Guiding Principles for Sabbath Observance

"In Christ" and the Sabbath

Because Sabbath is about a rela - tionship with Christ, we each can say, “Because I am in Christ, and Christ is in me, because my character has been transformed by His character, the Sabbath takes on a richer and more profound meaning for me.”

In my dissertation, I summarized the meaning of the Sabbath as follows:

The Sabbath is a holy gift of time created by God on the seventh day of creation week, given as a memorial to celebrate the power of His creation. Its sacred, delightful hours provide spiritual and physical rest and undistracted time to worship and focus on the Creator. It is “God with us” in a deeper sense than during the week. Not only does it point back to creation, but it represents redemption from sin and the future “God with us” at the second coming. It provides concen - trated time for service to others and for healing. It has two dimensions: a vertical relationship fo - cused on God and horizontal relationships with fellow human beings.[i]

When we have a profound relationship with Je - sus and understand the meaning of the Sabbath, we can more easily find guiding principles to keep the Sabbath well. Here is a list of some guiding principles for living the Sabbath, which I have derived from my statement on the meaning of the Sabbath and is based on Scripture. 


Sabbath-keeping means preparing for this special day so we can enjoy its benefits (see Hebrews 4:11; Exodus 16:28-30; Luke 23:54-56).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 1 is based: God is a preparer. He prepared the beauti - ful Garden of Eden and the plan of salvation before He created humankind and the Sabbath (see Genesis 1-2; Proverbs 8:27-31; 1 Peter 1:20); He has prepared an in - heritance for the redeemed, the kingdom prepared since creation (see Matthew 25:34); He has prepared a place for us—a custom-made home in heaven (see John 14:1- 3); He will prepare the Holy City as a bride adorned for her husband (see Revelation 21:2).


Sabbath-keeping means resting from work, life’s bur - dens, and secular concerns and distractions—one of the purposes for which God gave us the gift of the Sabbath (see Exodus 16:28-29; 20:9-10; 23:12; 34:21; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Jeremiah 17:27; Luke 23:54-56).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 2 is based: God is the epitome of rest. “My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1, NIV). Through Jesus, God offers rest to all who come to Him (see Matthew 11:28). Jesus Himself rested on Sabbath after He worked all week cre - ating the earth (see Genesis 2:1). 


Sabbath-keeping means observing the day in a man - ner that renews us physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and socially since our loving Creator provided the Sabbath vacation for our welfare (Mark 2:27). This produces a sense of well-being that lowers stress (Mat - thew 11:29-30).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 3 is based: God is a restorer of our being—“He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3, NIV) He exudes renewal, (see Psalm 103:5; Matthew 11:29-30; Isaiah 40:31; 2 Corinthians 4:16).


Sabbath-keeping means observing the day in such a way as to foster healing, relief, release, liberation, and refreshment. Any action that hurts oneself or others is Sabbath-breaking. (Isaiah 58; Matthew 12:9-15; Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:38,39; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; John 5:1-18; and John 9).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 4 is based: God is a healer (see Exodus 15:26; Psalm 103:3; 147:3; Matthew 4:23; Acts 10:38). He has “healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2, NKJV). God the Sonannounced that His mission is to restore sight to the blind and to release the oppressed (see Isaiah 61; Luke 4:18, 19).


Sabbath-keeping means celebrating the creation, or birthday, of the world (see Genesis 2:1-3), and of our redemption (see Deuteronomy 5:15), so its atmosphere should be one of celebration, joy, and delight (see Psalm 92; Isaiah 58:13).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 5 is based: God celebrates and rejoices. He celebrated cre - ation (see Genesis 2:1-3; Proverbs 8:27-31). He rejoices when people come to him (see Deuteronomy 30:9; Isa - iah 62:5; Zephaniah 3:17; Luke 15). He will celebrate at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9). He is a source of joy (see Psalm 43:4). Speaking of God, David said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11, NKJV). “You will find your joy in the LORD” (Isaiah 58:14, NIV).


Sabbath-keeping means keeping the Sabbath day holy—setting it apart for a special focus on God, His Word, and His agenda, to seek intimacy with Him, em - brace Him wholly, and nurture a love relationship with Him that makes us holy. (see Exodus 20:8; 31:13; Isaiah 58:13; Ezekiel 20:12). This nurtures our “vertical” rela - tionship—our relationship with God.

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 6 is based: God is holy (see Leviticus 11:44; 19:2), personal and loving (see 1 John 4:8), and He seeks intimacy and special time with His family (see John 15:15; Revelation 3:20). He sanctifies, or makes holy, the Sabbath and His people (see Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:11; 31:13).


