Hebrews 4 is an interesting passage. There are no less than 5 interpretations of the "rest" mentioned here in this chapter. Dr. Thomas Constable, in his "notes" on Hebrews, summarizes these interpretations concisely (see image).
As can be seen, commentators argue and believe that the "rest" discussed in Hebrews 4 specifically refers to either a) heaven itself b) present rest in this life in Christ c) future inheritance d) some specific blessing in the future, or e) peace in life now as a Christian.
Every serious student of Scripture falls in behind one of these particular interpretations. Let me say at the outset that I am not intending to debate anyone by putting forth my particular viewpoint. I'm simply sharing what I believe to be true. Each person is responsible for their own understanding of Scripture and must make every effort to seek God's meaning, not what we might think it means based on what we are comfortable with in our understanding.
I think it is relatively easy to discount the first interpretation. Some believe that if Christians are not careful in this life to remain faithful to God, we will lose the prospect of entering heaven. This, in my opinion, is not taught anywhere in Scripture. That said, I am very aware of how some arrive to this conclusion and it has to do with their belief that salvation itself can be lost. Those who have adopted this interpretation then come to a passage like this and use the same template they've adopted regarding their belief that salvation can be lost and assume that the writer of Hebrews is essentially teaching that here as well.
I would disagree. I believe that salvation, once granted by God, is eternal. It could not really be said to be eternal if there was a chance that salvation could be rejected once received.
The writer of Hebrews is urging his readers to be sure to enter into God's "rest." This would make no sense if he referred to salvation since salvation is totally and completely God's work on our behalf. Once we receive salvation, we have "entered" into salvation that will never be removed.
So, does this mean then that Christians cannot apostatize? No, it doesn't mean that at all. Having salvation does not negate the possibility of actually rejecting truth, thereby rebelling against God and His will. Consider it for a moment. If you, as a Christian, give into temptation to lie, cheat, steal, judge, or hate, you have effectively broken fellowship with God at that point. That situation remains until you confess your sin to God. If you choose not to confess by digging in your heels, you will continue to be out of fellowship with God.
Does being out of fellowship with God mean that you have lost your salvation? Not at all. In fact, in his letter to the Corinthians, recall when Paul warned the believers there that some had already fallen "asleep" because of their lifestyles (1 Corinthians 11:30). The believers at Corinth had become lazy, churlish, and selfish regarding things like the Lord's Supper. They were not taking their calling to live lives that glorified God seriously. Because of that, some had grown ill and others had even died (fallen asleep). We know that Paul used the term "asleep" when referring to death of Christians, never the lost.
The BEMA Judgment Seat of Christ will bring all of this out into the open (2 Corinthians 5:10). As Constable notes, God in Christ will use the tool of His Word to show our lives (thoughts, words, and deeds), and the true motivation behind them. Nowhere is it taught that at the BEMA Seat, our salvation is in danger. What is in danger are the rewards we may be eligible to receive. If we spend the latter portion of our lives not concerned about doing God's work (believing Him; having faith in Him and following His will), then the writer of Hebrews concludes in chapter 4 that we will not fully enter into God's "rest" that is available to all believers.
Constable also points out that the answer to the question of when we will experience this rest is fairly obvious. The writer of Hebrews is looking way down the road to a point in time after this life is over.
While we live in the here and now, Christians are to be working, just as Jesus worked to fulfill the work given to Him by the Father. While we are living in this life, we are commissioned to be working. Where there is work, there is no prolonged rest. This does not mean that we can not enjoy times of relaxation, vacation, or ease. However, these things will not (should not) characterize our lives while we are alive on earth.
The reason for this? Because God continues to work to bring people to Him for salvation and He has specifically chosen His children who are adopted into His family via salvation to carry that torch to others who are not yet saved. If we do not take this objective seriously, we are guilty of not believing God. If we are not believing God, we are not honoring Him. It is very important that we understand that God has us in this life to fulfill His purposes, not ours.
After this life is over, there will be plenty of time to "rest" because the work will be done. Once we die (or are raptured out of this life), God will surgically remove our sin nature. It will be at that point that the constant struggle (work) against sin and temptation will evaporate. Never again will Christians struggle with attempting to do what God wants us to do. It will simply be automatic from that point forward. In essence, the "work" of salvation (where the rubber meets the road, or as Paul says, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; Philippians 2:12), that we labor under here in this life, will no longer exist in the next. Isn't this good news?!
But what of those Christians who come to a point of ceasing to work for God...
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