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Understanding Spiritual Rest
By Steve Highlander

Copyright 2000 Steve Highlander & Crossroads Ministries All rights reserved. 
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There are a few Biblical subjects that cause quite a stir among serious Christians. The issue of the Sabbath is one of them. In this article you will be surprised and challenged with a view of the Sabbath that you probably have never considered before.

To start with I want to play the old word association game. You know, that's where I say a word and you say the first thing that pops into your mind. Like: black; white. Or salt; pepper.

The word is: SABBATH! What came to mind? Sunday? Saturday? Legalism? Old Testament? What you thought concerning 'Sabbath' establishes where you are in your thinking concerning the subject.

I am convinced that the principle of Sabbath rest is one of the most misunderstood, misapplied and least appropriated spiritual principles in the whole Bible. Let me explain.

When I speak of the "principle of the Sabbath" I am talking about a lot more than taking a day to honor God. The principle of Sabbath is much broader than arguing over which day Christians should honor, or if they should keep a 'Sabbath day' at all.

In order to understand, and thus experience true spiritual Sabbath we will need to adjust our thinking somewhat.

First of all we need to understand that the Jewish people "kept the law of the Sabbath" for more than 1500 years and yet failed to enter Sabbath rest. They had made so many rules and regulations about how to keep the Sabbath, they never actually entered into the spiritual principle of the thing. When Jesus came they accused Him of breaking the Sabbath. Did He? He was without sin, so they were wrong in doctrine and practice.

Now, a few 'thought adjusters'

The Sabbath never was and never will be Sunday. The Sabbath, as established by God was from Sundown on Friday evening until Sundown on Saturday evening. This was the 7th day. This is important because God built spiritual pictures into all of His Old Testament patterns. Not only did He do something in the natural, but He coded a message into them. The message of Sabbath was that there was a rest after you labored. By arbitrarily moving the Sabbath to Sunday, the first day of the week, we break the spiritual truth conveyed. God Told Moses to make everything "after the pattern" (Ex. 25). When we mess with the pattern, we mess with the truth conveyed. That is why Jesus told the Jews, "You have made the Word of God of none effect by your traditions." Mark 7:13.

Should Christians keep a Sabbath? We have a couple of whole denominations that center on this question. Paul too, dealt with this problem and question. There where those that demanded the keeping of the old testament law, including the Sabbath. Paul rigidly fought against this though. "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord..." Rom. 14:5

If a man believes God has told him to keep a physical Sabbath, then He should be convinced in His mind, but he shouldn't demand that others follow that conviction. The brother than feels free not to observe the Sabbath has that liberty.

Let us remember though that honoring a day as special, for whatever reason, doesn't constitute entering into spiritual Sabbath rest.

Besides the Sabbath day, God instituted a number of other Sabbaths. In Lev. 23 God tells His people to keep seven yearly feasts. It is interesting that He starts out by saying, "Here are my feasts...remember the Sabbath; keep it holy; do no work." Why is that? Because we will never understand the spiritual truths conveyed in the feasts unless we first understand the principle of Sabbath rest.

In addition to special Sabbath days throughout the year, God gave the Jews a Sabbath year every seven years. The land was to lay fallow or untilled. And every 50 years He commanded a "year of jubilee" when all slaves were set free. Land that had been mortgaged or sold was returned to the original owners; debts were forgiven.

Can you see how the principle of Sabbath is an unfolding revelation of something that goes way beyond trying to figure out how or why to set aside a day as special. Christians are still arguing over which day is the Sabbath and if we have to keep it or not. That wasn't what God intended at all. The physical Sabbath was meant, as all of God's Old Testament pictures were, to convey a spiritual concept or truth. What was that principle?

Sabbath rest can be easily defined this way: "Obedience to God, in faith, that produces rest."

Sabbath is much more involved than taking a day off to rest physically and to honor God. Underlying the whole idea was the fact that we need to come to total trust in God's provision.

In Gen. 2:3 we find that "God rested on the seventh day." Here is the institution of the Sabbath principle. Christians have some strange ideas about the scriptures because we never bother to think our doctrines through. Ask yourself a question. Exactly how did God rest? Did speaking the world into existence wear Him out? Did he get to Wednesday and think, "Man I can't wait for Saturday to get here so I can kick back and take a day off from all this work?" Did God need to rest physically? Obviously not!

