Is the Sabbath a ritualistic law?
The short answer: no! It is one of the basic Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5). When a young man asked Jesus how he could enter into eternal life, Jesus replied: “Keep the commandments.” Jesus then proceeded to quote several of the commandments of the decalogue to show which law He meant (see Matt. 19:16-19).
Second: Since the Sabbath is one of those decalogue commandments, the breaking of which is sin (I John 3:4), a person who has knowledge of the true Sabbath must observe it to avoid sinning.
Third: Jesus Himself talked about the liberty of the gospel. He said: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Not understanding what Jesus meant, the Pharisees retorted that they “were never in bondage to any man” (verse 33). So “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin [transgression of the law] is the servant of sin” (verse 34).
Some of the Pharisees were indeed in bondage to sin. And anyone who knowingly breaks God’s Sabbath is committing a sin and is, therefore, in spiritual bondage. James said: “… To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Fourth: It is fulfilling God’s law of love to keep the Sabbath. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments [including the Sabbath] are not grievous” (I John 5:3). Jesus said: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Further: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me …” (verse 21).
In summary, keeping the Sabbath is one of the four basic ways in which we love God. It is an unchanging moral law — not a ritualistic law.