There is a great contrast in the Word of God between the economy of the law and the economy of grace, yet it is the one that is least understood. The principles of law and grace can be mutually destructive, but it is impossible for them to exist together. For “if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it is of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Ro 11:6). To mix these two principles is to dull the keen, hard edge of the law and to destroy the blessed and glorious liberty of grace.
According to Scripture, the law—by which we mean the Mosaic system of statutes, ordinances, and commandments—had a definite beginning in point of time and a definite termination. The economy of grace likewise had its inception at a specific time and will continue until a specific time.
Some claim that the law always existed. It has not; law, as a principle existed from the day that God commanded Adam to refrain from eating of the fruit of the tree during the garden. But the Mosaic law, designated as the Mosaic code, came into being with Moses. The Scripture states: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17). This verse does not imply that general law never existed before Moses, any more than it implies that grace and truth were not in the world before the manifestation in the flesh of the blessed eternal God the Son. The law of the Jewish commonwealth or the nation Israel did begin with Moses and the specific display of grace and truth as seen in the New Testament did come by Jesus Christ. The law as an active force has ceased to exist because the death of Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the law (Ga 3:7, 16; Ro 10:3-4). The Mosaic law terminated with the death of Christ on the cross in the sense that grace began when Christ came. There is now no difference between Jew and Gentile (Ro 10:12).
Law and grace should be distinguished between the respective groups addressed. The law was given to the nation Israel, not the church (Deut 4:44; 5:1ff; Jn 15:25; Ro 9:4). Regardless of these unequivocal statements of Scripture, some insist the law was meant for all mankind.
The Purpose of the Law
Law stands in contradistinction to grace with respect to its requirements. Israel had to meet these requirements before they could receive God’s blessings (Ro 10:5). Law says, “Do and live” and “Do to be.” In the grace economy, however, where the requirements are such because one has been accepted of God, the teachings are superhuman requirements. Grace says, “Live and do” and “Be to do.” In Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians, God asserts what He has done for the believer, then He declares what we are to do. Under the grace economy requirements are never met in the sense of paying a debt or an already due obligation. The Mosaic law required people to live up to standards without the power of the Spirit, but in the grace economy the standard is no less than a walk worthy of the high, holy, and glorious calling of sons of God in Christ Jesus (Jn 13:34, 35; Ro 12:1-2).
The law commands but grace exhorts. Failure to keep the law brings punishment; failure under grace results in child training (He 12:6-7). There is no divine enablement to keep the law under the Mosaic system for Israel. Israel lived under a theocracy. Believers under the economy of grace are empowered by the Spirit (Ro 8:3ff; Ga 5:18, 22-23).
Contrast Purposes of the Mosaic Law and Grace
There is a great difference between the principles of law and grace in terms of their purposes.
The Purpose of the Mosaic Law
The purpose of the Mosaic law is to show that man is guilty before God (Ro 3:19; 5:20; Ga 3:24). The law shows us our need for Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. It declares our utter lack of merit before God. It was added to give the added character of transgression against God’s character. In that sense, it is “holy, and just and good” but not in the sense that it rendered a person holy, just or good. The law made nothing perfect (He 7:19; Ro 4:14). The law cannot justify but it is only the means of defining sin (Ro 3:20).
The Purpose of Grace
The purpose of grace is to provide for the believer all that is necessary toward God and toward himself or herself (Eph 2:7). The law brings death, but grace provides life (2 Co 3:6-7). Law is the minister of death but grace the ministration of the Spirit. One results in condemnation and the other in righteousness.
The Sabbath Issue
The Sabbath issue revolves around the distinction between the economy of the law and the grace economy. The Jewish Sabbath was symbolic of the law. The economy of grace never commands the believer to keep the Sabbath. There is no “Christian Sabbath.”
Sabbath in Different Phases of Biblical Time
No Sabbath at Creation
Some claim that they find the institution of the Sabbath in Creation, even in Genesis 2:1-3. However, there is no indication that God gave the Sabbath to Adam. God did not “rest” because He was tired (Isa 40:28); He rested because His work of creation was finished. Even Adam himself had not labored at this point. It was God alone who rested in Genesis 2. The onus of proof rests on those who make the assertion that there was a Sabbath there—of which there is none.
Between Adam and Moses
The period from Adam to Moses covered over 2,500 years. The Sabbath was not referenced anywhere during that period. Moses later introduced the Sabbath (Gen 5:1ff). The Sabbath was embodied instituted by Moses at Mount Sinai. The ten commandments were given to the nation Israel.
During the Time of the Nation Israel
The purpose of the Sabbath was to remember what God did in delivering the nation from Egyptian bondage (Deut 5:15). The Sabbath was woven into the Mosaic covenant for it celebrates the nation Israel’s liberation from slavery. The Sabbath was a sign of that covenant (Ex 31:12-17; Ezek 20:12-17). God established the death penalty for those who violated the Sabbath (Ex 31:14-15; 35:2; Num 15:32-36).
