LCG Article

Satan’s Little Shop of Deceptions: The “Ceremonial Sabbath”

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Satan sells a false choice and tries to undermine God’s seventh-day Sabbath, but God’s Church understands that God’s law reveals His character and the Sabbath’s holiness.

Dexter B. Wakefield

From time to time, I like to take a conceptual peek into a very dangerous place: Satan’s Little Shop of Deceptions. If you are in the market for a deception, you will likely find yourself standing in front of this particular establishment—with the proprietor beckoning you in for a sales pitch. Today, we will examine some deceptions Satan tries to sell regarding God’s Sabbath.

It’s first thing in the morning at Satan’s Little Shop of Deceptions. Things are quiet now, early in the day, and Satan stands in the door of his shop, leaning up against the doorpost. It is the most successful business in town, and he never seems to tire of selling his wares. The inventory consists exclusively of deceptions, which are extremely useful to the customers. Each deception is tailor made—Satan will size you up and put one on you.

You see, these deceptions allow the customers to do something wrong while still believing they are doing the right thing. There is a big market for that. Today, Satan expects the usual customer mix—politicians, mainstream ministers, professors, even other businessmen. All are in the market for a deception that will let them do something they want to do, but cannot justify—that is, until they buy one of Satan’s products. Satan’s power is mainly the power to deceive and tempt—and such other powers that God may allow from time to time. And when it comes to marketing deceptions, the old Adversary is Chairman of the Board of a booming business.

Now, Satan always enjoys it when a politician shows up, because they make for such an easy sale. But today, as he looks down the busy sidewalk, one person catches his interest. Here comes his favorite type of customer—a mainstream “Christian” minister. Satan sizes him up as he approaches. This particular subject seems angry and frustrated, and Satan instinctively knows that this guy is “in the market.”

As the man passes by, Satan calls to him, “What’s the matter, pal? You seem upset.”

The minister replies, “I’ve got a theological problem—it’s the Ten Commandments. I don’t mind the ones like ‘no murder’ or ‘no theft’—but I have zero interest in keeping the one about the Sabbath. I’ve got to find a way out of it—and to persuade others not to keep it as well. But a plain biblical commandment is hard to ignore! I’ve tried the argument that the commandments are all nailed to the cross and done away with, but how do you expect people to believe that murder and theft are no longer sins? It’s hard to sell that to anyone, and besides, I only want to do away with one of them—the Fourth Commandment, the one about the Sabbath.”

He continues, becoming more agitated. “I’ve tried telling people that when Christ died, the Ten Commandments were tossed up in the air and only nine came down—but that’s not exactly biblical, so I lose that argument every time. I’ve tried telling people that they’re no longer called the Ten Commandments, they’re called ‘The Nine Suggestions’but I can’t find that in the Bible, either. What can I do?”

Satan is gleeful. “Boy, are you in the market,” he says. “Come on in! I’ve got a bit of flawed theology that will allow you to deceive yourself and others about the Sabbath commandment—you’re gonna love it!”

The minister is intrigued and cautiously enters the shop. “So, how does this work?” he asks.

First,” Satan continues, “we divide God’s laws into three categories—the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the civil law. We should avoid discussing the fact that the Bible doesn’t say that, because it’s important that people accept that division without much analysis. The moral laws, the ones we say you can keep, are the commandments and laws that have their basis in the character of God—such as ‘You shall not kill’ or ‘You shall not steal.’ Moral laws, we’ll say, are generally considered to be based on God’s own character and are therefore in force today.”

The minister replies, “Sounds okay so far….”

Satan picks up his sales pitch. “We say that those laws in the Bible that are ceremonial or civil in nature are not universal moral laws. Civil laws can vary from nation to nation. For instance, if you drive a car in the United States, you don’t have to obey the traffic laws of China. On the other hand, the ceremonial laws concern activities that may be okay at some time and not okay at another time. For instance, killing an animal for a burnt offering could be done lawfully only by a Levitical priest, but you can burn a barbeque in your backyard all you want. Ceremonial laws apply only to the Jews—like the sacrifices. Those are the ones you should not keep, because they’ve been done away with, due to the ending of the Old Covenant.”

