Part 5 - Resting by Faith
Unbelief in the Creator
The writer to the Hebrews presents a companion to faith, perseverance in faith. Besides an initial faith in Christ, a continuing faith is also necessary. It is not enough to begin in faith; it is required of the believer to patiently continue in faith. A faith that easily gives up is not faith.
This continuing faith in Christ is first presented by the writer in Hebrews 3:6: "but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end." Here the church is likened to a house. The builder of the house, the Creator, is Jesus. Those that are a part of that house are those who "hold fast" in faith. Such a faith is a confidence in Christ. It involves rejoicing in the hope of the gospel. It is a faith that continues to "the end." This is repeated in verse 14: "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end."
A genuine faith
Faith involves first knowing who God is, what He has done, and what He has promised. It then involves an initial turning to Him, trusting Him instead of one's self. But faith must then continue, to patiently endure. This endurance is to hold fast the confidence one has in Christ. It is to continually rejoice in the hope of the gospel. This is the time that one's faith is tested and refined. This is where it is proved to be real. Salvation is by faith alone, but it is only a genuine faith that saves. The Apostle Peter likens this to the refining of gold, for he says regarding salvation, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
The writer to the Hebrews related the church to being a house, and the builder of the house, the Creator, to Jesus Christ. His message to the Hebrew believers was that they were of this house "if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end." The writer then quotes from Psalm 95 to back up his point. He says, "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, "They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways." So I swore in My wrath, "They shall not enter My rest" ' " (Heb. 3:7-11).
Perishing through unbelief
This quote from Psalm 95 is the latter half of the Psalm. It is speaking of the redemption of Israel out of Egypt. God did a work in establishing the children of Israel as a special nation unto Himself. He had a rest available for them if they looked to Him and trusted in Him. Most of the Israelites who came out of Egypt perished in the wilderness through unbelief. They did not enter into the promised land and so did not enter into the rest that God wanted to give them. This was solely due to their lack of faith in Yahweh. The writer to the Hebrews is using this to show the importance of continuing in faith in Jesus Christ.
This quote by the writer is very appropriate, for the redemption of Israel is related to the redemption available in Jesus Christ. The writer is talking about being of the house of Christ. It is His work, for Jesus said, ". . . I will build my church." The redemption of Israel is a type of the redemption of mankind by Christ. God created Israel which models God creating the church. The lack of faith on the part of the Israelites in the wilderness is used by the writer to show that a lack of faith "today" will prevent one from entering into the rest available in Jesus.
The heart of man
The core of the message of the latter portion of Psalm 95 is "Do not harden your hearts." God says of the unbelieving, "They always go astray in their heart." The fall of mankind was caused when Adam and Eve turned their hearts away from God. Redemption for mankind comes through Jesus Christ when faith in Him is exercised. By its very nature, faith answers the error that caused the Fall (see Part 3 - The Fall and the Restoration). The heart of a person is made right when one rests in Christ, believes in Christ, and abides in Christ by faith, for in this one becomes centered on God. It is in the heart where one chooses to submit to God and give Him glory.
There is no difference between the unbelief of the lost and unbelief in the Christian. The nature of unbelief is the same for both. This is because the old nature of the believer is of the same substance as the nature of the lost. The believer however, being born into God's kingdom with a new nature, is exercising a degree of faith according to that new nature. The believer has entered into something that the lost knows nothing about: the fight of faith, and the warfare of the flesh against the spirit. This is the clash of the "old man" and unbelief against the "new man" and faith.
A mixed multitude
When Israel was delivered out of Egypt, a mixed multitude came out. This is analogous to the new believer who still has much of the world's ways in him. An immature believer is one who is still relying on his flesh and has not yet discerned between the soul and spirit. As the mixed multitude could not enter into the promised land, so too can the fleshly Christian not enter into the rest. Rest in Jesus Christ is a place of life lived in, and depending upon, the Spirit of God. For this reason God is doing an on-going work in the life of the believer: perfecting in him faith in Jesus Christ so that he may enter into rest. The writer to the Hebrews says of Jesus that He is "the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). The chastening of God is a tool for perfecting faith. As a furnace burns away the dross, trials and tribulations burn away unbelief and false faith. The genuine faith of those who persevere brings "praise, honor, and glory" to God.
Scripture likens God to a potter who forms and shapes His people. Isaiah wrote, "But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand" (Isa. 64:8). Here is where it is important that one not harden his heart to God. God forms and shapes the heart, establishing a new heart in His people. But one must be yielded to God's working. A hardened heart cannot be formed by the potter.
The believer must recognize the elements of unbelief and turn from them so that he may not remain in the "wilderness." As a generation of Israelites died in the wilderness before they entered into the promised land, so too must the believer die to self and unbelief so that he may enter. It was possible for Israel to enter straightway into the land if they had exercised faith. Instead it took forty years of wilderness wanderings. There is an exhortation of Scripture to enter "today" by faith, "if you will hear His voice." The ways of the world, the deceitfulness of sin, and unbelief will harden one's heart. The Spirit's call is "do not harden your heart" and to exercise repentance and faith in Christ.
The traits of unbelief
Paul the Apostle wrote to the Romans, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel
of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who
believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the
righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The
just shall live by faith' " (Rom. 1:16-17). The gospel of Christ is the
power of God to salvation "for everyone who believes." Those who reject God,
and His righteousness, do so through unbelief. This unbelief manifests
itself by three traits, as Paul next writes about in the rest of chapter one
of Romans. These three traits of unbelief were also characterized by those
of the children of Israel who perished in the wilderness, and are written
about in the second half of Psalm 95.