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Hebrews 4:11 NASB

“Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.”

‭‭ How does entering God’s rest, specifically, keep us from falling away from Him in disobedience? And how does this relate to the importance of the word of God as described in the next verse?

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    This is a truly great question. Seemingly simple, it stimulates deep thinking and the answer is by no means immediately apparent. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 21:05

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To understand what Heb. 4:11-12 means we should first know what it warns against when it speaks of "that same example of disobedience." In verse 3, the text quotes God “As in my anger I swore, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

This is a quote from Psalm 95:

For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.” (Ps. 95:10-11)

The reference is clear: For the Psalmist, "my rest" is a reference to the Promised Land and the sin the people have committed is that their hearts have gone astray. But how? The author of Hebrews does not make this entirely clear, but his overall warning is that Christians must not turn back, as the Israelites were wont to do, during the Exodus.

If the traditional view is correct that Hebrews was written to warn Jewish Christians in particular not to abandon the Christian faith and return to Judaism, then the meaning of "entering God's rest" may be understood as an affirmation of Pauline doctrine: salvation comes not by striving to obey the Jewish Law but by faith in Christ's atoning grace. Entering God's rest is entering an eternal Sabbath from the works of the Law. A believer avoids falling away by affirming his faith in Jesus as the True high priest.

Verse 10 is important in this context:

those who enter God’s rest also rest from their labors as God did from his.

I understand the author here as referring to the "labors" of the Law. He is warning Christians not to adopt an attitude of works-righteousness but to accept the free gift of God's grace.

Finally, the OP asks "how does this relate to the importance of the word of God as described in the next verse?" I am not certain about this, but I think the author basically wants to underscore the importance of the accepting Jesus's sacrifice as the means of attaining justification, as opposed to the former sacrifices of the high priest in Jewish tradition. Thus in verses 15-16, he states:

we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

To summarize: In Hebrews, entering God's rest keeps believers from falling away into works-righteousness. For this author, "rest" is the grace which comes from faith in Christ's atoning death, an eternal Sabbath from the works of the Law.

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    Excellent answer. +1. V10 is the explicit key.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 21:55
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Entering into "God's rest" is by faith. That is how it was with the forefathers of the Israelites, back in the time of Moses. That continued to be the way of entering in for Christians in the first century. That is why the writer to those Hebrew Christians drew their attention to how their forefathers failed to enter into that rest in the previous chapter and right through to the verse you ask about.

The determining factor for not entering into God's rest was a hardening of their hearts in the wilderness, when they tested God. They had the promised land ahead of them, the assurance of God's word that it would be theirs and they would know rest from all their enemies around if they obeyed the Lord. But they disobeyed. And some did not enter in. Indeed, the generation that got to the edge of the promised land but who then disbelieved God's assurance of taking them in died in the wilderness. They lacked faith in God.

After detailing the provocation of that unbelieving generation, the Holy Spirit is recorded as saying, "Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest." (3:7-11)

Where there is believing, obedient faith, there is no hard, evil heart. That is why the foregoing is applied to Christians this way:

"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." (3:12-13 K.J.V.)

It is the promise of entering into God's rest that has to be kept before the believer, so that faith in God always keeping his promise strengthens faith. Then no matter what temptations to sin come along, the believing heart will not miss a beat.

Verse 12 in chapter 12, which you also ask about, shows the key role of the inspirational nature of God's word which "is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart". Matters of faith, belief and obedience are known to God, and we know of them through believing God's word to be inspired of God. We can deceive ourselves, but God is never deceived, so we need to submit our whole being, including our mind and our heart, to the judgment of God's sacred word. We have to be open to the refining power of God's word:

"Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" Jeremiah 23:29

If that unbelieving generation had submitted to the power of God's word to them, they would have kept faith and entered into rest instead of being broken in pieces like a rock. The application is just the same in the Christian era. Each generation of believers must submit to the power of God's word to them, to be refined by it, then they will keep faith and enter into God's rest. It's all about faith, then we will enter into that rest and not fall beforehand due to unbelief.