The minister says, “Okay, I guess… go on.”

Satan moves to close the sale. “Great! Secondly, we note that the Fourth Commandment forbids working on a particular day, Saturday. Now, here we have to engage in some really creative theology: Since working isn’t a sin the rest of the week, work isn’t contrary to God’s character—like murder and theft are—so, bingo! We reason that the Sabbath commandment is not a moral law and hence, it must be ceremonial—and, therefore, done away with! Neat argument, huh?”

The minister replies, “A bit contorted—but I love it! I’m buying one of those deceptions for every member of my Sunday congregation!”

Satan chuckles, “Another satisfied customer! I think you’ll qualify for my high-volume discount.”

The Sabbath Commandment Is Comprehensive

Can you spot the deception in Satan’s sales pitch? He relies on the fact that many people do not study their Bibles and therefore do not know what the Fourth Commandment actually says about the Sabbath. Those who conclude that the Sabbath commandment is ceremonial rely, in part, on the false assumption that it states, You shall not work on the seventh day. That misrepresents it, as the actual biblical commandment is quite different. You cannot reach a correct conclusion if you begin with an incorrect assumption.

The Sabbath commandment is comprehensive and states four things: (1) What we are commanded to do, (2) when we are commanded to do it, (3) how we are commanded to do it, and (4) why we are commanded to do it.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8–11).

What we are commanded to do is remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. When we do it is on the seventh day in a seven-day cycle; when the sun goes down on Friday evening, the time becomes holy for one day, and we are commanded to keep it holy.

How we keep it holy is by ceasing our weekly work and having a day of rest from our labors. If we do our weekly commercial activity during that time, we profane what God has set apart—sanctified—for a special purpose. Note that the Sabbath commandment begins and ends with mention of the holiness of the Sabbath. It is God who defines holiness—we do not get to modify what He says it is, and if we profane what He has hallowed, it is sin. The idea that we can disobey what God commands and not sin is a deception, no matter how it is rationalized.

Why God hallows the Sabbath—a big subject, stated briefly—is that God accomplished His work in six days and the Sabbath demonstrates that completion, in both this age and the accomplishment of God’s plan of salvation in the millennial Sabbath to come, which is the Kingdom of God. In an important sense, the Sabbath preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom of God every week. It is a weekly reminder of the true Gospel—and you can imagine how Satan hates that.

The Sabbath was sanctified just after God’s recreation of the earth, not at Mt. Sinai. Genesis 2:1–3 states, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” In Exodus 16:28–29, we can also read that the Sabbath existed prior to the events at Mt. Sinai (also see Exodus 20:11).

Nowhere does the Bible say that God has removed or transferred the sanctity of His Sabbath. Historically, that was done as a tradition of men, beginning in the second century AD. In fact, the ongoing sanctity of the Sabbath for the people of God is affirmed in the New Testament. “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest [the proper translation of the Greek word sabbatismos] for the people of God. For he who has entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9–10, cf. v. 4, WEB; cf. LSV, ESV). The Sabbath was kept holy by the Apostles after the death of Christ (Acts 16:13; Hebrews 4:9–10). It will still be holy shortly before the coming of Christ (Matthew 24:20) and will be kept holy in the Kingdom of God (Isaiah 66:23). It is holy time today.

God’s Church Understands the Sabbath

The Church of God has long taught that the actual Sabbath commandment is “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” In Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath? Dr. Roderick C. Meredith wrote:

Notice that God said to “remember” the Sabbath. They had already been instructed about the Sabbath from creation and again in Exodus 16—as we have seen. Then God said to “keep” it holy. You cannot keep cold water hot! Likewise, the Sabbath had to have been made holy or Israel could not have kept it that way! Only God can make something “holy”—in this case, a period of time.... So we know that Jesus never transgressed God’s law—including the fourth commandment about keeping the Sabbath holy (pp. 9–10, 13).

The Sabbath is holy time; we are commanded to keep it holy, so the spirit of the Sabbath commandment is in its holiness and sanctity. We magnify the Sabbath commandment when we delight in its holiness (Isaiah 58:13–14) and in setting it apart from the rest of the week.

