The New Testament book of Hebrews is full of rich, intricate theology. That makes it very enlightening and encouraging. However, it also causes the book to require thoughtful reading. It can’t be skimmed lightly.
Don’t Fall Short. Be Diligent to Enter God’s Rest.
Chapter 4 (starting a couple of verses back into chapter 3) is one of the deep passages that can cause confusion. There are three verses that always stand out from the surrounding text, and startle me. I leap to the conclusion that they mean I need to work to be sure I have jumped through all the right hoops to enter Heaven.
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.Hebrews 3:12
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard .Hebrews 4:2
This verse is referring to the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land of Canaan. Those who didn’t trust enough to actually enter that land stayed in the wilderness until that generation passed away and their children entered. They were told the good news, but did not have faith to get the benefit of it. You can see the story in Numbers 13-14.
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.Hebrews 4:11
Is this saying that it is possible to participate in the Christian community without having chosen a real heart relationship with Jesus, a personal faith that opens the door to His eternal life? Yes, it is.
Being a part of the Israelite community did not get the doubters into the Promised Land. That took faith in God that most of them did not have (even after experiencing all the miraculous deliverance from Egypt!).
Is it saying that a genuine Christian — one who has chosen to accept Jesus as personal Savior — can limit themselves from the full, rich experience of the abundant life that Jesus offers? Yes, it is.
Accepting Jesus but then living in my own strength without depending on Him makes each day less vibrant than it should be.
Is it saying that the genuine Christian without “enough” faith is doomed to wander around unable to enter Heaven? No, it is not.
Not So Fast!
With full context, the chapter is saying to QUIT trying to jump through hoops! Instead, trust in what Jesus has already accomplished. Don’t be like the Israelites, missing out on God’s promise because they thought they had to complete the task themselves. They didn’t trust that God was going to do the work for them.
For an unbeliever, the chapter is indeed a serious warning: Don’t expect that being part of the overall group is a substitute for personal faith in Jesus. The text reminds us that God can tell the difference!
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.Hebrews 4:12-13
For a Christian, though, the “rest” in question is not their arrival in Heaven. It’s their peace in this life, knowing that God is holding them and that He has everything under control.
First, let’s look at God’s rest. The writer of Hebrews refers back to creation.
By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.Genesis 2:2-3
God had completed all that He had set out to do. There was no more of the same kind of creative work needed; He could sit back and enjoy His creation. But He didn’t just curl up and take a long nap. He turned His focus to the next steps of His plan: His relationship with humankind, their sin, and His redemption via Jesus.
Jesus also came to a point where He had accomplished what He set out to do. He had fulfilled all the prophecies, and had paid the full price needed to atone for sin.
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, *said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.John 19:28-30
but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.Hebrews 10:12-14
Jesus has already finished all of the work needed in order to make me right with God. I don’t have to perform any penance, do any good deeds, or take any action other than simply accept that gift. I do have to accept it, though; He always gives us a choice whether to come to Him or not.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
This chapter is urging the readers to put their faith fully in Jesus alone. It is encouraging the Christian to realize that his salvation is already accomplished. I don’t need to put any more effort into being reconciled to God. That is handled, and I can rest on that assurance.
For we who have believed enter that rest…Hebrews 4:3a
In particular, to the Jewish Christians to whom the book was written, they did not need to return to Judaism’s system of laws and sacrifices. Yes, they still should want to behave in ways that honor God. But they didn’t need to worry that any mistake they made would get them kicked out. They were in for good!
For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.Hebrews 4:10
Now I can move on to the next steps of growing in my relationship with Him. I have plenty to do as I go through life with Him, working “diligently” to grow into the person He designed me to be. There is still sin in me that needs to be confessed so it can be forgiven (and there always will be). Each day will always have challenges and room for growth. But I don’t need to be concerned that I’m not “enough”. He already knows that, and is standing by to help me.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:15-16
Isn’t that a relief? If you’re like me, it causes an abrupt relaxation of the tension from the beginning of this article. Now that is God’s rest!