Sabbath: Experiencing and Living the Character of God

As we went back into lockdown, one question we started asking in the conference office was, how can we help build faith when people are at home?

One idea that came to mind was to see how we could encourage people to make Sabbath special, particularly on Friday evening. To be honest, I have felt I had been crashing into Sabbath too often, and as my children have been getting older, I have heard the dreaded question asked more frequently, sometime after Sabbath lunch, “what time is sunset?”

I then thought about Sabbath candles. We often lit candles on Sabbath when I was growing up, but now I was thinking about this from a Jewish perspective. Jewish families normally light at least two candles between 18 and 40 minutes before Friday sundown. The woman of the house lights the candles and then says a special blessing, “Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the holy Shabbat.”

Out of all the things that could be said in a Sabbath blessing, the central idea is thankfulness to God who makes His people holy. This is where we bless God—we express our gratefulness to God who makes us to be like Himself. And this Jewish blessing indicates that this change happens through God’s commandments—highlighted in God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy.

This made me wonder about how we could introduce a ritual of Sabbath candles in my own family, and if so, what would they mean? In the end I got three candles. One candle for the Sabbath at creation when the angels sang for joy, one candle for the Sabbath when Jesus lay peacefully in the tomb, and one candle for the Sabbath in the new earth. Each candle representing the rest of the Sabbath—the rest of God’s completed work for us.

I then began a draft of my own Sabbath candle blessing:

Blessed are you, O God, who calls us this Sabbath to rest in your complete work:

Creator of the world, your rest brings us joy.

Saviour of our lives, your rest brings us peace.

King of the Universe, your rest in the world to come brings us hope.

Before we light the candles at Friday sunset, I lay the table and have the meal ready. Then my family can eat a meal that has been completely prepared for them—there is nothing more for them to do. They only need to sit down and enjoy. Hopefully. 

What has struck me most forcibly is that in all its aspects, the Sabbath celebrates the finished work of God. God has worked. He has accomplished what He set out to do. And then He rests—and He invites me to share His rest because everything that needs to be done, has been done.

Which brings me to the title of the lesson this week, “Sabbath: Experiencing and Living the Character of God.” The Jewish Sabbath candle blessing echoes God’s instructions to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” (Exodus 31:13) 

This verse reminds me that God makes us holy—so on Sabbath we can be grateful that God has been at work this week to make us look like Himself. And everything necessary to make this possible, has already been done.

At first, this may sound a little strange. Many of us have absorbed the rather heretical idea that God justifies us and then we have to sanctify ourselves. Over recent centuries, we have held tightly on to Luther’s affirmation that “the just will live by faith”. In Luther’s day, this was important present truth. But as the years have rolled by, I think we have held on to Luther’s conviction a little too tightly at the expense of the reality that we are also sanctified by faith. As a consequence, we have been trying to grow in Christlikeness, and failing too often, when we should have been resting in the work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish only what God can do.

Which brings me to the thorny issue of obedience. Where does obedience fit into all this? After all, the Sabbath is a commandment which is surrounded by nine more. 

I like to explain obedience as choosing to live according to the laws, principles, values, ethics, and morals, that everyone else in the Kingdom of Heaven lives by. Behaving like this is my choice alone because the Holy Spirit will never force obedience upon me. But my obedience doe not make me holy because only the Holy Spirit can make someone holy—for who can change their own sinful nature? So my obedience is not legalistic. Rather, through my choices to obey, obedience creates the possibility, the space, for the Holy Spirit to enter into my experience and do what only He can do—transform me so I can become “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). And in this work of God, I rest.

Ellen White pulls some of these ideas together and links Sabbath rest to God’s desire to make us all look like Him:

The Sabbath given to the world as the sign of God as the Creator is also the sign of Him as the Sanctifier. The power that created all things is the power that re-creates the soul in His own likeness. To those who keep holy the Sabbath day it is the sign of sanctification. True sanctification is harmony with God, oneness with Him in character. It is received through obedience to those principles that are the transcript of His character. And the Sabbath is the sign of obedience. He who from the heart obeys the fourth commandment will obey the whole law. He is sanctified through obedience.

