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God's 'Rest' Needs Obedient Faith

Hebrews 4:1-2
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. (NIVUK)

The 'rest', which was promised to those who left Egypt in the exodus, was to settle in the Promised Land (Joshua 1:13). Then they would have rest from the cruel slavery of Egypt, rest from their struggles in the wilderness and rest from their enemies who opposed God's purpose for them. At every point there was conflict, but rest was promised for those who obeyed God because they believed His Word. It was the same for the recipients of this letter … publicly insulted and persecuted, their property confiscated and their brothers in Christ imprisoned (Hebrews 10:32-34). Therefore the writer urges believers to persevere in faith (Hebrews 10:35-36).

The physical Promised Land is a picture of undiluted rest in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ for ever (Hebrews 9:15). That inheritance is promised to us, as it was to the first readers of this letter. But like the wilderness generation, who did not believe God and therefore thought that they were right to flagrantly disobey His commands, our eternal inheritance requires the kind of faith which chooses to obey God's Word. Those who died in the desert literally 'fell short' of the Promised Land. But to 'fall short' is one of the Bible's terms for sin. The disobedience of unbelief is sin: it leaves us exposed to conflict with no armistice. Without repentance and restoration, the conflict continues into the cauldron of hell where there is no rest for the wicked (Revelation 14:11).

God's promise stands alongside God's gospel of grace. Those who believe the gospel inherit eternal rest; those who turn away from the gospel, or intentionally 'fall short' of receiving God's grace, will have no rest (Isaiah 57:20). The gospel must be welcomed and received in such a way that faith is expressed in obedience (James 1:22-25). Knowing or even teaching the words is not enough; the message is believed when it is obeyed (Romans 1:5).

It is the same for us: few believers are free from criticism or condemnation and many are suffering. For most of us the greatest conflict is within as we struggle to live in submission to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:27). We ought to long for the rest God has promised. Yet like the wilderness grumblers, we like to invent our own rest – our diversions to divert us from the seriousness of the struggle and apparently put us back in control of our destiny. That is raw unbelief which starts the drift away from Jesus and ends up in unsalvageable apostasy. If our eyes are not fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) we will never desire to be with Him and carelessly throw away our inheritance like Esau (Hebrews 12:16-17). The only safe course for the future is to value our salvation and our Saviour and trust Him despite the conflicts outside of us and within.

Lord God. Thank You for the gospel which leads believers to the 'rest' of salvation through Christ alone. Forgive me for the times when I have invented my own 'rest' so that I feel better about the conflicts around and within me, and think I do not have to obey You. Please teach me how to endure by looking to Jesus, being inspired by Him and persevering in obedient faith. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams