Rest for Our Souls
The word ‘rest,’ when used as a noun, can be defined as “an instance or period of relaxing or ceasing to engage in strenuous or stressful activity.” Simply put, rest means to set aside tiring and difficult work, for the purpose of relaxation. We rest from something or for something. Though we may be quite familiar with this word and its definition, I fear that we tend to use it rather flippantly. When we have a long and busy week, we say that we need “rest.” When we are feeling overwhelmed, we say that we need “rest.” When we are sick, we try to allow our bodies “rest.” Though none of these things are innately wrong, there can be theological danger when we try to apply our small and feeble definitions of “rest” to the kind of rest that God calls us to in scripture.
Genesis 2:2-3 tells us that, “On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” God rested. It is interesting to note the phrase at the end of verse two: “from all his work that he had done.” From the beginning of scripture, God models for us what rest is supposed to look like. Rest is to be a reprieve from works. God does something very interesting in this passage. He blesses this day of rest and calls it holy. It is set apart. It is what we call Sabbath. Here in God’s example, we find the severe importance of rest as something holy and sacred.
Hebrews 4:9-10 has much more to say about this rest, as the author states, “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.” God calls us as the people of God to walk in his example and rest from our works, from our striving and from all the things we attempt to do in our own arrogance and pride, the things that we subconsciously believe will justify us in the presence of our holy God. Romans 4:5 says, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” The true beauty of God’s good rest as something holy and sacred comes when we, in humility, lay aside our striving and find rest from the burden of trying to earn that which can only be given to us through faith.
So we learn through the grace of God to rest from our works. But we do not stop there, for God in his goodness and glory has purpose in all things that he commands of us. As he calls us to rest from our works, he calls us to rest for his glory. He calls us to rest for the wellbeing of our souls, souls that can never find satisfaction in our own “doing,” but in the deeds of one so much greater than ourselves. When we cease to take credit for our salvation through the strivings of our deeds, we learn to offer up humble praise to the one who secured it for us.
Rest for Our Souls
How then do we obtain this kind of rest? We find rest in the presence of our Immanuel. As he says in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.” On our own, we can never find true rest. We can never work hard enough to alleviate the burden of sin that presses on our souls. It is only through Christ’s finished work on the cross that we are able to enter into the holy and sacred Sabbath rest implemented by God in the very beginning. It is only through faith in him and rest from our own attempts at righteousness that we can be justified. It is interesting to note that the passage in Hebrews that discusses rest is immediately followed by a description of Jesus as the Great High Priest (Hebrews 3-5). As Hebrews 4:9 tells us, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” we are then reminded that this rest is secured for us by our High Priest who, according to Hebrews 5:9, “Became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
So then, people of God, how do we obtain this rest? We obtain it by depending on the finished work of the High Priest, by resting from our works, and by resting for the ultimate glory of God through Christ, in whom we will one day find true and eternal Sabbath rest for our souls.