The Sabbath and Dietary Laws

Section 1: Intro

Galatians 1:6-8 (NKJV)

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

I am concerned when I see Christians overly emphasize feast days, Sabbaths, Hebrew customs, dietary laws, etc. While it seems very spiritual, in fact, this violates the most elementary principle of being a Christian; we trust in Christ.

Galatians 5:4-10

For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us…What is important is faith expressing itself in love. You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.

Believing that Christians are obligated to observe the Law is not just a mistake, it is dangerous. This belief is like yeast that spreads throughout all the dough. It may start small, but it can have tremendous impact. Paul stated that those trusting in the Law have fallen away from God's grace.

The New Testament is full of instructions addressing this controversy. Before further discussion of the Law (referring to the Old Testament Law), it is important to note that a Christian is free from the Law, but he is not free to live lawlessly. We are obligated to observe the righteous law of God but not the Law of Moses.

Section 2: The Old Testament Law

Hebrews 10:1 (NLT)

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves...

The Law revealed sin and gave a preview of the new life in Christ. When Christ came, the purpose of the Old Testament Law was completed.

Hebrews 8:7, 13 (NLT)

If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it...When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

Christ established a New Covenant with the church. The Old Covenant is obsolete. It has gone away. There is actually no one that lives by it. The necessary elements have disappeared. Today, there is no temple, no priests, and no sacrifices. Serving God according to the Law is no longer an option. Our only option is to be saved by grace through faith and live according to the Spirit.

Galatians 5:18 (NLT)

But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

In the early church, it was difficult for Jewish believers to accept that the Law had truly passed away. For example, some believed that circumcision, a requirement of the Law, was necessary for salvation. Paul rebuked those that sought to be righteous by trusting in the Law and keeping a portion of the Law. Those that return to the Law for salvation are bound to keep all of the Law.

Galatians 5:1-3 (NLT)

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses.

Galatians 6:13-16 (NLT)

And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves...What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.

What is important to God can not be achieved by the Law. No amount of holy days or dietary laws can take away sin or change the heart of a man. God requires us to experience the New Birth and become new creatures in Christ.

Galatians 2:21 (NKJV)

I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

Galatians 3:10-14 (NLT)

But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law... Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.

The Law could not save us. It revealed sin, but it did not empower us to live above sin and inherit eternal life. On the cross, Christ took the curse of the Law, death, upon himself for our sins. He then poured out His Spirit to give us new life.

Romans 8:2-4 (NLT)

And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Christ's death brought an end to the Law.

Romans 10:4 (NKJV)

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Section 3: The Sabbath

Many of the commandments in the Law of Moses were strictly for the Jewish nation. First, there were civic laws. These laws of governance functioned as the legal standards and procedures for the nation of Israel. A second section of Jewish laws were ceremonial. They either celebrated what God had already done for Israel, or they looked ahead to the coming of Christ.

The third section of the Law was the moral requirements of the Law. When the Scripture states that the Law has passed away, it does not mean that it no longer contains truths and instructions that will benefit us.  While the civic and ceremonial aspects are no longer applicable, the Law still reveals its author and His moral expectations. God's basic requirements for living righteously existed before the Law, were included in the Law, and continue after the Law has been fulfilled.

Paul made a distinction between the Jewish law, and this universal law of God. The Jewish law started with Moses and was fulfilled by Christ. The law of God is perpetual.

1 Corinthians 9:20-21 (NLT)

When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God...

No one is exempt from God's Law. Even those that never received the written Word have a witness, their own conscience.

Romans 2:14-15 (NLT)

Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.

Because the moral requirements are still required of us today, many Christians assume that a part of the Law has not been done away with. For example, some believe that we must keep the Sabbath because it was included in the Ten Commandments.

2 Corinthians 3:6-11 (NLT)

He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death... Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?...So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever!

Notice that the New Covenant of the Spirit has replaced the old covenant. The Ten Commandments, written on stone, are specifically stated as being replaced. Does this mean that we are now free to murder, covet, and fornicate? Of course not! We refrain from these things, not because they were written in the Ten Commandments but because the Spirit has written God's commands in our hearts. Our conscience lets us know that these actions are contrary to the moral nature of our holy God and the Spirit convicts us. In many ways, the New Covenant can be more restrictive because we are not trying to meet the minimum requirement of the letter of the law. Instead, by the Spirit, we must try to fulfill the intention of God's laws.

When discussing things like the Sabbath, we must determine if these are universal moral laws that God has required of all people at all times or temporary laws given to Israel.

Exodus 31:12-17 (NLT)

The Lord then gave these instructions to Moses: “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you...The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation...

The Lord told Israel that the Sabbath was a sign of His covenant with them. It was a covenant obligation for the people of Israel.

Deuteronomy 5:2-3 (NLT)

“The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Mount Sinai. The Lord did not make this covenant with our ancestors, but with all of us who are alive today.

The covenant established with the nation of Israel on Mt. Sinai applied specifically to that nation at that time. While this covenant included the moral absolutes that God had always demanded of all people, it also included instructions that Israel's ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc., had not known or practiced.

Nehemiah 9:13-14 (NLT)

“You came down at Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven...You instructed them concerning your holy Sabbath. And you commanded them, through Moses your servant, to obey all your commands, decrees, and instructions.

Nehemiah specifically identified the Sabbath as one of the commandments that was revealed on Mount Sinai that those under the Law had to obey. If the Sabbath was not required before the Law, should it be required after the Law has been fulfilled?

