What Rest Do Christians Enter Into?

December 20, 2019 at 10:33 AM 2 comments

If you turn to Hebrews 4, the human author of Hebrews begins to focus on something extremely important: the “rest” that God has determined for us.

1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest… (Hebrews 4:1-3a ESV)

So what is the writer referring to in the above passage? Sounds like he’s saying we have already entered into that rest, but also urges everyone to strive to enter into that rest. What’s being said?

The writer points out that Joshua did not provide rest to Israel (Hebrews 4:8ff), and then emphasizes that it is our responsibility to ensure that we enter this particular rest.

Is the writer referring to faith that leads to salvation? He couldn’t be since Joshua, Moses and many others within Israel exhibited faith in God. While there were people within Israel who were destroyed by God’s judgment because of their sin/rebellion, not all were, evidencing the fact that not all doubted or rebelled against God. Faith was practiced by Old Testament saints.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (vv 11-13)

The writer says we should “strive” (work hard, fight for), to enter into that particular rest and by doing so, we will avoid falling into the same “disobedience” that many under Moses, Joshua, and others did. So exactly what “rest” is the writer referring to here since he is placing the responsibility to enter on us.

With respect to this “rest” that the writer of Hebrews speaks of, it seems that it is something yet future, but the process begins in this life. In fact, it seems clear to me now that this “rest” is what we will experience after we leave this life, though we can certainly have tastes of it here and now if we are faithful to Him by obeying His commands. Many portions of Scripture bear this out, though for those who believe salvation can be lost, they tend to see it differently (e.g. that Christians will lose salvation if we do not “enter” His rest now).

The latter portion of Hebrews 4 introduces Jesus, our great High Priest (vv 14ff). The writer speaks of Jesus’ qualifications to be our High Priest and how He is able to understand our propensity to sin and fail, even though He Himself never failed (though He was tempted as we are tempted). Because He can relate to us and our condition (though He was and remains sinless), we can draw close to Him with confidence knowing He will not turn us away.

Hebrews 5 continues extolling the virtues of Christ, our High Priest and then issues a warning against apostatizing in Hebrews 5:11-14.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Notice how immaturity in Christ can lead to rebellion and apostasy. The writer points us on toward Christ. As Christians, we should always be moving TOWARD God, never away from Him. Whenever we begin to move away, we are rebelling and continuing in that path leads to apostasy. The book of James is filled with example after example of how to actually live the Christian life. To immerse ourselves in that is to be living examples of faithfulness to God in Christ. Notice it is a “work” that we must accomplish (in His strength), as our “sanctification” or “walk” with the Lord in this life.

Of course, now the question arises, “well, only those professing Christians (not true Christians) can apostatize, right?” While the debate rages, I don’t think so. Peter apostatized (by firmly and repeatedly denying Jesus), as did others, some even mentioned by name in Paul’s letters. Does this mean they lost their salvation? Only those people who believe salvation can be lost believe that; a position that I do not believe is Scriptural. They didn’t lose salvation if they in fact, had it in the first place. What they lose are “rewards” or in Hebrews’ case, the fullness of God’s “rest” after this life is over.

I believe the author of Hebrews is stating that if we’re not careful (regarding authentic Christians, not Christians in name only), we can apostatize. While we will not lose our salvation, we may lose everything else (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) depending upon how bad and long our apostasy remains.

How do we keep from apostatizing? It seems clear from Hebrews 5:14 (as well as many other portions of Scripture), that we avoid apostasy by “having our powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” This comes only by reading, meditating on and applying through obedience God’s Word in our lives. It’s clear that if Christians do not read His Word, training in righteousness is not going to happen. In the absence of the truth of Scripture, the only thing remaining is the way we feel, which is an abysmal barometer of God’s truth.

On one hand God declares us righteous positionally (justification) because of our faith in Christ when we first become saved. On the other hand, it is our responsibility to live righteous lives (sanctification), through our choices, actions, thoughts and words, by relying on the strength of God through His Presence in our lives and by submitting to His will. This is exceedingly clear throughout the Scriptures.

Too often, the living out of our righteousness (sanctification) falls woefully short of our positional righteousness (justification). Christians who are not careful about living righteously will be led astray into rebellion, then apostasy if continued. It often happens in small increments, but can also happen with one huge push of disobedience on our part.

