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A View from the Altar / Christian rest (Hebrews 4)
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Christian rest (Hebrews 4)

Much of chapter 4 is occupied with the idea of the Christian’s “rest.”  Matthew Henry believed this is the rest that comes from a covenantal relationship with God through Christ.  In God’s covenant of grace, his people rely not upon their own deeds, but Christ’s, and his righteousness is the ground of their justification before God.

The notion of rest is taken from God’s creative sabbath when he finished all his works in six days and then set aside the seventh day.  The apostle then places this idea beside his quotation from the Psalms in which the Lord speaks of “my rest.”  The idea, then, is that God indeed finished all his works from the foundation of the world.  This includes the offering of Christ which John says was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).  The Christian ceases from his attempts at earning God’s favor when he comes to recognize that Christ has done it all for us and counted our salvation as complete from the beginning of time.

Paul gives us much the same thought in Second Timothy where he speaks of the grace given to us before the foundation of the world, referring to the final outworking of it as making the Gospel manifest.

[Christ] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  2 Tim 1:9-10

When the apostle says paradoxically that we should labor to enter into that rest, he’s just repeating what Jesus said about striving to enter the narrow gate (Luke 13:24).  The word Jesus used for “strive” is literally to agonize.  The Hebrew writer’s term is that we endeavor or give diligence.  His meaning is not that the gift must be earned — for then Rom 11:6 says it would no longer be a gift — but rather an idiomatic expression indicating that the gift is precious enough to warrant agonizing over it.

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