Chariots of Apathy

Many will recognize the tribute made with that title. The Christian testimony of Scots athlete Eric Liddel was honored in the movie Chariots of Fire, ranked 19th in the British Film Institute’s list of Top 100 British films. That aspect of discipleship we call testimony is a good place to begin today.

Mr. Liddel had strong convictions. According to the 15th Psalm, having ethical convictions which direct one’s course in life regardless of the consequences to self is a trait of the man who can dwell on God’s holy hill…of a man who will never be shaken.

And strong convictions are a mighty element of sound Christian testimony, in part because they are so rare and refreshing. Men and women of conviction are the salt and light which Christ has declared His people to be.

Mr. Liddel was firmly persuaded that the Lord would be displeased if he participated in an Olympic foot race to be held on the day of the week known as the Lord’s day or the Christian Sabbath, popularly called Sunday. His very public testimony was to stand strong for the fourth commandment and its practical application as summarized in the A.D. 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith:

“This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”

During the earthly ministry of Christ (the Lord of the Sabbath), He encountered men who took offense when He miraculously healed on the Sabbath day. He upbraided them for their abusive interpretation of the fourth commandment. Such an encounter can be found at Matthew 12:1-14.

On other occasions, our synagogue-attending Lord strove against those who used the vain traditions of men to turn the Sabbath into a dreary burden instead of a joyful rest. For example, see John 5:8-10 and Mark 2:23ff, in which latter passage Jesus teaches that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

As with all His commandments, God has our best welfare in mind in giving them to us. That is why He inspired His prophet Isaiah to write:

“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)

Over many years in ministry, this writer has been party to many discussions about whether certain activities are legitimately regarded as “duties of necessity and mercy.” What specific activities are acceptable, which are not? If we devise a list, we are in danger of falling into the same trap that the once well intentioned Pharisees did.

And it is evident in the church today that the Pharisaical mindset lives on with its oppressive error, but right alongside it in the church today is another unbiblical mindset, equally harmful. Contrary to Christ’s words at Matthew 5:17-19, some apparently think that the Sabbath has been abolished altogether.

As Christians we vigorously deny that the sixth commandment, “you shall not kill,” no longer applies. We rightly would be horrified at the suggestion that God changed His mind about the seventh and eighth commandments, “you shall not commit adultery” and “you shall not steal,” respectively.

But when it comes to the fourth of the Big Ten, “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” it seems that consistency vanishes! Some among us – perhaps thinking of Christ’s corrective words about Sabbath abuse – have come to believe that God has changed His mind on this one! Is there no longer any practical application of this commandment, which like the other nine find their origin at creation?

Idolatry, blasphemy, dishonoring of parental and other God appointed human authority, murder, adultery, theft, false witness bearing and coveting did not become sins when God gave Moses the Decalogue and the rest of the Law. They were sins already. So with Sabbath forgetfulness or despising. God did not tell Moses and the Israelites, “I am now instituting the Sabbath for the first time ever.” He said, “remember the Sabbath.” Remember something that has been part and parcel of righteous living since creation.

When instead of remembering we take a “fuggedaboutit” approach to the Lord’s day, we miss a wonderful opportunity for TESTIMONY to the world! By going along with the world in counting the Lord’s day as just part of the “weekend” are we not conforming to the world, contrary to God’s word?

(A typical month at a glance calendar shows four or five Sundays in the left column of its table or grid layout. Each of those Sundays is the first day in its row. They do not conclude the weeks, they begin each week. Saturdays appear in the right column, ending each row. Saturday is actually the seventh and last day of every week. So the “weekend” is properly understood as perhaps Friday evening through Saturday evening. Mondays are in the second column because Monday is the second day of the week!)

How many opportunities to speak the glories of the Gospel have been lost because an unbeliever had no reason to ask a Christian, “why do you regard Sunday as so special?”

The primary answer to that question, the foremost reason we regard Sunday as special is because it was on the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead. That historical event upon which all our salvation depends was of such redemptive significance that it changed the day of the week upon which the fourth commandment was to be observed, as the Confession of Faith articulates:

“As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.” (See Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1,2, Revelation 1:10)

God rested from His work of creation on the last day of the world’s first week. About four thousand years later God incarnate, after accomplishing His work of redemption, entered into His rest on the first day of another week. Indeed, as we read at Hebrews 4:3, we who have believed enter into that rest; we cease from our vain attempts at self-justification and rest on the finished work of Christ, receiving all the blessings that depend upon that finished work. This rest is eternal.

For the sake of the Gospel there is all the more reason to testify to that redeeming work and eternal rest by observing a temporal, earthly reflection of it, namely by continuing to keep the fourth commandment. We commemorate the resurrection of Jesus and testify to it not just once a year on a day called Easter or Resurrection Day, but on the first day of every week!

And if we labor to remember the Sabbath in this way, we will find much opportunity to speak to the world around us for whom the Lord’s day is just the finale of the weekend, just a day off work to do my own thing, just another day to forget and marginalize my Creator.

Endeavor to remember the Sabbath even in your every day speech. Why not make a habit of calling it the Lord’s day instead of Sunday, especially when speaking with those who are strangers to the things of God? Yes, you will get quizzical looks and perhaps sour or even hostile reactions, but that’s good! You are being salty and bright!

Carefully, prayerfully determine according your Scripture filled conscience what activities you will and will not do on that day. Be fully persuaded according to the infallible, authoritative Word of God as it applies to your particular calling and circumstances – avoiding both the Pharisaical and forgetful pitfalls discussed above.

You might not become a champion Olympic runner, but as your sanctifying of the Lord God in your heart includes keeping His fourth commandment from the heart, you will become by His power and grace a stronger, saltier, brighter witness – able to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. (cf. 1 Peter 3:15)

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