(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
Holy & Free, Part 16 – Holy Days
This morning we will bring our “Holy & Free” series to a conclusion. I had not intended for this series to last so long, but it seemed like there was always another particular subject I wanted to address so that we all could better understand how to pursue holiness while also living in the freedom we have in Christ.
The series was born out of a simple desire to expand on the principles found in Romans 14. In that passage Paul demonstrates why all Christians do not have to live in the same manner. Every Christian has great freedom in Christ, and they will vary in their faith concerning what they believe they are free to do. Using the example of dietary restrictions, some know they are free to eat what they want, while others believe that certain things are unholy. The difference here is not the food, but the faith about what the individual is free to do in regards to food. The main principle is found in verses 22 & 23, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” In other words, live according to your own faith. Don’t violate your conscience.
That, however, means there are varying standards, according to the individual’s faith, concerning the issue at hand. That leaves a huge potential for interpersonal conflict over who is correct. That is why Paul also expands in Romans 14 about how Christians are to live together even with their differences, for as he says in verse 17, “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Too often Christians make major issues out of petty things.
Christians are to get along with each other by exhibiting the love of Jesus Christ to one another (John 13:35). We are to treat others the way we would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12). As Paul says here in Romans 14, we are to neither judge nor hold in contempt a fellow Christian because they differ from us in some practice that is not clearly defined in the Scriptures. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have a lot of freedom in what we choose to do or choose not to do as along as we are within the structure of Biblical principles that apply to the particular issue.
You might recall from the first sermon in this series some of the general principles including: Profitability and Enslavement from 1 Cor. 6:12. We are to seek what is to our spiritual advantage while avoiding what brings us into bondage. Edification from 1 Cor. 10:23. We seek to do that which will cause us to grow in the Lord. Excess from Hebrews 12:1,2. We should set aside even good things if they hinder us from doing our best in our Christian walk. Equivocation from 1 Peter 2:16. We are not to us a claim to freedom as a covering for what in reality is a pandering to our own evil desires. Example from 1Corinthians 11:1 – we set a good example and avoid setting up stumbling blocks to others. Evangelism from 1 Cor. 10:25-33 – we seek to use our freedoms as a means to open doors for the gospel. Emulation from 1 John 2:5,6 – we seek to become more like Jesus Christ every day. Exaltation from 1 Cor. 10:31 – we are to exalt God by and in everything we do.
We have seen the practical application of these principles in relationship to a lot of specific issues over the last few months including: Drugs, drinking, dancing, dress, music, worship style, leisure, dating, courtship, marriage, having and raising children, cultural traditions and use of our bodies. One last area I want to address is the issue of “holy days,” and the principle for dealing with it is right here in Romans 14.
Sabbath. There are still certain Christian traditions that make as much about keeping the Sabbath in our own time as the Pharisees did with Jesus. They had made up a lot of their own rules concerning God’s command to them in Exodus 20:8 to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” They sought to define holiness by a detailed list of what you could or could not do on a Sabbath. Orthodox Jews still debate that issue. Jesus did not keep their traditions and it was a major reason that they sought to kill him (Mark 3:4-6). Jesus strongly rebuked them in one encounter stating, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27,28).
The Sabbath was established by God in Genesis 2 by His example during creation week by resting on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. This pattern was established as a law for the Israelite that they were to work six days, but rest on the seventh for it was a Sabbath day of the Lord God ( Deut. 5:14; etc.). The purpose of the Sabbath was three fold. First, it gave man and his animals a day of needed physical rest (Exodus 23:12). It is interesting that even secular societies recognize this seven-day pattern and the need for a day of rest at least once per week. Second, it was to be a holy day unto the Lord in which man could focus his attention to honor and delight in the Lord (Isaiah 58:13,14). Third, it was to be a sign between God and His people, the Jews, that they might know that He is the Lord that sanctifies them (Ezek. 20:12).
In those Christian traditions in which the church is viewed as the replacement of Israel instead of a new group called out by God and grafted into the same root as Israel, it is not uncommon to find a call for keeping many of the Jewish traditions, including keeping the Sabbath. Other Christian groups also demand that the Sabbath be kept for other reasons, and some will even debate strongly about which day of the week is to be kept as the Sabbath (more on that in a few minutes). But does the Christian have to keep the Sabbath?