The Sabbath, embodied quite distinctly in the ten commandments, was first instituted at Mount Sinai under Moses. The ten commandments were not for all mankind, but for Israel alone (Ex 20:2; Deut 4:12-14). The Sabbath was not given to Gentiles but to the Jews (Eph 2:11-12). If the Gentiles were strangers to the covenants (the ten commandments constituted a covenant), then how does the Sabbath relate to the Gentiles. Thus, the Sabbath was given to Israel for the purpose of worship (Ex 31:12-18; Exe 20:12-15). It is apparent that the Sabbath was given to the nation Israel; there is nothing in the previous passages about the Sabbath given to anyone but the nation Israel.
The ten commandments were not isolated commands of a religious code but integral to the Mosaic law given to a national entity. Infringement of the ten commandments under the national entity of Israel meant the death penalty (Num 15:32-36). Do Sabbath keepers of our day impose this penalty for not keeping the Sabbath? No, because most nations of the world are not theocracies like the nation Israel. They were to offer two lambs for sacrifice on the Sabbath; no church does this today (Num 28:9-10). The issue was that the Sabbath was ceremonial.
Period of Christ
Christ did not come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill the law (Mt 5:17; Ga 2:21; 3:21; Ro 10:5). This is what Christ did and not what we should do. He completely fulfilled every requirement of the law.
Christ asserted the words in Mark 2:27,28 to show the Sabbath related to Israel, not mankind in general. There is no indication that people should keep the Sabbath in the period of Christ or the church. The Lord reminded the Pharisees that the Sabbath was for man, not vice versa, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). The purpose of the Sabbath was not legalistic impositions on people.
Jesus observance of the Sabbath does not constitute strong proof for its continuance. He lived under the Old Testament law and the economy of the nation Israel; He was “born under the law” (Ga 4:4). He was the Lord of the Sabbath, so the Sabbath did not control Him (Mk 2:28). He worked on the Sabbath (Jn 5:17-18). He deliberately healed on the Sabbath to show His superiority over the Sabbath (Lu 13:16).
The Church Economy
The moral law of God is not identical with the Mosaic Ten Commandments. Laws based upon the same moral principle are not necessarily identical. When we say that the Ten Commandments are done away, we mean that believers are not under the Mosaic law with its penalties, a law that is under the general moral law of God. The penalty for violation of each of the Ten Commands was death. The distinction is that of the difference between Israel and the church. Christians are not under the law but grace (Ro 6:14; Ga 5:18). They have been redeemed from the law (Ga 4:5). There is thus a distinction between the moral law the Mosaic Ten Commandments. The institution of the Mosaic economy does not comprehend all of God’s moral law.
There is no sharp distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law under the Mosaic law. Second Corinthians 3:7-11 says that the Ten Commandments were “done away” for the Christian. The moral law was the ministry of death (Ex 31:13; 35:2). The ministry of death was done away (2 Co 3:11). The Sabbath has no claim on the Christian. No church today exercises the death penalty for not keeping the Sabbath; they should, however, if they operated on the Old Testament system.
The New Testament never commanded the Gentile convert to keep the Sabbath; it was given to the nation Israel alone (Ex 31:13). The law was a complete unit. Any violation of one point is a violation of all. James said that the law was a unit (Jas 2:8; cf. Lev19:18). A single violation makes one guilty of the whole law (Jas 2:10). The law cannot be ended without doing away with it all.
All but one (the Sabbath) of the Ten Commandments were repeated in the New Testament. The nine referenced for the church age deal with things that are inherently wrong. The only command of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament was the Sabbath. No Christian falls short by not keeping it (Co 2:16).
Christians live under a higher law than the Mosaic law (Mt 5:17-48). The Holy Spirit enables us to live on supernatural empowerment. Christ Himself fulfilled the righteous demands of the law (Ro 8:4).
Galatians 4:10-11 warns against reverting to special holy days of the nation Israel. Any attempt to impose Jewish festivals on Gentiles is wrong.
God regards the law as a yoke of bondage from which the Christian has set him or her free (Ga 5:1). The Mosaic economy was set aside by the death of Christ (Co 2:14). The old economy was changed to something else by the Lord; it was regulations “against us” and “stood opposed to us” (2 Co 3:14). The Sabbath, special days, months and seasons or years were a “shadow of the things that were to come” (Co 2:16-17). If people revert to the Mosaic economy, then they become slaves to the “weak and miserable principles” (Col 2:20; Ga 4:9-10). These are people “whose faith is weak” (Ro 14:1-6). Paul gave no basis for imposing the Hebrew Sabbath on Christians; they are free from the burden of the law.
See further studies on Colossians 2 by beginning here: https://versebyversecommentary.com/colossians/colossians-216/
The Book of Acts
There is some evidence for keeping the Sabbath in the book of Acts because most early Christians were Jews, which was their normal day of worship (Acts 1:12; 13:14–44; 15:21; 17:2; 18:4; 20:7). There is no command in Acts to worship on the Sabbath; it merely records that it was the habit of some to do it. There is one reference to their worship on Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). There was a slow transition between keeping the Sabbath and the first day of the week (1 Co 16:2). Later Paul warned of Sabbath keeping as a standard for the new church age (Rom. 14:5; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16).
