From time to time, I receive questions like this one. People are often asking for clarification which I think is great! As people begin to have their minds renewed with the truth of the New Covenant, it can be a mental stretch to understand this new way of thinking…God’s way of thinking instead of religion’s or the world’s. Let’s tackle this question.
What does it mean to rest in Christ? The idea of rest is very prominent in Hebrews 3 and 4. This letter was written to Jewish people around 63 years after Jesus Christ’s death. These precious Jewish people were struggling to exchange their dependence on the works of the Law for dependence on Jesus and His works in order to be unconditionally accepted by God. Other Jewish teachers were also telling them that they had to believe in Jesus Christ AND keep doing the works of the Law to be saved, i.e., to be accepted by God. In addition, they were being persecuted for their faith. The entire letter is about how Jesus Christ and His New Covenant of grace are superior to and take the place of Moses and the Old Covenant law. See Hebrews 10:11-12b.
11 Day after day, every priest [Jewish priest of the law] stands and performs his religious duties; again and again, he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. The brackets are mine for clarity. Do you see that the first priest stood and worked every day while the latter finished his work and rested?
The writer of Hebrews “drops the mic” when he writes, For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Notice that this is “God’s rest,” which is now our rest. His rest is a result of the completion of his works. There are two times in the Bible when God rested from his works, not because he was tired, but because he was finished. The first time was on the seventh day after creating everything in His plan. And on the seventh day, God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done (Genesis 2:2).
The second was when God, the Son, Jesus Christ, sat down at the right hand of God, the Father. This was shortly after Jesus proclaimed on his cross; It is finished (John 19:30). He said this because his “work” on the cross of paying for the sins, and us having been crucified with him, was complete. His resurrection and ours with him was the exclamation point of this. Yet, his seating at our Father’s right-hand means he rested from his works. This is so our Father could unconditionally accept us so we would not have to add our works to his. Jesus’s rest is based on his finished works. As a result, his rest is now our rest.
A friend of mine shared that a man new to his area asked to meet with their men’s Bible study. One day, this pleasant newcomer, Martin, was asked to read Ephesians 2:8-9. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. After reading it, the man asked if he could read it one more time. Afterward, my friend asked, “You seem to be feeling something. What is it?” The man gathered his thoughts and said, “Anger! I feel anger because for many years I’ve been doing good works in hopes of being saved because that was what I was taught. Now I realize, Jesus has already done all the works for me to be saved.” A few weeks later, with a smile on his face, Martin told the men that he was in God’s family!
We can now rest in Christ every day. Why? We are unconditionally accepted by God forever because Jesus’s works made us who believe 100% righteous and 100% forgiven in him. However, we can also now trust Christ in us to do the good works we were created to do before we were ever born. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). The Apostle Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:10, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
We don’t work so that we can rest in God’s acceptance of us. We rest in God’s acceptance of us which frees us to do good works. We don’t live FOR Jesus, so God the Father will love and accept us more. We live FROM Jesus because we are already loved and accepted permanently in Christ. The first of these is motivated by fear and guilt. The latter of these are motivated by joy and peace.