by Mike Ratliff
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” (Psalms 95:7-11 ESV)
Those who insist that we are in a ‘post-evangelical era’ and must, therefore, radically alter not only how we do church in order to reach unbelieving people in our time, also insist that this must be accompanied by a toning down of one’s Christian convictions about the truth. We are told that the culture we are in now will not respond to those who are militant, aggressive, preachy, and extremely sure of their convictions. I ask, since when has pragmatism become how the Gospel works? Did Jesus preach and teach pragmatically or did what He taught cause a huge division between those who believed and those who didn’t? You know the answer to that. He pulled no punches. The reality of His ministry was the epitome of God’s ways not being man’s ways. All we are told to do until our Lord returns is make disciples, teaching them all that He has taught us. In the meantime we are to abide in Christ, love one another, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. We are to be the antithesis of world and its ways, not conforming to it in how we minister.
In light of these truths let us look at a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews which is an exposition of Psalm 95:7-11, which I placed at the top of this post. In this exposition we will see that it is through the hearing of God’s Word that the separation between believing and unbelieving is revealed. The reaction to God’s Word by the believer reveals his or her regenerate nature, their new nature. Contrarily, the unregenerate react in a decidedly different way. Perhaps this is why the ‘post-evangelicals’ are trying to diminish any reliance on God’s Word in their ministries. They are trying to attract unbelievers to their churches so they remove all that may offend them. However, what they are removing is the very thing that God uses to change hearts.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 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 unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV)
Who enters into God’s rest? It is those who hear His truth, believe it, and walk in it. In fact, in v14 we read, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end,” which is a clear word from God that those who are authentic Christians (they share in Christ) are the ones who remain faithful to the end. This is our perseverance and it is according to God’s grace who keeps those who are His. Who is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin?According to the context of this passage, these are the same ones who profess Christ, but who actually have an evil, unbelieving heart, which leads them to fall away (αποστηναι) from the living God. The Holy Spirit says that those in unbelief, no matter what they profess, will not enter into His rest. The Greek word αποστηναι, which is translated here as “fall away,” means “turn way from, forsake, apostatize from” (Luke 8:13; 1 Timothy 4:1). What is God’s counter to this? We read encouragement here to personal commitment and to call on the church to walk together in mutual encouragement. On the other hand, don’t we see so many in our time who remain in their ministries, but who have forsaken the truth for the lie? They are the ones demanding that we be less sure of ourselves, to be willing to be less decisive, less black and white so that we can be more acceptable to those who desire to be called Christians, but have no use for repentance, discipleship, and walking through this life as the δουλος (bond slave) of Christ according to His Lordship. Those leading these people to walk in apostasy have already αποστηναι, themselves. They are in unbelief.
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 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. (Hebrews 4:1-10 ESV)
In the context of these passages, the rest (καταπαυσιν) spoken of here refers to something already inaugurated, but awaiting consummation. The work to save His people has already been accomplished by God. The rest that they will enter into is a sure thing that awaits all who complete the pilgrimage through this life. Their remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. In a sense, Christians do enter into this Sabbath rest in this life. Those who do have matured and in their humility cease from the spiritual strivings, which reflect uncertainty about their final destiny. These experience the joy of the Lord knowing they are established in the presence of God, to share in the everlasting joy that He entered when He rested on the seventh day.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11-13 ESV)
What does it mean to strive (σπουδασωμεν) to enter that rest? The Greek word σπουδασωμεν speaks of diligently and earnestly doing something. We are being commanded to “work” or “labor” or “strive” to enter (εισελθειν) that rest. The Greek word εισελθειν simply means to “arise” or “come in” or “go in.” Some teach that we don’t have to work at this Christian walk. They say we should just “kick back” and enjoy ourselves because all the work is done. In a sense they are right, the work that saves Christians is complete and based on Jesus’ high priestly sacrifice not on our good works. So why are we commanded to work? This is speaking of our perseverance because the opposite of it is disobedience, which is the sin of those in unbelief that did not enter into God’s rest that we read of in the book of Exodus and above in Psalm 95. So what is this saying to us who desire to be full of the joy of the Lord and to enter into our Sabbath rest when this life is done? We have our answer in vv12-13. Our walks are open to the judgment of God by His Word. We will give an account when we stand before Him. Some who profess to be Christians now will know at that moment that they had lived a lie and will find themselves being judged by their works through the Word of God. On the other hand, those who remain faithful to the end will find that their sins were paid for at the Cross and all that remains is for their works to be judged to determine rewards in their Sabbath rest. I pray that you see the difference. The genuine believer will persevere to the end. They will give an account to God, but the judgment will be of their works not themselves. The lost will find themselves judged by their works through the Word of God.
No one will be able to escape this eternal moment my brethren. I pray that all reading this who do know the Lord will strive to enter the Lord’s Sabbath rest by abiding in their Lord in humility and prayer as they devote themselves to Him as His bond slaves. To those who do not know Him as Lord, I pray that you will believe in the name of the only one who can save you. Be not unbelieving, but believing. Plead with God for you soul. Remember, it is only through the Lord Jesus that anyone can come to the Father and enter into His Rest.
Soli Deo Gloria!