To us as to Israel the Sabbath is given “for a perpetual covenant.” To those who reverence His holy day the Sabbath is a sign that God recognises them as His chosen people. It is a pledge that He will fulfil to them His covenant. Every soul who accepts the sign of God’s government places himself under the divine, everlasting covenant. He fastens himself to the golden chain of obedience, every link of which is a promise.

The fourth commandment alone of all the ten contains the seal of the great Lawgiver, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Those who obey this commandment take upon themselves His name, and all the blessings it involves are theirs. (6 Testimonies, 350)

Gavin Anthony is president of the Iceland Conference in the Trans-European Division.

Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I really appreciate Gavin’s suggestion. Both this article on Sabbath as a blessing, a time for thanlfulness, and “Sabbath as a Gift”—not a test. Yes, resting in Him and his righteousness, for now and forever, brings great Joy to my heart


this is so well put…on the flip side, we can see that willful, knowing disobedience obstructs the HS from entering into our experience in order to do what only he can do…“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.”

This article, while tying sabbath to rest and completion, never once mentions the resurrection. If one does a survey of the NT gospel sermons, it is the resurrection that is focused on more than anything else. The cross can’t be divorced from it, nor the parousia. The cross without the resurrection would have said that Jesus died as a failed and fake messiah.

Adventism is focused on the commandments, the creation, the cross, and the coming advent. That is all good, especially the cross! But, this all means nothing apart from the resurrection. The NT affirms this as the launching of God’s new creation and new covenant. The sign and seal of belonging to God’s new creation is no longer the sabbath. It is the presence and power of the spirit inspiring a unifying love for one another, regardless of race, social status, gender, ethnic, or religious background.

Observances such as sabbath keeping are ancillary matters. Whether one is observant or not, we all equally belong to God and to one another as God’s family in Christ. We are to welcome one another with our differences as God in Christ has done with us.

As meaningful a tradition as sabbath observance can be for some, Jesus said that they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another. This is the visible sign of being set apart as the people of God in this world… what sanctification means. This is not limited to sabbath keepers, but includes all of Jesus’s followers.




I’m just sitting here wondering what the difference is between the Jews who obediently kept all the commandments by keeping the Sabbath (He who from the heart obeys the fourth commandment will obey the whole law. - EGW ) and a SDA Sabbath keeper, who also “keeps the whole law” by keeping the Sabbath. Where does Christ, on the cross and resurrected come into the scenario?

I shouldn’t rock the boat, again, this way. I’m sure it’s annoying to some. Sorry; but I find this adoration of the Sabbath a little off-putting when it leaves Christ, not only out of the picture, but not even in the room.


It’s law focused, Sirje, not Christ focused. The center of Adventism, no matter how much is protested, is the sabbath. This article seconds that. The connection of sabbath with sign/seal identity in the article, along with connecting it to sanctification, being set apart, just pays little mind to what the NT is saying about such things. Even the remaking of sabbath as a gift to celebrate RBF as opposed to test is an effort to attribute NT significance to it that the NT itself never does.

In the end, such theology once again creates walls between Adventists and other Christians based on ancillary matters and law, that Paul was saying the gospel broke down. I too sound like a broken record. But, I think such distortions need to be met head on.



In spite of social distancing,
wearing masks in church
and an abundance of caution
and scrupulous hand washing,
COVID came to church one Sabbath.
The next week there were two new cases.
Then there were 4,
and the church locked the door.

1 Like

I have wondered why, as a law-keeping people, you hardly hear sermons or even mention of keeping any of the other nine. It was finally made clear here - if you keep the Sabbath, apparently all the others are counted as “having been kept”. By virtue of keeping the Sabbath, the others are forgiven??? That sounds a lot like a subversion of Christianity, the Sabbath taking the place of Christ. What am I misunderstanding?

