control, threatening even death to those who refuse to do so. This is clearly a reflection of Satan’s tactic: use error, control, and fear. And such Christians who agree to worship on Sunday upon penalty of death are actually living a life that is a reflection of the fact that they think they can “earn” their salvation (after all, worshiping on Sunday is actually a man-made tradition).

On the other hand, those who choose to honor the Lord by keeping the Sabbath are doing so freely and by faith. This is a choice they have made and they refuse to be bullied by the devil’s tactics. Their lives bear witness to the fact that God is so loving that they would rather honor Him than follow a man-made tradition and rule—even if it means death. They have fallen in love with God so much that they would rather die than do something that would be a misrepresentation of who He is.

Believe it or not, I am sure there is more that I could write on this that would explain it more, but I trust I have written enough for you to chew on!

What I have written could probably use some “tweaking,” and I am still working through all the implications myself, but that is the basic story as I see it.

Hopefully it makes sense to you! And hopefully I was not imbalanced with my explanation. Either way, please let me know if there is anything I can explain in a better way.

Hope this helps!!

God bless,


PS. The reason we would want others to keep the Sabbath – especially in these last days – is so that they can, of course, enjoy the full rest that God wants to give them, and so that they do not fall into deception. Above and beyond that, though, God is looking for a group of people who will finally and forever say “yes” to Him.


Anonymous said...

Via Googling I came across your review of Pagan Christianity. Thanks for your insights on the book.

Then I looked at this post about Sabbath in the end-times. I generally agree with what you have written, but can you help me with what may or may not be a fine point?

You wrote "And such Christians who agree to worship on Sunday upon penalty of death..."

My question is this: Will worshiping on Sunday be the problem, or will NOT worshipping and observing Sabbath be the problem?

Here's why I ask: I'm confused a bit by Ellen White's guidance concerning what to do when Sunday laws are enacted, such as: "refraining from work on Sunday", using Sunday "to do genuine missionary work", "need not select Sunday as the day to exhibit their washings", "One does not receive the mark of the beast because...of keeping the peace by refraining from work", "Whenever it is possible, let religious services be held on Sunday" (all quotes from Last Day Events, pp 139-140)

It seems that she's advising that we should be (at least superficially) going along and not causing problems unnecessarily. The world would be perceiving that we are following the Sunday laws (and yet we'd still be worshipping on Sabbath, as well).

Maybe another way to state it: Is the mark of the beast Sunday worship or is the mark of the beast being willing to not worship on Sabbath? (God wants us to worship Him EVERY day, but he asks/requires something special regarding Sabbath.)

I realize that ultimately the two will be very closely tied. That is, when Sunday worship doesn't solve the world's woes, they will blame it on the divided allegiance of the Sabbath-keepers and go after them to stop them from Sabbath worship.

But it seems from Ellen White's quotes that there will be some time lag between the start of the Sunday laws and the stopping of Sabbath-keepers and that during that time we should not defy "observing" Sunday (recognizing that the world may not at first realize that our Sunday "observance" isn't the commitment they want.)

Hope my questions make sense. Thanks!

Shawn Brace said...

Good question! Thanks for stopping by my blog, by the way.

Would it be all right for me to respond that "I don't know"? I don't know that we can figure out every jot and tittle ahead of time, but this does not prevent us from recognizing that the Sabbath/Sunday distinction will be significant in the end-times.

At the same time, I shared this thought in response to what someone asked me about the posting on Facebook: "It seems pretty clear to me that the significance of Sabbath is more explicit in Revelation than the idea that Sunday worship is the 'mark of the beast.' The Sabbath commandment is at least explicitly stated in the first angel's message (14:7), whereas there is nothing explicitly mention about the 'first day of the week' in Revelation."

Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response.

To be clear, I wasn't suggesting "that we can figure out every jot and tittle ahead of time...". That sounds too much along the lines of predicting the date of His return, etc.

