How you approach the Lord’s Day says much about your view of God, his gospel, and your trust in his sovereignty. Last night as we gathered for church, I preached from Exodus 20:8-11 on the importance of the Lord’s Day. On one level, people within the church throw out the Fourth Commandment as if it’s no longer binding on New Testament believers. On another level, those who believe the children of God should give God one out of seven days find themselves in a halfway commitment with God where they have negotiated terms to split the day between themselves and the Lord.
In Exodus 20, we find the list of the Ten Commandments. As we approach the Lord’s Day, we must ask ourselves if the Ten Commandments have any binding upon us in our day or if we have reduced their number down to only nine. There are two massive traps that you must avoid when approaching the Lord’s Day—one is pharisaical and the other is pagan.
The Error of Legalism
The Sabbath command (Exodus 20:8-11) was never given by God in order to be a burden. It was always the goal of joy for the people—never a curse. Over time, the religious establishment of the Jewish people turned the Sabbath command into a burdensome routine. They built fences around God’s Law in order to protect it as if it needed to be protected. What resulted from their efforts of purity was the most the profaning of God’s Law which robbed God of glory the people of their joy.
John MacArthur has provided a list of “laws” that prevented the Jews from violating the Sabbath:
- No burden could be carried that weighed more than a dried fig.
- If you threw an object in the air and caught it with the other hand, it was a sin. If you caught it in the same hand, it wasn’t.
- A tailor couldn’t carry his needle.
- The scribe couldn’t carry his pen.
- A pupil couldn’t carry his books.
- No clothing could be examined.
- Wool couldn’t be dyed.
- Nothing could be sold.
- Nothing could be bought.
- Nothing could be washed.
- A fire couldn’t be lit.
- An egg could not be boiled.
- Could not bathe – for fear that as the water fell from you it would wash the floor.
However, in all of their attempt to protect the Sabbath, they profaned it. This is quite clear as Jesus corrects their false understanding in Mark 3:1-6. Jesus made it clear that he is the Lord of the Sabbath. Furthermore, he made it clear that the Sabbath was created for man—not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Legalism is the attempt to please God by doing good.
Legalism causes a man to “work” to please God. Grace causes a man to “work” because God is pleased with him. Legalism instructs a man to “work” for God. Grace brings a man to delight in “working” for God. Alistair Begg said, “Religion says, ‘I obey, therefore I am accepted.’ Christianity says, ‘I am accepted, therefore I obey.’” As we make personal decisions on how to live life, we must put our finger on chapter and verse and avoid the commands of man. Did God expect Israel to remember the Sabbath? Absolutely, but their observance of the Sabbath turned into a legal system that caused frustration rather than joy.
We must approach the Lord’s Day with the same attitude that God expected from the Israelites regarding the Sabbath. We must willfully give God one day for worship and rest since he has not changed his mind about that very issue. However, in our attempt to honor God with the Lord’s Day—we must not fall into the traps of the Pharisees by counting the number of steps on our iPhone on Sunday and condemning people who walk too far. It should be a day of delight, laughter, joy, worship, fellowship, and rest. All of this—for the glory of God.
The Error of Antinomianism
We likewise live in a culture of confusion when it comes to God’s Word. Has Jesus really come to abolish the Law of God? Is that what he said (Matt. 5:17)? For those who hold to that position, they would not approach the Sixth Commandment with the same attitude as they do the Fourth Commandment. Some people live with that attitude—as if Jesus abolished the Law and has given free reign to live without the slightest binding command of God’s Law. Not only is this dishonoring to God, it’s an extremely dangerous place to be in life.
The attitude that avoids God’s Law and rejects God’s commands is one that will lead to a diminished worship, a deficient relationship with God, and a lack of holiness altogether. God has given us the Law to teach us what is expected and it serves as a boundary for life and worship. Without boundaries and without shepherds—sheep wander off cliffs and walk into the mouths of wolves. That’s why God has placed the boundary of the Law before us and it’s also why God has given shepherds (pastors) to his people. The antinomianism approach to life and worship seeks to dethrone God and enthrone one’s self.
Regarding the Lord’s Day, it’s important to see that following the resurrection of Jesus, the church of Christ gathered on the first day of the week for worship (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2). Jesus himself rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1-6) and this altered the way the followers of Christ worshipped. They gave God the first day of the week for worship and fellowship and rest.
This command of the Sabbath rest is not grounded in the Ten Commandments alone. It pre-dates the Ten Commandments. Israel had received the command back in Exodus 16 and as we see it develop in the Ten Commandments we learn that it was rooted in creation itself. Therefore, this is something that God expects of everyone—and we as his children should willfully give him one day. God has given us six days and required only one for himself. He could have easily turned that equation around. Let us approach the Lord’s Day out of a submissive heart to God’s command and see it as the Puritans viewed it—”A market-day for the soul.”
Puritan Thomas Watson imagined God saying the following regarding this special day. He imagines God as saying, “I am not a hard master, I do not grudge thee time to look after thy calling, and to get an estate. I have given thee six days, to do all thy work in, and have taken but one day for myself. I might have reserved six days for myself, and allowed thee but one; but I have given thee six days for the works of thy calling, and have taken but one day for my own service. It is just and rational, therefore, that thou shouldest set this day in a special manner apart for my worship.” 
- Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 591.