How Do We Find Spiritual Rest?
This post is by J.D. Greear (lead pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC). To see the entire series click here.
Let’s face it: sometimes going “all the way” with Jesus is a challenge, and we find ourselves lagging behind where we feel like we should be. In times like these, it might make sense to tell ourselves to work a little harder, to devote ourselves more fully to God. But the gospel diagnoses things differently. Ironically, the gospel tells us that when following Jesus gets difficult, the answer is not to “work harder” but to “rest better.” Only by learning to rest in Jesus will we have the strength we need to thrive.
I cannot imagine a more relevant concept for our culture. We have a culture that chronically overworks. We know it’s bad for us, but we feel compelled to keep up the frenetic pace. After all, work is how we put food on the table. More than that, however, work provides many of us with a source of identity. And since work is our source of identity, we are constantly striving to prove ourselves. We determine our worth by our work—but the striving never ends.
The good news is that the gospel offers a rest from all of this. One proof that we have found the gospel, according to Hebrews 4, is that our lives are characterized by a profound rest. Only Christ can provide that inner rest. Without Christ, we will work even while we are resting; with Christ, we will rest even while we are working.
Christ Is Our Righteousness
We spend our lives trying to justify ourselves, to diminish our faults and to exaggerate our virtues. We feel guilty. We feel unimportant. We feel naked and exposed, so we cover ourselves with titles, personas, and accomplishments.
This problem is as old as Adam and Eve. Before they sinned, Adam and Eve were naked, but they did not feel exposed because they were clothed in the love and acceptance of God. But stripped of that, they began to look for covering. That is a picture of our common human condition.
The gospel, however, destroys the faulty justifications that we use to cover ourselves. In their place, the gospel offers us Christ’s righteousness as a gift. Clothed in His righteousness, we regain the love and acceptance that we have always craved. Because He is our righteousness, there is nothing we could do to make God love us more, and nothing we have done to make God love us less.
Christ Is Our Identity
We can never rest if we find our identity in our work. Too many of us do, which is why we are always fighting to prove our value. I think of that iconic movie, Rocky (the original, of course), when Rocky Balboa explains what he is fighting for: “If that bell rings and I’m still standin’,” he says, “I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.” He fights to prove that he has value. He fights to prove that he is somebody, because he desperately needs to establish his identity.
And so do we. We dream of graduating valedictorian, or getting married, or making six figures, because we want to prove that we aren’t bums. All of our lives are spent proving ourselves, trying to establish an identity, and it is exhausting.
The gospel speaks differently. It reminds us that we are held in highest regard by the highest Being. If God is in our corner, and if He loves us as much as He does, who cares about the rest of the world? We can finally rest in Christ, because we have a new and permanent identity as God’s beloved.
Christ Is Our Security
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that we cannot control everything, that we cannot provide for every contingency—in short, that we are not God. We are tremendously stressed because we carry around a burden of security that God never intended for us to carry. So we never take days off, never take vacations. And even if we do, we keep thinking of the work we could be doing. We might unplug from the activity, but because we want absolute security, we can never unplug from the strain.
The gospel reminds us that our security lies in God’s hands, not our own. If we understand that “the Lord builds the house” and “the Lord watches the city,” we can sleep peacefully at night (Psalm 127:1–3). We are responsible only to act wisely with the time, opportunity, and ability that God has given us. Ultimately, God is responsible for the house and the city.
Christ Is Our Priority
I love those GPS systems with the polite British female voice. She always knows where I am going, so she can tell me which turns to make. Even better, when I make a wrong turn, she patiently adjusts my route and keeps me on track. But GPS systems only work when you have a clear destination. The final destination is the most important factor: everything the GPS does points toward that goal.
Life is like that, too. It surprises me how rarely we stop to ask ourselves, “Where exactly am I heading?” Too often our lives lack a priority, a unifying purpose for our decisions. So we labor over every fork in the road, not sure how to weigh each choice, and never confident that we have made the right one.
If Christ is our priority, however, that gives us a compass for decisions. Not only that, but it provides rest. If we honor Him above everything, He promises to take care of the rest (cf. Matt 6:33). We no longer need to worry and obsess about money, about relationships, about work. We focus only on faithfulness. When Christ is the priority, when He is first, we get everything else we actually need. Put other things first, and not only will we lose Him; we will eventually lose them, too.
Christ offers us inner rest: He will be our righteousness, identity, security, and priority, if we simply believe in His gospel.
This blog series is based on the fall study of The Gospel Project for adults and students, focused on the doctrine of humanity, titled “Bearing God’s Image”.