So it is clear that the writer is warning readers to “not fail” to enter into His rest. Are the two (entering His rest and living righteous lives), connected?

Seems like we have an option of either entering His rest or not the same way we have the option of being obedient or not. The writer makes it sound as though it’s on us and he does that because it is on us.

Apparently, some readers believed Jesus would return shortly after His ascension. Paul dealt with this errant belief in his two letters to the Thessalonian church. Because Jesus did not do this, some began to let their dedication and fervor wane. They wondered aloud if they had missed His rest because Jesus had not yet returned. Did they do something wrong? They were frustrated and a bit downcast. The writer is saying, “No, you didn’t fail to enter into His rest because Jesus has not returned yet. It is yet future.” He’s trying to ease their minds on that subject and prompt them onto good works as evidence of our righteous standing in Christ.

It seems that the writer used the term “rest” as Moses did, equating entering into all the inheritance that God promised His people. Dr. Thomas Constable notes, “For the Christian this inheritance is everything that God desires to bestow on us when we see Him. It is an eschatological rest, not a present rest. We enter into our rest after we cease from our labors in this life. We then enter into our “Sabbath rest,” the rest that follows a full period of work (i.e. a lifetime).”[1; emphasis added]

The writer of Hebrews appears to be saying that if the readers were not diligent about entering into the rest that God has in store for authentic believers, they might be in danger of apostatizing. If they apostatize, they will certainly lose rewards and in losing rewards (at the BEMA Seat of Judgment for the believer), those particular Christians would not be entering into the full rest God had wanted for them in the next life. This could translate into a number of things (loss of rewards, not reigning with Christ during Millennium, etc.). It’s really that simple. Either we are living righteously now or we are falling away through disobedience. Both will provide “rewards.”

I believe the fullness of our Sabbath rest comes after this life. How much we enter into it then depends upon our faithfulness in following Christ in this life now. In Hebrews 10:23-25, this same writer provides examples of what he means. I’ve put them into bullets.

  • Let us hold resolutely to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.
  • And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds.
  • Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit,
  • but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

In the above examples, we should continue doing good and loving one another. We should not stop meeting together with other Christians for worship. Many things can derail us. The writer mentions just several things. We need to continue pushing on to do what is right, to love our brothers and sisters in Christ through good deeds to them. We should be involved in our church.

But we should exercise care too. For the Christian who believes he/she must be involved in everything, it’s a great way to burn out very quickly. This can result in a form of apostasy because that Christian gets to a point where they can no longer keep up with everything they’re trying to do. They run out of energy. This breeds frustration and feelings of failure. That Christian may then start to remove themselves from the situation and give up meeting altogether. Their love for Jesus will grow cold. It’s a road to apostasy.

Is your spouse or family suffering because of your over involvement at church? There must be balance. We should do good as we come to it, as we are able and we should continue meeting with other Christians for fellowship, worship and growth. We should give a decent portion of our income back to God. We should do what we can to bring blessing to people, not condemnation. In essence, we should live as Jesus lived. As we continue to do these things, we will not be in danger of apostatizing because we won’t grow weary from overwork or over involvement. If we are not apostatizing, we will – at the end of our life on earth – enter into God’s full “Sabbath rest” where we will fully enjoy the fruits of our labor during the time we spent on earth. It is one or the other; we are either walking toward God or away from Him.

Christians become shipwrecked either through holding to an aberrant belief system that only sounds worthwhile but isn’t, or because they do way too much in their own strength. In either case, apostasy can occur because of a lack of understanding of what God’s Word teaches.

Striving to enter His rest means living in a way that does not disqualify us from any rewards in the afterlife.


[1] Constable’s Notes on Hebrews



Entry filed under: Atheism and religion, christianity, eternity, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: , , .

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  • 1. roy1830  |  December 20, 2019 at 7:16 PM

    What are we to do about the Apostasy that has entered the Church in the form of worship. I.E. Hillsong, Elevation Worship and Bethel’s Jesus Culture? It’s everywhere with deaf ears from leadership when confronted on it? I’ve run out of churches…


    • 2. modres  |  December 20, 2019 at 7:39 PM

      I hear you! It’s not as though your love for God has grown cold and you’ve stopped going to church because you don’t want to. I’ve heard from many Christians who have no place to go. My only suggestion is to find other like-minded Christians for fellowship and/or Bible study. I’ll be praying for you.


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