I don’t know about you, but I wrestle with the concept of “resting” in Christ. God makes it extremely clear in His Word that we are called to “rest”.
- God models rest in His resting from the work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). The omnipotent God wasn’t tired, He’s just really good at foreshadowing. Creation is the first time God rests. The second is recreation. Here, God demonstrates the reality that rest follows work, as it will after the cross … for us (which we’ll get to). Not only that, but His love for us extends even to modeling the “rest” principle for us. He isn’t weak, we are … also pointing to Christ.
- God commands rest as part of His “Top 10” commandments (Exodus 20:8-11) . Again, this command is given to us out of love. God never intended us to believe we could actually live up to the standard of His perfection, but gives us these commandments so that we would recognize His unattainable perfection compared to our extreme weakness. Exodus 20 is an early chapter in God’s redemptive love story.
- God leads us to rest, both from Egypt in the Old Testament (laid out succinctly, but in the negative, in Psalm 95:8-11) and (in a brilliant, intentional parallel) from the Law in the New Testament (Hebrews 3-4). God promises Moses to provide the people rest in His presence (Exodus 33:12-23), but the people have no faith, and in tragic judgment they are denied rest and condemned to die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:21-25). In both cases, the Bible juxtaposes “slavery” and the land of God’s “rest”.
I feel like I keep choosing slavery. At its core, at least for me, it’s essentially a battle with insecurity. I continually look for other people and circumstances to validate me. When others think well of me, I think well of myself. When I perceive myself to have failed or disappointed others, I feel like a failure. And when I feel I haven’t been enough for God, I feel the most acute sense of this failure. My fundamental problem… That I mistakenly believe God is grading me the way the world is grading me. Rather than resting on Christ — who loved me so much He would rather die than see me a slave and condemned to death — I stir restlessly on the hot coals formed by my projection of the fallen world system onto the Kingdom of Heaven. My heart is far more attuned to winning approval than it is to God’s unwavering and certain love for me. Did Christ’s death and victory and offer of new life not demonstrate that love clearly enough for me?
Whether I see it or not, Jesus did the work. It is finished, and, as it did in creation, rest follows work.
Paul admonished the Philippians, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…. [Whatever this world has to offer, I count] as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” (Phil 3:2-10a)
On too many days, I’m the “dog” Paul is talking about. I agonize over my performance. Was my work good enough? For all I desire is to complete my work, so I can rest, hearing that I did well. But God’s circumcision is of the heart. I cannot get it right, so there’s no point in the agonizing labor. My flesh is assured to fail me (refer to the Law in general), so confidence (or fear) in it is foolish and dangerous. That same uncertainty led to the failure of the Israelites to enter rest in the land God promised them, and threatens to prevent my rest in a far greater land God has promised me.
But my great hope is in the finished work of Christ. On my good days, I realize it. Jesus’ work is completely done, so His rest is freely available to me. And He bids me to enter … to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9). Found in Him… Oh, I want that! Everything else fades away, and we realize that we’re just His … overwhelmed by and fixated on who He is. Not on me. By myself, I started out a failure and will end a failure. All of Adam’s race the same… careening to destruction. But in Christ, we are renewed. Dead, but now alive. Satisfied. Complete. Finally whole. Fully loved. Enough to be a son (or daughter) of the Living God.
- And so, for our good, God commands rest. The only work left is the work of stillness; to “cease striving and know that [He is] God.” (Psalm 46:10 NASB) And that, regardless of circumstance, is enough. God’s command too is loving … to rest and let it be enough.