It is important to note that of the 10 commandments, the only one not commanded for Christians to keep is this one concerning the Sabbath. In fact, Paul was very strong on this issue that the Christian did not have to keep the Sabbath. In Colossians 2:16,17 he states, “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a [mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” The “therefore” was based on the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross cancelled out the “debt of decrees against us.” Christians did not have to keep the Sabbath as a means of earning God’s favor. As Paul writes in Romans 14:5-10, One man regards one day above another, another regards every day [alike.] “Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived [again], that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
You are free in Jesus Christ to regard certain days as special or all days as alike, but you need to be fully convinced in your own mind (vs. 5). It is common with most Christians to regard Sunday as a special day since that is when we meet for worship. (I will explain why we do that in a few minutes). If you regard Sunday as above other days that is fine, but then you do need to treat it as such in whatever manner you believe is right. If you treat Sunday like any other day of the week that is also fine, but you need to do so because you are fully convinced in your own mind that doing so is right before God, not because it is convenient for you personally. The principle given in verses 22 and 23 apply here as they do in all other areas. What is not from faith is sin. As long as you have doubts, then don’t do it.
Too many Christians break the principle of equivocation mentioned earlier on this point. We claim freedom we are not convinced we really have simply because it allows us to do something we want. That is really just lying to ourselves. Or we do or don’t do something simply because that is how everyone else is behaving. The real issue here is not on what you do or don’t do. It is on your own relationship with the Lord and following His directions in how He wants you to walk with Him. That is why this issue of faith is so important.
If the kingdom of God was about the stuff we do or don’t do, then faith is not needed. We only need the rule book. Tragically, that is they way too many professing Christians live. Some restrict most everything and we call them legalists. Others allow most everything and we call them libertines. But both have the same fundamental problem. They are living their lives by the standards and rules they have set for themselves instead of striving to understand the commands, principles and precepts that God has set and live according to those. In the final analysis, both the legalist and the libertine live for themselves, not God.
As those redeemed by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to live for the glory of God, and not ourselves (1 Cor. 6:20). God’s glory is both the eternal and present purpose of our lives. He is worthy of our worship, and part of our worship is living for Him.
Getting back to the issue of the Sabbath, there are some more areas of confusion I want to clear up this morning. First, Sunday is not the Sabbath though, as mentioned earlier, there are many Christians that treat it as if it was the Sabbath. The Sabbath occurs on the seventh day of the week. Sunday is the first day of the week. There are some cultic groups that make a big deal about this and claim that Sunday is a false day for worship. I have even seen signs and literature that say that worshiping on Sunday is an abomination for they say it is of the devil and a sin. Some even go so far as to say that those who worship on Sunday will go to Hell. That is quite strong language for a position that is theologically untenable.
Christians did not start gathering to worship on Sunday as a substitute for the Sabbath. In fact, we find throughout the book of Acts that Paul regularly went to the Synagogues on the Sabbath in order to proclaim the gospel to the Jews in whatever city he was in. How then did the weekly worship of God move from the Sabbath to Sunday? The first clue is found in Acts 20:7 which says, “And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” The first day of the week is Sunday, and Paul is preaching to the disciples that had gathered together to break bread, which is probably a reference to celebrating the Lord’s Table or Communion. The second clue is in 1 Corinthians 16:2 in which Paul instructs them concerning the relief money for the poor he was gathering. Paul states, “Upon the first [day] of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as [God] hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”
As shown in these passages, Christians began to gather together on the first day of the week for worship. This was done in honor of Jesus’ resurrection which occurred on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1). The writings of the early church fathers confirm this practice continued into the centuries that followed even to the present time. Those who proclaim that Sunday is not the Sabbath are correct. The confusion of Sunday as the Sabbath or a Sabbath replacement came with those that sought to make Christians keep parts of the Old Testament law. However, we have already seen from Romans 14 that Christians are free to regard whatever day they want as the right time to worship. Those who claim that Christians must keep the Sabbath are wrong regardless whether they think that is Saturday or Sunday. They are free in Christ to make that a special day of worship if they so desire, but they cannot require it of other believers. Frankly, we gather on Sunday for two reasons. First, the long standing tradition of doing so that started in the Book of Acts, and second, in our society more people have that day off from work than any other day. It is the most convenient day for most people to gather for worship. Sunday itself is not sacred except that we have made it so.
