The Sabbath Satisfied: Part 1

In the Old Testament God commanded His people to honor the Sabbath by keeping it holy, and He further said that they must not do any work on the Sabbath day. (Exodus 20:8-11) God’s command was serious enough that He warned them in Exodus 35 that “whoever does any work on it (the Sabbath) shall be put to death,” and later a man who was discovered picking up sticks in violation of the Sabbath was put to death. (Numbers 15:32-36) With a command so serious and a penalty so severe, should we care about whether or not we as followers of Christ are called to keep the Sabbath? You bet we should! None of us should have a heart so calloused as to not care about whether or not we are faithfully keeping what God has commanded His people. And yet, when we look at the vast majority of Christ’s Church here on earth now, most do not keep a literal Sabbath day of rest, and even fewer keep that day of rest on Saturday (which would have been the original Sabbath day).

So then, we can look at this topic in two important ways: first theologically, “How do followers of Christ keep the Sabbath?” and second practically, “What does it look like for followers of Christ to apply the Sabbath to their lives today?” To start answering these questions let us also keep in mind that the Old and New Testaments are part of one Bible, meaning that it is not enough to answer the question by simply looking at the New Testament and ignoring the Old. Jesus said in Matthew 5 “do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” So in some way believers through Christ do have a relationship with the Old Testament Law. Furthermore, when the apostle Peter argues for the authority of Paul’s letters, he does so by equating them with the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, which also validates their continued role in the Church. (2 Peter 3:14-18) The God of the New Testament is still the God of the Old Testament.

And, while that is true, something profound has changed. In the Old Testament God commanded a Law that no one could perfectly keep, but that God’s people very much so had the responsibility to obey. Nehemiah recounted that God “came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments.” (Nehemiah 9:13) Their inability to keep God’s Law was not because God’s Law was at fault, but because people are simply that broken. (Romans 7:13-25) God is good, and He commanded good things, but we are sin-bound and unable to follow His commands perfectly, including the command to keep the Sabbath. So how then will we keep the Sabbath if they couldn’t? Again, the answer comes in knowing what has changed from then to now.

The thing that has changed from the Old Testament to the New is that Christ has come. Not only did Jesus die on the cross to pay the penalty we deserved for all of our sins, but Jesus also kept the Law of God perfectly and we who put our faith in Him gain His righteousness. (Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31) Moreover, as Paul says in Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The righteousness of God, which none could earn through keeping the Law, is now gained by faith in the living Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is himself the Lord of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8) And alongside that, for those of us who are in Christ, God has put His moral law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and we fulfill the Law through loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and by loving our neighbor as ourselves. (Mark 12:28-34; Galatians 5:14) In fact, it is actually wrong for those who have faith in Christ to try and satisfy the Law’s demands as it was intended to be obeyed in the times of the Old Testament. (Galatians 5:4) 

So then, now that Christ has come, this is how believers satisfy the Sabbath: by trusting wholly in God through faith in Christ for his perfect righteousness and by resting completely from trying to add anything of our own to merit salvation. Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath in obedience to the Law far better than we ever could, and we rest in what he has already done.

How to Make the Most of Movies: Part 2

In the previous post we spent some time looking at how storytelling is the foundation of a movie and that our consumption of stories through movies should be filtered with wisdom. There are more obvious ways we can filter our movie selection to guard our hearts and minds from what Scripture and our Spirit-filled consciences would label as objectionable content, but outside of categories that are more clearly avoidable, there is also great wisdom in recognizing that the storyteller behind a film often has an agenda that does not take the best interests of the viewer to heart. With that in mind, two questions were posed that can help us analyze the content of the movies we watch: “What is the purpose of the story?” And “What does the storyteller want me to believe?”

But now that we are more aware of the dangers and how to be cautious with movies, is there anything actually good that can come from watching a movie? Can God be glorified through our experience in the theater? I believe so, and it starts with the profound reality that in Christ our minds are to be different than they were before. Paul issues us a command in Romans 12:2, saying “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As followers of Jesus, God has put his moral law on our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10) and we are to leave both our former way of life and our former way of thinking (Ephesians 4:20-24). And although watching a movie can be a relaxing experience, we should always be diligent and alert with our minds (1 Peter 1:13, 5:8). So, equipped with wisdom from God’s Word, here are at least three practical ways to honor God by putting your renewed mind to work when watching a movie:

  • Through the gift of prayer watching a movie becomes time with God. By faith in who Jesus is and what he accomplished, we have direct relational access to God the Father and we are invited to talk with Him through prayer (Matthew 6:8-15; John 16:22-28). In fact, because the Spirit of God dwells in the believer, our lives should be filled with more time in communion with God through prayer than not (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This means that we are free to dialogue with the Creator of the universe even as we watch a movie, and dialogue with Him about the content of the movie. Seek to take advantage of this opportunity.

