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Enter His rest Last update: March 2013

I’m asking you to bear with me please. I will answer the question about how God’s rest comes about. That is what this article is about. But first I have to set the scene and explain the background.

It is an amazing thing that if you ask any one Christian about where the New Testament starts the answer inevitably is "Matthew, isn't it?". Now of course that is correct. But what is not so obvious is that Matthew 1 is not the start of the New Testament. In the words of the writer of Hebrews, 'a testament can only come into effect once the testator (in this case, Jesus) is dead' (Hebrews 9:16-17). 

During His entire earthly ministry, Jesus's encouragement to the Jews was always to maintain and uphold the Law of Moses (Mark 1:44, Luke 5:12-14), albeit correctly and in faith, and to not simply follow rules because of the traditions that were passed down over the ages. His encouragement, amongst other things, was for the Jews - those who had the privilege of being counted under the Old Covenant - to understand that God's way always allows not for an ignorant adherence to rules but rather for an understanding of which matters He deems more important over others.

Of those who merely paid lip service to the Word (commands), He quoted Isaiah in saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me (Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8). Indeed, Jesus stressed the importance of the Jews’ hearts being turned being towards God (Matthew 19:7-9). We see that turning your heart towards God through faith and obedience is an immensely important theme throughout the whole Bible.

Thus, for the Jews of the time, to adhere to God’s Law was to pursue God's ways and not to simply perform "dead works", which is the following of a Law because of tradition. In one example Jesus was saying, 'if you hear (if you understand) the way of God and do not ignorantly follow a bunch of rules, you will know that the health of a person is more important to Him than the celebration of a Sabbath day' (Luke 13:15-17). What He was not saying was that 'the Law is all a bunch of baloney. You need to just have faith' as so many church-goers believe today on account of mainly Reformed and Charismatic teaching. In terms hereof the passages below makes Jesus's teaching more apparent. (Top)

The Old Covenant

Under the covenant which God made with Moses – “the Old Covenant” (essentially the Old Testament) - God gave His Law through Moses so that they (the Israelites), in adhering thereto, may be in right standing with Him. As such, they could count themselves 'in His camp' on account of which they could expect His favour as a result. And so, the Law served as a means to honour God through faith as well as to bring Him sacrifices of glory and sacrifices for the atonement of their iniquitysin and transgressions (collectively called "sins") which were committed under the Law.

Yet, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews (the Jewish Christians at the time) says that these sacrifices could not provide permanent atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 9:6-10). That's why these sacrifices of atonement had to be repeated over and over again. Nor could they, as was ultimately vital to salvation, clear the consciences of the people of God (Hebrews 9:13-15 - a reference to the New Testament's being "born again"). Instead, he says, only Jesus, who is the Son of God, being the 'eternal High Priest' for those who believe, can do that. And, the good news ("the Gospel") is that He has done that already by having entered the "heavenly tabernacle" (Hebrews 8:1-2, Hebrews 9:11) on behalf of those who are counted participants of His New Covenant. (Top)

The Law is a shadow

So, it is clear that the Old Testament Law with all its nuances and special rules is but "a copy" or "a foreshadow" (Hebrews 8:3-6) of what is experienced under the New Covenant. Jesus - the Lamb of God - willingly sacrificed His life and died for the Atonement of believers' sins. Having rested our whole personalities on the appropriation of His atoning Blood through Faith, He has saved New Testament believers from eternal death inasmuch as the Israelites exiting from Egypt were saved from natural death by the appropriation of the blood of a lamb (or a goat) through faith. 

Thus, Lamb, Blood, Faith, Atonement, Salvation in the New Testament is foreshadowed by lamb, blood, faith, atonement, salvation in the Old Testament. It is an allegory - the Old Testament represents in the natural realm that which is represented for believers in Christ in the spiritual realm today (Hebrews 2:14). Now becomes clear that the New Testament could not start without the shedding of Jesus's Blood and His Atoning death on the cross. 