Let me point out something else from the Acts 20:6 passage that might help make this point that the day and even the time we gather to worship the Lord is in the realm of our freedom in Christ. We can gather on the day and at the time we believe is best as we choose. Paul is in Ephesus and he has gathered with the believers there on the first day of the week. He starts talking with them, intending to depart by ship on the next day. The text says he “prolonged his message until midnight.” How long is it reasonable to assume Paul was speaking? Did he start Sunday morning at 11 A.M. like most churches in America? Or did he start in the evening?
Consider another factor. Would Sunday have been a “day off” for most people in a pagan land in the ancient world? These folks would have been gathering in the evening, not the morning. There would have been some Jewish Christians present and Paul is Jewish. If you consider that Jewish people counted the day as starting with sunset instead of sunrise, this may have been what we consider Saturday evening. In either case, Saturday evening or Sunday evening, it is obvious that their practices were different from our own (I have preached some long messages, but I have never prolonged until midnight!).
Some might think that this freedom means that we can do whatever we want whenever we want. That is true only to the degree that we are still fulfilling all of the other principles that apply. While Christians are not commanded to keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath principle of rest and worshiping the Lord does still apply. Remember that Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man’s benefit. We need the rest. We also need time in which we can give greater attention to the worship of God than is possible when we are distracted by the daily duties of working life. That is a concern that I have as a pastor. Too often people view going to church as putting their time in with God after which they are free to pursue anything else they want. That is the wrong attitude. The whole life of the Christian should revolve around their relationship with the Lord, not just one day a week, much less a couple of hours on one day a week.
I fear that too many Christians use their time off work to simply pursue their own hobbies with little real thought about the Lord. The principles I discussed in the sermon on leisure last Labor Day need to be applied. Take advantage of your leisure time to actively pursue your relationship with God and serve Him. Too many professing Christians use their leisure time the same way the rest of the world does in trying to satisfy the lusts of the flesh, eyes and boastful pride of life. People complain they do not have time to study or even read their Bible, pray and serve the Lord, but the truth is that for most people, it is their many leisure activities that consume the time and energy they should be putting into walking with the Lord. Let me challenge you to not only step out of the American rat race, but also to not be a leisure lemming of doing what everyone else does. Use your time off work to fulfill goals that have eternal value. Set aside at lest one day a week to both rest and actively focus on the Lord.
Another principle in regards to putting one day above another is that we also need to cooperate with other Christians so that we can gather together with them as Hebrews 10:24,25 tells us. “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another]; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” Many people who profess to be Christians gather with other believers to worship God only at their convenience. Their freedom becomes a covering for their own selfishness. This only shows they have a wrong understanding about worship and why Christians gather together. First, worship is about God, not us and our convenience. That is true regardless of how I regard any particular day. Second, getting together with other believers is more about giving than getting, and the opportunity for doing it may not be convenient.
Whether you regard Sunday as being above other days or not, it is the day when the folks of this and most other congregations assemble together for worship and encouragement. Perhaps some day there will be enough interest to start a Saturday evening service, but until then, we assemble on Sunday. Don’t be one of those that forsake it when it is inconvenient to come. Your absence hurts both you and the rest of the body. There are many legitimate reasons for not being here – sickness, taking care of someone else, out of town, ministry in another place, etc., but sleeping in because you stayed up too late on Saturday night is not one of them. There are those with jobs that must work on Sunday, such as police, fire, medical, and emergency services, etc., but we have quickly become a society in which Christians in all sorts of non-essential jobs miss the worship service because they are working. Others miss the services because of sports or other hobbies they are involved in. The point here is not about working or participating in sports or a hobby on Sunday. I work every Sunday. It is up to you about how you regard that particular day. The point is about what you value more than assembling with other believers for worship and encouragement. While I think our society was better off when blue laws restricted what could be done on Sundays, not having those laws have allowed what is in people’s hearts to be clearly demonstrated. What do your actions demonstrate about your heart?
Holidays. These same principles we have discussed concerning the Sabbath also apply to all holidays. Remember that “holiday” is the conjunction of the words “Holy” and “Day.” The word was originally reserved for days set aside from normal labor in order to observe a day in a special way for religious reasons. The meaning of the word has expanded from its religious connotations to include any day in which you are not working at your normal job for any reason. Americans still observe several holidays that have a religious origin such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but we have many more that are either political (Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, President’s Day) or social (Labor Day). Many people use the term as a synonym of “vacation.”
