Delina Pryce McPhaull: How God’s Grace Turned My Strict Views on the Sabbath Upside Down

I grew up in a Sabbatarian religion where we practiced Sabbath observance as a matter of law. My religious community was conscious of the minute that the sun set on a Friday evening. We made sure that moment didn’t catch us still at work or at the grocery store. It was expected that we would make every effort to ensure we were adequately prepared to rest from physical labors. Our homes and cars were cleaned, errands were run, and food was prepared. Some ironed their dress clothes for church the next day. As a child, I remember getting Vaseline and a paper towel and shining my black patent leather church shoes. When the sun set, we “welcomed in the Sabbath” with worship—songs, Scripture, and prayer—marking the beginning of a sacred 24 hours.

We were constantly reminded of John 14:15: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”(NKJV) We interpreted this to mean, “If you love God, keep the Ten Commandments.” Keeping the Sabbath was the fourth commandment; therefore, if you weren’t giving it your best shot, then you were showing God, yourself, and your community how little you loved him. This mindset was not rest. In fact, Sabbath was taxing on the conscience.

My upbringing, in short, taught me how to work for my salvation. I knew what it felt like, in my soul, to wonder if I would measure up and make it to heaven. Was I trying hard enough? Could I try harder? Was I confessing sin so it would be forgiven? Was I sincerely striving to please God? I believed my eternal life depended on the answers to these questions.

Wrestling with Rest

I was convinced that the particular way I kept Sabbath was required to earn God’s favor. But in my late 20s, God began to show me that his love, care, and design for my life had nothing to do with my efforts to keep the law. I started believing in grace and started letting go of an earn-your-keep relationship with God.

But Sabbath, for me, was still a hindrance to fully trusting Jesus only for my salvation. It had also become a source of pride. Ignoring the admonition in Colossians 2, I judged others’ faithfulness and right standing before God based on their Sabbath practices.

“What if I tell you to let go of the very thing that you think you have to hold? Will you trust me?” These words from gospel artist Donnie McClurkin’s song “I’ll Trust You, Lord” rang in my ear. To begin to trust God fully, I had to let go of my spiritual safety net. The law had led me to Christ, and now I needed to live by the Spirit.

And that’s when I experienced rest. This rest had nothing to do with a day or a break from my regular routine.

As I transitioned away from Sabbatarian theology, I was no longer convinced that Christians are bound to set aside a day of rest. Yet I didn’t have to look far to find a book, article, or sermon trying to persuade me that the cure for an anxious heart was a Sabbath escape from work, chores, and technology. According to a 2016 poll, 62 percent of Americans still “agree that it’s important for society to have one day a week set aside for spiritual rest.”

But it didn’t make sense to me that one could keep the law without being legalistic. And I was doubtful that a more wishy-washy version of law-keeping was for me. Sometimes addicts need to go cold turkey.

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Source: Christianity Today