While the New Covenant is a "better covenant" it does not in any way contradict the Old Covenant and the Law that was part of it (Matthew 5:17-19). As an example we see that Paul (NT) writes that 'faith is made unto righteousness and confession is made unto salvation' (Romans 10:9-10). While Jesus was hanging on the cross along with two sinners (still in the OT because He as the “testator” was still alive), both the criminal on His left and the criminal on His right mocked Him (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:31) until one of them has a change of heart (he repents), believes, and calls out to Jesus as “Lord”. That remains the pattern for New Testament believers as well. Without repentance there is no faith no-matter how morally upright you have been all your life. That is why Jesus talks about His mission as "calling sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32).

It is to this man (the one who repented, believed and confessed his faith, not the other) to whom Jesus says ‘today you will be in Paradise with me’ (Luke 23:39-43). What is true in the New Testament (Romans 10:9-10) was also true in the Old Testament: repentance and faith towards God (Mark 1:14-15) are very much thekey to salvation. (Top)

What is faith?

Apart from faith being confidence and trust in Him, it is also an adherence to His commands. This is an important point: faith equals obedience. The writer of Hebrews makes it plain that, whilst God commanded the Old Testament Israelites through the Law of Moses, He now commands New Testament believers through His Spirit, directly into their hearts (Hebrews 8:10, 1 John 2:27). This is because Jesus, when He rose again and was taken up into heaven, sent the Paraclete - the Helper, the Holy Spirit, the Teacher, the Counsellor - to “write the Law of God on our hearts" as Jeremiah prophesied He would do some 600 years prior. And, what the Spirit does, is He teaches us through His written Word (2 Timothy 3:15-17) and through 'wispering into our hearts'. For those who have access to Bibles there is no excuse to not know what is written in it.


Key point #1: Faith and Obedience

Today, given that the Holy Spirit is available to those who have been born of Him, the law of God written by Him on our hearts individually is the standard by which we are measured. And so, the Law which was written on physical objects in the natural realm in the Old Testament times has been transformed to the Law that is continually being written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit if and when we listen to what He says and then do it.

Accordingly, God still wants us to obey His commandments (1 John 2:3-6), only that this time, His commandments are not written in Law books but on our hearts, if and when we listen to what He commands us and we do it. It is for this reason that the writer of Hebrews gives a stern warning to those who do not listen and to those who do listen but do not obey: do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion (Hebrews 3:15). To not obey the commandments of God given directly to your heart is called “rebellion”, and it is called “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God”.

Today, those who are led by the written down Law of Moses need the Law of Moses for a want (a loss) of hearing His Spirit for themselves. These are the ones who do not yet recognise Jesus as the Son of God. And, these are the ones who do know of Him as the Son of God but who are yet to be born of His Spirit (John 3:6, 1 Peter 1:3, 1 John 5:1). 

Those who are born of His Spirit have literally received a totally regenerated, new spirit within them (John 3:6) and can now hear Him clearly speak to them directly and personally, if only they would choose to obey Him. Then, those who are led by the Spirit of God, these “are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

Where obedience to the Law of Moses brought about right standing in the Old Testament, it is obedience to the Law of the Spirit that now brings about right standing with God in the New Testament (Romans 8:1-4).

"Wait a minute!", I hear some say, "It is faith alone, not 'faith plus' anything else that brings right standing with God". Indeed, faith = obedience. That is exactly what the writer of Hebrews is saying.