1 Like

covid seems to be very hard to avoid…but i’ve heard that wearing masks regularly acts like a vaccine, since it allows in only a subclinical amount of virus, which stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, instead of overwhelming it…

Yes. But, the whole thing is a distortion. A distortion of old and new covenant. The old was law/Torah. While it contained much in the way of ethical content, the mistake always made is to try and view the law as a timeless legal arrangement apart from the fact that this was a particular covenant, with a particular people, during one particular time in history.

The new covenant is basically saying that that time is over. Believers now relate to God in Christ by the new way of the spirit, not the old way of the letter. Adventism, by its very nature points to the old way of the letter, and tries to combine that with faith in Christ and the gospel. It’s like pouring new wine into old wineskins. It doesn’t work.

If one wants to live observing sabbath, fine. Just don’t impose that on anyone else. That’s the biggest problem of legalism. This is the entire reason for being of Adventism.



A question for Gavin: why does the NT not go into a explanation of the
Sabbath like you have done especially for Gentile converts? It never
mentions Sabbath as a sign or seal for new for believers. Instead Paul
twice writes we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Eph 1:13, 4:30. BTW,
I’m not suggesting we abandon Sabbath.


A busy week results in a welcome of the Sabbath hours allwing us to read, watch, and relax.


Because it wasn’t required of nor imposed upon Gentile believers. There is no evidence in the NT that it was. Holy time observance was considered a disputable/ancillary matter by Paul. In Colossians, he groups the weekly sabbath with monthly new moon celebrations, and yearly festivals, as part of the shadow of things to come, the reality being Christ.

It is not the central issue of identity and belonging, what sign and seal is all about, and that SDAism has made it into. If some keep it, that’s fine. What isn’t fine is saying that it is a requirement for belonging to the remnant. It is just not supportable from the NT. It’s the text book definition of legalism, and results in such fruit.

Sorry to butt in!



1 Like

“Adventists hold to the conviction that the end-time controversy will center on the law of God, and particularly on the fourth commandment (Rev 14:12). … For this reason, it should be made clear that Seventh-day Adventists understand the ‘mark of the beast’ to be not a literal mark but a sign of allegiance that identifies the bearer as loyal to the power represented by the beast.”

This is a quote from the BRI in response to comments by David Gates regarding the vaccine and the MOB.

Point being, yes…it is all about the law, and most especially the Sabbath.


Hi Frank. I don’t accept that the weekly Sabbath was a shadow of things to come. Instead it is a memorial of creation and redemption.
There is also no NT evidence that new converts were told to disregard
Sabbath or substitute another day Acts 13:42,43.


Hi again Frank. I agree with you that the major point of the NT is Christ
and the gospel. My point in replying to Gavin was to point out the sealing of the Holy Spirit as in Ephesians. Blessings Bruce

1 Like

The idea of the seal of God being the Spirit was one of the first things that started me exploring the doctrinal claims of Adventism years ago.

While I understand you not accepting that the sabbath is part of the shadow of things to come, the plain fact is that this is what Paul is saying in Colossians 2. Adventist literature and evangelists have wrongly claimed that the text only refers to ceremonial sabbaths. It simply isn’t true. Seven times, the same formula is used in the OT, backwards and forwards, referring to yearly, monthly, and weekly holy time observances. The weekly sabbath was part of the whole complex. Paul is using this type of formula in Colossians, describing the same gamut of Jewish observances. The fact that he uses a plural for sabbath is also a non starter. This was typical when referring to the weekly sabbath.

Paul is literally saying in Colossians 2 that the weekly sabbath is part of the shadow of things to come. The reality is Christ. The ancient rabbis even spoke of sabbath as a shadow of the messianic rest of the age to come. Even Bacchiocchi, Adventism’s foremost sabbath apologist, acknowledged all of this.

