We have been writing about the almost too good to be true grace of God. Grace that not only is the door by which we enter the kingdom, but grace that is also the pathway where we live, move, and thrive in the kingdom. And just like no work-to-earn in entering the kingdom, there is no work-to-earn once inside the kingdom; inside living the Christian life. Religion demands “work”. Grace demands “rest”.
In the book of Hebrews, the author gives a long explanation of the believer’s rest – in the here and now, not a future heaven. Rest is the present promise of God to His children. And He compares you and I entering His rest today to the Israelites entering the promised land many years ago.
This is what God says about the Israelites turning their back on God’s promise on the doorstep of Canaan. “And with whom was God angry for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Heb 3:17-19).
Unbelief, a lack of faith, kept the children of Israel out of the promised land for forty years. No other enemies would have been able to accomplish this. This promised land, this place of rest, is a picture of the rest that Christ intends for us to walk in today. And we enter that rest by faith.
The expectation that God had for Israel was to enter the land by faith. Likewise, we too are invited to enter God’s rest by faith. We live the Christian life the same way we entered the Christian life; by faith. We live by believing all the promises of God; all the promises of a new birth, a new identity, a new heart, a new Spirit, a new nature, a new self, a new freedom, a new power over sin, and so much more. And in living this life, in living into these promises, our faith overrules any attempts to work-to-earn God’s favor.
This comparison between Israel and us continues in the book of Hebrews into chapter 4 and in reference to us God declares, “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest” (Heb 4:9-11).
If there is any “work” to be done, it is this. Make every effort to enter God’s rest. Various Bible translations give the last sentence as “Let us strive to enter that rest” (ESV), “Let us make every effort to enter that rest” (NIV), “Let us be diligent to enter that rest” (NASB), “Let us labor to enter that rest” (KJV). How do labor and rest go together? They sound a little bit like opposites.
God’s rest is free. God’s rest is a gift of grace. But according to Hebrews 4, we don’t just fall into it. I know it sounds like a paradox, but there is “work” required from us to enter His rest. The “work” is our faith. And in its shortest explanation, we enter that rest by believing and allowing Jesus to live His promised resurrected life through us.
The rest of God is leaning into the abundant life He promised us. And it is exactly where He intends us to live. It is peace. It is joy. It is purpose. It is love for one another. It is service. It is pro-active. And it takes diligence, effort, striving, and labor to enter His rest.
But that striving is not self-effort. And here is the beauty. The very Spirit of God lives in you. The very Spirit of God empowers you. The very Spirit of God is the wind in your effort. And this wind that carries us along leads us to rest and ultimately to freedom. For in God’s rest, we find freedom from shame, guilt, fear, worry, insecurity, pride, and so much more.
So stop striving for position, for knowledge, for acclaim, for religious performance, for self-righteousness. Only one thing is worthy of striving for: seeking and finding the path to the beautiful life of rest. Easy burdens, light loads, and freedom.
As we travel along on the path of grace, may our melody be … simply believe and simply rest.