Labor to Enter the Rest

Hebrews 4:11 (KJV) 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

We have been looking at how the grace of God enables us to overcome the weakness of the flesh and the temptations of the world. In Romans 7 we find a description of a person who is struggling with these forces. Most honest Christians understand what Paul is talking about. We are Christians, but we live in a world that Romans 8 calls enmity or hatred for God.

In Romans 8, Paul tells us the solution to what he calls the “wretchedness” of Romans 7.

Romans 8:1 (NKJV) 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

There is no condemnation for a person who walks in the Spirit and not in the flesh. In Hebrews 4, we find insights into what it means to walk in the spirit. In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, we see the people of Israel succumbing to unbelief which leads to rebellion and hardness of the heart. Because of this condition, the first generation never enters the Promised land of Canaan. Hebrews calls this their “rest.”

However, Hebrews is not talking about ancient Israel alone. The book exhorts us not to fall into the same trap. We must not give in to unbelief, rebellion and hardness of heart. Why not? Because there is still a rest available to the people of God. It is a rest Israel never entered even in subsequent generations. Verse 10 tells us to labor to enter the rest available to us in Christ or we will fall just as ancient Israel did.

A major key to understanding what Hebrews is talking about is the word rest. According to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, this word does not mean inactivity. It means the harmony of all aspects of the human being working together. Man is spirit, soul and body. When all three are fulfilling the function that God intended, Christianity and everything it entails becomes a rest not a struggle.

In this rest, faith flows naturally. Holiness is not an impossibility. Temptation, always there, is no longer the danger it once was. Resistance to sin is almost unnecessary. We simply flow with the nature of God into our destiny. The nature of God becomes the dominant factor in our behavior. This is what God wants for us.

Today, there is an increasingly popular idea that seems to say this condition can be attained simply by believing that God did it all. Sin was paid for, therefore there is no need to worry about it. If we sin, it is “no big deal” because Jesus already died for my sin. I should just relax, enjoy life and eventually heaven will be my home. What happens here and now is almost irrelevant.

Though there is truth in that perspective, how that “rest” comes to us is being lost. We live in an entitlement society. The thought that we do not have to do anything to obtain the “rest” plays into entitlement thinking. It does not agree with the bible.

Hebrews 4:10 tells us that we must labor to enter the rest. It goes on to say that if we do not, we risk the same fate that befell the first generation of Israel. We will fail to enter the real purpose of God for our lives just as they did.

Labor, KJV, and rest seem opposites at first glance. In the natural, we know they are not. How do we come to a place of rest in retirement? Do we simply waste our time through life and expect that when we are older we will be able to quit working and just do what we want for the rest of our lives? If we think that, we find out we are wrong.

If we want to “rest” in retirement we have to work for many years to lay the foundation. We have to discipline ourselves to resist the temptation to spend all we have on temporary pleasure. We must put away some of what we earn for the future. Advertisement today is full of companies exhorting us to make sure we have enough to “rest” for the last part of life.

The “rest” of Hebrews 4 is not an entitlement. It is, however, far more than retirement. It is a rest available for our whole life, not just the end. It is a rest that will consume our work life in peace and joy. It is a rest that will cause us to rise above sin and the enemy all the days of our lives. It is a rest that will take us to our destiny. It is also a rest for which there is a labor to be done.

I am going to take a little “rabbit trail” here. In John 17:3, Jesus says that real life is to know God and the one he sent, Jesus. There is no life greater, more abundant in what makes life worth living than to know God personally. The quest of every believer should be to know him better every day. In a very real sense this is the rest we are talking about.

I have heard some talk a great deal about this relationship. They rightly point out that to know God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the answer to how we can walk in victory. What seems to me to be lacking is any teaching on how to know him. I think Hebrews tells us. We must be diligent to get to know him. In the King James Version, it says we must labor. Knowing God takes a certain amount of work.

We know this is true in any other relationship. We say all the time that a good marriage takes a certain amount and type of work. I raised six children and I love them. Staying in right relationship with them through the various phases of child rearing certainly takes work. Keeping good friends around us takes work. Why do we think that the rest of relationship with God does not?

In our last post, we answered the question of what it means to walk in the spirit. I believe it is the rest of Hebrews 4. Not a rest of inactivity but a rest of harmony. Each part of my being is given to me for a purpose. My body is the part of me with which I relate to the physical world. My soul made up of my intellect, emotions and will, was given to me to relate to the intellectual world. It is a bridge between my body, the outward world and the world of the spirit.

My spirit is the part that was given to me to relate to God. It is where I hear him and feel his presence. It is the part created in his image and likeness. It is that part of me that was made to be in control of my life. The other parts function to be the channel through which the inner man can relate to and affect the outer world.

To walk in the spirit means to actively live with that part of me in control. When I do, the Christian life becomes a rest. When I do not, I find myself in “Romans 7.” The flesh drives me to do what I do not want to do and the spirit cries within me to be what God wants me to be.

How do I get to the rest? I must labor, be diligent or work. We are not at all talking about the works of the law. We are talking about the works of faith.

James 2:17 (NKJV) 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

The real question is, “What kind of works must we do and what is the point of the work?” The problem is not that Christians are working too hard to know God. It is that they are doing the wrong works for the wrong reasons. The solution is not to stop working. That leads to disaster. Just ask Israel. The solution is to learn how to work, what works to do and why we do them.


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