“Make every effort to enter God’s rest”

How can entering a rest involve effort? It seems like a contradiction in terms. Yet that’s what Hebrews 4:11 says, and verse 10 seems to support that contradiction too, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” So in verse 10 it says we don’t need to do any work to enter God’s rest, but in verse 11 it says we make every possible effort we can to enter God’s rest. Two complete opposites, it seems – and in adjacent verses. It’s a dilemma.

For some Christians the answer to the dilemma is simple: Verse 10 means we set apart a Sabbath Day to rest on every week, and verse 11 means we make absolutely sure we set it apart every week. “God rested from all his work” on the 7th day, Hebrews 4:4, therefore we’d better make every effort to rest on the seventh day too.

But verse 3 says, “Now we who have believed enter that rest,” meaning we enter God’s rest by faith, not by keeping a Sabbath Day holy every week. Belief, or trust, is the key to entering God’s rest, as we discover from Israel’s sad story in the wilderness in Hebrews 3:7-12. God showed the Israelites again and again that he would take care of all their needs, and all he asked of them in return was their trust, because when they trusted him they would enter his rest, the same rest he entered on the 7th day of creation. But the Israelites could never bring themselves to fully trust God, so they didn’t enter his 7th day rest (verse 19).

It’s now our turn to enter that rest. How? By the same means, by believing God has everything sorted out and he will take care of us: “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first,” Hebrews 3:14, and Hebrews 4:14, “let us hold firmly to the faith we profess,” and verse 16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence.”

But under trial it’s not so easy to believe God has everything sorted out, is it? The Israelites buckled in their “time of testing” (Hebrews 3:8), and they turned their hearts against him (verse 12). I can see, then, why the author of Hebrews told us to “hold firmly,” because under trial it requires considerable mental effort on our part to not get shaky and not give up on God. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest,” because trusting God – enough to keep on trusting him “to help us in our time of need” (4:16) – does take effort, real mental effort.

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