Without obedience to God's commandsments (His Spirit's promptings) there is no faith. And, without faith there is no obedience to God's word (James 2:18, 1 John 2:3). Faith = obedience to God's word. In Hebrews He says, 'not obeying what God is (continually) speaking to your heart is as good as the disobedience of the Israelites in the desert who were rewarded for their lack of faith by being denied entrance to God's rest - the Promised Land' (Hebrews 3:7-18). To the believer who is genuinely born of God the Bible says, when you hear His voice do not harden you heart. That is a clear warning because such behaviour has a clear consequence - the consequence of the unbelieving Israelites in the desert. In other words, 'listen to what He is saying to you (not what He is saying to someone else) and do as He has commanded you'. (Top)

Key point #2: God still commands us

The idea that God still commands His people has become foreign to many church-goers. It is far easier to think of Him as 'gently requesting a favour' from you or me, or Him 'quietly hoping we would do the right thing'. But such misplaced sentiment is deceptive and deeply dangerous. God is and was and forever will be a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24, Hebrews 12:29) in the same way that He was in the Old Testament. Be diligent not to be told otherwise. 

That is why you should not summarily accept what I am saying here. Nor should you summarily accept what any other person is saying. Test all things (teaching) by the Word of God and retain what is true. Brother Brilliant Teacher or Father Age-old Oracle may just have it wrong on a key issue. Gladly and thankfully receive teaching from your pastor or priest by also learn to hear God for yourself to know if what was said is accurate.

But, what does this have to do with entering God's rest? Isn't God's rest supposed to mean that everything turns out well for us? Yes, perhaps. But not necessarily. (Top)

Key point #3: God’s Sabbath rest

God's rest means that we cease to be subject to the anxiety we experience when we do not listen to His voice and obey. His rest means that whatever our circumstances we trust that He is not only in control but that He has our best intentions at heart because He has given us command and we have done what He said. That is His rest. His rest is based squarely on our obedience to what He says to us individually.

Each of us is at a different place of spiritual growth, so what is true for one may not be true for another. Note, I'm not saying we choose what truths we like and then adhere only to those. Not at all! Rather, listen to the Spirit and follow the specific guidance He provides to your heart regarding things that are written in the Bible. As Paul notes, one may find some food to be offensive. Others not. And the reality is both may be right before God. It depends very much on where you have been and where God's Spirit is taking you right now. This is the problem with an over-emphasis on Orthodoxy - it ultimately seeks to replace the promptings of the Spirit in the name of 'uniformity'. Not always a godly thing.

For those born of the Spirit (not those born of a church membership register, or those born of the approval of a priest) God’s rest is vested in clear, exact, timeous and specific obedience to the Holy Spirit as and when He speaks to our hearts individually. It is for this reason that the Bible says ‘work hard to enter His rest’ (Hebrews 4:11). In other words, work hard to listen to what He says to you and do it. Resist the human heart’s tendency to listen to your own wants. And, resist the temptation to not do what He says as and when He says it. Work hard at it. Even when our adverse circumstances are of our own doing we still can have that level of faith (trust, adherence, confidence) in Him which causes anxiety to go and causes us to experience His rest.

(I know there are multiple understandings of the book of Hebrews’ reference to the “Sabbath rest". Nevertheless, consider the following:)

As humans we remain inhabitants of this earth. We breathe, we eat, we drink, we sleep. For us to enter His rest our hearts (our thinking, our feelings and our deepest inner be-ing) first has to retire to the heavenly realm in the same way in which God’s Spirit returned to the heavenlies after His work on earth was done following the creation narrative.

Allow me to explain: when God's Spirit brooded over the waters of the earth at creation, He produced all that we see, smell, taste, hear and feel on this earth. But when His Spirit concluded the work of creation in this natural realm He did the very thing the writer of Hebrews calls entering "God's Sabbath rest" - He retired His Spirit to the heavenly realm. Thus, God rested from all works performed in the natural realm until Jesus came to represent Him again in this physical form. Yet, that does not mean that God did nothing in the spiritual realm since then. What it means for you and me is that retiring our efforts from the natural realm in order to have confidence in His presence in the spiritual realm is what is called “the Sabbath rest” in Hebrews: There remains therefore a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9). There is only one occurrence of the word translated “rest” here. It is the transliterated Greek word “sabbatismos” and means ‘a rest equal to or like the Sabbath rest’.