But He did rest, so there must be more to it. How did God rest? He rested in the knowledge that He had set something in motion that was destined to come to pass in its time. He no longer had to strive to create something. Once done, it would work out exactly like He had determined it to be, regardless of what happened between here and there.

Here then, is the first principle of spiritual rest: The point at which we stop striving to create for ourselves an answer or solution to our problems and with full faith and confidence in God and His word we enter into His rest (Heb. 4:5)

In Hebrews 4:5 God said we were to inter into HIS rest. This doesn't mean that we are to rest apart from Him. God has also invited us to sit in His throne. What does this mean? That when God isn't sitting there we can try it on for size? No! It means that We are invited to sit where God sits. To enter into His power and authority. The same holds true for entering into His rest. It isn't a rest we have to conjure up, it is a rest that started nearly 6000 years ago on the seventh day.

True Sabbath rest is something that takes place in our minds, souls and spirits.

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt 11:28-30)

Another principle of Sabbath rest was a cessation of labor. Or, in other words, no work. This one is pretty easy to accomplish in the natural. The Jews had a bunch of laws regarding what couldn't be done on the Sabbath. However, the spiritual principle is a little tougher to tackle. We want to work out our problems and issues ourselves. We want to have control of our lives.

The truth is, salvation by faith is an entering into the beginnings of Sabbath rest. That's why Jesus said He was "Lord of the Sabbath" and invited people to come to Him to find rest.

The spiritual message contained in the feasts was clear. By wrapping the Sabbath principle into each feast He was declaring to all: "You aren't going to be able to work this out on your own. You'll have to rest in me for the job to get done."

The feast of Passover and Unleaved Bread started and ended with a Sabbath. The natural picture presented a spiritual truth: There's nothing you can do to work for your salvation. And there is nothing you can do to finish it up. You need to rest from beginning to end that God is doing a work in your life. Let's see this principle in the light of New Testament scriptures.

"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith." Heb. 12:2

Does this passage correspond to the message of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread? Indeed it does. Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith. That is good news. That should bring rest to your soul, peace to your mind and joy to your spirit. Isn't this the idea conveyed in the physical feasts the Lord gave? Peace...joy...rest...provision?

No longer do we have to worry that somehow we will fail to get the job done in our lives. Jesus has undertaken the task. He said He would get the job done. He didn't save us and leave us to work out the rest of the details.

"I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Gala 3:2)

He will never stop working in our lives.

"Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ:" (Phil 1:6)

From beginning to end, Jesus is at work to finish the job He started. My friend, rest in that. Stop striving. Stop worrying that somehow you'll fail to lay hold of God and miss heaven. Place your faith in Jesus. Stop trying to labor to please God, so He'll accept you. You'll never be acceptable to God in your own efforts. But the good news is that we can take a Sabbath. Stop working for God's approval and rest in what God has already provided for us. This is true Sabbath rest and has nothing to do with a day of the week.

Salvation by faith apart from your works is but the beginning of the total Sabbath rest God has for you. God desires for you to come to rest in every area of your life. The Sabbath was also associated with God's provision.

Everything that Jesus did was a sign of spiritual truth. Consider some of the things He did on the Sabbath. These very things caused much alarm to the religious Jews who accused Him of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus' disciples picked corn and ate of the Sabbath. Indicating that there was rest in God's provision. Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, thus demonstrating rest in healing. He cast out demons on the Sabbath, declaring to heaven and hell that we can rest in peace knowing that satan is not our master any longer. To the blind He gave sight and to the lame He gave strength, all on the Sabbath.

What need do you have today? What possible condition could you have that Jesus couldn't calm the storm and bring peace to your troubled heart, mind and spirit. Friend, learn to rest in God. Learn that you can never work it out yourself. Learn to respond to God in obedience and leave the rest to Him. Learn that God is indeed faithful. Do you need to be saved today? You'll never get there by all the religious works and righteous acts you could do. You need to come to Jesus and let Him be the author of your salvation.