Jesus, the Apostles, the Jerusalem council, and the epistles never command saints to keep the Sabbath. The fourth commandment is actually never repeated in the New Testament. There are several passages in the New Testament that list a litany of sins. Breaking the Sabbath is absent from all of these lists.

      1.     Mark 7:21-22 – 13 sins listed – No mention of the Sabbath

2.     Romans 1:29-32 – 20 sins listed - No mention of the Sabbath

3.     1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – 10 sins listed - No mention of the Sabbath

4.     Galatians 5:19-21 – 15 sins listed - No mention of the Sabbath

5.     Ephesians 5:3-6 – 10 sins listed - No mention of the Sabbath

6.     2 Timothy 3:1-4 – 18 sins listed - No mention of the Sabbath

Under the Law, breaking the Sabbath was a major offense punishable by death. The fact that Sabbath breaking was not mentioned in the New Testament would be very puzzling if it was a moral obligation. For example, we find all of the other laws from the Ten Commandments repeated and expounded upon repeatedly in the New Testament.

Here is one man's count:

 1). To worship the Lord God only: 53 times
 2). Idolatry: condemned 20 times
 3). Using the Lord's name in vain: condemned 4 times                                                              
4). Sabbath: taught 0 times
 5). Honoring parents: taught 6 times
 6). Murder: condemned 7 times
 7). Adultery: condemned 12 times
 8). Theft: condemned 6 times
 9). False Witness: condemned 4 times
 10). Covetousness: condemned 9 times

If keeping the Sabbath was not a moral requirement, why was it given? It was a shadow of a truth that would be realized in Christ.

Matthew 11:28, 12:8 (NLT)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest...For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

True rest and refreshing is only found in Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath. Isaiah prophesied that there was coming a day when this rest would be experienced by people with stammering lips and speaking with another tongue.

Isaiah 28:11-12 (NKJV)

For with stammering lips and another tongue
He will speak to this people,
To whom He said, “This is the rest with which
You may cause the weary to rest,”
And, “This is the refreshing”;

This prophecy was experienced in Acts 2 when the Spirit came on the disciples and they spoke with tongues. The Sabbath pointed to the infilling of the Holy Ghost. When believers are empowered by the Spirit, they will find rest for their souls. This promised rest is not received by keeping the Law and observing a day of the week, it is only received by faith.

Galatians 3:2 (NLT)

Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.

Section 4: Dietary Laws

The dietary laws of the Old Covenant are another portion of the Law that some Christian groups are requiring their members to observe. This issue was settled before the gospel reached the first Gentile.

The Lord was about to send Peter to preach salvation to Cornelius, a Gentile. He prepared Peter with a vision.

Acts 10:11-15 (NLT)

He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.” But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.”

Peter could not effective minister the gospel until he understood that he could not call unclean what God had made clean. Due to this revelation, he was able to stay with Cornelius for several days.

Unfortunately, not everyone received the same revelation. As Gentiles were added to the church, there was much debate concerning the Law. Finally, the council at Jerusalem wrote a letter to try and clarify the Gentiles' obligations. The Gentile believers were not instructed to observe Sabbaths or avoid unclean meats because these were not moral issues. The church did not want to unnecessarily burden them. Instead, they simply instructed these new believers to discontinue practices that were related to paganism (idols, blood, strangled animals) and to be sexually pure.

This letter initially resolved the conflict, but in time it was revived. At one point, it even caused a dispute between Peter and Paul. While both agreed that the Gentiles were not obligated to keep the Law, Peter  would not eat with the Gentiles because he was worried about criticism from the Jewish believers.

Galatians 2:11-16 (NLT)

Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore...When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?... For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”

In his letter to the Romans, Paul once again emphasized the believers' liberty from the dietary restrictions in the Old Covenant.

Romans 14: 15-17 (NLT)

I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat...For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

The Lord does not judge our relationship with Him based on what we eat.

1 Corinthians 8:8 (NLT)

It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat…

Section 5: Conclusions regarding the Sabbath and meats

There is nothing wrong with choosing to worship on the Sabbath. There is nothing wrong with refraining from eating certain foods. Believing that these are necessary for salvation, on the other hand, can be a major problem.

Galatians 4:10-11 (NLT)

You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.

Unfortunately, many people that return to these practices reject the liberty that we have in Christ. They can become very judgmental against other believers that refuse to return to the Law that Christ fulfilled. This directly violates a New Testament teaching.

Romans 14:4-6 (NLT)

…those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall... In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable…Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating.

If you are a believer and you are being troubled by a Christian concerning the Sabbath, meats, or the Law, don't allow them to cause confusion or judge you. They will claim to be very spiritual, but in fact, they need a revelation of Christ and the cross.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NLT)

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

Romans 16:17 (NLT)

And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them.

Don’t allow false teaching to upset you or cause divisions. Adherence to the Law does not benefit us. Keeping the Sabbath is of no value. Strict observance of dietary laws does not impress God. We are saved by His mercy through the New Birth, the washing and the infilling of the Spirit. We receive both experiences by faith in Christ. Don't get in disputes about foolish things that can destroy this faith. 

Titus 3:5-11 (NLT)

he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life...Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.

Separate yourself from these troublemakers. Don't concern yourself with their opinion. Instead of attempting to follow the law, allow the Spirit to change your heart and guide your life.

Romans 2:29 (NLT)

...not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather...a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.

Galatians 5:16-25 (NLT)

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires… when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.