Why don't Christians keep the Sabbath regulations as they were handed down in the Old Testament?
First of all, there is an assumption in this question that Christians don’t keep the Sabbath. That’s something I will challenge in a moment, but first let’s talk about the Sabbath.
The Sabbath regulations are lined out very clearly in the Old Testament, and outlined in several books, such as Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
One thing people (Christians) often forget about the Law is the fact that God established the Law with Israel—not the Church! Check out the following references from Exodus:
Then the LORD said to Moses,
"Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever...'"Exodus 31:12-13, 16-17 (NIV my emphasis)
Notice in this passage God speaks to Moses telling him to say to the Israelites that they must observe His Sabbath because it is a covenant sign between God and Israel. And again God says, “The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath.” Where did Christians come up with the assumption that this covenant sign was one that God extended beyond Israel?
Christians are not under the Mosaic covenant. We know this because when Jesus met with His disciples for the last time before His crucifixion, He raised the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” On that day He inaugurated a new covenant for God’s people and it is that covenant that we are currently under.
Secondly, there is nothing in the New Testament commanding believers to keep the Sabbath. In fact, quite the opposite. Obviously some early Christians struggled with this and even condemned others for not keeping the Sabbath in the traditional/biblical Jewish way. So Paul wrote:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV my emphasis)
And elsewhere Paul wrote:
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. Romans 14:5-6a (NIV)
When discussing how some people consider certain days more important than others Paul didn’t say, “But you should all consider the Sabbath day more important than others!” Instead he said, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
The simple fact is you cannot prove from the New Testament that Sabbath-keeping is required for believers. Especially in light of the fact that Paul clearly taught that such special days were “shadows” of the things to come—finding their fulfillment in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2, quoted above)
But the last assumption I want to challenge is that believers don’t keep the Sabbath. The writer of Hebrews treats this wonderfully in the fourth chapter of that letter, and declares that “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God…” 4:9.
He then goes on to show how believers in Christ can “keep” that Sabbath rest by declaring, “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” (4:3)
How is it that believing causes us to enter God’s rest? “…anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work…” (4:10)
Let’s look at these statements in order:
1. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God…”
2. “…we who have believed enter that rest…”
3. “…anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work…”
Jesus is the fulfillment of the biblical Sabbath because in Him we rest from our own work of trying to be good enough to earn our way into heaven, and we rest in the finished work that He has accomplished for us on the cross.
So the author of Hebrews boldly declares: “…we who have believed enter that rest…”
So do believers “keep” the Sabbath? Yes they do! By placing their faith in Jesus Christ and trusting that His work on the cross was sufficient to pay the penalty for our sins—and therefore resting in that work as complete and finished.