When God launched the church, the formal practice of Sabbath worship was set aside (Ro 14:5-6; Ga 4:9-10; Co 2:16). Jew and Gentile now worshiped together. God made it clear that He set free all believers (Jew and Gentile) from the Mosaic law at the Jerusalem Council (Ac 15:28f). Christians began worshiping on Sunday or the first day of the week (cf. John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
Every moral standard in the ten commandments except the Sabbath can be found in the New Testament. There is no command to keep the Sabbath during the church age. Believers have the freedom to not keep the Sabbath (Ro 14:5).
In Romans 14:1-15:6 Paul argues that eating food in itself is not wrong (Ro 14:20-21), even food offered to idols. This introduced teaching contrary to Leviticus 11:1-44 and Deuteronomy 14:3-21. He did this because the new economy of grace had begun, and it preempted the economy of the law. However, Paul introduces a qualification—don’t damage the weak believer who is not convinced about this doctrine (Ro 14:1-4). This falls into the category of “doubtful things,” things which are not clear in Scripture. Although there is a concern for the “weak” believer in holding onto legalistic scruples, Paul affirms that their issue is of no concern. These issues are no longer valid for the church since believers are no longer under the Mosaic law. He argues that all days are alike including the Sabbath (Ro 14:5).
Those who wish to keep the Sabbath is no problem if they do not deem it as a special day or that they require others to keep it. Those who consider every day the same should not despise others for keeping it. They should leave it to personal conviction albeit that conviction is “weak. ”
For further study on Romans 14:5, begin with this study: https://versebyversecommentary.com/romans/romans-145/
The Book of Hebrews
The book of Hebrews anticipated a different “sabbath rest” (He 4:1-11). The Greek term sabbatismos appears nowhere else in the New Testament. The implication is that there is a superior rest to the Sabbath, the rest in Christ’s finished work (He 9).
The Sabbath was of central importance in the Old Testament. Granting that, why are Gentile converts given no instruction to keep it in the epistles? However, assuming that the Sabbath was annulled then we have our explanation.
The nature of the church is entirely different from the nation Israel with its Mosaic laws. The baptism of the Spirit (not water baptism) shows that every believer in the church is identified with Christ in everything (Ro 6:1-10; 1 Co 12:13; Ga 3:17). In Christ, the believer has no obligation to the law because Christ fulfilled the law in every respect (Ro 6:14). He delivered the believer from the law. He is complete in Christ (Co 2:16-17). The law was merely a “shadow” of the “substance” (reality). The law was a “shadow of good things to come” (He 10:1). The Sabbath merely pointed to Christ and it is fulfilled in Him.
The believer during the economy of the church has a Sabbath-rest but it is not the Sabbath day (He 4:1-10, especially verse 9). God set aside the whole Mosaic system including the Sabbath when He set up the new economy of the church.
Observation of the Sabbath is not required for believers today because the new covenant (not the Mosaic covenant) Christ fulfilled its provisions. The Sabbath was merely a type of “God’s rest” in the New Testament economy (He 4:1-10). Christians are to enter the “rest” that God provided in Christ (He 4:11).
The Sabbath was no longer in force in the church since believers are no longer under the Mosaic covenant, the Sinai covenant. The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant that celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Israel, not Christians were freed from Egypt.
For further studies in Hebrews 4, begin with this study: https://versebyversecommentary.com/hebrews/48296/
The Kingdom Economy
God ended the requirement for the Sabbath when Israel failed to accept the Messiah when He came. It was prophesied that the Sabbath would cease in Hosea 2:11. This included not only the Sabbath day but all her Sabbaths. When God set aside Israel as a nation with her Sabbaths, He launched a new entity—the church.
Upon completion of God’s purpose for the church, He will re-establish Israel’s Sabbaths. Matthew 24:20 indicates that the Sabbath will be reinstituted during the Great Tribulation, that would be shortly before the king age. This is the time of Jacob’s trouble (Isa 66:23; Ezek 46:1). Isaiah 56:1-8 reaffirms that the Sabbath will be extant during the kingdom. This means Israel will be reinstated in the Millennial Kingdom.
Upon Christ’s death God the entire Mosaic system passed away including the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). The Decalogue was embedded in the Mosaic law as a complete system. Romans 7:7 makes this clear, the Tenth Commandment is the “law.” “Thou shall not covet.” It is not possible for a New Testament believer to keep the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. The ceremonial law required its observance in the presence of God in the holy of holies, at the altar. It required a priesthood and later a temple. God withdrew all those requirements when He started the church. The Mosaic law was never subject to partial observance for it is a unit (Ro 3:19-20; Deut 27:26; Ga 3:10). To fail in one feature of the Mosaic system is fail in it all. It also mixes law and grace diluting both.
Believers during the church are not obligated to observe the Sabbath day because it was a sign of the Mosaic covenant. We now live under the new covenant of Christ.