Entering That Rest
And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:18-19)
They could not enter into His rest because of disobedience and unbelief. But just what was it that they didn't believe? In what way did they disobey?
The answers to these questions are at the core of understanding the gospel, for since they did not believe the gospel preached to them (4:2), then likewise we are in the same danger of missing the essence of the gospel still today and living in similar unbelief and disobedience ourselves while all the while insisting that we are in fact very obedient.
What was the underlying truth that God sought to get the Israelites to believe that they resisted believing? That He loved them. That He was the God who saved them from slavery to be His special children for the purpose of displaying His love to the whole world. That He was a God totally different than every other god they had known or served because He was powerful in a different way. His power was not in exercising the ability to commit stronger violence than His opponents but was displayed in the love and mercy and grace that marked His dealings with all His creatures, both rebellious and submissive.
One of the main points that God was seeking to bring to light through His chosen people was His own character of compassion, humility, mercy, forgiveness and love. But it was so far removed from what they were willing to believe about Him that they resisted His love, repelled His overtures towards them, spurned His affections and repeatedly chose to selfishly demand their own familiar ways instead of surrendering to His discipline designed to rewire their thinking away from a slave mentality toward an obedient child relationship to Him.
To believe in a God who will resort to violence when He runs out of patience is to foster fear in the heart that will always infect every motive we have for any obedience. But relying on fear for at least part of our motivation always results in the disintegration of any true love awakening in the heart, for fear and agape love are incompatible with each other. The children of Israel were so ingrained in their views of deities familiar to them that demanded to be appeased that this God who never acted that way was simply unbelievable.
Likewise, we have the same kind of unbelief in our own hearts today. We find enormous resistance both in our own hearts as well as in most people around us, particularly religiously educated people, to the idea of a God who never participates in violence or uses force and intimidation to get His way. It is inconceivable to us that such a God could successfully exist given the parameters of reality as we think them to be. We insist that such behavior simply cannot work in the real world where we operate. So we turn away from believing in any such God that we term mamby pamby, wishy-washy and weak and instead paint God in pictures of what we believe is strength and boldness. But all the while we are simply recreating a god more in our image and to our liking rather than entering into the rest that can only be found in returning to the original God who created us in His image and in His likeness.
You see, the problem with recreating God in our image is that ever since sin came into the human race, our image and likings reflect Satan's character more than God's character at this point. Our thinking and assumptions about reality are now based on principles derived from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the source of life-giving truth alone. So to follow our gut instincts about what God should be like and what we think we need from Him will always lead us to view God as someone who reflects the way we do things. Ideas about a non-violent God simply find no sensible place in our society here on earth so such notions are quickly dismissed as unusable for now. Maybe in heaven such principles might be applicable where no one is waiting to irritate us or harm us; but for now we need a stronger God, a God who will defend us the way we want Him to, a God who will give us our desires and wishes when we want them, a God who will take sides with us against our enemies.
This is exactly what the Israelites wanted in a God and at first they were very excited when they saw that God could work mighty miracles on their behalf to deliver them from their oppressors. But very soon they saw that God did not work the way they expected Him to work and always seemed to have something uncomfortable in mind rather than simply giving them what they wanted the way they wanted it. God kept bringing them into dire circumstances that required them to trust in His love and care for them while everything affecting their lives seemed to scream that God didn't care about them. He was trying to grow their trust in Him by allowing trials to strengthen their faith. But instead of choosing to trust Him when the evidence seemed sparse, they almost always chose to doubt His love and look for other sources to provide for their needs whenever things started going wrong.
All of Hebrews 3 and 4 talk about this whole progression of unbelief that haunted the history of the Children of Israel on their journey toward the good land that God had promised to take them to. Their focus was on getting there as quickly as possible with as little discomfort as possible so they could settle down and live selfish lives without ever having to grow up into maturity. But God's plan was to grow them up during the journey so that when they finally received His rich blessings for them they would not live for themselves but would be prepared to use all the blessings of this wonderful land to share the good news about their loving God with the whole world.
The writer of Hebrews clearly spells out what happened with these people. They refused to cooperate with the discipline of God and refused to change their minds about how He felt about them. They wanted a God of violence to give them protection and exalt them over other nations. God promised to give them the promised land without any need for them to fight. But as soon as the armies of the drowned Egyptians washed up on the shore from the Red Sea, the Israelites succumbed to temptation and snapped up the weapons so they could employ force against their enemies. They refused to believe that God could take care of them and they believed they had to take things into their own hands if they were ever to survive. They rejected the God of agape love in favor of believing in the gods of war, force, violence and fear.
Unbelief is not the absence of any belief as some might think. Rather, unbelief is choosing to believe something contrary and different than what is true. When we live in unbelief we are really believing in things similar to what the rebellious Israelites believed about God; that they had to look out for themselves because God could not be trusted to have their best interests in mind. They wanted all His blessings but they didn't want to trust Him with their lives, their future and their hearts.
