Monday, November 2, 2009

The Lord's Day: Part 1 of 2


For the Christian, Sunday should be the most glorious, blessed, and liberating day of the entire week! But what are we to make of the Lord’s Day today? Does it even apply to us as post-resurrection believers? Wasn’t Sabbath observance just for Old Testament believers? And, if Sunday is specially relevant for the Christian today, where’s “the list” (is there a list?) of things we can and cannot do?It should not surprise us that there is much confusion around keeping a day when Christians ought to assemble together to reverently, earnestly, and joyfully worship the Triune God of eternity and the redeemer of their souls, according as the scriptures have taught us. The enemy of our souls is relentless is his attacks against God receiving worship from those He has purchased with His blood. But this should not deter us, but rather validate the pursuit.

Where Do We Start?

To structure-up a basis of understanding on the subject and application of the Lord’s Day it seems inevitable that we must start with something fixed and authoritative, something devoid of opinion, and based rather on objective and sound Biblical pillars. This means we must start at the beginning and work consistently out. And for that we must start with God which means we must start with what God says as specially revealed to us in His Word.

A Creation Mandate

Unlike the pagan gods who neither see nor hear, yet supposedly berate and whip, the one true God graciously gives his people rest, much needful rest. Think about that. Rest is a wonderful thing, a refreshing balm, a needful replenishing condition. And rest is as old as the earth itself, mandated by God at Creation (Genesis 2:1-3). The rest we will speak about below commenced at Creation and relates back to where God rested, blessed and hallowed a day of particular rest. That expression of rest does not end at some point, nor should we expect it to. And it should likewise come as no surprise that rest has inherent physical and spiritual relevance, for the continuum of this Creation mandate is scripturally entrenched as an expression of God’s moral image and nature – which is eternal (Matthew 5:18, Romans 2:14-16).

An Expression of God's Moral Image

The moral law (i.e. the 10 Commandments) is an expression of God’s moral image and nature and, importantly, is therefore eternal just as He is (Matthew 5:18, Psalm 111: 7-8 & 119: 89, Romans 2:14-16). If we establish that the moral law is eternal and unchangeable and that morality is not relative, then we can say that ten of the Ten Commandments apply today (Romans 6:15). If all ten apply, then the 4th commandment applies as well. This is not the same as saying that the law can save you or that by “doing the law” God will love you more, for to believe that is to deny the gospel and fall prey to legalism. That said, we must similarly be careful to not make the other error; namely, of saying the law is irrelevant and “anything goes as long as you love God”. The law is an expression of God’s moral image and is eternal, it doesn’t go away.

The bad news is that we have all broken God’s perfect law (Romans 3:10) and are deserving of Hell (Romans 6:23). The good news is that Christ came and lived under the law perfectly in the believers place (something we could never do) and then exhausted (not deflected) the wrath of God in our place on the cross so that His righteousness could be imputed (accounted) to the believer (Ephesians 2:8-9) and our unrighteousness could be accounted to Him. This is the gospel. The moral law does not disappear because Christ fulfilled it (Matthew 5:18). Because He fulfilled it, I am righteous. Because I am righteous in Christ, I now have a new heart (John 3 and 15). If I am truly born-again, I will long, though often fail (1 John 1 and 2), to obey God’s law and standards. In so doing, I am able reflect what God has done in my life through Christ, thus bearing a measure of fruit (Galatians 5:22-26) which in part graciously bears out to the believer that sanctifying changes are occurring which are the product of Christ’s work of conformity in the truly saved person (Romans 8). By extension, this is what Christ meant when he spoke of the believer being salt and light (Matthew 5: 13-16) in a world antagonistic to the morality of God.

A few summary Biblical observations thus far:

  • All laws in the scriptures are based on the Ten Commandments including all past ceremonial and civil laws. The latter two laws passed away when Christ died and rose from the dead, for they foreshadowed Him, the eternal Word; however, the moral law of God, being an expression of God’s image and nature, is not a foreshadow but was actually and particularly fulfilled in Christ and therefore not subject to practical dismissal as a type as are the foreshadows. The moral law of God is immutable, it has to be, because God is likewise unchanging. The foreshadows only passed because of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, the legal life of Christ, His death, and His resurrection.
  • Examples of the three “kinds” of laws are shown in the following passages: Exodus 31:18, Exodus 29:5-7, Exodus 22:10-12.
  • Christ’s imputed righteousness to the believer justifies the sinner just as if he had kept all the moral law (Romans 3:23-27); hence, justification by faith alone.
  • Though the Christian has remaining sin, by God’s power and grace, we are to seek to obey God’s unchanging law in joyful obedience (Matthew 22: 37-40, John 14:15) and so become more conformed, as true believers, to the image of God (Romans 8: 29).

How does this apply to the New Testament & the Lord’s Day?

If, as noted, we establish that the moral law is eternal and unchangeable and that morality is not relative, then we can say that ten of the Ten Commandments apply today and if all ten apply, then the 4th commandment applies as well. This should then be borne out in the New Testament, and indeed it is.There are numerous times in the New Testament where Christ appeared to the church gathered for Sabbath (rest) worship on Sunday (Matt. 28:1, Mark 16:2,9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1,19, 1 Cor.16:1-2) and instructions were provided for Sunday gathering that underscore the command to not forsake God’s house (Hebrews 10:25), the ekklesia (i.e. Strongs: a calling out…especially a religious congregation). The early Church Fathers and Church history show that the Christian church, as a matter of factual account, met on Sunday as the day of congregational worship which included, from time-to-time, administration of the ordinances (i.e. baptism and communion). The church historically has, and when not in times of persecution or apostasy, also set aside the entire day as the Lord’s Day. I believe this consistent witness (Hebrews 12:1) is significant and bears weight because it gives us clues about two important things that were already prior established under scriptural authority; namely: (a) what day the NT church is to formally gather for corporate worship and (b) in what manner believers are to hold the day.

But what day, Saturday or Sunday?

As Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Sunday) having purchased and sealed our redemption and, as Christ is the first-begotten from the dead (Revelation 1:5), believers gather on the first day of the week in anticipation of that great rest now purchased, but not yet attained as we are still on earth. The text of Hebrews 4:9 is of use here for the “rest” in the Greek evidently speaks of “a keeping of Sabbath” which is a different Greek “rest” used throughout Hebrews 3 and 4. This tells us that there is still a Sabbath for the people of God – one purchased by Christ (and to be fully attained by the believer in glory) and one anticipated (and to be remembered while on earth in the assembly of believers on a day of rest, being Sunday, the day Christ rose from the dead purchasing our eternal rest).

Go to > The Lord’s Day, Part 2 of 2.

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