While I took lots of words to lay out my question, I think you nailed it in saying, "It seems pretty clear to me that the significance of Sabbath is more explicit in Revelation than the idea that Sunday worship is the 'mark of the beast.'" Well stated! That was really the premise or hypothesis behind my question and the related Ellen White quotes.

So now with that as a given, I see value in the difference between a Sunday-law mindset and a Sabbath-keeping mindset (though I admit some may not see the nuance).

With a Sunday-law mindset, when it actually happens, one will probably have a doom and gloom, "It's all over!" reaction. Additionally, this mindset may cause people to act unnecessarily, like saying, for example, "I will NOT worship on go ahead and send me to jail!". This reaction would cut short the ability to continue representing God and furthering His opportunities to meet people, helping them, and introducing them to Him.

On the other hand, with the Sabbath-keeping mindset, there is a freeing aspect of it along the lines of, "Hey, I can still worship (Sabbath and Sunday), reach people, do community service, etc.", even as the Sunday-laws are enacted.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't or wouldn't oppose the Sunday-laws as they are being developed, but once those laws are enacted, the Sabbath-keeping mindset promotes that we can still do the positive things I've mentioned above, for whatever period there is between the enacting of the Sunday-worship-laws and the Sabbath-anti-worship-laws. (At which point that would then be the opportunity to vehemently stand up for the right of worshipping God in the way he asks, knowing that jail and/or death may be the result.)

Anyway, I think the general orientation and preparation of one's mindset before an event can strongly influence one's reaction to an event when that event actually occurs, even when the scenario is non-specified and unpredictable, as the end-time events will be.

That's why thinking and wrestling (a little bit) with this is a good thing. Having the more open mindset to protect the God side of the equation (Sabbath-keeping mind-set) while at the same time adapting to the man-made side of the equation (Sunday-laws) is better and more positive than simply letting the man-made side of the equation dictate our reactions.

Bottom line: It's a general and positive orientation thing, not a specific or predictive jot and tittle thing. To reiterate your words again, "...the significance of Sabbath is more explicit in Revelation than the idea that Sunday worship is the 'mark of the beast.'

Thanks again.

Frank Zimmerman said...

One point about the Sabbath that you didn't emphasize is that it is the day when God speaks to His people. God can, and does, speak to each person individually, but as a church, God speaks through men of His appointment. This means that we must discern whom God is using, and put ourselves under their instruction (and contrariwise, shut our ears to those whom God is not speaking through).

This was one of the problems of 1888. The church leaders did not recognize, nor want to hear God's voice as spoken through His chosen messengers. In effect, these leaders, who claimed to keep the Sabbath day, were breaking it by refusing to listen to God's message.

This also means that those who died in the past and did not keep the Sabbath as a day, were keeping it in their hearts anyway, because they were listening to God's message for that time, and proclaiming it. They did not however get the blessing of God's presence in the Sabbath day, and so they could not be perfected.

Righteousness consists in "living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord." When God speaks, there is life.

Frank Zimmerman said...

My thoughts on the end-times/Sabbath discussion: I agree...some of these details we will understand better when the time comes.

However, we can learn something from the book of Daniel. It is not only a book of prophecy, but Daniel is a type of faithful at the end, having gone through many similar trials.

There were times when he differed from the laws of the king. The diet question was the first case. In this matter, he politely asked to be given a different diet. That is one example for us, when the Sunday laws are made. We will differ from the laws, but our attitude will not be arrogant.

There will also come other times when we need to stand up for the Lord, as when Daniel defied the king's law about prayer, and faced the consequences.

Using Sunday to do missionary work is simply turning the devil's device against him. What kind of missionary work will we be doing at that time? If we are not ashamed of the truth, it will be the kind that will expose the deception that Satan is throwing on the whole world. It will hardly please the Sunday-keeping enthusiasts, yet it will comply with the law (at least until the laws become stricter).