Hebrews tells us that they failed to enter into His rest. Many have puzzled over this expression for hundreds of years trying to figure out just what was meant by this. Some have insisted that it is a rest from trying to work our way to heaven. And that certainly is a part of it. Others insist that if we don't worship on the correct day of the week that we cannot enter into His rest. And that too may play into it in some way. But I have sensed all my life that we are still missing something vitally significant in this passage that has yet to come to light that will allow us to finally embrace this rest that God longs for His children to enjoy. There is something much deeper, much more profound, much more fundamental that we are still missing that prevents us from experiencing the joy and fulfillment and perfect peace that abiding in this rest will surely bring to our souls.
As I was waking up this morning a thought about this jolted me awake. It was so profound that I didn't want to let it slip away. I am still not sure I have a full grasp of what seemed so clear to me for a few moments, but I knew that the essence of it was here in this passage of Hebrews. This passage was in my thinking as I had just been reading about this in a book yesterday so it was fresh in my mind. But as is often the case, my heart needs to ponder some things much longer before it is ready to embrace them in a way that makes perfect sense to other parts of my brain.
What jolted me awake was something along these lines:
To rest in God requires that I come to believe and embrace fully the truth that God is very different than what I have always assumed Him to be all of my life. I say this in respect to the common assumptions about Him regarding these ideas of appeasement and thinking that He reserves the option of using force if I do not cooperate with what He wants. He has been teaching me for several years now that His ways are radically different than how He has been made out to be by those in religion. But the extent of this difference is still just emerging for me even yet.
To be able to enter His rest in a way the unbelieving Israelites could not enter it means that I have to believe differently about Him than they did. Therefore I need to know what it was they thought about God that prevented them from resting in His love for them.
When I come to realize that God is all-powerful and yet is at the same time completely humble as Jesus demonstrated, I can begin to grasp the enormous implications of that seeming contradiction, and my own heart suddenly begins to see the potential of peace that I can experience in complete trust with such a being. Someone pointed out recently that the original meaning of meekness conveyed the idea of a powerful animal that has been domesticated. My mind pictured a large lion or tiger that was so trustworthy that I could have it in my home without any fear of being hurt. I could play with it, cuddle with it, maybe even ride on it without fear of it every turning against me to harm me or anyone in my family. But in no way would that imply that this majestic beast was a weakling. What it meant was that it had such total self-control and was governed by right principles that it could be fully trusted to not commit violence.
That was a startling thought for me when translated over to my picture of God. Can I see God as all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving so that I can fully rest in the belief that He will never resort to violence or inflict needless pain on me? Yes, there will surely be painful times when my immaturity is challenged and the many lies about Him still entrenched in my thinking must be exposed and replaced with the real truth. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11 NRSV)
What we observe in the Children of Israel is the failure of discipline to bring about its intended results. And what were those intended results? A belief in a God who was different than any other god they had ever known. A belief that this God was pure agape love and nothing less and that even though He never resorted to violence that He had the ability to work all things together for their good if they would simply allow Him. Such a trusting belief could have brought them into the rest that God intended for them to experience both externally and internally. But the sad reality is that they refused to enter into His rest because of their unbelief, so He respected their rebellious resistance and continues to wait for a remnant who will finally enter into His rest.
To enter into His rest means to view Him as completely worthy of our trust. To choose to believe that God does not employ violence to get His way brings massive relief to the heart that has lived in fear all of its days (Heb. 2:15). Of course, our human nature protests that we need a God who will use violence when necessary to protect us. But the life and teachings of Jesus clearly contradict the commonly accepted assumptions about a God of violence and force. To enter into the rest of God requires that we finally believe that the ways of agape love are actually more effective than the system of rewards and punishments and force which only tends to reinforce our selfish nature.
To enter into His rest is to embrace the real truth about how God feels about us in His heart of love no matter what we have done or even how we feel about ourselves. This can come about only as we embrace the truth of God's unconditional love, unconditional forgiveness and unconditional grace that will transform our thinking and acting from the inside out.
When we embrace the radical truth about God's radical, extravagant, even seemingly scandalous love for us, we enter into the rest that is impossible for those to experience who cling to the dark views of God that so permeate the beliefs in every world religion including what we call Christianity. True Christianity (following Jesus) has become almost extinct as it has been displaced over the centuries with a counterfeit profession based on misinterpretations of the words of Scripture. It is time to rediscover the original truths that so vitalized the early believers after Pentecost and brought them into an experience of trust and rest in God that has since been lost.
When we enter into the rest of truly believing and trusting in the God of pure agape love who refuses to stoop to use the methods of His enemies, our hearts will come alive, our spirits will experience joy and our worship will be marked with praise and celebration of God's amazing goodness. We will be empowered to express gratitude in every situation no matter what circumstances may insinuate about our heavenly Father. We can be liberated from our fears to find ourselves free to live joyfully, resting in our true identity in Christ; and as our hearts rest in this love that is so different than anything we have ever known before, our lives will reflect the image of God once again..