Can you see where God's rest comes from? God's rest comes when we - mere mortal human beings - enter His Sabbath by retiring our natural efforts into His hands through hearing what He says and then doing it. It is then that He becomes the ‘driver of the bus we are on’ while we rest in the assurance that He is taking us to a ‘good place’. His rest comes as and when we absolutely pursue hearing Him speak to us individually and then dilligently obeying what He says because we trust Him.

His rest comes by being His children through spiritual rebirth. His rest comes when we hear His voice like the Israelites did in the desert. When we do not harden our hearts but obey in faith every word He commands us individually. It is then that His ways bring peace to us: If Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:8-10).

To those who are born of His Spirit, God is continually speaking to us individually and personally about the things He wants us as individuals to be addressing. As such, the Law of His Spirit is 100% custom-designed and personalised to our individual circumstances and to our own unique issues. It is for this reason that the writer of Hebrews says, None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them (Hebrews 8:10-12).

Note, he is not saying there will be no need for teachers of truth - on the contrary (Hebrews 5:12-6:3). Only that there will be no need for teachers of God’s Law because, on account of the New Covenant, His Spirit is the Teacher of His Law.

Now, do you see the grave implication? If you or I do not receive spiritual rebirth and if we do not hear His Law in our hearts and if we do not obey them, we do not fall under the New Covenant. That is serious! No, it is not ‘over-the-top fear mongering’, it is exactly what the Bible says (Hebrews 8:7-12).

Having considered the above, God’s rest is a ‘must-have’, not a nice-to-have’. It comes through:

Then comes the exhortation: ‘be diligent and work hard [at listening to Him and obeying Him] lest you miss out altogether in entering His rest!’ (Top)

An analogy

Imagine that upon arrival at International Departures you realised that you forgot your passport at home, then jumped in the car, rushed back home, fetched your passport, checked-in your luggage, entered through Security and Passport Control, and made it just in time through the Boarding gate as a plane full of impatiently waiting passengers watch you intently as you find your seat and buckle up. Sitting down you realise that you are now on your way to visit New York City for the first time, something you could easily have missed if you did not make it back to the airport and through the various checkpoints in time.

Now, consider that during your ordeal you heard God say, “don’t take the highway, take the back route” and, “check in through the lady with the brown hair” and, “let the man behind you go through”, and “offer to carry the lady’s carry bag for her to the next Boarding gate”. Imagine you obeyed all His commands.

Now, sitting in the plane – which should have departed a long time ago but has not – you reflect on the preceding three hours and realise that a sense of excitement and also peace has come over you. You realise that you have done all you can – not through your own device but by obeying God’s command – to be on the plane (to enter His rest). Even when some of the things He commanded you to do like “offer to carry the lady’s carry bag for her to the next Boarding gate” did not make sense, you obeyed. And now, imagine you are sitting on that plane – everything having worked out just fine because the plane was unexpectantly delayed anyway, you realise that you have entered His rest.

That does not mean that you have already arrived in New York City – you’re still on the runway, remember. But you realise that inasmuch as God ensured that you boarded the plane successfully and on time, He will also ensure that you will also arrive safely at your end destination – New York City.

What that means, practically, is that hearing Him and obeying Him has given you more confidence (faith) in Him. You now rest in the fulfillment of His promise(s). And it is this faith that makes arriving at your end destination a fait accompli – a done deal, no question asked and no anxiety whatsoever. Now, you have entered God’s rest. And, it came about by:


Key point #4: Once saved, always saved?

There is a doctrine amongst Protestants and Catholics alike that essentially says, Once saved, always saved. This may in fact be the correct interpretation of the New Testament. Augustine of Hippo (often referenced by Catholics) and John Calvin (referenced by Protestants) were very strong proponents of this doctrine. Personally, while I am in agreement with Calvin on many issues, regarding this issue I am thoroughly unconvinced. In fact, as noted, I see this teaching as downright dangerous!

