“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).  

Five years ago this Labor Day my father entered into his rest. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? The children of God will eventually enter into the full and perfect rest found in the eternal presence of their Savior. This always reminds me of the Parable of the Talents. Jesus, speaking about one who had served God faithfully, said, “And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more. ‘His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:20-21). 

Now I believe this hope is part of the context of Hebrews 4 and the passage above. There does remain a permanent rest for the people of God foreshadowed by God’s rest on the 7th day of creation and Christ’s rest from His finished earthly work. Jesus, the Messiah, has been in view from Hebrews 3:1 and especially in 4:14. He is the High Priest who has entered heaven. And, by faith, we follow Him who has opened the way for us to also enter into the rest of heaven. Additionally, the true believer may have spiritual rest in this life as we look forward to our eternal rest in heaven. The comforting message – God gives His rest to believers. 

Here we see one of the most important concepts of biblical interpretation. The idea of “now and not yet.” We are promised eternal rest in the future but we can also have a semblance and portion of this in the here and now. In other words, we can have a taste (they hymn writer called it “a foretaste of glory divine”) of our perfect and eternal rest by finding Christ as our strength and source now. To cease from prideful and carnal self-effort and abide in Him (see John 15:15). This is why Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). 

Back to the challenging language of Hebrews 4:11. Here we are called to strive (or to make every effort, or labor) to enter into God’s rest. Here we also see one of the most profound scriptural paradoxes of following Christ in a way that glorifies Him, in a way where He is doing the work and we are resting from exhausting and empty works of the flesh. Strive to enter rest? Or work at ceasing your own works? How so? Tim Keller said, “Even after you are converted by the gospel, your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode.”  Mark Driscoll further elaborates: “The gospel bids us strive to stop striving because it takes conscious effort to orient our stubborn selves around the gospel. Our flesh yearns for works, for the merits of self-righteousness, so it’s hard work to make ourselves rest in the finished work of Christ. It is a daily work, the labor of crucifying the flesh, taking up the cross, and faithfully following he who has finished the labor.” 

The writer of Hebrews admonishes these believers to “be diligent” to cease from their own works and enter into God’s rest, which He offers freely by His grace. Here are some thoughts from our focal passage about this mysterious principle. I pray these help us better understand and access the peace and power that God provides us so that we might rest in Him. 

  • Our primary effort/work/striving is to trust and have a firm faith in Him – “Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29). 
  • “Works” that honor Christ are a result of faith. “Our works” do not justify us before God or glorify Him – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). 
  • We are not to cease from working but are to cease from “our works” – “So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, [enabling you] both to will and to act for His good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13, HCSB). 
  • Our ultimate rest comes after our “work” of faith is completed (as in God’s resting on the 7th day after 6 days of labor) – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. In the future, there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). 

So this Labor Day (I never understood why it wasn’t named Non-Labor Day) I pray that we can catch a glimpse of what God has in store for us in Heaven by laboring to rest in Christ. May we cease our works and worries and abide, “in Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).