Entering into God’s Rest
© C. O. Bishop 3/13/2017 THCF 3/19/17
Last week we talked about the rest God offers to his people, and the fact that there are at least seven different kinds of “rest” spoken of in His Word:
- The rest of God himself after the Creation,
- The rest offered to Israel in the land of Canaan,
- The rest given to the next generation of Israel in the land of Canaan,
- The rest demanded for the Land
- The rest offered to Ruth (and provided to her) in the book of Ruth,
- The rest Jesus offered to unbelievers, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,
- The rest Jesus offered to believers, “Ye shall find rest unto your soul…”
- The rest God offers for the believer in Christ’s labor and His rest,
- Eternal rest in Heaven.
Notice that some of these are gifts, given to all who become believers. Jesus said “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” That is a gift given on the sole condition of placing your trust in Him for your salvation. But others are based on some further conditions. For example, Israel had to actually enter into the land to experience the rest God offered there.
In the same manner, the rest in question here, in Hebrews 3 and 4, is the rest offered to believers, conditional upon their faith and obedience. You have to enter in to the rest, by choice, by faith.
14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
In a very practical sense, we only “partake” in the person of Christ by a continuing relationship with him, which extends beyond initial faith. There is a wide variety of possible responses to God’s Grace, beyond initial saving faith. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus said that there were four different kinds of “soil” into which the “seed” of God’s Word could fall:
- The first group completely ignored the Word, and were called “the pathway”, or, “the wayside”…and the birds of the air came and removed the seed. These are not those to whom this warning applies. There had been zero response to the Gospel. There was no pretense…they simply were not interested. The Word made no impression upon them.
- The second group were called “stony ground”: there was an initial response to the Gospel, even a joyous response; but there was no depth, and they fell away at the first difficulty. This may be those to whom this warning applies; I can’t be sure. Remember that among those who escaped Egypt, there were always those who strongly advocated a return to Egypt. It is entirely possible that this group were never believers, so they desired to “return to their father’s house.” This may parallel those who made an initial response but were never committed to the truth of the Word. They heard it all, but apparently never really believed: Judas, among others, fell into this category. He was never born again.
- There was a third group who had genuine root, and were a genuine plant, but in thorny ground, where it could not become fruitful. These were evidently real believers, but ones for whom it never became a high enough priority to change their life. The cares of this world choked the seed so that it did not become fruitful. That does not mean they were not genuine…it means they never bore fruit. Are they saved? I think they are, though many disagree.
- The fourth group, of course, are those called “good soil,” and whose lives bore fruit for God, in varying quantity.
Fruit-bearing is subsequent to salvation, and is not a guaranteed result, as far as I can see—it is a normal result, a desirable result, and an expected result; but not guaranteed. And, even within that group in the parable, there was a wide variance in the amount of fruit borne. Believers are constantly exhorted to lay aside the sins that so easily beset them, and focus on the task at hand. (Why? Because, typically, we don’t!) In fact, if the “normal Christian life” were the only possibility, most of the New Testament would be unnecessary, as Christians would just automatically do the right things. But we don’t: we have to be constantly reminded.
It is interesting, though, that, in the few places where we are told to watch (or examine) the “fruit” of other people, it was false teachers against whom the warning was being made, and the fruit was their teaching. When he said “by their fruits ye shall know them”, the issue was false teaching, not the way they lived.
Is there another kind of fruit? Yes, we are told that our lives are to bear fruit, and that the fruit is to remain. There is an aspect of fruit-bearing that is specifically referring to spiritual progeny, as a result of a Godly life, and faithful testimony. The Fruit of the Spirit is supposed to be there at all times in a believer’s life, but it should result in others being drawn to Christ, as well. We are to be witnesses for Him. We will talk more about fruit at another time.
Entering by Faith—or Not
15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
So, we see that there was a mixture of folk who came out of Egypt. in fact, it is apparent that there were some who may not have even been Jews, as well: they were referred to as the “mixed multitude” and they were a source of trouble. They were frequently the source of grumblings and rebellion. They may or may not have even been believers, though all had at least gone through the motions of a professed faith, to the extent that they survived the judgment on Egypt.
Unbelievers in the local church are commonplace. They don’t actually belong to the body of Christ, but they are still people for whom Christ died, and as such, they are precious souls, not a foreign body to be rejected, unless they force it. We are to recognize that there may be those among us who have never truly believed. Jesus knew Judas’ heart, and his final warning (if you can call it that) was given in John 13:10, 11. Judas had come along for the ride, had seen the miracles, and partaken of the spiritual experience…but was not made clean through faith in the Word, as were the others (compare John 15:3.)
These are those to whom the sternest warnings are extended, so far as I can tell. They are in deadly danger, having become inoculated against faith by constant exposure to the truth, and the gradual hardening of their own hearts. It has been noted that while exposure to warm sunlight softens wax, the same exposure will harden clay. The difference is in the heart of the hearer. We reveal who we really are by our response to God’s Word. By the way, I think it is appropriate to point out that Jesus is several times identified as being “The Word”, or even the “WORD OF GOD” (all caps), in the scripture. I think it is safe to say that how we respond to the written Word is indicative of our real response to the Living Word, Jesus himself.
17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
The warning stands, as it is written, for all to read. All I can say, is “let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit saith.” A person has to check one’s own heart and ask where he or she really stands.