At the time Paul was writing, there were many religious holidays practiced by the Jews, most of which were commanded in the Old Testament for them to observe, but some had developed as Jewish traditions. Early Jewish Christians often continued to observe those days not only because they were part of their culture, but because they still thought they were necessary in appeasing God. That latter reason was of great concern to Paul.
We looked at Colossians 2:16, 17 earlier, but look at it again. Paul writes, “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a [mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” In this passage Paul is simply warning the Colossians not to get hung up on such religious holidays for they were only shadows of what was to come in Christ. He wanted to make sure their focus was properly on Jesus. They could participate or not participate as they chose as long as they did not stray from the centrality of Jesus Christ.
In Galatians 4:9-11 Paul is much stronger in dealing with religious holidays because these folks had gone back to observing them as a means of appeasing God. They had departed from the gospel of God’s grace received through faith to righteousness achieved through works. Paul writes, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.”
In comparing these two passages it is clear that it is not the holiday itself or the observation of it that important, but the reason for its observation that is critical. That is still true today. Some Messianic Jewish groups advocate observing Old Testament holidays for various reasons, and there are others that are vehemently against them for various reasons. However, from what Paul writes in these two passages it appears that there is nothing inherently wrong with an Old Testament religious holiday as long is it remembered that it is a “shadow of what is to come” and that the reality is Jesus Christ. But that same holiday can be a “weak and worthless elemental thing” if it is a return to Old Testament law. We cannot earn God’s favor by keeping the Mosaic Law. We gain God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and then strive to be holy because we love Him. We obey the Law of Christ and strive to apply the principles of His Word in our lives as a means of worship, not as a means of salvation.
When it comes to other holidays, the same principles we have learned over the last few months apply. We must think through the purpose of them and the reasons for our own participation or non-participation in them. Are we glorifying God or taking away from His glory? Are we becoming more like Jesus or are we feeding the lusts of our flesh, eyes and boastful pride of life? Is it hindering us or other believers in their walk with God? Are we able to use it as a means to proclaim the gospel or is it assimilating us into the culture?
I hope you clearly understand these foundational principles for they apply in all the other areas of our lives. You are free in Christ to do or not do many things, but your choices are to be directed by the Holy Spirit in keeping with God’s Word. Even while rejoicing in your freedom, you are to pursue holiness. The goal of the Christian life is not our own “success,” however that is defined. It is not our own happiness. It is not even about the success or happiness of other people. Our freedom in Christ is not for the purpose of being able to do what we want when we want how we want. The goal of the Christian life is to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus Christ every day. Our freedom in Christ is a major part of being like Christ. He followed the leading of the Holy Spirit in keeping with God’s Word instead of living by a list of cultural and religious rules made up by men. We are to do the same. My earnest prayer is that all that we have covered in these last 16 messages will help you to do just that.
May each of us glorify God by becoming more like Jesus Christ, and may we help others to also be His disciples.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the word “day” is said. Talk with your parents about your family’s practice of regarding or not regarding one day as above another and the reasons why.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the main principle in deciding whether you can or cannot participate in a certain practice? How does the call to be holy balance with being free in Christ? What Biblical principles guide us in being both holy and free? What is the Sabbath and when did God establish it? What are its purposes? How is it made for man? What is the Christians obligation toward the Sabbath? Why? How do Christians break the principle of equivocation on this issue? What is the real issue about whether a person regards a day or not? What evil does the legalist and the libertine have in common? What is the relationship of the Sabbath and Sunday? Why do most Christians assemble together for worship on Sunday? Should Christians worship on Sunday? Why or why not? How should you respond to a Seventh Day Adventist’s claims? What general time of day did the Ephesians gather in Acts 20:6? What is the significance of this fact? What Sabbath principles should Christians apply in their lives? What are some of the ways Christians should use their leisure time? In our own church, what are legitimate reasons for missing Sunday Morning Worship? What are illegitimate reasons? How should Christians respond to Jewish Holidays? Why? Other Holidays? Why? What is the goal of the Christian life? What is the purpose of our freedom in reaching that goal? How are you doing at fulfilling that goal?
Sermon Notes – January 4, 2004
Holy & Free, Part 16 – Holy Days
For comments, please e-mail gbcwfny@Juno.com – Mark the subject line “Web Comment” or “Web ?” so that we know your e-mail is not SPAM