If you don’t accept this view of the sabbath, that’s fine. If you disagree with what Paul was saying, that’s also fine. However, one just can’t say that he wasn’t saying this in Colossians. He truly was.

For Paul, the entire Torah and its observances had found their fulfillment, met their goal, and were eclipsed by the universal and transformative power of the new covenant, and the new creation launched by the risen Christ and his Spirit.



1 Like

What does it mean to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit”?

frank, i think what you’re missing is that the weekly sabbath has two inclusions, both as part of the yearly, monthly, and weekly time observances present in what is known as the jewish ceremonial law, but also as the 4th commandment of the decalogue law, which paul teaches we don’t make void through faith, but establish…saying that the sabbath ends as a ceremonial law inclusion isn’t saying that it ends in its decalogue context…

one thing to consider is the fact that if the seventh-day sabbath commandment is discarded in its ceremonial law context, along with the numerous touch not, taste not, handle not ordinances frequently castigated by paul, that’s one thing…but if it is discarded because the decalogue is discarded, we would have to hold that paul is advocating murder, adultery, lying and other things he specifically condemns…the reality is that the seventh-day sabbath, being created roughly 2,666 yrs before sinai, cannot be surgically removed from the decalogue, which codifies behaviour that paul and the other apostles everywhere encourage…

in addition, your confusion over the sealing is a question of context…for paul, the issue of the sealing occurs only in its fruit of the spirit context, which everyone who chooses christ is eligible to receive, and which he lists as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance…

in egw eschaton theory, on the other hand - and here we’re talking adventism - this fruit of the spirit sealing context sees the superimposition of a new reality, in which the world is divided into two camps: those who’ve been filled with the latter rain, and those who’ve actively rejected the HS, and are no longer eligible to receive him…within this reality, egw is saying that those sealed with the HS certainly demonstrate the fruits of the spirit listed by paul, but they exhibit a new phenomenon not perceived by paul, or any of the biblical apostles, which is fealty to the original seventh-day sabbath…fealty to the seventh-day sabbath could not have been a test of faith in paul’s time, given its widespread, essentially universal, observance…

in the time egw is describing, which could be centuries from now, seventh-day sabbath observance has clearly become associated with worship of the invisible creator god, whereas sunday observance has clearly become associated with obedience to the state…in this context, rejection of the seventh-day sabbath means rejection of the creator god and any hope of HS sealing, and instead the inevitable acquisition of the MOB…egw predicts that obedience to the seventh-day sabbath will only be seen in those sealed with the HS, which is why the seventh-day sabbath can be seen to be a HS sealing identifier…

it is important to understand that paul, and other NT writers, were concerned primarily with the fulfillment of the 490 yr beginning of the 2300 yr prophecy given by gabriel…for them, the time that was fulfilled, cited by Mark, but no doubt understood by the other gospel writers, especially those who copied him, was only the time reaching to the first advent of the messiah…and while we see overtones in paul of a future development of what he calls the mystery of iniquity, his overall comprehension of the eschaton is clearly meagre, and in fact pathetic, yet completely appropriate for 1st century needs…

it is because of the colossal ministry of egw that we understand, as adventists, the future as clearly as we do, particularly in connection with the end of the 2300 yr prophecy recorded in Daniel, and the IJ commencement that defines daniel’s time of the end…and we believe that through the ministry of future prophets, we will understand even more, when the time for such knowledge becomes vital…we don’t need to think that the spirit of prophecy identifier of the remnant church, which is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is exhausted by the ministry of egw…god will raise up future prophets when we need them…

Sorry, Jeremy. You’re reading all kinds of stuff into the text of Colossians, and splitting Torah into moral and ceremonial components in a way that neither Jews nor Paul the apostle ever conceived. It is Christian tradition and anachronism eisegeted into the text that makes nonsense of it. EGW did the same.