Unspotted from the World: The Injunction and Blessing of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

Contributed By Robert L. Millet, BYU Professor Emeritus of Ancient Scripture

  • 4 January 2016

An LDS family enters their meetinghouse for their Sabbath worship.  Photo by Kemish Abraham Torres Camacho.

Our observance or non-observance of the Sabbath … is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of His atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us.” —Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1900–1984)

Among the many teachings Moses received from Jehovah on Mount Sinai were the Ten Commandments, the fourth of which is the injunction for the Lord’s people to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). It is sad to acknowledge that in today’s world, men and women far and wide who would never consider worshipping idols, murdering, or stealing have little or no difficulty ignoring or at least treating lightly the divine injunction to observe the Sabbath day. Even among believers in the Bible, particularly Christians, it is often difficult to find men and women, boys or girls whose attitudes or actions toward the Sabbath could be construed as being anything akin to “holy.”

What has happened in our world to disconnect people from faithful and worshipful Sabbath observance? Perhaps we can place the blame on such things as the “three-day weekend”; having children’s cultural or athletic events scheduled on the Sabbath; stores and eating establishments remaining open on Sunday; businesses that require longer hours from employees, including Sunday work; and a growing casualness in speech, dress, and religious practice in general. Whatever the causes may be, one thing is certain—the culture in which we find ourselves need not dictate to us how we will spend the Sabbath.

As Samuel the Lamanite reminded the wicked Nephites, “whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves” (Helaman 14:30). Clearly, certain forms of employment and responsibilities such as medical personnel and law enforcement officials must be carried out every day. This would represent, however, a relatively small percentage of our population. In our heart of hearts we each know that remembering and properly observing the Sabbath is a commandment and that the violation of that commandment constitutes a sin in the eyes of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Forty years ago I was deeply moved by the following words of Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1900–1984): “If we violate His holy day—willingly and willfully—to that extent … [we] most certainly become covenant breakers, for He gave us His Sabbath by covenant—a perpetual covenant throughout all generations (see Exodus 31:16).”

Elder Petersen went on to remind us: “We can readily see that observance of the Sabbath is an indication of the depth of our conversion. Our observance or non-observance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward His suffering in Gethsemane, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead. It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of His atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 72). Sobering counsel, to be sure.

Rather than focusing on the seriousness of Sabbath violation, however, let’s center our attention on why it is so valuable and worthwhile for us to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

In a revelation given to the Latter-day Saints just as members of the restored Church had begun to make their way into Missouri, the Savior implored His people: “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Continuing, as if what follows is in fact linked with what went before, the Lord stated: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; for verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:8-10).

Note: We keep ourselves unspotted from the sins of this world by properly observing the Sabbath. It isn’t just that by going to church for three hours we simply keep busy, stay out of trouble, and avoid worldly activities.

In addition, by praying and fellowshipping with persons who believe and feel toward the Lord and His gospel basically as we do; by singing the hymns of Zion in gratitude and praise to a gracious God; by partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in a repentant spirit and thereby enjoying a remission of sins; by covenanting anew that we will strive to keep the commandments; and through being taught the doctrines and principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ—by these means, we gradually build within our hearts and minds what President Spencer W. Kimball called “reservoirs of faith” (see Faith Precedes the Miracle [1974], 110); line upon line, precept upon precept we become repositories of knowledge, goodness, spiritual stamina, courage, and Christian character to stand boldly against the rising tide of evil in our day.

A common expression in our time goes something like this: “I’m a spiritual person, but I’m not religious.” That essentially means the person isn’t into organizations, meetings, denominations, public worship, or church responsibilities. Sadly, such an individual is misled and is missing the mark regarding what it truly means to be “spiritual.”

James, the brother of our Lord, taught this magnificent truth: “Pure religion and [remaining] undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and [to keep oneself] unspotted from the vices of the world” (Joseph Smith Translation, James 1:27).

Yes, pure religion is all about how we care for our neighbors and look to the needs of the poor and unfortunate; these things were high priorities to Jesus in His mortal ministry. But pure religion is also about personal spiritual hygiene, about living in the world without becoming worldly. It is about remaining unspotted from the sins of this world and unattached to worldliness so that we can feel comfortable now in spiritual settings and eventually at ease and confident in the presence of the Divine. We take a significant step toward becoming such sin-resistant souls by taking full advantage of our opportunities to worship on the Sabbath.

In calling upon the Latter-day Saints to make the Sabbath “a delight,” President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reminded us of the Savior’s words that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). He then added: “I believe He wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal. God gave us this special day, not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest from duty, with physical and spiritual relief” (“The Sabbath Is a Delight,” Apr. 2015 general conference).

As we partake of this kind of rest on the Sabbath, we open ourselves to another type of rest, God’s rest, that consists of “entering into the knowledge and love of God, having faith in His purpose and in His plan, to such an extent that we are right, and that we are not hunting for something else, we are not disturbed by every wind of doctrine … rest from doubt, from fear, from apprehension of danger, rest from the religious turmoil of the world” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine [1971], 58). Surely that kind of rest is what each of us desires to enjoy here and now, all in preparation for that future day, the earth’s Sabbath, when we will live with God, His Beloved Son, and our families in celestial glory.