EDIT: In Summary - Because this answer tries to confine itself to the one verse in question, it must, of necessity, fall short of a full answer about the vast scope of what it means to enter into God's rest. The verse involves the failing of the Mosaic generation to enter into God's rest back then, which serves as the warning for others and for us not to let lack of faith and sin cause us to fail (or to stumble and fall). But when a believer puts full faith in Christ's finished work on the cross, that is when God's spiritual rest begins for that person, personally, as they then rest from their own works, or efforts, to 'earn' God's approval. Their conscience is cleared and, as they keep walking in faith and obedience, they know the continued peace of God, which is rest for their souls as they labour for the Master, with joy. This is the sweet fore-taste of the full rest of heaven yet to come, in heaven. Experiencing that, the faithful believer is kept from falling away, while the merely intellectual believer may not last the course as that is not faith. This answer, however, is restricted by only one verse being asked about.

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As I read that sentence, it is the diligence that keep us from falling away, and not entering God's rest is the result of falling away. This makes God's rest the motive for the diligence. The "rest" is what God promises for the future; "The promise of entering his rest remains" (v1). The rest is given or denied to us after judgement; "lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it" In fact it is the final end of our struggles on earth; "For whoever enters into God's rest also ceases from his labours as God did from his" (v10). So I would equate it with the "finishing line" of the "race" which we are running in ch12 v1, and indeed with the "New Jerusalem" at the end of Revelation.

"There is need of active exertion that we may secure what God has promised" (B.F. Westcott's commentary, footnote p99)

Ch4 v11 is a conclusion which follows from that whole passage beginning from ch3 v7, in which we are being warned not to have "an evil unbelieving heart" (ch3 v12). The message of the next two verses is that if anyone does have an evil and unbelieving heart, God will know about it. They cannot hope to escape undetected. This reinforces the moral that we must hold our hearts firm in the faith.

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    If we cease from our legal labours (after self-righteousness) and do as God did (after his finishing natural, creative work) then we enter into a rest of faith in Christ, trusting in the righteousness of God (not our own) and are entered into rest. . . . . now, in this present life. But this reguires diligent self-watchfulness and diligent pursuit after a real and personal interest in the Lord, our Saviour. To say that entering into rest is 'after judgment' (in the world to come) would cause one to have an incomplete faith now. It is the entering (now) that prevents falling (in future).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 18:48
  • Your point may be good theologically, but I'm still convinced that "entering into rest" is more naturally understood as an equivalent of "entering into eternal life", if we're looking for the writer's intended meaning. Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 6:55
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In chapters 2 and 3, the author of Hebrew is linking together an accumulation of Biblical themes to show how to properly worship. The author quotes Psalm 95. Both Hebrews 2-3 and Psalm 95 bring together ideas from Genesis 1-3, Moses at Sinai, the wilderness wanderings, and the immanent conquest of the Promised Land.

In Genesis 1, God is forms the waters, then raises up the land out of the waters (presumably into mountains). It is also implied that the the entire land is not yet quite populated properly. In Genesis 2, the land is described as wilderness, a place where mankind works "from the sweat of his brow", and that it is split by rivers gushing out of the ground from Eden.

In the beginning of Exodus the land is described as a wilderness, a place where God's representative, Moses, splits the rock to make water gush out. According to the Israelites, it is a land where, "our children and livestock die of thirst" (Exodus 17:3.)

In Genesis 2, God rests. But he has also made a restful, peaceful place: the Garden of Eden. This place is populated abundantly, and it is a place where mankind has access to God, and to the tree of life. It is also a place of testing. Adam was given Eve a suitable helper (or, more accurately, a deliverer who was like him.) She failed at her job and instead they both chose "knowledge of good and evil" over relationship with God. They were hiding from God when they heard God calling him. They were banished from the Garden and prevented from re-entering by a flaming sword.

Mount Sinai was another place of testing. It was a place where the people had access to God. God called the Israelites to ascend through the fire to meet with him, but they refused and instead asked Moses for knowledge "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”(Exodus 20:19) So Moses ascends the mountain for them, and God writes down the Law, and almost immediately upon giving the command of the day of rest (Exodus 31:17), it is revealed to us that the Israelites have failed their test and are worshipping the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1).

