The rest spoken of in the New Testament is not rest from physical work, although this is often desirable as well. God is always at work and never rests, or else the devil would wreak havoc on God’s creation, especially mankind. The true rest accorded by the gospel is cessation from our own works in pursuit of perfection and righteousness.
When we refuse to enter that rest by preferring our own efforts at purification, the writer to the Hebrews warns his readers that they would then be following in their ancestors’ example of disobedience, reminding them of the dire consequences of failing to enter God’s rest: They will perish, just as the Israelites did:
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9-11)
Exactly how do we fail to enter God’s rest? It is through the sin of unbelief. Christ knows our weaknesses intimately and is ready by His grace and mercy to forgive sins. All that He asks of those who would follow Him is that they must have faith. The reason the Israelites were destroyed in the wilderness did not therefore have to do with sins that could have been forgiven, but something fundamentally worse, which is unbelief:
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:12, 16, 19)
In our modern society, unbelief is present whenever Christians perform good works as a way of trying to attract God’s favor, forgetting that they were saved simply by God’s grace.
Anyone trying to be nice to God so as to be saved actually offends Him. Prayer and fasting, reading the Bible, going to the church gathering, singing in the choir, tithes and offerings do not buy us salvation. Believers cannot enjoy being in God’s presence due to misplaced guilt.
If God has given us eternal rest, we are supposed to do good works as we are enabled by His grace already at work in us; this, in turn, further enhances our fellowship with Him.
One of the most common ways in which believers show that they have not entered God’s rest is through repentance prayers. Wherever Christians are gathered, it is almost guaranteed that one of the items for prayer will be a fervent cry for the Father to forgive the sins of those gathered, of course by the blood of Jesus.
Such prayers are totally unnecessary. We simply betray ignorance of our position in Christ. But even worse is the consideration that if we must day after day say prayers of repentance, we can hardly be said to have entered God's rest.
Those who have believed the message of Christ are able to go before God despite their weaknesses, knowing that our loving Father has accepted them in that imperfect condition:
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
It is impossible to approach the throne of grace with confidence if Christians are preoccupied with thoughts about whether they are really worthy to go before the Father. That is an indication of unbelief – they do not believe that God has accepted them despite their many weaknesses.
It is good to remember that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Unbelief is detestable before God. It essentially denotes a lack of faith, without which “it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). When scripture affirms in no uncertain terms that all our sins are forgiven once for all and that God has accepted us, yet believers find that they must still work hard for their salvation – through seeking cleansing by the blood of Jesus every now and then, offering tithes and doing so much more – the sin of unbelief is as much in our midst as it was among the followers of Moses who were destroyed.
The forsaking of useless rituals is fundamental for those who want to enter God’s rest.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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