“Therefore, since the promise to enter his rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short. For we also have received the good news just as they did. But the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever missed out on something because you didn’t believe it was going to happen? Sometimes things seem just too good to be true. And often they are. But occasionally, too good is exactly how they turn out, and if we aren’t willing to grant at least a little belief (or at least slightly suspend our disbelief), we will miss out. As we move into chapter 4 today, we are going to see the author of Hebrews continuing to encourage us to not miss out on something really special because of unbelief. Check this out with me.
In addition to all of the other incredible things we find in Hebrews, throughout the letter we are treated to some exquisite examples of how to study the Scriptures. We see that here as the author advances his argument into what we know as chapter 4. In chapter 3, he introduced us to Psalm 95, and began walking us through the great truth found there. His focus then was on the problem of unbelief generally. As he moves in chapter 4 here, he shifts gears a bit to one of the consequences of unbelief, namely, that the one who doesn’t believe cannot enter God’s rest. We’ll unpack this in some detail over the course of the next few posts, but let’s clarify here what the big picture is.
As we talked about yesterday, the author of Hebrews sees two different possible interpretations of Psalm 95. He seems to take both of them as correct. The first is quite literal. When the people of Israel gave themselves over to the sin of unbelief, God refused them entry into His rest in the form of denying them entrance to the Promised Land. The other fulfillment was typological. That is, the rest God was talking about for Israel was a type of the large rest He plans to give all of His people when the time for eternity arrives. This rest is much larger than a particular land in a particular place at a particular time.
What the author points out here is that the key to entering this rest is belief, or faith. And this is not some blind faith the way our culture so often imagines it to be today. We are not taking a blind leap into the unknown. Other than perhaps Noah and Abraham (and even they had family stories about God to give them some amount of context), God has never asked someone to simply trust Him completely out of the blue. There is no expectation that we will just throw our lot in with Him without any kind of information or greater understanding of the thing to which He is calling us. That’s not at all the picture of Biblical faith. The faith imagined by guys like Paul, James, and Jesus is one that is incredibly well-informed. God has revealed Him above all in the person, life, and ministry of Jesus. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can trust Him. And as if that weren’t enough, today we have the testimonies of untold millions of followers of Jesus over the last 2,000 years backing up the claims of Paul and James and Jesus and the other New Testament authors.
Neither is the faith that is the key to unlocking the door to God’s eternal rest in Christ some mere mental ascent whereby we acknowledge the truth of Christ’s death, resurrection, and Lordship while the rest of our lives remain unaffected by this. This faith is our belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, our embrace of His Lordship, and our enacted commitment to live our lives in light of those truths. In other words, this faith goes beyond being simply a set of things to which we give verbal assent to a body of belief that affects our behavior at every point in our lives. Or, to put that another way, if you believe Jesus rose from the dead, your life is going to reflect that belief through your adherence to His teachings. Or, more simply still: Hearing is not enough.
The thing about the Israelites who were denied God’s rest because of their unbelief is that theirs was not some ignorant unbelief. They saw all that God did in leading them out of Egypt. More than that, they experienced it. They were there at Mount Sinai when Moses gave the Law. They together with one voice affirmed their intentions to obey the Law and to remain God’s people. They heard the message of the importance of faithfulness. But they didn’t believe it in their heart of hearts. They didn’t make it their own. They had no faith in God of any meaningful kind. And so, the rest could not be theirs. They made a big swing at it, but their eyes were closed and so it was a strikeout.
In our own lives, hearing great messages does us no good if we do not do anything about them. Our faith – our enacted belief – is critical. Yet when we have faith, what is it really in? Not the message itself. Think about that one for a second. Your faith is not in the message that Jesus died and rose from the grave and now reigns as Lord of all creation. Your faith – when it is properly placed – is in the character of the one delivering the message. That is, our faith is not in the promises of God themselves, but in the one who made them. We trust the message and let it affect our lives because we have faith in the Messenger. To lean into unbelief is to express by our actions (and perhaps even our words as well) that we do not trust in God’s character. We are defaming the character of God. He’s about as happy about that as you would be someone refusing without warrant to trust your word. You’d be offended and angry. Well, God is offended and angry. And rightly so. But more than that, He is hurt. Oh, He can take it, but His heart breaks because of what our unbelief is going to mean for our own lives. Apart from doing life His way, we are only going to find pain – pain that we do not have to experience and that He does not want us to experience. But in our unbelief, His rest will not…it cannot…be made available to us.
So, the question is: Do you believe? Do you really believe? Is your belief in God affecting your behavior in direct, obvious ways such that anyone can observe your life and see your clear allegiance to Jesus? This doesn’t mean you’re obnoxious or irritating about it. It means you are faithful about it. You choose the path of Christ every single time you get the opportunity because of your committed belief that doing that – even when it’s hard – is what will best honor your Lord. The challenge here, though, is not merely to believe. The challenge is to live a lifestyle of belief. That’s where the real magic begins to happen. Be united with those who have heard in faith and enjoy the rest that comes by no other means.