Vernon McGee told how, when he was young, he was sent to the barn to tend the animals at night. He carried a lantern, and, as he entered the dark barn, two things happened: the rats that crept through the barn at night would scurry for cover, fleeing the light. But the birds in the rafters, thinking the lantern light was sunrise, began to sing. Why the difference? The difference was in the character of the individual. Jesus said “And this is the judgment; that light has come into the World, and men loved darkness, rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
Jesus is Better than the Sabbath day: (He is the real Sabbath.)
Hebrews Chapter Four
1Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
Here is a very plain explanation of that difference. Judas heard all the same words as the other disciples, but chose to disbelieve. Therefore, when he was still present, Jesus said “…ye are not all clean.” But after Judas had left, he reiterated the earlier statement of cleanliness, saying to the remaining eleven, “Now ye are clean, through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The difference was faith.
In the case of Israel in the wilderness, they had really intended to enter the land. They were directed to send the twelve spies into the land, one from each tribe, to discern the best way to enter…not to decide whether to enter. When the spies returned, they showed the fruit of the land, and confirmed that everything God had promised about the land was completely true, but they had seen giants there. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, confirmed all of the above, and said, “Let’s go get ‘em!” The other ten said, “Forget it! They will eat us alive! Let’s go back to Egypt!” The people wept all night because of the evil report of the ten spies, and, in the morning, when Joshua and Caleb reiterated their call to action, the people wanted to stone them, and were ready to appoint new leaders to take them back to Egypt. That is when God stepped in and forbade that generation to go in, and a lot of them died of the ensuing plague—the ten spies died on the spot, punished by God.
What about the believers who also failed to enter in? They could not go back and “un-apply” the blood of the Passover, or “un-pass” through the Red Sea. Those things were done…they had believed God, at that point, but had failed at the point of entering the land. If, like them, I am “failing, through unbelief”, I can’t go back and “un-apply” Jesus’ blood to my sin, nor “un-impute” his righteousness to my account (both of which were done by God, not me.) All I am doing is failing to receive the blessing and security and rest that he still offers to believers.
3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
Now we are entering a different issue: the rest offered to believers. All believers have entered into the “salvation rest” Jesus offered. (Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.) The writer confirms that all we who have believed DO enter into rest. But not all have further submitted themselves to His loving leadership and learned from Him; so, not all “find rest” unto their souls. This is a hard concept, though the application is simple.
4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.
This, of course, refers back to Genesis 2:2. We see this as the beginning of the teaching regarding the Sabbath, and so we should. That is what it is. But we need to carefully consider the remainder of what the scripture teaches regarding the Sabbath.
5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.
Here we see a warning regarding the rest he was offering Israel, in Canaan. It had nothing to do with the keeping of a seventh-day Sabbath. It had to do with following through with the offer of God, and entering the land of Canaan.
6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
This is from Psalm 95—many long years after Israel had not only entered the land but (especially under David, who wrote this psalm) had actually laid claim to nearly every bit of the promised territory. They were relatively secure in the land. They had “arrived!” And yet they were warned to “enter in” to God’s rest! The Land was not the rest. There had to be something else: something more!
8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
(This is referring to Joshua, actually—the Old Testament name “Joshua” is the Hebrew name that Jesus actually bore, so the KJV translators correctly translated it from its Greek form, “Iesus”, into English, but it confuses us, who read it today.) The point was that Joshua DID bring them into the land. If that was the “rest” offered, and had already been received, then why did David describe such a “rest” as still being offered to believers, nearly 500 years later?
9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
The writer concludes that neither the Sabbath rest nor the Canaan rest were the actual fulfillment of the rest offered by Christ. Notice that he says that this specific rest remains “for the people of God”—believers. What is the “rest”, then? And why is it offered after faith has come? If salvation itself is not the “rest”, then what are we talking about?
10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
“Labor” to enter into “rest?” What rest? How do we labor to enter into rest? It is actually pretty difficult, in some ways, to accomplish what is being taught, here, because it goes against our flesh. We all want to believe that we can do something to earn a right standing with God. Even though we know we were saved by Grace through Faith, we still want to think that, at some level, we “deserve” God’s Grace. The word “deserve” means to “have earned”…if you can earn God’s favor, it is no longer Grace but wages. “Grace” specifically means “unearned favor.”
So, he says that “he who has entered into rest has ceased from his own works.” It requires constant attention for us to break the cycle of legalism, by which we hope to impress God with our behavior. We have to learn to submit ourselves daily to God, to allow Him to live through us. The result is that we quit worrying about whether we are “doing enough”. We simply do what He calls us to do. And what He calls us to do is to share His yoke—share the job he was sent to do; share the concerns of His heart. He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me… and ye shall find rest to your souls.”
How does this bring about “rest?” For one thing, since I am convinced that His blood was full payment for my sins, I have quit wondering whether I am really saved. Having placed my faith in Jesus’ completed work, there is nothing for me to add to His work, nor can it be diminished. Jesus said “it is finished!” And it is!
So, we can stop “trying to be good enough” for God. Jesus is the only one who makes the grade at all, and, if you have been born again, you are in Him, and that is the only way God sees you! His work was completed at the Cross: Rest in Him!
Daily seek to maintain fellowship by trusting Him and obeying Him. Feed on His Word. Reach out to those around you with His Love and care and kindness. But rest in Him. The work is done! Even as we serve as ambassadors, we are only fulfilling the works God prepared for us in advance. According to Ephesians 2:10, all we are doing is “walking in them.” We don’t even generate the will to do so… Philippians 2:13 says that “It is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Rest in Him: let Him work through you.
Lord Jesus, teach us what it means to “rest”, and to “enter in to your rest.” Feed us on your Word, encourage us by your Holy Spirit, and enlighten our minds by your presence.