Interestingly, this rest that we have the option of entering with all its attendant benefits for our soul is the very same rest that the seventh-day Sabbath is intended to be. But we must enter this rest differently than the way most sabbatarians have assumed through simply getting the day of the week correct for going to church. Rather, entering the rest that comes from believing in our heart the real truth about our God is what brings Sabbath rest into reality and re-infuses it with its original meaning for which it was created in the beginning.
The reason that so many do not experience the true rest that the Sabbath represents is that they fail to enter into the belief about God that the Sabbath was intended to convey. They place external importance on keeping the right day and try to keep God happy by doing or not doing all the attendant requirements that they think are associated with proper Sabbath observance. But all the while they fail to embrace the God of the Sabbath through believing the truth about how He relates to sinners and how He operates His government.
When we contaminate the Sabbath with ideas of appeasement by refraining from certain activities because we are afraid of offending God, our underlying assumptions about a God who can easily be offended destroys the very rest that the Sabbath was intended to bring.
When we allow the spirit of condemnation, guilt, shame and criticism to mar our Sabbath observance, we deny the very character of the One who came, not to condemn the world but to save it.
When we become preoccupied with outward behaviors while failing to live in confident trust in our heavenly Father, we fail to enter into the real rest of the Sabbath no matter how meticulously we may try to keep it.
Only those who embrace the ever-increasing light of the glory of God's agape love currently being unveiled by the fourth angel of Revelation 18 will be able to enjoy His rest, celebrate His goodness and be refreshed in His love no matter how bad circumstances become in their lives. Not only will they come to view the Sabbath as the outward symbol of their inner experience they have each Sabbath, they will also have that rest in their hearts 24/7 as they transformed by the truth. They see that God's ways are not man's ways and that only by resting in the ways of His agape love are they being prepared to live in the society of angels.
Governments all over the world today are promising 'security' to induce people to give up more and more freedoms for supposed protection. This is in line with the basic tenants of Satan's kingdom, for while God's kingdom is based on love and perfect freedom, Satan's system of government relies on deception, force, fear and reliance on rewards and punishments. In Satan's system there is no true rest. Any peace is only external and temporary and is a counterfeit of the inner peace that Jesus provides.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27)
This peace of heart is the rest that the Israelites failed to enter. For a brief time in history the early church enjoyed this rest and the effect was astounding as thousands were drawn to join them to rest in the Father's love. But soon darkness crept into the church and their peace was lost as people were infected with false views of God and turned toward works to achieve their own salvation. As their concept of God moved away from pure agape love and more into a legal relationship, they became obsessed with getting their legal standing with heaven properly aligned but lost the peace and rest that only comes from abiding in a secure trust in God's unconditional agape love for every human being. Correspondingly during this same period the seventh-day Sabbath was also replaced by a counterfeit sabbath that to this day is championed as the highest symbol of human authority over spiritual matters.
Now our choice is becoming more clear. We can choose to submit to human authority claiming to represent God that relies on fear, force, rewards and punishment to enforce conformity. Or we can break away from tradition and false assumptions about God and choose to embrace the radical, self-sacrificing agape love as demonstrated by Jesus Christ and enter into the rest of the true Sabbath. God said that the Sabbath is a sign between His children and He throughout all generations that it is He that sanctifies them and makes them holy. (see Ex. 31:13; Eze. 20:12, 20) This is in contrast to the meaning of the false sabbath which, based on human authority claims to be able to make holiness. Because mere humans claim to make a day holy in replacement of God's Sabbath, it follows that all those who embrace human-generated holiness will work to make themselves holy by any means while failing to rest in their true identity created by Christ.
Christ is the only one who can make us holy. And this holiness is not some magical transformation apart from our own choices or some legal adjustment of our standing with God. Rather holiness is simply an attitude, a mindset of complete loyalty to the Creator God whom we worship and admire. Our beliefs about what kind of God we worship shape the characters we develop, for we always reflect in our attitudes and disposition and actions the kind of God that we believe is in charge of our life.
Any beliefs about God that are not in complete harmony with pure agape love will inhibit us from entering into His rest. This means that if we want to enter into the true Sabbath rest that God has waiting for those who fully trust Him, we must be willing to let Him flush out of our thinking all the lies about Him that still infect us and that produce fear in our hearts. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18) As long as we cling to dark views about God's character, we, like the unbelieving Israelites of old will not be able to enter into His rest. As long as we insist that God is waiting to punish us if we mess up, we are preventing our hearts from being perfected in love.
God, these things are overwhelming to me, for I know all too well how much my own heart and thinking is still infected with myriads of subtle lies about You that are impossible for me to expel on my own. I plead with You and I give You permission to do whatever it takes to flush these lies about You out of my system and saturate me with Your agape love. Make me aware of Your ways that are always in harmony with this truth about You. I want my life to be free of the selfishness that infects everything I think and do so that I may more perfectly reflect the kind of love that I am just starting to perceive in You. Make me willing to be made willing to enter into this rest – for Your name's sake.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)