  • With more and more of God’s Word in our mind, celebrate the things in movies that are true to life. When we we see a soldier in Hacksaw Ridge risk his life to save fallen comrades, we see heroism and love for one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). When we see the bravery and dedication of women in Hidden Figures push against both racism and sexism, we see people living out the reality of their God-given dignity and value (Genesis 1:27-28). Celebrate with God about what the movie you see got right.

  • When a movie seeks to make something look incredible, meditate on how much greater Jesus is than whatever the movie tries to make look great. I remember watching one of the recent Superman movies and for a moment as I saw him fly through buildings to battle his rival I felt genuinely impressed with what he was capable of and the power he displayed. Then I began to use that opportunity to think about how much greater Jesus is than Superman. Here are just a few examples of the thoughts a person can have: A. Superman flying through buildings gets the attention of people in that city, but when Jesus comes back all of creation will at once know he is back (Matthew 24:23-31). B. Superman cares a lot about one woman, Lois Lane, but Jesus cares more deeply for his people than anyone else could, as he not only made them but also saved them (John 1:1-3, 15:12-14). C. Superman may be impressive as a conceptual character, but Jesus is real, and one day everyone will know it (Philippians 2:9-11).

Whether it is one of these methods or another, strive to make the movies you watch more than just your entertainment. Let us put our minds to use and seek to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31).

How to Make the Most of Movies: Part 1

Movies are both a powerful and very modern way of storytelling. In this post we’ll talk some on the topic of how to be wise and guard our hearts and minds with regard to movies. In the next post we will look at how movies can be used positively to stir us to think on what is true and God honoring. For us to understand how to best appreciate their benefits and be guarded against their drawbacks, let’s start with the basics and think about how movies are both similar and different from the stories told long ago.

Entertainment through the telling of stories goes back for thousands of years in human history. Oral traditions in civilizations from the past carried along tales from generation to generation, and each new generation would enjoy with delight the unique characters, settings, and plot of each story told. And even back then at least these two questions could be asked: “What is the purpose of the story?” and “What does the storyteller want me to believe?” Some stories are crafted very intentionally, and some less so, but many stories have a purpose or a goal in mind for the one telling the story. They could be told for the purpose of encouragement, or to remind people of their heritage, or to shape the way the listener thinks about some topic. Stories can carry more purpose and intended impact on the audience than just simply that they are a form of entertainment.

In older times, if a storyteller wanted to obtain a particular impact on their audience through the telling of a story they could do so in a number of ways. They could adjust the content of the story, they could change the way they told it verbally, or they could add presentation to the story through visual cues. Much has changed from older times, and so also has the ability for a storyteller to achieve their desired impact on an audience. From actors on the stage of a play to early motion pictures and beyond, visual and audio stimulation through storytelling has changed dramatically.

When a person watches a movie, especially in the theater environment, their senses are often so overwhelmed by the barrage of stimulants that they are no longer conscious of all the information they are digesting or the impact the film is actually having on them. One example of this kind of stimulation would be the usage of low-frequency sounds during some films to cause the moviegoer to feel anxious or afraid, even though the noise is imperceptible to human hearing. With tools like these and many others at the modern storyteller’s disposal, it means there is even more wisdom in asking the questions “What is the purpose of the story?” and “What does the storyteller want me to believe?”

But why are those two questions important to ask both in past times and present? Why does it matter for a person to know the purpose of a story and what the storyteller is trying to convince them through the tale? Because not every storyteller has the best interests of the listener in mind, and movies can have a profound impact on our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. God has told us, and human history has confirmed, that humanity is fallen. From the time of Genesis 3 and the fall of human beings into moral corruption we have seen time and time again that human hearts are simply not pure, and therefore the hearts of those who craft movies are not pure either. On top of this, we also live in a broken world, where the demonic realm still has profound influence (Ephesians 6:12) and Satan still deceives the nations (Revelation 20:3, 8). This does not make all movies evil in and of themselves, but it does mean that we should be cautious of expecting that what we are receiving is always morally neutral. By contrast, everything that God tells us is true (Proverbs 30:5), pure (Psalm 12:6), and profitable for us to hear (2 Timothy 3:16).

God also instructs us through the apostle Paul that we should be careful to set our minds on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). This doesn’t mean there is no place for the enjoyment of a fictitious story, but even stories with elements that are fictitious must touch on our reality at some point and what they say about our reality matters. Consider how the Lord of the Rings series speaks truth to the reality of fallen humanity through its portrayal of the corrupt desires for the ring, or conversely how What Dreams May Come speaks falsely by representing God as distant and passively interested in the affairs of humanity. More subtly, consider how a film like Night at the Museum portrays life in the midst of a divorced marriage as quite functional, despite the reality that most families with divorce operate with dysfunction and hurt, or how the movie La La Land does not fairly represent the turmoil of relationship opportunities lost.

Whatever the movie, let us strive to be more than just passive onlookers and instead let’s keep our minds in the game, as the movies we watch are capable of more than just entertaining us.