God’s days start in the evening: “So the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Gen.1:5) The Jewish Sabbath starts on Friday evening, when all the duties of the day are finished. God starts everything He does from a place of rest. This is should be instructive to us. The trouble is, when we hear a message about rest, we already think we know what this means, so we miss the opportunity to grow our soul.
If we take an honest look at the church today, we seem be serving Christ in the very opposite manner. It was certainly how I faithfully served Him for most of my Christian life. And I’m at the consciously-incompetent stage now!
For the most part, we walk in second-hand knowledge, what others have taught us. If we’re action-oriented, we may dismiss “rest” as some mystic navel-gazing waste of time. We need to stop sitting around and get on with our church programs! The harvest fields are ripe, right?
The trouble is, unless we start from rest, we’re just spinning our wheels, doing a lot of noble activities for Christ that will ultimately come to nothing.
Here’s what the writer of Hebrews tells us:
9 So we conclude that there is still a full and complete “rest” waiting for believers to experience. 10 As we enter into God’s faith-rest life we cease from our own works, just as God celebrates his finished works and rests in them. 11 So then we must give our all and be eager to experience this faith-rest life, so that no one falls short by following the same pattern of doubt and unbelief. (Heb.4:9-11 TPT*)
First, we should notice that this is addressed to believers. So when it says we should “cease from our own works,” it’s not talking about working for salvation; it’s about anything we do for Christ that doesn’t originate from rest. “Repentance from dead works” (Heb.6:1) also includes the “good things” I do as a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christian that don’t originate from Him. It’s all eating from the wrong Tree.
Jesus is our only model for this, and this is what He said:
19 So Jesus said, “I speak to you timeless truth. The Son is not able to do anything from himself or through my own initiative. I only do the works that I see the Father doing, for the Son does the same works as his Father.
20 “Because the Father loves his Son so much, he always reveals to me everything that he is about to do….” (John 5:19-20a TPT*)
Then He tells us…
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:4-8 NIV*)
Second, we should ask ourselves: what don’t I get about, “apart from me you can do nothing“? Nothing, meaning nothing that’s actually serving God, even though we think it is. To “remain in me” means to abide in Christ’s love (see John 15:9-12). And anything we do apart from what the Father initiates from this union is “dead works,” no matter how wonderful it may seem to be.
My priority must be to experientially know Christ, period. Not pursue my ministry, gifts, signs and wonders, or anything else I might think important, because this is exactly backwards. The latter should result from the former.
We start by believing the finished work on the cross (See post, “Removing the veil“), but believing this only gets us to the doorway. We’re still not entering into the rest.
For instance, the grace movement over the last two decades, and teaching on our identity as sons and daughters, was critically important in stripping away all the legalistic condemnation that keeps us hiding behind the fig leaves of religion. But these teachings, by themselves, are nothing more than concepts or philosophies. It’s still head knowledge, and while renewing our mind is critical, it won’t produce the rest of God.
This rest must be experienced, firsthand, from Christ Himself. Nobody else can do it for you, you must enter into it yourself.
Finally, what the writer of Hebrews and Jesus are telling us is that God calls serving Him without abiding in Him in rest, disobedience. Jesus actually calls it “lawlessness,” because it’s done without relational knowledge (see Matt.7:21-23).
All our activity for Christ that He’s not initiated is nothing more than “wood, hay, and straw,” waiting to be burnt up in the end (1 Cor.3:11-13). I could argue, these works aren’t even that effective now. Here’s a good indicator of the quality of our efforts: If we actually do what Jesus did, we’ll get the same results He got.
Of course, God already told us many things we’re to “do” in Scripture, but how we do them can only be forged from our relationship with Christ. And you can’t fake this because you’ll always produce the “fragrance” of whatever is empowering your life.
No, we must know His heart before we can truly know His Word. Otherwise, we’ll always use Scripture lawlessly, not given by one clothed in God’s other-centered, self-giving love (see 1 Cor.8:1-2).
If we want our life to count for something eternal, we must follow Christ. He did nothing apart from what He saw the Father do first, and He was able to do this because He had trained His soul to walk in rest.