Satan Sells a False Choice

Satan loves a false choice, which is a type of fallacy in reasoning. A false choice usually involves a question presenting you with a choice that excludes the correct answer. For instance, you may be asked to choose between “Choice A” and “Choice B,” while the real answer is “Choice C.” The false choice in this particular Sabbath deception forces you to choose whether the Fourth Commandment is a “moral law” or a ceremonial law. That false choice prevents you from asking the real question—whether it is a sin to profane what God has made holy. The Bible says that it most certainly is.

Here is the false choice as one group presents it:

Moral laws are generally considered timeless, eternal, and universal, based on God’s own character. They are thus enforced today…. Some people claim that the weekly Sabbath is a moral law, and therefore required today. They often claim this simply because they assume that the Ten Commandments are all moral laws…. The Sabbath law [commandment] says that behavior that is perfectly acceptable one day is forbidden the next, merely because it is a different day of the week. But God’s morality does not change with the days of the week. If it is moral one day, it is moral on all others. God has the right to require different things on different days, but this would be a ceremonial law [commandment], not a law about what is moral all the time (“Old Testament Laws: Is the Sabbath a Moral Law or a Ceremonial Law?,”

God’s word disagrees and exposes the error in the above statement; the Sabbath day is always holy. Six days we work, and one day is set apart for a divine purpose. The Bible states, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work,” but it also says that God made the seventh day in that cycle holy, and we are commanded to “keep it holy.” And profaning what God has made holy is sin—a violation of His commandment.

Nowhere in His Bible does God ever remove the sanctification of that day. Roman Catholic theologians assert that the sanctification of the seventh day was transferred to the first day of the week on Rome’s authority, after the time of the Apostles. They readily acknowledge that the sanctification of Sunday is not scriptural. But Jesus said, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3).

God’s Law Reveals His Character

As to the division of God’s law into categories of moral law, ceremonial law, and civil law, God’s word puts it differently. The biblical division is that of commandments, statutes, and judgments (1 Kings 8:54–58). According to the Apostle Paul, an expert in the law, the sacrifices were “added because of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19). Added to what? Because of transgression of what?

Even if one accepts the “moral law” rationale, should not God’s holiness be “considered timeless, eternal, and universal, based on God’s own character” as we read earlier? The Bible answers with “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15–16; cf. Leviticus 11:44; 19:2). Holiness is certainly part of God’s character. God is holy, and to profane something that He has made holy is sin—and sin is most certainly a moral issue.

The Spirit of the Sabbath Command Is in the Sabbath’s Holiness

Because the Fourth Commandment states, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” the spirit of the Sabbath commandment is in the Sabbath’s holiness. Similar to the Fifth Commandment—which states, “Honor your father and your mother”—in the Sabbath commandment God specifically prescribes something that we must do: keep holy what God has made holy. We should delight in the holiness and sanctity of the Sabbath, and seek to magnify that sanctity.

Sadly, some who keep the Sabbath would rather put as much of the week’s customary activity in God’s holy time as they can reason is permissible—even if it involves some of their weekly work or commercial activity, they reason that they honor God if they think that the activity makes the Sabbath more pleasurable and restful. That is the wrong approach—it does not honor God and does not evidence love for the holiness and sanctity of the Sabbath. Those who love the holiness of the Sabbath seek to magnify it. Of course, it is good to do enjoyable, restful things on the Sabbath, as long as those things are consistent with its sanctity. For example, a special Friday night dinner or fellowship time with the brethren during the day portion is special to the Sabbath and especially enjoyable. And, of course, praising God at Sabbath services is very pleasant. Taking full advantage of the Preparation Day (which begins on Thursday at sunset) is helpful and usually needed.

God said through His prophet Isaiah, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13–14).

We honor God when we delight in the holiness of His Sabbath and, therefore, seek to magnify it. The mainstream “minister” mentioned earlier in the story thought the holiness of the Sabbath to be a burdensome thing to be avoided. But for God’s people, it is a great blessing. It is our weekly picture of God’s millennial Sabbath to come. Would it not be wonderful if your Sabbath could be as sanctified and set apart from your week as Christ’s millennial Sabbath will be from this profane age?