26 Nov 2014 by Lim Poh Ann –
What does entering God’s rest mean? How do we reconcile it with carrying the cross?
Jesus’ challenge to those who mean business with Him is this: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Indeed, it is a heavy burden for us to carry the cross.
Yet, in another part of the Bible, we read that God has promised rest for His people and we should do our best to enter this place where we cease from our labours:
“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” (Hebrews 4:1).
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).
How are we to reconcile carrying a heavy burden—like a cross—with entering God’s rest?
Christ’s command in Luke 9:23 highlights the need for self-denial on the part of believers. We are to die to self and put God first.
The fourth chapter of Hebrews exhorts believers to enter God’s rest. We are to rest in the finished work of Christ. **
As Christ’s last words on the cross put it: “It is finished.” There is no longer any need to strive with regards to salvation as we are saved by faith. Furthermore, we need not depend on our fleshly effort when we serve God but on the wisdom and strength which the Holy Spirit imparts to us.
However, the paradox is this: Living our lives from a position of rest does not imply we stop working out our faith. If anyone has any doubts on this issue, we should be reminded of Paul’s injunction: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Notice the effort and the reason for Paul’s inspiration: “That’s why Iwork and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me” (Colossians 1:29).
Working out our faith means “carrying our own cross”. Not only Jesus speaks of the cross as the symbol of self-denial. Paul echoes this theme in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Similarly, the third main protagonist of New Testament theology, Peter, teaches: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
If we believe that we do not have to work out our faith, then we will have to cut off the following verses from our Bible:
- Work out your faith with fear and trembling: Philippians 2:12-13
- Keep striving: Philippians 3:12-14
- Run the race with discipline so we won’t be disqualified: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
- Bear fruits that befit repentance and don’t rest on your spiritual laurels: Luke 3:8
- Narrow and hard is the way to life: Matthew 7: 13-14
- Holiness requires effort; confirm your election: 2 Peter 1: 5-8, 10
However, there is the other side of the coin with respect to the believer’s faith walk. What is thisrest referred to by the writer of Hebrews? It’s a rest typified by Canaan, the Promised Land, which the Israelites failed to enter because of unbelief. When they reached Kadesh, at the threshold of entering the Promised Land, they were intimidated by the “giants” living there instead of trusting in God’s promise—that He is a good God who will bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey.
If—as the writer of Hebrews warns—we are not to follow their example, how can we then enter God’s rest?
Firstly, we are to soften our hearts. We choose to obey, trusting that God’s way is best: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. (Hebrews 4:7b).
Secondly, we have to come boldly to God’s throne—as Jesus has made this direct accesspossible for us by dying on the cross for our sins: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Entering this place of rest restores to us peace with God. No longer tossed about by double-mindedness, one foot in the world and one foot in God’s kingdom, we enjoy a state of blessedness. “But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt” (Isaiah 57:20).
Notice that God worked for six days and rested for only one day. Isn’t that a good suggestion when we are thinking about how much time to apportion for work and rest? Rest recharges our batteries; once rejuvenated, we are able to serve God afresh.
We serve God from a position of rest (Isaiah 40:31). This is a panacea against burnout.
Believers should have the characteristics of Mary and Martha. Having found our rest in Him, we are recharged and rejuvenated to do His work (Luke 10: 38-42, Philippians 2:12).
However, entering God’s rest should not be equated with arriving at a place of complacency:
Try to picture this state of complacency which God denounces:
Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
You lie on beds adorned with ivory
and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful
and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
(Amos 6:1, 4-6).
Danger of complacency: http://bit.ly/MnmHer
Danger of thinking we are saved and secure: http://bit.ly/1mIQKvq
Getting ourselves immersed in worship is important. For worship brings down God’s presence and paves the way for effective service.
Let’s rise up to the challenge and step into our destiny. Let’s embrace the fullness of our inheritance in Christ—whatever God has in store for us as symbolised by the Promised Land.
How do we overcome the giants—whether real or imaginary—in our lives? Before the Israelites were able to possess the Promised Land and enjoy its blessings, they had to conquer their own fears.
Christ not only forgave our sins and healed our diseases by dying at the cross. Through His resurrection, He defeated death, sin and the devil.
NOTE – All pictures from original source article unless otherwise stated.
ABOUT Author: Dr Lim Poh Ann is a medical practitioner. He was the former editor of Asian Beacon magazine (December 2008 – October 2011). He can be reached at his blog, Porridge for the Soul
Disclaimer: The views or opinions expressed by the columnists are solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Christianity Malaysia.com
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