Have you gotten tired and weary on the Christian journey? Jesus said come to me all you that are weary and heavy laden and you shall find rest (Sabbath) for your souls. Let Jesus be the "finisher" of your faith."

Do you need freedom from satan's power? Provision? Healing? Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Before you find your answer, you will need to have found a place of rest in confidence of God's Word to you.

True faith is evidenced by a peace and rest, no matter what the circumstances. This is the fulfillment of the principle of Sabbath rest. Enjoy!

Sabbath means "rest" so we are really talking about spiritual rest. So far we learned several things.

First, that the Sabbath day was only a small part of a bigger principle in the Old Testament.

Second we learned that God isn't as interested in us observing a day as He is in our coming into relationship with Him. Jesus said He was Lord of the Sabbath and invited people to come to Him to find rest for their souls (Matt. 11:29). God wasn't after physical rest, but soul rest. Rest isn't found in religious observation, it is found in relationship with God through Jesus.

Jesus said He would give rest to those who were "weary and heavy laden." Are you tired of carry that load ... whatever it might be? Are you worn out from trying to live for God, only to fail again and again? Good news! Jesus said there was rest available for you and me.

That brings us to our point. Everything God did in the Old Testament was a picture of New Testament spiritual truth. Sabbath was no different. He showed us a natural picture to illustrate a spiritual principle.

With those thoughts in mind, let's discover how we can enter into this rest.

Salvation is Sabbath rest. (What did you say brother Steve?) I said, "salvation is a Sabbath rest." That's the very first Sabbath we can experience. Let me explain.

The principle of Sabbath wasn't that they took a day and relaxed. It was that they "did no work." There were periods of time when God said, "I will not accept any effort on your part." This was the whole issue of salvation. You can't work for it and you can't work to keep it. The Word says it is a "free gift, not reckoned of debt, but of grace." Read Ephesians 2:8-9.

"For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast."

Now read Titus 3:5 "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost..."

God said salvation was not of WORKS. So man must REST in the issue of salvation by faith. This is spiritual Sabbath.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith." It is His job to get it started and his job to bring it to completion. Somehow that gives me confidence that things are going to work out okay after all, with Jesus on the scene.

However, resting in God is harder than it sounds. We still have the tendency to want to earn our way. The flesh still likes to brag about our accomplishments for God.

And we still want to work things out in our own power and wisdom. There's something about really trusting God with the big stuff that's tough to do. Oh, we give Him the small stuff, and we try to give Him the big things too, but how often we "grab the wheel back" when it appears God (at least in our eyes) is drifting off course

Salvation is Sabbath rest. Rest in God's grace to become a child of God in the first place. And rest in God's ability to finish the job He started and bring you to completion in His eyes.

But Sabbath rest is even more than that. Sabbath rest is something we can experience everyday of our lives. In fact we should be laboring to enter into that rest in ever area of our lives. The Old Testament Jews had to "keep Sabbath" at prescribed times. They had to "enter into it." Likewise we must learn to "keep Sabbath" and "enter into it." Knowing the principle means nothing if I don't learn to apply it to my life.

Are you having difficulties? It might be financial problems or family problems. Maybe it is some situation you seemed to be trapped in. Or possibly some sin or habit that you don't see to have the power to break free from. Perhaps God has placed some call or vision on in your life and you can't figure out how it will ever happen.

These, and every other area of your life, are places where we must learn to enter into rest. Now we need to point out that rest doesn't mean that you stop doing what's right and push all the responsibility off on God. It does mean that we find the rest for our souls Jesus offered. A rest from emotional turmoil. A rest from the fleshly strivings to accomplish what we never could accomplish. It is a rest that says, "I trust God to work this out in a way that is pleasing to Him and best for me."

I have often said that God wants to change us before He changes our circumstances. Coming to a place of Sabbath rest will do more to change you than anything else I can think of.

Now we can look at a couple of dynamics of this rest

(For the sake of space I am going to ask that you stop and read Hebrews 3:6 - 4:11. I'll be using this passage extensively.)

First notice that this passage is about entering into rest. And that it had nothing to do with "a Sabbath day." God illustrated spiritual rest with the story of the Israelites going into the promised land. The whole point of the story is that some are promised rest, but never make it into rest. And we're admonished not to fall after the same example of unbelief (4:11).

