Rules or Relationship?

Dear Renea,

Hi.  Is it a sin not to go to church on Sunday?  Why or why not?  I know it’s a sin not to go to church at all due to the bible verse in Hebrews mentioning to not forsake the assembling of believers.  Is it a sin to go out to eat on Sunday, go shopping, grocery shopping, watch TV, go to the movies, play video games, miss church for a baseball game, etc on Sunday?  Take care.

Dear Sam,

Thanks for writing. You ask some good questions. And just like the answers to most good questions, the answer to your questions isn’t black and white and may lead to more questions. The answer to your questions is… maybe. Which means it isn’t an outright sin for everyone to do the things you mention, but depending upon one’s motives and personal convictions, those activities certainly could be sin for that person… whether taking place on Sunday or not. Generally speaking, you are free. You are free to go to church any day (or night) of the week you like. You are free to go out to eat and shop and play video games and go to ball games (even if you have to skip church occasionally to do so!). However, just because one is free to do these things doesn’t mean one should do these things. Like the Apostle Paul says, “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor 10: 23-24). I do think that generally speaking, as a society we don’t observe the Sabbath as we should; we don’t allow it to help us as much as it could. We aren’t very good at resting, and we aren’t very good about remembering to just be with God instead of doing things for him.

I think some of the larger questions underlying the questions you’re asking are: What is sin? And what do the instructions found in Scripture do for us? Another question I hear in what you’re asking is what is the nature of the Sabbath.

What is sin?
A good place to start is — you may have heard this before — anything we say, think or do that is displeasing to God. But then again, how do we know everything that displeases God? Sometimes it is clear: do not forsake the fellowship of believers. Sometimes it isn’t. God certainly could be displeased by our grocery shopping or playing video games on Sundays, but he may not be displeased by that at all; the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not play video games on Sundays.” So how can we discern this? I really recommend a book on this subject called, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. It’s a short book that’s easy to read and it’s very helpful. (Click here to read more about this book.)

What do instructions found in Scripture do for us?
Let’s look at the scripture you mention in Hebrews which tells us not to forsake the fellowship of believers: this command is not something we check off on our list of rules from the Bible so that we know we’re okay with God. Ultimately the Bible is not a book of rules. There most certainly are rules in the Bible, but their purpose is not to show us how good we are… because of course, none of us is good enough to be okay with God; only Jesus can fix our relationship with God. (For more about a personal relationship with God, click here.) Rather, the instructions and commands and rules in the Bible, especially ones like this one in Hebrews, describe how life works best. For example, God doesn’t tell us to be sure not to abandon the gathering of believers because if we do he’ll be mad at us, but because he knows our needs better than we do. He knows we were created for community with him and with others, that we will find the most fulfillment in the full life Jesus came to give us. He knows Satan, our Enemy, is actively looking for ways to destroy us and that we are better protected when we are together as one Body.

What is the nature of Sabbath?
Again, because God created the world and everything in it, he knows best how things work. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). What he meant was God gave us the Sabbath because he knows we need to rest: mind, body, and soul. When our lives get so busy and so full to the max of kids’ soccer games and client meetings and taking care of this and that, we lose ourselves, largely because we lose sight of God, we forget to be with him. God knows that we need patterns established in our daily lives to help us to remember life… real life, life found in God.

I hope this has been helpful for you, and I hope you get a chance to check out that book.

May the Lord bless you.

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5 Responses to Rules or Relationship?

  1. Well said, well said! Belief is foundational to us seeing the freedom and benefit these things can bring. Otherwise it become a chore. I love the emphasis on the fact that the Sabbath was created for us. A good reminder of the mutual gift worship can be.

    You are wise my friend.

  2. What a wonderful answer to a common question! So true – and so interesting to me how so many people out there seem to be more comfortable with “more rules” than “more relationship.” I wholeheartedly agree with this and am thankful you are able to put it into so many words!

  3. Brian says:

    There is much that is correct here. Christians absolutely are free. Those who trust in Christ are not under the judgment of the Law any long, because they are under Christ. But, if anything, that means that we should strive to fulfill the law all the more, just as Christ fulfilled it. You’re also right about the Sabbath being for man, and being for our good.

    But I think that your answer regarding the Sabbath is missing the other half, namely, that God also commands the Sabbath as a rule to follow (one of the 10 Commandments) as a way of honoring Him.

    I’m sure you that you would agree that all that God commands turns out, in fact, to be for our good. We’re most happy when we walk in God’s way (i.e., resting on the Sabbath does, in fact, make us more rested, more happy). But, it’s also important to remember that it is still a command – and not just a command to rest, but a command to put aside our own striving and working one day in seven, and to trust that God will provide.

    So, Sabbath-breaking isn’t just about NOT getting what’s best for us, but also about going against what God has commanded.

    • reneamac says:

      Thanks, Brian. While I do hint at some of what you’re saying in my response, based on the feeling of his original email to me, I felt it necessary to focus mostly on combating legalism, which includes, for now, focusing on one side of the coin more than the other.

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