Is the fourth commandment morally binding? When God commands His people in Exodus 20:8 to, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” – are Christians under the New Covenant morally obligated and bound to keep this command? On the surface, it would seem that there is no such obligation, if we were to survey the evangelical landscape at large.
Why with the strong influence of Dispensationalism to the modern-day revival of Antinomianism, both of which advocate the false premise that since a Christian is “under grace” he is no longer morally bound to keep God’s moral law – it is really no wonder that in the last hundred years, “keeping the Sabbath” as God commanded, has virtually disappeared from the thinking, not to mention the practice, of today’s evangelical Christian. To raise the question then, “Is the fourth commandment morally binding?”, is to invite either the strongest hostile aversion to the very idea, calling forth accusations like, “That’s legalism!”; or it is simply to receive a blank stare indicating that no one is home – because they have no clue as to what you even mean by the question. “What’s the fourth commandment?,” they would say.
But despite either reaction to this leading question, we must answer it because Scripture itself forces the issue. The first and most important point to be made, as to the moral obligation of Sabbath-keeping, is that this was a creation ordinance before it was inscribed into God’s moral law (Gen. 2:2-3). Like marriage and work, God instituted Sabbath-keeping for man in his innocence before the Fall. This fact alone establishes the moral obligation of the Sabbath, as well as, its perpetuity. Moreover, this fact also builds up what Jesus Himself declared in Mark 2:27, that, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” From Creation before the Fall, God made the Sabbath for man – to benefit him spiritually, morally, and physically.
Furthermore, the Sabbath was made for man in general, not the Jews in particular. This is a crucial point because many believe today that the Sabbath was purely a Jewish ordinance and ceremony, to be strictly kept as a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews. While it is true that there were “sabbaths” to be kept in connection with Israel’s ceremonial laws as a sign of the Mosaic economy (Exod. 31:16-17), which now have been fulfilled by Christ (Col. 2:16-17); yet, the Sabbath commandment in the moral law stands on the grounds of what God established in creation (cf. Exod. 20:11), which obviously predates and supersedes the Jews and any covenant God made with them.
But of course, the second important reason for the moral obligation of Sabbath-keeping, is simply that this commandment is a part of the moral law itself. If I were to ask any professing Christian: “Are you under obligation by God to have no other gods before Him, not to make any graven image and worship it, and not to take the Lord’s name in vain – how many believers do you suppose would honestly say, ‘Nope. Don’t have to keep that anymore?'” Or if I asked a fellow Christian: “Are you still under obligation to honor your parents (as well as all human authorities), not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to slander, and not to covet anyone’s possessions – do you think he would honestly reply, ‘I think I can safely ignore all those commandments?’ ” To be fair, I really don’t believe any true Christian would deny their moral responsibility to keep those commandments.
Well then, why not the Sabbath? “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” is as much a part of the moral law as, “You shall not steal.” It’s a divine command with a moral obligation. To say that the Sabbath command is not morally binding, is to deny the moral law as a whole (cf. Jam. 2:9-11). The Ten Commandments stand and fall together, because they sum up what it means to love God and to love our neighbor. This is why they continue in the New Covenant, as God writes them on the minds and hearts of the new nature (Jer. 31:31-34; eg. Rom. 7:22); and why the Holy Spirit therefore enables every believer to fulfill them (Rom. 8:4). Hence, the fourth commandment, with the other nine, is morally binding for the New Covenant believer, demonstrating the fruit of saving grace.