Sabbath-keeping means remembering, reflecting, and rejoicing about the Creation of the world (see Ex - odus 20:11), redemption from sin (see Deuteronomy 5:15; Luke 4:16-19), and Christ’s second coming and the creation of the new earth (see Isaiah 66:22, 23).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 7 is based: God remembers and reflects on important hap - penings. For example, He paused to reflect on His ac - complishments at creation (see Genesis 1:4, 9, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31; 2:2, 3; Exodus 20:11). He remembers His covenants with humanity (see Genesis 9:15, 16; Leviticus 26:42, 45).


Sabbath-keeping means participating in corporate, focused worship of God with our church family (see Le - viticus 23:3; Isaiah 56:1-8; 66:22, 23; Mark 1:21; 3:1-4; Luke 4:16; 13:10; Hebrews 10:25; Revelation 14:7). This nurtures both our “vertical” and our “horizontal” rela - tionships—those with God and with our fellow human beings.

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 8 is based: God desires corporate worship (see Isaiah 66:22, 23). Jesus attended and led out in worship services while on earth (see Luke 4:16).


Sabbath-keeping means enjoying, studying, experiencing, and basking in the world God made, rather than working at maintaining it (see Psalms 92:4, 5; 111:2-4; compare Romans 1:20). At creation, God was filled with satisfaction, rejoicing “in his whole world and delighting in mankind” (Proverbs. 8:31, NIV).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 9 is based: God is Creator, and He appreciates His creation— He considered it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31, NIV). 


Sabbath-keeping is a joyful human response to God’s grace in obedience to His loving command to remember Him and His Sabbath gift (see John 14:15). It is not meant to be a means of earning our salvation (see Romans 3:20; Hebrews 4:9, 10). We respond to God’s gift of rest by working for Him in His strength and for His glory (see Exodus 20:8, 9; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Hebrews 13:20, 21).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 10 is based: Love motivated Jesus’ keeping of His Father’s commandments (see John 15:10).


Sabbath-keeping means trusting God to take care of what we leave undone during the hours of the Sabbath (see Exodus 16:14-30; 20:10; Psalm 5:11, 12; Matthew 6:33). It means learning to depend on God rather than on ourselves.

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 11 is based: Jesus trusted His Father no matter how much Satan tempted Him to do otherwise (see Luke 4:1-13). He demonstrated this trusting attitude as He suffered for our Salvation (see Matthew 26:39; Luke 23:46).


Sabbath-keeping means nurturing our relationships with family and friends (see Mark 1:29-31; Luke 14:1). In the gift of the Sabbath, God provides time for focused fellowship with the whole family—even the family animals (see Exodus 20:8-11). Sabbath and family go together (see Genesis 1:1-2:25; Leviticus 19:3). This nurtures our “horizontal” relationships—those with our fellow human beings.

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 12 is based: The members of the Godhead are relational (see John 15:15). God’s relationship with us is the foundation of our relationship with each other (see John 13:34, 35; 17:20-23). Jesus fellowshipped with others on Sabbath (see Mark 1:29-31; Luke 14:1).


Sabbath-keeping means rightly representing the atmosphere of the Sabbath by a spirit of acceptance, love, and affirmation rather than a spirit of judgment and criticism (see John 7:24).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 13 is based: God is accepting, loving, and affirming (see Matthew 11:28; John 3:16; Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:3-10; Revelation 22:17).


Sabbath-keeping means serving other people in love and witnessing lovingly for God (see Isaiah 58:7-10; Matthew 12:12; Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9; 13:12, 16).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 14 is based: Jesus is a Servant and Proclaimer of the Good News (see Luke 4:18-21; Philippians 2:5-11). He went about doing good (see Acts 10:38)


Sabbath-keeping means caring for necessary physical needs on Sabbath; no creature—animal or human— should be allowed to suffer on this day (see Exodus 23:12; Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 2:27).

Characteristic of God’s person on which Principle 15 is based: God supplies all our needs, all the time (see Exodus 16:26, 35; Joshua 5:12; Matthew 6:25-33; John 5:16, 17; Philippians 4:19), and He advocates that we care for the needs of all His creatures (Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5). 

The principles above are based on God’s character, and they provide a foundation for our Sabbath rules/ practices. God will help us to reflect and live His character as we translate these principles into actions. What better day to reflect His nature than on Sabbath—the day above all days!

[i] May-Ellen M. Colón, “Sabbath-keeping Practices and Factors Related to These Practices Among Seventh-day Adventists in 51 Countries,” Ph.D. dissertation, Andrews University, 2003, pp. 25, 26. 

This excerpt was taken from “From Sundown to Sundown” © Copyright 2006 by May-Ellen Colón, Pacific Press Publishing Assoc. Available at your local Adventist Book Center® or at and