By the time they were to enter the promised land, they had grumbled and argued so much (Psalm 95:9) that God refused that generation entry the Promised Land. Even though it was partially described as Eden-like (a land flowing with milk and honey), however, it never quite lived up to the promise as a place of rest, because every time they rejected God as their God, he would not deliver them from their enemies. They also rejected him as their king and instead asked for a human king.

So, we can see that God's rest is tied with the voice of God calling, the presence of God, a test to choose either intimacy with God over a morality/rules removed from God, and also some sort of inadequate human helper.

The author of Hebrews is showing how that God's rest can only be fulfilled by God. By wanting to establish our own morality like Adam and Eve, or by asking for a set of religious rules like the Israelites, or by asking for national system to protect us, we are rejecting intimacy with God.

The author of Hebrews is portraying Jesus as the one who is like us, so can moderate on our behalf, but also is God who is our actual rest. As we rest in him, we are prevented from falling. If Adam and Eve had returned to God and asked him about the fruit of the tree they would not have sinned. If the Israelites had went up the mountain to God's presence they would not have worshipped the Golden Calf.

It is the same with us. Choosing God's presence is both passing the test and the way we pass the test.

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Entering into God's rest requires diligence, effort, and perseverance on the part of the believer. This means that believers must continually strive to trust in God's promises and obey His commands, resisting the temptations and distractions that would draw them away from God's rest.

God's rest is not a matter of physical rest, but a spiritual rest that comes from living a life of faith and obedience. This requires a constant effort on the part of the believer to avoid disobedience and unbelief, which are the very things that caused the Israelites to fall short of God's rest in the Promised Land.

As Paul explains, the Word of God is living, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, able to penetrate to the deepest parts of our being, dividing even soul and spirit, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. By following the Word of God and allowing it to transform us from within, we are able to resist disobedience and unbelief, and to enter into God's rest.


This is all thoroughly explained by John Chrysostom in his homily on this passage in Hebrews (available online from multiple sources and in the public domain as part of the NPNF series):

We have spoken many things concerning the Priesthood of Christ, and many more things remain unsaid. The Apostle himself knew this, and if he had said all, he still would have left many things untouched. Therefore, he urged the hearers to apply their own minds to the matter and to supply what was deficient. This way, the discourse would be even more useful, and we would enjoy an increase of reward. Teaching is the duty of the teacher, but learning is the part of the learner. This is why Paul said, We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth (2 Corinthians 13:8). The Apostle urges us to give diligence to enter into the rest, so that no one falls after the same example of disobedience. The rest he is referring to is the rest of the righteous, not the rest promised to the Jews. It is the rest for those who have believed, not those who have not believed. It is the rest for those who have labored, not those who have been remiss. As he said, So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). Therefore, we should give diligence and not take anything for granted, so that we do not fall from the rest that is promised to us. This is a call to labor, zeal, watchfulness, prayer, and all the things necessary for the attainment of a good end. As he says, Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). These things are not the work of one or two hours, but require a whole life and constant attention. We are running not for a season, but for the whole course; therefore, we need much endurance, so that we may not fail (Hebrews 12:1). We must stand bravely and never become remiss, for if we do, we shall fall. The rest of the faithful is the kingdom of heaven, the prize of virtue, the reward of toil. As it is written, For they who have wrought good works, shall receive the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 25:34). As Scripture says, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). This rest is not simply to abstain from sins, but to labor for the acquiring of virtues.

Regarding the Word of God:

The Word is more powerful than any other instrument because it discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart, which are more precious than the body, soul, or spirit. The author is urging the listeners to give diligence, be sober, watch, and be vigilant, and shows that the Word is able to assist us in these things, as long as we believe and follow it.

The Word is called living because it is able to make our souls lively and active. Just as the sun gives strength to our eyes, the Word gives strength to our soul and makes it more vigorous than anything else could. Paul says, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

The Word is also powerful because it is able to free us from every passion and lead us to every virtue. By the power of the Word, even the devil is driven away, and all evil spirits are put to flight. Christ said to His disciples, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18). He gives His disciples power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19).

The Word is sharper than any two-edged sword because it cuts away all that is unnecessary and exposes the very roots of sins, as well as all that is hidden in the soul.

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