You'll notice several words and thoughts are repeated in this passage. They make up the dynamics of spiritual rest.

The first thought of course is rest. Verses 3:18 - 4:6 make an interesting point. The rest we're to enter into is not our rest, but God's rest. God is at rest. He has set some things in motion that He knows will end up just like He plans for them to. We can come to a place of rest only as we learn to rest in God.

We can also see that not everyone promised rest will enter into it. There is some effort on our part. That was one principle of Sabbath ... it came at the end of a work week. Likewise, when we have done everything we can do to prepare the way, we must come to a place of trust and rest, allowing God to do what we can not do.

The second word that is repeated in this passage is "heart." People die physically of heart problems and people die spiritually of heart problems. Over and over Paul admonishes the people not to harden their hearts like the early Israelites. Paul made it plain that God's rest had a lot to do with the heart. It was a hard heart that ultimately kept them out of God's blessing.

The people wouldn't trust God. In this passage he talks about a time of testing in wilderness. The interesting thing is that it was not a time of God testing the people, but a time for the people to test God and prove Him faithful. Yes, God brought them into some hard places, but the purpose was to prove Himself to them. Each trial was to build and produce faith in God's power and provision. Ultimately God wanted to take them into the promised land and he knew they would need absolute confidence in Him to possess the land. Yet at each difficulty they hardened their hearts toward God and complained, rather than trusting Him.

God operates the same today as He leads us towards spiritual rest. All along the way He leads us into some tough spots, but each is carefully calculated to prove Himself to us. We often just get discouraged and quit because we don't understand the principle of the thing.

Someone has said, "the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart." How true! If our hearts are not soft toward God, each trial will make us harder, not more pliable. God can mold a soft heart, but the only thing He can do with a hard one is break it.

Looking once again to the passage in Hebrews 3 & 4 we find the third repeated principle. That is the principle of faith, or on the negative side ... unbelief. In 3:12 we are warned against having an evil heart of unbelief. In 3:18-19 we see that unbelief is the reason they couldn't enter into the promised land, which is the picture of God's promised rest.

Again in 4:2 we are told that they had the gospel (good news of rest) preached to them, but it didn't profit them, not being mixed with faith.

And again in 4:6 &11 we are told quite plainly that they didn't make it because of unbelief.

We are admonished in this passage not to "fall after the same example of unbelief." (verse 11)

Many are the times when circumstances overwhelm us. Our minds become a whirling mass of conflicting thoughts. Our emotions take a roller coaster ride. We worry and doubt, wondering how we will ever get out of this situation. Faith brings peace to our hearts, souls and minds.

The Jews had a big problem. The land God had promised them was inhabited by very unfriendly giants who had no intention of handing over their homes and fields to the Jews. God knew this from the start. Just like God knows what giants you will have to face in seeing His promises come to pass in your life.

The Jews looked at the obstacles and said, "No way! We can't do it." Had they placed their faith in God, He would have brought them into the land.

We are faced with the same situation. When faced with impossible circumstances we can either quit and run, hardening our hearts; or we can place our faith in God. Spiritual rest had to come first. They had to settle the issue in their heart.

Either God had spoken or He hadn't.

Either He could give them the land or He couldn't.

It wasn't whether they could fight and take the land. The issue was if God could give it to them.

Our battles are the same. Can God do it? Will He do it? Faith comes first. There can be no real spiritual rest unless we first develop a confident trust in God and his word.

Here then is the essence of true spiritual Sabbath. It has nothing to do with a day. The day was simply God's way of illustrating a spiritual truth.

We enter into Sabbath when we stop trying to work and earn our salvation and accept God's free gift. We can also experience Sabbath regularly in our lives when we trust God with our whole heart and place our faith in Him. Great peace and rest comes from the knowledge that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. He will get the job done. Finally when we're done with this world, we'll enter the perfection of Sabbath rest for all eternity. Don't miss it!

"Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience." Heb. 4:11


Copyright 2002 Steve Highlander, all rights reserved.  For more free online resources visit www.worldbibleinstitute.org, To contact the author email steve@stevehighlander.com or write Steve Highlander, 727 W. Sycamore, Nevada, MO 64772 USA