Christ is our Sabbath rest. We celebrate this beautiful truth every Lord’s Day, every Sunday. But what about on a day like today, on Monday? Is Christ my Sabbath rest today, at work? That’s Pam’s question for you, Pastor John, a good one. “Pastor John, hello,” she writes. “Christ is our Sabbath rest. A hearty amen to that wonderful truth — to the degree that I understand it, and I don’t think I fully understand it quite yet! This seems to mean a lot more than Christ has set apart one day of rest for us, the Lord’s Day, Sunday. At the very end of APJ 658, you called Christ our ‘eternal rest,’ and that means, you said, ‘pervading all our work . . . we are restful in Christ.’ Can you explain this to me? How is Christ our Sabbath rest even while we are working?”
If we had time, we would dig into Hebrews 3 and 4, because there, that amazing author presents an argument for the present rest of the people of God and the future eternal rest for the people of God. He urges us in Hebrews 3:19 and 4:1 to “fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it [the rest]” — meaning, “fear unbelief,” because belief is the only way into the rest of Jesus Christ, both now and in the future.
“The burden and the yoke of the lordship of Jesus is easy and light.”
But we don’t have time to do that — as much as I’d love to — and I want to go straight to Pam’s main question: “How do we experience the Sabbath rest of Christ at work?” In other words, what meaning does it have, while we’re expending great energy, to speak of enjoying the restfulness of Christ in that very moment of wearying exertion?
Christ’s Easy Yoke
The text that I have in mind now is not Hebrews, but Matthew 11:28–30, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The burden and the yoke of the lordship of Jesus is easy and light.
In the midst of our labor — our strenuous efforts to do our very best in our vocation — the submission at that moment to the demands of Jesus is called a restful experience. “You will find rest for your souls” precisely in the midst of your exertions to do your job with excellence for his glory. What is that experience like? I think that’s what Pam’s really asking. What is it like working as hard as you can and, in the very doing of it, experiencing Christ as our soul’s rest? Not just after it, not just before it, but in it — in the very exertion of our life’s work? Here are four ways that we can experience the soul rest of Christ as we are doing our work.
1. Justified by God
First, we work with the sweet assurance that we stand already justified before God — not on the basis of our work, but on the basis of faith alone in Christ’s work — even as we work. How sweet are these words: “Now to the one who works [and he has in mind working for justification, working to get right with God], his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work [for justification, to get right with God] but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:4–5).
If we don’t get this right, nothing will be right. Our souls enjoy the glorious, precious, sweet restfulness of knowing that we are right with God through faith alone and that the work we are doing — sweat on our face, weariness in our bones, exhaustion in our minds — is not done to get right with God. We are delivered from the horrible torment of soul that thinks, “I must work. I must do a good job so that I can get right with God, or so that I can get a right standing before God.” That kind of restlessness, anxiety, and striving is over. The verdict has been rendered by the King of heaven: “Not guilty, my son.” “Not guilty, my daughter.” So, go about your work with a deep restfulness of soul.
2. Loved by God
In Christ, we work hard with the thrilling energy that we are loved by God very personally and forever. Ephesians 2:4 is an amazing verse. Paul says that God’s “great love” — I think it’s the only place in his letters where he uses that very phrase — “made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4–5). That means we were dead, and he made us alive because of love before we did anything to get that love. We do not work with the restless, nervous anxiety of trying to win the affections of a lover that we’re not sure of. If we’re alive in Christ, it was great love that put us there already.
Picture this analogy to feel what it means to work out of the thrilling energy of being loved. Suppose I have been dating Noël — who’s now been my wife for 54 years, but this was true once upon a time — for just several weeks, and I feel very strong affections welling up in me. I’m thinking, “This is the woman I want to marry,” but I’m not sure what her affections are yet. Then the day comes when she needs some heavy lifting done for her as she moves — a dozen boxes or so, books, furniture — from one apartment to another.
I go to her apartment to help her move, and as I start to go down the stairs to where she has everything packed up, she puts her hand on my arm, and I turn to look at her, and she says right into my eyes for the first time, “I love you, Johnny.” What happens to my exhausting work that afternoon? Oh my goodness, there flows into it a thrilling energy of being loved! There is in the exhaustion of the heavy boxes a restfulness of soul, of not wondering anymore, “Am I loved?” I am loved. I am loved!
Of course, the analogy breaks down a little bit because God doesn’t need any help with lifting heavy boxes. I get that, but the principle is the same. He gives me the privilege of serving his purposes in the world, and he takes away all of its burdensomeness by saying, “I love you. I’ve got you. I love you! I choose to love you.”
3. Helped by God
The analogy of Noël’s love, however, is not nearly good enough to capture the point. God’s love doesn’t stand by, like Noël stood by, and watch us lift the boxes of life — watch us do our job at work. He doesn’t stand by and watch, counting on us to muster the energy because we’re loved. His love commits him to help us. He steps into our lives by his Spirit within us and becomes the kind of energy that turns our work into something far greater than mere human achievement, even in response to love. It becomes a kind of God-wrought miracle that gets him praise and touches other people in ways we can’t begin to explain when we’re operating in the strength of God.
“There is a restfulness in work because God is an inexhaustible helper in our work.”
I say this because in 1 Peter 4:11, Peter says, “[Let] whoever serves [you could say works], [serve or work] by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” In other words, there is a restfulness in work because God is an inexhaustible helper in our work, so that our energy is really — in a profound sense — his energy supplied to us.
4. Peace in Christ
Therefore, the obstacles that always meet us in our work and that formerly robbed us of peace and restfulness, and filled us with anxiety don’t have that effect anymore, because now we know that “nothing is too hard for [the Lord]” (Jeremiah 32:17). Nothing. He works everything together for our good (Romans 8:28).
For at least those four reasons, we can speak of Christ being our rest — rest for our souls — even in the very exertion of our daily work.