It is agreed that Jesus is the author and finisher (perfector) of our faith. No one will pluck us out of His hand. But that does not mean we cannot neglect our salvation and dishonour His Name ("trample the blood of Jesus underfoot"), thus crucifying Him again and receiving the just punishment for it. Of such the writer of Hebrews says, it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift (John 3:6, Acts 2:38), and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them (1 Peter 1:3) again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).

The writer of Hebrews expressly notes that those who have been born again may, through a decision of their will as an act of commission (doing something) or an act of omission (not doing something) ‘jump’ out of God’s hand, for whom there can be no return to repentance and another regeneration of their spirits.

I believe the reason for this is simple: when Adam sinned his spirit (not his body) died on that very same day (was separated from the Spirit of God who had given him life by breathing into him). The good news of the Kingdom of God as brought about by Jesus is that He made it possible for humans to again receive a regenerated spirit – a spirit that is born afresh by the Spirit of God. This represents the very last opportunity to be born of the Spirit of God. If anyone, after they had been born again, choose to be separated from God by deliberately denying Him (as Adam and Eve did), their spirits will die a second time from which there is no return. This is the grave warning to us and exactly how the writer of Hebrews sums up the book of Hebrews:

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come — and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6).

Do not neglect your salvation by not hearing God for yourself and by not doing what He says to you personally. (Top)

How do we hear Him speak to us?

If you cannot yet hear God speak to you I believe it is prudent to investigate whether or not you have genuinely been born again and whether or not you have received the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:18).

If you are sure that you are genuinely born again and have not merely assumed it on erroneous church doctrine that says anyone who is  baptised into the (Catholic) church is born again, and you still do not hear God, I will recommend that you continue to pray over it and ask God if there is sin in your life, which blocks God’s messages to you. Satan can indeed resist God’s messages to you (Daniel 10:10-14).

Then, I will recommend that you endeavour to do something on God’s behalf where you may not be naturally gifted in. But get serious and find an area where, perhaps, you are  weak. Considering the examples in the Bible of those who pursued God not through their natural talents but through in ways where they were weak (Exodus 4:10, 1 Samuel 16:7, 2 Corinthians 10:10, 2 Corinthians 12:9) this may not be a bad idea (there is precedent also for pursuing God through your strengths, however).

Nevertheless, you may find something radical like preaching on street corners or handing out tracts. Or, it may be something less threatening to your personal reputation (though your reputation may be the very thing you will need to give up) like feeding the poor. Through these actions we allow ourselves to be worked through and worked on by God. He changes us as we are forced to listen out for Him else we get what we're doing completely wrong. When we serve God through our natural talents we tend to not pay attention to hearing Him that much. And, we tend to create excuses for choosing to serve Him in the areas which are far more fun, like "a ministry amongst business people". And, we tend to serve our own needs (Luke 14:8). Nevertheless, you may have a genuine heart for business people. God will know it for He knows your heart. If it is that then serve Him by listening to what and how He wants you to behave. He is changing you from inside (Matthew 23:26).

He creates tenderness (humility) for others in our hearts.

By our service we know that it is not the actual service to the local charity or the local religious education organisation per se that saves us. But, what our service tends to do, nevertheless, is to get us to accept our weaknesses and fallibility, and to get us to listen carefully to what God is saying to us lest we fail. It gets us to hear His Spirit and to obey His commandment to our heart. It gets us to enter His rest.

If we think God only speaks to us occasionally then we are deeply mistaken. He speaks to us all the time, if only we would take the time to listen (Romans 8:13).

And, if we listen, and when we hear Him and do what He says, His Word cleans us. His Word sanctifies us. (Top)

Related articles:

  • Heavenly places
  • Thanks to the Prosperity Gospel
  • Are you born again?
  • The Kingdom of God
  • The kingdom of Constantine


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    Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptual. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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